Some men buy sports cars when the mid-life crisis hits. Others may ditch the ole’ ball and chain in favour of a younger, leggier alternative. Kevin Chong, on the other hand, bought a racehorse and proceeded to write a book about his experience in the not-so glamorous world of Canadian horseracing.
The Vancouver author will read and discuss his latest book, My Year of the Racehorse, published by Greystone Books in April, for the Whistler Reads event next Saturday (Sept. 22).
Chong is the spry, 38-year-old writer of four books, including the 2005 Globe and Mail and Toronto Star book of the year, Neil Young Nation, another non-fiction work that deals with the age-old theme of… well, aging.
“I was at an age where I felt people were acquiring things that signified a fulfilled life,” explained Chong, describing his inspiration behind buying a share in his new mobile companion, Blackie. “I decided to buy a racehorse instead of a condo and learn about the sport of kings.”
Chong managed to befriend not only Blackie, but Randi, the peevish trainer with a soft side, along with an assortment of characters that populate the divergent world of horseracing.
“There’s a certain carnie element that comes with the gambling scene, but there are also some people in the industry who are pretty much farmers, and then there are the wealthy people who come to racing to add a touch of colour to their lives,” he said.
While fiction is admittedly Chong’s “first love” — the Hong Kong-born writer has penned two novels in his career — he’s also a prolific non-fiction writer, with his work having appeared in Quill & Quire and other literary magazines.
“Non-fiction comes easier these days because I write more of it and because it often has a more immediate response. Fiction is a bit more rewarding for the soul, but it also requires more anguish,” he said.
Chong couldn’t have asked for a more compelling narrator for My Year of the Racehorse. But is the bitterly sarcastic Kevin Chong from his books the same Kevin Chong that stands anxiously in front of a packed room of UBC students enrolled in his creative fiction class?
“It’s a more concentrated, antic version of myself. It excludes the part of me that spends hours a day in front of the computer writing or playing online Scrabble,” he said.
Chong will read to another packed room Sept. 22 at the Village’s joint establishments, Armchair Books and Gone.
The event will also include a talk — set to the musical stylings of bassist Rajan Das — about Whistler’s equine past from the local author of Only in Whistler: Tales of a Mountain Town, Stephen Vogler. He will unravel the “fun, rollicking tale” of the many lives of Dusty, “a famous bucking bronco from Texas,” and the namesake of Dusty’s Bar in Creekside.
For the raging gambling addict (or at the very least, piggyback enthusiast) among you, Whistler Reads founder Paula Shackleton promises a look into “the other side of racetrack excitement.”
Attendees will be invited to pair up and decide on their mount and jockey for a nail biting piggyback race around Village Square.
Gambling is not only allowed, but encouraged, with proceeds going to the Whistler Reads book club.
Kevin Chong and friends will appear at Armchair Books/Gone Sept. 22 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.