Winner of the 2007 B.C. Award for Canadian Non-fiction
A Globe and Mail Best 100 Book (2006)
National Post Best Books (2006)
A bold cultural portrait of contemporary Canada through the work of its most celebrated novelists, short story writers, and storytellers.
Stories are the surest way to know a place, and at a time when the fabric of the country seems daily more uncertain, Noah Richler looks to our authors for evidence of the true nature of Canada. He argues why fiction matters and seeks to discover — in the extra-ordinary diversity of communities these writers represent — what stories, if any, bind us as a nation.
Over two years, Richler has criss-crossed the country and interviewed close to one hundred authors — a who’s who of Canadian literature, including Wayne Johnston, Michael Crummey, Alistair MacLeod, Gil Courtemanche, Jane Urquhart, Joseph Boyden, Miriam Toews, Yann Martel, Fred Stenson, Douglas Coupland, and Rohinton Mistry — about the places and ideas that are most meaningful to their work. The result is a journey through the reality of Canada and its imagination at a critical point in the country’s evolution. Within thematic chapters he exposes our “Myths of Disappointment” and considers the stories of our native peoples, the rise of the city, and how our history as a colony shapes our society and politics even today.
This Is My Country, What's Yours? is an impassioned literary travelogue and a vivid portrayal of our society, the work of Canadian authors, and the idea of writing itself.
This Is My Country, What's Yours? is based on Noah Richler’s ten-part documentary of the same name originally broadcast on CBC Radio’s flagship Ideas program in spring 2005.
About the author
NOAH RICHLER produced and hosted documentaries for BBC Radio for many years before returning, in 1998, to his native Canada to join the National Post. He has worked in bars, mines, newspapers, and the theatre; as a prospector’s assistant in the Yukon and on a lobster boat in Nova Scotia. He is an author, journalist, cultural critic, an occasional broadcaster and, since 2014, the Literary & Ideas Curator of Toronto’s Luminato Festival of Arts and Creativity. He has won two gold National Magazine Awards and is the author of This Is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada, which won the 2007 British Columbia Award for Canadian Non-Fiction and was picked in 2010 as one of the Top Ten Books of the Decade by Macleans news magazine, and What We Talk About When We Talk About War, was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction and the Shaughnessy Cohen Award for Political Writing.
- Short-listed, Pearson Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize
Excerpt: This Is My Country, What's Yours?: A Literary Atlas of Canada (by (author) Noah Richler)
Knowing too much about writers and their lives, about who they are and who their friends are, can get in the way of a story that is fiction, after all, if only because the events in it have been edited and selectively arranged. Even doing only that takes skill. Do it well enough and fiction can seem like fact again, with the result that readers and friends sometimes confuse characters with people whom they know. Even writers and their families are not immune to making such mistakes themselves, but it was a surprise to learn that this category of error had been made by the luminaries of Burning Rock.
At a Larry Mathews class that I attended at Memorial, Lisa Moore had been the invited guest.
"In my first collection of stories," Moore told the table of graduate students, "there’s a story of a woman who is pregnant, and while she’s pregnant, her husband has an affair. Michael Winter is a very good friend of mine and because he lived here at that time I would speak to him every day on the telephone. Often we exchanged pages, sent them back and forth — not by email, because he lived just up the street. I would send him four or five pages, and he would send four or five pages down. So we were in very close contact, but somehow Michael hadn’t read this one story of mine that won an award. I had moved to Toronto, and Michael had to phone me and tell me that I’d won. Now I don’t know why he was the person that was phoning me, but he sounded completely depressed and I thought, 'What’s wrong? I won an award. Come on.' Finally he said to me in a grave voice, 'Lisa, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know that Steve had an affair when you were giving birth' — and I was completely stunned because my husband hadn’t had an affair — at least not that I know of."
There was a collective groan from the students.
"Many of the images in the story of how the birth happened were true," she said. "Those physical details were so vivid and so dramatic and so fresh that they worked perfectly. But then when I was writing it, I thought that there needed to be more tension there. Something bad had to happen. As a writer, what you need to do is to take characters and put them in moral situations that the reader can sympathize with and understand — and then you have to make the worst possible thing happen. So it wasn’t enough that this woman nearly died in childbirth. 'What could be worse?' I asked. 'Could it be worse?' And yes, I decided it could have been. Her husband could have had an affair — and Michael, who actually writes fiction and who is completely aware of how a writer takes details that are absolutely true and then changes them, believed the story so much that he was hardly able to speak to me about it. My husband was actually the one who answered the phone in Toronto and he looked baffled and said that Michael had been rude to him and that he hadn’t said hello or goodbye or anything. So Steve said to me, 'What’s going on?' And then when I told him, Steve said that he would definitely be having an affair if I ever got pregnant again because many people were asking him about it and wanted to know if the story was true."
"And how did you feel about your story after that?" a student had asked.
"I think all the fuss indicated that it was damn successful — for me," said Moore, laughing. "But it wasn’t so good for Steve."
* * *
"I never thought that for a second," said Winter.
"Michael!" said Moore, "what are you saying?"
"No," said Winter. " This was somebody else who said that to you, and you’ve applied it to me — just like the time when I made you a Bruce Springsteen cassette tape, and there was room to spare, so I put some Otis Redding on the end of it. About five years later I was in the back of your car with you and Steve, and the cassette was playing and at the end of it Otis Redding came on. You turned around and you said, 'Isn’t it great?' And I said, 'Yeah, it’s good, it’s really good,' and you said, 'This is the guy that Springsteen discovered in New Jersey. He had room on the end of his lp, and so he put this unknown guy on the end. Isn’t it amazing he did this?' My jaw was dropping! I couldn’t believe it! I’d made the cassette for you!"
The bartender looked up as everybody at the table roared — except for Moore, who looked positively demure.
"That’s an interesting story, Michael," she said, "but it has nothing to do with what really happ —"
"It just goes to show how you fabricate," said Winter. "How you make interesting stories out of completely bogus details —"
"Or how Michael does," said Moore. "Why believe Michael over me? Guys?"
"This Is My Country is a long-overdue interruption in our country’s cultural conversation. Most important, it is genuine and sophisticated, funny, poignant and wise….Richler’s piercing observations … are precisely conceived and eloquently expressed….His wit is delicious. He is that genuine article, of which there are so few, a public intellectual unafraid of discussion and disagreement. … The book is quite simply wonderful, exquisitely structured and fabulously written. This “atlas” is the work of a genius magpie, an eclectic reader, a passionate traveller."
—Globe and Mail
"Noah Richler is a rarity in the modern age: a true man of ideas. You can count such men on one hand, our own David Warren and Mark Steyn being two more fingers. Richler's broad survey of Canadian literature vibrates with a love of our country, including a refreshing admiration for the West."
—The Western Standard (Ezra Levant's Publisher's Pick, November 2006.)
"This is a writer who is fond of people and their quirks and who cares deeply about our country ... Richler has brought us up to date. He documents the fact that we have not only survived — we have thrived."
—Literary Review of Canada
"The most compelling analysis of Canadian stories since Margaret Atwood’s book Survival."
"Immensely thought-provoking — and, at times, simply provoking….[Richler is] a first-rate polemicist."
"An enriching and provocative read."
"Richler is…a thoughtful and sympathetic interlocutor for a series of contemporary Canadian writers….[His] book is a heady mix of abstractions about the worth and purpose of literature, cultural commentaries and meditations, author interviews and literary excerpts, all held together by first-person narration."
"Richler is a highly skilled writer."