Read All Over — Barbara Adler


Read All Over celebrates the bookworm in all of us, showcasing readers in Vancouver and the books they love most.
My name is Barbara Adler, and I am a Vancouver-based writer, storyteller and musician. I’ve toured internationally as a solo performer, and as a member of the folk-poetry band, The Fugitives. My storytelling and travel project, The B.C. Memory Game has brought me to small towns all over the province: I think I’m the first spoken word artist who’s seen their name in lights at the Fort Nelson Community Theatre. No big deal. I work extensively with youth as an arts educator, and as the emcee for the B.C. Schizophrenia Society’s ReachOut Psychosis tour. My latest work involves mashing my words together with music I play on the 120-bass piano accordion. I’m one half of the “glam folk” band Proud Animal, and I also front my own band, Fang. We’re Vancouver’s most famous (only) accordion shout rock trio, and we’re out to make you forget anything polka has ever done to you.


What are you currently reading?

I just started Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust. I picked it up because I’ve started feeling guilty about how often I drop references to the famous “madeleine” scene (basically, someone eats a French cookie, and gets transported to their childhood)—without ever having read even a shred of Proust. Does that scene happen in Swann’s Way? I have no idea—what a fraud. I’m only about 15 pages in.

The most recent book I read was Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. I first read it when I was 12 so that I could be smug, but it went so far over my head—I was pretty much just carrying a paperweight. Have you read it? READ IT! Tolstoy is the BEST at character description. Seriously, the attention he gives to providing character development and pscyhnological insight to even the most minor characters knocks me on my butt. Like, a woman will be sitting in an opera box across from the major characters, and he’ll give you an amazing three line encapsulation of who she is, and what she wants in that moment—just by describing how she flicks her fan. Amazing.

What books have changed your life?

I read some really heavy books in high school—I loved Lolita and anything by Kundera (especially Immortality). I think both Nabokov and Kundera made me crazy about books which capture intense detail and revel in really subtle human gestures. That’s the kind of writer I wanted to be then, and I wrote some really awful, convulted prose because of it.

A few years ago, I stumbled on Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse by Paul St. Pierre, and that opened my eyes to a kind of prose that sounds like it could be spoken out loud—a simpler, storytelling voice. Now I’m a sucker for people like Paul St. Pierre, WP Kinsella (Scars) and Stuart McLean (Welcome Home). Compared to Nabokov, anyway, they all seem like very “simple” writers, but those books have challenged me to see the huge amount of craft that can go into creating “ease”.

Favourite Vancouver/Lower Mainland writer?

Paul St. Pierre. I think he lives somewhere in Langley now.

What writer would you love to see read their work?

Paul St. Pierre. From reading his latest books, I’m guessing he’s a hugely grumpy person who mostly wants to be left alone to shoot ducks. I’d love to see him read in a bar somewhere in the Cariboo. Or, maybe we could go duck hunting, and he could read when we gather around the fire at night. Is that asking a lot? Paul? Are you listening?

Photos by liisa hannus

How do you like your books served up best – audio books, graphic novels, used paperbacks, library loaner, e-reader…?

Used bookstores all the way. MacLeod’s Books is one of my favorite places in the world. I also love the one near 5th and Commercial, although I really think they should bring back the two hairy cats they used to have wandering through the store.

What book makes you feel like a kid again?

In times of stress and self-indulgence, I read (and re-read) young adult novels. My favorite ones involve animal loyalty and misfit girls who discover a hidden strength or talent (*sigh*). Robin McKinley is the Queen of this. Check out The Blue Sword, Beauty or The Hero and the Crown. Her female characters are always wry, rough and tumble and a bit loner-ish, plus they successfully kill dragons when needed. Basically, way better versions of the sarcastic loner I was when I was 13. And the silent loyalty of the animal companions usually makes me weep. Man, do I ever want a horse like “Sun Fire” in The Blue Sword, or a dog like “Ash” in Deerskin. *Another sigh*.

The one book you always recommend is…

There are a few, but my official policy right now is to push Anna K. Get the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation. It’s worth it.

Your life story is published tomorrow. What’s the title?

“Jaws V: Bride of Jaws”.

I’m resisting this question, because it makes it sound like I’m almost at the end of my life. Ask me again when I’ve done something.


Check out these links:
The Fugitives
The B.C. Memory Game

ReachOut Psychosis tour
Proud Animal

And follow Barbara on twitter!