Off the Page
A blog on Canadian writing, reading, and everything in between
We start this month on The Chat in conversation with Eden Robinson, author of the much-heralded new novel Son of a Trick …
Poetry collections are to springtime what ripe peaches are to late summer, and let me tell you: the crop this year is sp …
Picks from Joanna Lilley (If There Were Roads); Matt Murphy (A Beckoning War), Robert McGill (Once We Had a Country); Sa …
Carolyn Harris on Canada's contribution to the changing conversation about royal parenting through the ages.
These picture books make good springboards for discussion on cooperation and the complexities involved when people work …
Books about travel, migration and immigration that show us what we can learn by going to find ourselves—as readers and …
"I was an outsider. I did not belong. But far from threatening, I was lonely, clueless and utterly terrified."…
Women who dare to defy society's expectations for them—for better or for worse.
Poems about time: history, progress, resistance, and what's to come...
That Shakespearian Rag’s Steven W. Beattie wrote a nice post Jan 4th, A TSR reading challenge for 2011, that identified and challenged a certain part of the literary zeitgeist we’ve been noticing as well: literati counting and publicizing how many books they’ve read over the year. Whatever the intention, the effects of this trend can be to make other readers cast doubts about their own dedication to books and/or to provoke a competitive spirit and sense that more reading = better reader. Neither is particularly positive, and both feel like unfortunate symptoms of the pressure-cooker, media-gobbling culture we work and live in today.
Reading used to be an escape from the daily grind, not an additional to-do, and Beattie proposes a lovely challenge to readers in 2011 that aligns the habit again with this rightful function:
“Instead of pledging to read more this year, why don’t we all try to read better: to be more sensitive, expansive readers, to enter more deeply into the text, to actively engage with books on an intellectual, aesthetic, and linguistic level. Let’s try to focus less on the quantity of our reading and more on the quality. Who knows? By slowing down a bit, you might even find you’re enjoying yourself more.”
One commenter to the post, B. …
We haven’t yet read any of the ten books on BC’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction longlist, but four books are already winners in the category of subtitles:
- Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training (Tom Jokinen)
- The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (Molly Peacock)
- The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (John Vaillant)
- The Wave: In the Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (Susan Casey)
#1? Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training. The wry contrast between “adventures” and “undertaker,” not to mention the intrigue of “in-training,” seal the deal.
The great subtitles challenge the dry, even humourless reputation non-fiction as a genre tends to have vs. fiction (just think of how the media reacts to non-fiction awards compared to more fiction-heavy counterparts). All four of the BC Award's subtitles suggest inspired writing, and make cemeteries, later-life creativity, man-eating tigers, and big-ass waves seem like pressing things to know about.
For other musings on subtitles, check out the Guardian’s faves (love their background on Twelfth Night’s “What You Will”) and a blog called Exploring Our Matrix’s collection (one commenter offered Your Ass and a Hole in the Ground: A Comparative Study). For great titles, period, Goodreads has a fun bunch including:
- The Hollow Bunnies of the Apocalypse (Robert Rankin)
- Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (Chelsea Handler)
- An …
We had the pleasure of attending a great Ottawa literary event in October: the unveiling of the Project Bookmark Canada plaque commemorating Elizabeth Hay’s Garbo Laughs. Hay read a scene from her book—alternating with a friend who read a beautiful French translation—in the exact spot it took place (Old Ottawa South by the Rideau Canal). The group of us who clustered by her to listen experienced the narrative in an entirely new way.
Elizabeth Hay reading from Garbo Laughs at her Bookmark unveiling in Old Ottawa South
“Commemorating” is not exactly the right word, in fact, summoning as it does notions of the past and the finished. While Project Bookmark Canada celebrates writers’ works and offers them an enduring place in the landscape, it is very much a present sort of thing. As the website explains:
“Project Bookmark Canada [brings] written narratives beyond the page and into our physical spaces. Through a series of permanent markers bearing a fragment of text, Project Bookmark Canada reveals where our real and imagined landscapes merge, allowing the writers’ words, images and characters to stir us (residents and visitors, pilgrims or passersby) in the very locations where the stories take place.”
So far these are the writers and places honoured by …
The list is out, the list is out … and there are some awesome books on it. Are there critics of the process—upset about the perils of crowdsourcing and the myriad ways of introducing bias into the list? Of course, and many are completely justified. But any list-making exercise invites criticism, simply because no human-based selection process is going to be impartial.
In fact, we performed a highly complex mathematical analysis on the list to test out a hypothesis about a certain slant we thought we’d find: that of time, of recency to be exact. The list criteria stipulated books from the past decade. So we counted the number of books published before and after 2005 (it was arduous).
Findings: Two-thirds of the books on Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Past Decade were published after 2005.
Conclusion: Readers are substantially more likely to vote for books they have just read than books they read a while ago.
Comments: No huge surprise. However, it does underline how short our literary memories are, and that there are probably a few more “essential” books from 2000 to 2005 that would have made it onto the list were this not the case.
Our little analysis made us think about what ways there might be to cast a stronger light on older—but just as brilliant—books written further back in time. One Twitter commentator exclaimed, “They should do a Canada Reads for every decade going back to Confederation. Bring on the pioneer diaries!” (via @la_pan …
From left to right: David Bergen, Alexander MacLeod, Sarah Selecky, Johanna Skibsrud, Kathleen Winter.
The Scotiabank Giller Award shortlist came out yesterday, and as happens every year, a megawatt media spotlight appeared immediately to catapult the finalists into the reading public’s consciousness. The finalists are:
- David Bergen for his novel The Matter with Morris (Phyllis Bruce/Harper Collins)
- Alexander MacLeod for Light Lifting (Biblioasis), a short story collection
- Sarah Selecky for This Cake is for the Party (Thomas Allen Publishers), a short story collection
- Johanna Skibsrud for her novel The Sentimentalists (Gaspereau Press)
- Kathleen Winter for her novel Annabel (House of Anansi Press)
The Giller effect is always thrilling, but there’s a heightened sense of surprise and discovery this year since the four of the five shortlisted books hail from smaller presses. Two are debut story collections (Light Lifting and This Cake is for the Party) and two more (The Sentimentalists and Annabel) are first novels.
Smaller presses are incredibly important to our literary culture in large part because of the role they play in finding new literary talent and helping emerging authors find an audience. We’ve included links to the Giller authors’ presses in …