1102 The irrelevant Ormsby Review

The irrelevant Ormsby Review
by Richard Mackie, editor and publisher


Rail travellers, 19th century. Courtesy The New Statesman

Word has reached me that an influential person in the BC arts community considers The Ormsby Review to be “irrelevant.” I am not sure where this person has been hiding for the first 4 ½ years of our existence. It is true that we proudly review many local and self-published books, but we have no desire to be elitist. Instead, we aim to be inclusive. We review books from BC’s many diverse communities and regions.

Because we now review 300 books a year — more than any other book review outlet in Canada — one would think that even the most refined or discerning critic might find something relevant in our eclectic output.

And if we are “irrelevant,” we are in excellent company. Last year we reviewed 25 of the books shortlisted by the 2020 BC and Yukon Book Prizes. So far this year, we have reviewed 15 of the shortlisted books on the 2021 BC and Yukon Book Prizes, and we have another 5 reviews in the pipeline.

Here are our reviews of the 15 shortlisted books, all published in 2020:

1. Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize

~ May Q Wong reviewed The Diary of Dukesang Wong: A Voice from Gold Mountain, by Dukesang Wong, edited by David McIlwraith, translated by Wanda Joy Hoe (Vancouver: Talonbooks)

~ Laurie Ricou reviewed Orphans of Empire, by Grant Buday (Victoria: TouchWood Editions [Brindle & Glass])

~ John Gellard reviewed British Columbia in Flames: Stories from a Blazing Summer, by Claudia Cornwall (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing)

~ Daniel Sims reviewed Kwanlin Dün: Dǎ Kwǎndur Ghày Ghàkwadîndur – Our Story in Our Words, by Kwanlin Dün First Nation (Vancouver: Figure 1 Publishing)

2. Bill Duthie Booksellers’ Choice Award

~ Brian Harvey reviewed The E.J. Hughes Book of Boats, by Robert Amos (Victoria: TouchWood Editions).

~ Jessica Poon reviewed Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City’s Hidden History, by Eve Lazarus (Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press).

~ Robert Hogg reviewed On the Cusp of Contact: Gender, Space, and Race in the Colonization of British Columbia, by Jean Barman, edited by Margery Fee (Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing).

~ Paul Headrick reviewed Primary Obsessions, by Charles Demers (Maderia Park: Douglas and McIntyre).

3. Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize

~ Theo Dombrowski reviewed The Certainties, by Aislinn Hunter (Toronto: Penguin Random House [Knopf]).

~ Jessica Poon reviewed Consent, by Annabel Lyon (Toronto: Penguin Random House).

4. Hubert Evans Non-Fiction Prize

~ Howard Macdonald Stewart reviewed A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency, by Seth Klein (Toronto: ECW Press).

~ Theo Dombrowski reviewed Nerve: A Personal Journey Through the Science of Fear, by Eve Holland (Toronto: Penguin Random House [Allen Lane]).

5. Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize

~ Valerie Green reviewed The Ride Home, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz (Victoria: Orca Books).

6. Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Prize

~ Elizabeth Bassett reviewed Beep Beep Bubbie, by Bonnie Sherr Klein (text) and Élisabeth Eudes-Pascal (Vancouver: Tradewind Books).

7. Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize

~ P.W. Bridgman reviewed Burning Province, by Michael Prior (Toronto: Penguin Random House [McClelland and Stewart])

8. Jim Deva Prize for Writing That Provokes

~ We are awaiting reviews of three of the five books on the Jim Deva shortlist.


I’m sure many readers will join me in sending a hearty thanks and congratulations to the reviewers at Ormsby for their expertise, hard work, and high-quality reviews.

This might be a good opportunity to explain some of my work as a book reviews editor. I start looking for reviewers as soon as I hear of a book’s publication. I always rely on the friendly and prompt help of publishers across Canada to send out review copies. I do not assign books to reviewers; I give reviewers a choice of titles to select from. All this can take some time. And because book reviewers are human and sometimes slow, their reviews might take months to appear. Some reviews of 2020 books might not appear until Fall 2021.

