Magpie Memoir

Michael Hayward

Like his literary heroes Blaise Cendrars and B. Traven, Jim Christy has led a peripatetic life. Raised in South Philadelphia, he has travelled extensively through Mexico and Central America, and lived for many years on BC’s Sunshine Coast. A prolific writer, Christy’s books range from poetry (Marimba Forever, 21) to memoir/biography (The Buk Book, Musings on Charles Bukowski, 1997) to noir-like detective fiction (a series of novels set in Vancouver, featuring detective Gene Castle).

Sweet Assorted: 121 Takes From a Tin Box (Anvil Press) is a collection of 121 short pieces, or “takes,” each one a riff on one of the items that have accumulated over a period of forty years in a “metal Peek Frean’s [biscuit] box into which I’ve tossed items randomly, willy-nilly and with neither rhyme nor reason.” The “takes” vary in length from a single paragraph to several pages, and each is illustrated with a photograph of the item that inspired it: the lid of a tin cigar case “made by the Dannemann company of São Félix, Bahia, in Brazil” (“I bought the cigars […] in the wild town of Benjamin Constant on the Amazon in Brazil [where] I was just knocking around with no plan, going where the river took me”); a Vietnamese lottery ticket (“It cost 2 dong. I might have won the car but I didn’t”); a 5¢ piece from the Kingdom of Swaziland (“I was in Swaziland in 1978, resting and relaxing after covering conflicts in Namibia, Mozambique, and Rhodesia”).

It’s an interesting approach to memoir, a collage-like way of illustrating a life lived “as free as possible in an increasingly homogenized world,” the picture emerging through a process of accretion rather than by simple chronology.

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