Tuesday, October 16, 2007

O Canada

John Mutford's Canadian Book Challenge calls on participants to read thirteen books by and/or about Canada between now and Canada day (July 1st) and to blog about each one along the way. I confess that this challenge is a bit of a cheat for me. I read an average of 100 books per year, and usually at least a quarter of those are by Canadian authors. So committing to reading thirteen over the next eight months doesn't feel like a challenge. I don't diligently blog about each book read though. So I'm going to take that part of the challenge seriously and make sure to talk up any Canadian book I read that proves worthy of praise.

Why thirteen books? Because Canada is comprised of ten provinces and three territories, and one of the options John outlines for the challenge is to pick one book from each province and each territory. I think this is a cool idea in the abstract, but I'm feeling a bit conflicted about the embrace of regionalism at the moment, so I'm not going that route this time around. My thirteen picks don't coalesce around any particular theme. They are united by two things only: all were published or are forthcoming in 2007, and all are books that I'm really keen to read. They represent a range of genres: novels, short stories, poetry, and non-fiction. Some are by well-known authors, others are first books. Half are published by small, independent presses.

I'm listing the books I intend to read below, along with a description of each one cribbed from catalogue copy or back cover blurbs, to give you an idea of what piqued my interest, and perhaps to pique yours.

1. Gil Adamson, The Outlander (Anansi): "In 1903 a mysterious, desperate young woman flees alone across the west, one quick step ahead of the law. She has just become a widow by her own hand.... As the young widow encounters characters of all stripes—unsavoury, wheedling, greedy, lascivious, self-reliant, and occasionally generous and trustworthy—Adamson weds her brilliant literary style to the gripping, moving, picaresque tale of one woman's deliberate journey into the wild."

2. Elyse Friedman, Long Story Short: A Novella and Stories (Anansi): "Elyse Friedman's fiction, described as 'part Kafka, part South Park' (Toronto Star), is as funny as it is fierce, as witty as it is empathetic." And is "Long Story Short" not the best title ever for a collection that includes a novella and a handful of short stories?

3. Salvatore DiFalco Black Rabbit and Other Stories (Anvil): "Existential and reflective, brutal and honest, these are stories that will leave you questioning the essence of existence, your own humanity, and that of those around you. This is deft storytelling from a talented new voice."

4. David Gilmour, The Film Club (Thomas Allen): “Written in the spare elegant style he is known for, The Film Club is the true story about David Gilmour’s decision to let his 15-year-old son drop out of high school on the condition that the boy agrees to watch three films a week with him. The book examines how those pivotal years changed both their lives."

5. Helen Humphreys, The Frozen Thames (McClelland and Stewart): "A groundbreaking, genre-bending new work from one of Canada’s most respected writers. In its long history, the River Thames has frozen solid forty times. These are the stories of that frozen river.... The Frozen Thames contains forty vignettes based on events that actually took place each time the river froze between 1142 and 1895."

6. Robert Kroetsch and John Lent, Abundance: The Mackie House Conversations About the Writing Life (Kalamalka Press): Captures on the page “five days of strange, elliptical conversation” about the writing life.

7. Roy MacSkimming, Macdonald: A Novel (Thomas Allen): "In the grand literary tradition of Gore Vidal's novels about American political history, Roy MacSkimming has conjured an extraordinary novelistic recreation of the last days of Canada’s indomitable first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald."

8. David McGimpsey, Sitcom (Coach House): "Mischievous, generous and side-splittingly funny, this collection of wry soliloquies and sonnets begins with a milestone birthday and finds itself—through antic turns and lyric flips to demi-mondes as varied as the offices of university regents and the basic plot arc of Hawaii Five-O—to a sincere contemplation of mortality and the fashion sense of Mary Tyler Moore."