I review books, if possible, in advance of prize announcements such as the BC and Yukon Book Prizes. Only 30 or 40 of the 300 books we review annually end up on short lists at the national or regional level. I am not clairvoyant; I don’t know which books will be shortlisted; I can’t guess in advance which ones will be selected for prizes — which is always a cause for celebration and sometimes surprise. At Ormsby we review books so that the public, and perhaps even overworked book prize juries, have a handy source of informed and pertinent opinion. (Please use the powerful search bar at the top right of this page to look for the book, author, or reviewer of your choice.)

The result is what I hope is a useful — and relevant — publication.

Finally, congratulations to the shortlisted authors in the BC and Yukon Book Prizes. We will be rooting for all of you at the Prize announcements on September 18th. — Richard Mackie


The Ormsby Review. More Books. More Reviews. More Often.

Publisher and Editor: Richard Mackie

The Ormsby Review is a journal service for in-depth coverage of B.C. books and authors. The Advisory Board consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Cole Harris, Hugh Johnston, Patricia Roy, David Stouck, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Provincial Government Patron since September 2018: Creative BC

“Only connect.” – E.M. Forster



8 comments on “1102 The irrelevant Ormsby Review

  1. I admire what you’re doing at The Ormsby Review, Richard. A vital range of work considered by a range of reviewers. I don’t think the role of a journal — online or print — should be to review only those books appearing on short-lists, though of course many of them will, but to give a wide a selection of books a chance to be read and thought about and passed on to others. I come to The Ormsby Review for the news. Some of it surprises me, some of it moves me, and quite a lot of it challenges me. Thank you, and the many reviewers who take the time to read the books and offer a fair appraisal of their strengths and weaknesses. Much appreciated.

  2. Irrelevant? Who is this vicious influential twit??? Probably some venial type competing for control of grants with a boring institutional mindset. The Ormsby Review — a breath of fresh air for independent substantial comment in a sea of sycophantic twiddlers — deserves support.

  3. “Relevance” is in the eye of the beholder, of course. It’s in the same subjective category as “boring,” and useful only as an indicator of the speaker’s willingness to take a chance on things. We live in an era of closed minds—a world in which the perceived relevance of an opinion is all too often judged by its virality on social media, a time when media outlets for thoughtful criticism are mere shadows of what once they were, if they still exist at all. The Ormsby Review is a bottomless bran-tub of quirkiness and surprise (and, yes, disappointment, as bran-tubs sometimes are). It offers a wide connection to the authentic human experience. And is free to anyone who wants to stay abreast of the activities of the West Coast writing community and is ready to be provoked, stimulated, informed and entertained by a consistent flow of ideas, discussion and anecdote that he or she might otherwise not have engaged with. The “influential person in the B.C. arts community” (and what an awesome burden of distinction that must be!) may have his or her own views on the Ormsby editor’s choices both in book and reviewer, and is under no obligation to read everything that Ormsby offers. And yes, maybe some of the books reviewed are self-published, but so what? Proust paid to have Swann’s Way published. Fifty Shades of Grey was self-published. So was The Tale of Peter Rabbit. They can all these days be found on someone’s bedside (maybe even in the same pile). As Arnold Spohr, the legendary director of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, would say whenever he was confronted by a negative review of his company, life is filled with personal taste. None of these considerations should in any way diminish the value and importance (the relevance, one might almost say) of the service the Ormsby Review provides.

  4. I cannot think of a source that is more relevant to readers of BC fiction and non-fiction, to writers, and to reviewers, than TOR.

    As a reviewer, not only do I receive an opportunity to sharpen my writing and critical thinking skills; I also get a wider picture of what is available for my reading pleasure. As a reader of TOR, I get to share my new knowledge with the well read seniors whom I teach and those in my equally erudite book club and wider circle of friends.

    I would say Richard Mackie, through The Ormsby Review, is an influencer par excellence.

  5. I too would like to know who this so-called “influencer” is in the arts community. Ormsby reviews are very relevant, both for readers, writers and publishers. Reviews are very important to make a book successful and Ormsby Reviews do a great job!

  6. I would certainly like to know who this “influencer” is, so I can ascertain the relevance of their career.

    Keep up the great work, Ormsby!

    1. Good for you, Richard, for presenting such a clear picture of all that Ormsby does. BTW, I wonder whose reviews the ‘influencer’ considers to be ‘relevant’ — the New York Times??

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