amongst books

amongst books

Saturday, February 17, 2007

CanLit - a snapshot of favourites

rob’s recent entry on his favourite contemporary CanLit got me wondering about what mine was. Geez I love the lists. I’m not so sure I care about whether a book is contemporary or not. Here’s a snapshot of Can Lit Fiction I remember I like. There may be others, so I won’t coin this my ultimate list of fav CanLit:

Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy

I still love this and return to it over and over. If any writer ever made me feel that I wanted to write, this man did. He was a crusty old curmudgeon and he spun tales better than any writer, Canadian or none, ever could. His books were erudite, articulate and the man knew how to write dialogue.

Ivan E. Coyote, Close to Spider Man and Loose End

Ok, this isn’t fiction. I’m cheating already and it’s my own list. But Ivan is an amazing storyteller with a fine gift for writing compelling characters. She’s so funny I almost pee my pants when I read her. At the same time, I have such compassion for what she writes about. Imagine being treated like an outcast no matter whether you go to the men’s or women’s bathroom. Or having a bunch of teenage girls on a plane whisper “what is it?” I wanted to crush those girls when I read that. Crush their tiny heads.

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake

I hate sci fi, ok? Loathe it. It bores the pants right off of me. But Ms. Atwood made it compelling, relevant and fascinating here. Sure there were a few technical details, but Atwood didn’t bog it down. I loved her technique of switching from the past to the present in her narrative. Many others try this; most fail.

Anne Marie MacDonald, The Way The Crow Flies

This is a thick book. It’s kinda sad. It’s the best coming of age story I’ve read set in Canada in a long time. McDonald has a background in theatre and you can tell. The book gets a bit dull when the MC grows up. I could do without that part. But the stuff about her childhood as an army brat on one of the stations was fascinating to me. Lots of people have lived in similar environments, but not me. I found the setting to be exotic.

Matthew Firth, Suburban Pornography

Yes, this collection of short fiction has sex in it. Big deal. What’s great about Firth’s writing is his dialogue, his sense of humour and his surprising compassion. My two favourite stories: “Giants” about a man in a diner, waiting for his wife and child, what they witness and “Job Action” about garbage men who indulge in pot smoking and debauchery when faced with the possibility of a strike. Firth paints vivid descriptions. I find myself returning to the stories, something I rarely do.

Jane Urquhart, Away

I loved this spellbinding book about Irish immigrants to Canada. The Irish myths in this story were fascinating. I read the book ages ago, yet its atmosphere lingers on. The imagery is breathtaking. It also has a fair bit about Canadian history, some native stuff and even Darcy McGee. Small book packs big punch.

Katherine Govier, Fables of Brunswick Avenue

“Everyone lives on Brunswick Avenue sooner or later...” Ms. Govier knows how to write a short story. I have a problem with a lot of short fiction. I just get into the characters and the damn story is over. This collection of linked stories about the people who lived on Brunswick Avenue in the 60s and 70s left me satisfied.

Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down And Wept

This is a jewel of a book, more poetry than prose, by an Ottawa local who comes from a wealthy family to boot. She scandalized the rich folks of Rockcliffe by falling for a married English poet and bearing four of his kiddies. This book is mean to be fiction, but it’s clearly autobiographical. While you’re at it, read Rosemary Sullivan’s biography of Elizabeth Smart, “By Heart,” and then read her bio of Gwendolyn Macewen, Shadow Maker...and then...this fantastic autobiography by artist Barbara Caruso called “A Painter’s Journey” about her life with poet Nelson Ball, her work publishing the poet b.p. nichol and all kinds of other interesting stories about trying to survive as an impoverished artist in Ontario in the 60s and 70s. My that was a tangent.

Laisha Rosnau, The Sudden Weight of Snow

I loved this book about the 17-year old Harper, hippie culture, family and coming of age in the 60s and 70s. I related to the main character very much. I enjoyed reading about the small BC town where the novel is set. Since my husband is from BC and has lived in similar bergs, it made a good topic of conversation.

Lynn Coady, Mean Boy

This tale of a young university student who takes an old roué as his mentor in a small East Coast town was full of humour and I enjoyed all the poetry talk. There just aren’t enough books about poetry and literary communities are there?

Michael Crummey, The Wreckage

I didn’t expect to like this book. WW2 POWs in Japan? Um...I usually skip this kind of thing, but what made this book really compelling for me was the main character, Aloysious (Wish) Furey and the stuff about Newfoundland.

I wish Annie Proulx was Canadian, then I could rave about the Shipping News, another book set in Newfoundland that I loved. She has ancestors in Quebec though. Does that count?

Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road

Again another book set in a war, this time the first world war. I had no intention of reading this book. To be honest I’m sick of CanLit about the WWs, but this one was different. I heard an interview with Boyden and he talked about how he was hoping women would read his book, that it had as much to do with family and relationships, perhaps even more than it had to do with war. The other difference between this novel and most hoary old books about war is that the main characters were Cree soldiers. In the interview, Boyden talked about his difficulties in writing the novel. Boyden is part Cree. He said that typical western chronological narrative was difficult to use for this story. He ended up using the native circular storytelling method. Rather than start at the beginning, he started in the middle. It’s a fascinating book and opened my eyes to the rotten treatment native men received as soldiers fighting for our country. Not that I should be surprised.

Shani Mootoo, Cereus Blooms At Night

Mootoo writes of a fictional island. The story is told by Tyler, the gay nurse of an old woman named Mala whose life he pieces together. It’s about love, trechery and it’s magical. You also have to hear Mootoo read if she comes back again. She has this Irish/Trinidadian accent that’s beautiful.

Darren Greer, Still Life with June, Tyler’s Cape, and his book of essays, Strange Ghosts

Greer writes about the East Coast, he writes about family, he writes about the marginalized members of society, poverty, AIDS, abstract art and coming out of the closet. I really love his work.

Emma Donoghue, Slammerkin

Set in 18th Century London, this book tells the story of murder, prostitution, the role of fate and circumstance. Donohughe is right up there with Sarah Waters, the author of Fingersmith, in my opinion. I love good historical fiction.

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