9. rob mclennan, ed., Decalogue 2: Ten Ottawa Fiction Writers (Chaudiere): "The ten authors that make up this collection highlight both the range of style and the strength of writing happening around the current City of Ottawa, ranging from roughneck prose to lyric exploration to a more straightforward kind of narrative storytelling. Rather than giving you a list of authors you've already heard of, this collection focuses on the works of authors you might not have heard of yet, some of whom have only recently come up on the national radar."

10. Michael Ondaatje, Divisadero (McClelland and Stewart): "From the celebrated author of The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion comes a remarkable new novel of intersecting lives that ranges across continents and time. In the 1970s in northern California, near Gold Rush country, a father and his teenage daughters, Anna and Claire, work their farm with the help of Coop, an enigmatic young man who makes his home with them. Theirs is a makeshift family, until it is riven by an incident of violence — of both hand and heart — that sets fire to the rest of their lives."

11. Jessica Westhead, Pulpy and Midge (Coach House): "A hilariously deadpan, wincingly funny take on one office innocent's workplace coming-of-age." (That blurb comes from Lynn Coady, herself a brilliant comic novelist, so I'm inclined to take her word for it.)

12. Zoe Whittall, Bottle Rocket Hearts (Cormorant): A queer coming-of-age novel set in Montreal in the lead-up to the 1995 referendum on Quebec sovereignty.

13. Michael Winter, The Architects are Here (Penguin): "Michael Winter's eagerly anticipated new novel The Architects are Here features the unexpected return of Gabriel English, the popular and controversial protagonist of three of his previous critically acclaimed books. Prompted by a near death experience involving a wayward billboard Gabriel is forced to come to terms with the disappearance of his enigmatic girlfriend Nell. After packing up the shattered remnants of his Toronto apartment Gabriel sets out on an impromptu road trip with his roguish friend David Twombly to Corner Brook Newfoundland, their childhood home and the site of a recent accident involving David's father in which Nell may be implicated. Along the way they encounter all manner curious characters from their shared past including a good many familiar faces from the Canadian literary community."

As usual, I reserve the right to make substitutions at will, particularly when spring rolls around and I find myself distracted by shiny, new books from 2008...


Cam said...

It is embarrassing to admit that I have only heard of one of these writers, Ondaatje. (To not have heard of him would be an embarrassment of a different sort I suppose.)

There was an Ondattje poem in the movie Away From Her that was absolutely, stunningly beautiful. (I thought it was from Divisadero although I googled it and it appears not to be.) I haven't bought a copy of Divisadero, but I do intend to read it sometime.

I look forward to reading your reviews of these works.

Bluestalking Reader said...

Oh, gosh!! I feel the undertow threatening to suck me in for this one... I'm SO bad about challenges. I love the idea of them, but I get so dratted busy I always get derailed. Thirteen between now and July, though, that's a decent time frame... Oh, grrrr!!!!!

Someone please make this decision for me...

Zachariah Wells said...


If anyone is less ambivalent about embracing regionalism than Kate is, and is scratching their head over books about Nunavut, or written by Nunavummiut, my book Unsettled is based on the 7 years I spent in that territory working as an airline cargo hand.

It was recently reviewed in the Nunavut paper, The Nunatsiaq News:


Here endeth the self plug.


Seachanges said...

I daren't! There are just too many things to read AND I have to do the reading for my course AND do my full time job.... Have recently signed up for the Russian challenge though... I'll think about this....

John Mutford said...

Great list. Like Cam said, I don't know many of these. (Though I'm a little embarrassed to have missed Michael Winter's name when I was compiling the Newfoundland and Labrador list.

stefanie said...

What! There are other Canadians besides Margaret Atwood who write? Just kidding! It's a tempting challenge, but I'm swamped. Thanks for the additions to my TBR list though!

Kerry said...

I bought Sitcom yesterday. Can't wait to read it, and I can't wait to hear what you think too.

morgan said...

hey! great list! i have a lot of book reviews on my blog too! check it out at morganluvsu13.blogsites.com!


Smithereens said...

Great list! I know too little about Canadian literature. I look forward to reading your impressions, so that I'll be able to order some new books (and your short story collection too!)