Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bibliomama! Is! Canadian!

This post comes from Mary Lynn via Dani Girl who posted about Canada Reads 2011 on CBC. Apparently this is a list of the 'best novels of the 2000s', winnowed from a list of 400 'after a hot online discussion and campaigning by both readers and writers.'

I'll be honest. I'll whore myself out to anything for an easy blog post. But in the words of one of my dear book club friends while declining to participate in a 'Survivor: The Book Version' game at our year-end dinner, "I think this is stupid." There's nothing wrong with discussing great books, and our society is one that cherishes its top ten lists. (Oh my god, I totally just typed it's instead of it's and then ALMOST MISSED IT. The horror). But really, what does saying that these 40 books are The Best of the Decade even really mean? I guess campaigning by people who wrote the books is okay, because it wouldn't be any more 'objective' than if it was decided by some jury of people who weren't the authors or friends of the authors.

But like both Dani Girl and Mary Lynn, I was surprised to realize how many of the authors on the list I had never even heard of, let alone read their book. I was also struck, as I commented on Mary Lynn's post, how these types of lists always seem to demonstrate short memories. At least two of these books are so recently published that it would be almost impossible to have read them unless you purchased the hardcover, which I rarely do (I did get one sent to me by the publisher to review, which is the only reason I have already read it). So I appreciate the list for its reading suggestion value, if nothing else.

I put the titles I've read in bold and the ones I've never heard of in italics.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews *

Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall

Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

Conceit by Mary Novik

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson

Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin

Elle by Douglas Glover

Essex County
by Jeff Lemire

Far to Go
by Alison Pick

February by Lisa Moore

Galore by Michael Crummey

Heave by Christy Ann Conlin

Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey

Late Nights on Air
by Elizabeth Hay

Life of Pi
by Yann Martel

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

Moody Food
by Ray Robertson

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

Room by Emma Donoghue

Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb

The Best Laid Plans
by Terry Fallis

The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Fallen by Stephen Finucan

The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon

The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart

The Way the Crow Flies
by Ann-Marie MacDonald

The Year of the Flood
by Margaret Atwood

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Through Black Spruce
by Joseph Boyden

Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.

by Carol Shields

Dani Girl and Mary Lynn mentioned the notable absences of Douglas Coupland, Alice Munro and Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner which actually won Canada Reads last year. I would add Michael Ondaatje as someone I would think might be on this list -- maybe he just hasn't published recently enough. I haven't looked at the list of 400 though. I also think it's kind of silly when an author has two books on a list like this -- I mean, if there was such a thing as an objective list of this sort, then I guess it could happen, but there isn't, so why not give two other authors a slot?

I did start reading Lullabies for Little Criminals, but I couldn't make it to that book club meeting, and I just didn't like it enough to keep reading. It's still on my shelf, but it's moved way down the list.

I do think Canadian literature has come a long way in the past ten or twenty years. When I studied it in university lo these many years ago, most of what we studied was of the Painfully Obviously Canadian variety -- you know, long lonely stretches of prairie and accompanying long lonely stretches of prose, Hugh McLennan's book on the Halifax Explosion, pastoral poetry. One year in book club we did quite a few Canadian novels and then had to declare an incest moratorium for the next year's list. Since then, I've discovered Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore, Miram Toews, and other Canadian authors who I'm too lazy to click over to Goodreads to remind myself of, and was relieved to discover that a Canadian novel can be funny, profound, passionate and lively without a hint of Gothic overtone or existential despair (okay, I'm not averse to a sliver of existential despair).

The Bishop's Man and Sweetness in the Belly have both been on my bedside table for the past few months. I might have spent all tonight reading both of them if I wasn't going to post this immediately, just to boost my total and beat Mary Lynn. But I am going to post this immediately, so I guess I'll have to take the honourable course. I'm so Canadian.


Mary Lynn said...

You're hilarious. I actually snorted out loud at your book club's incest moratorium because, I swear to God, our book club also nixed any such books for a while there after reading too many of them. (What a terrible thing to snort about, but really, we needed a break.)

P.S. I've read more than you-oooouuu. Nyah-nyah-na-nyah-nyah.

P.P.S. I'm such a twit.

Mary Lynn said...

Also, I can't count. LOL. I skimmed through your list and managed to miss one, so, um...actually I guess we're tied. Don't I feel sheepish. Baaaaa.

Pam said...

I am SO far behind. (I've read, like, two of them.) Maybe I should put down the kid's books and make more time for mine. The bedside table is getting structurally unsound with the number of to-do reads. You inspire me.

Rachel Cotterill said...

I've never heard of most of those... ooops. Still, at the moment I'm spending too much time writing to spend much time reading!

Nicole said...

I recently read Lullabies for Little Criminals. I'm not sure I really LIKED it but I had to keep reading because I thought maybe it would have a happy ending. Here was the process: I would flip a few pages, "Uh oh, her dad's back on heroin. Uh oh, now she's friends with a pimp. Oh no. Now SHE'S on heroin. Crap! Now she's a hooker!" Not really a happy book.

Shan said...

I've read this list a couple of times now and am shocked that I hadn't noticed there was no Coupland. Really? That seems kinda crazy. I did triple love The Book of Negroes and enjoyed The Year of the Flood more than I thought I would. As for the rest of the list, there isn't a lot there I have even heard of.

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

I've read a few. Heard of a few. Haven't heard of most. I love lists of books and movies. If there's a list somewhere, I almost always have to print it out, and highlight what I've seen/read. And then I keep that list with the intention of reading/watching the rest. And then I forget about it and find it crumpled up somewhere months later and I wonder what I was doing with the printing and the highlighting. It's like a weird tick.