A Scion of the Times


80 pages
ISBN 0-902104-18-5






Reviewed by Chris Redmond

Chris Redmond is Director of Internal Communications at the University
of Waterloo.


Be wise, original, interesting, and witty, and do it in 800 words and frequently: that challenge faces newspaper columnists such as Ian Johnston. This paper-covered book consists of columns by Johnston which ran in the Nanaimo (British Columbia) Times from 1980 to 1986. Some of the 27 selections live up to the challenge.

In a brief introduction the author notes that he was a drama reviewer before becoming a columnist, and though he implies that the column has carried on that interest, there is little sign of it, apart from frequent references to popular music — which is not surprising in a commentator who is clearly writing for, and as a member of, the sixties generation. A column on John Lennon’s assassination is one of the most revealing, though it says nothing that others did not also say.

Johnston can certainly turn a phrase, as when he calls hashish “the soft brown goddess in the tinfoil dress,” and he loves to ring wry changes on familiar sayings and classical authors. Many of the columns suffer from over-cuteness, and the desperate need (perhaps imposed by the genre) to be complete and balanced and impressive within frighteningly few paragraphs. When the subject is the foibles of British Columbia cabinet ministers, that may be possible. When it’s the American psyche, the columnist bites off too much.

Fuzzy and poorly-spaced type demonstrate how hard it is to produce a real book using desk-top publishing.



Johnston, Ian, “A Scion of the Times,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/34323.