When I was in high school in my last year, there were two specialized English classes that we could opt to take instead of the regular one. The regular English class would have a variety of topics and usually included a Shakespeare play, some novels and possibly some poetry and short stories. One of the specialized courses was European Literature and one was Canadian Literature. At the time, I decided to take the European Lit class instead of the Canadian Lit because, I’ll admit, I thought Canadian authors were boring. I know. I’m ashamed of that now but that’s the way I thought back in the 70s.
I believe the Canadian Lit course included such authors as Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findlay and probably Robertson Davies among others. The European Lit included Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsen, Tolstoy, Flaubert and Josef Conrod. Some of the novels I liked, some I hated. I’ve reread a few of them in the past year or two and changed my mind on several. You will never get me to crack open a Conrod ever again. He scarred me for life!
In the more recent years, however, I’ve rediscovered that Canadian authors are very diverse and even the classic authors are pretty damn amazing. Even before I found the Canadian book groups at Goodreads, I’d been dipping into books written by home grown authors and authors that have immigrated to Canada and are considered “ours”. Through the Goodreads groups, I’ve discovered lots of newer authors and I’ve been encouraged to pick up more of the classic books by authors that have been writing for decades. The experience has been mostly quite positive and I will definitely be delving into more of their back catalogues.
Here’s a good blog post about a 2012 survey about how Canadians felt about Canadian books and authors. The results are quite interesting.
A couple of good places to start if you don’t really know what you might like is the website for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a literary prize handed out every year to Canadian writers. There is a long list which is pared down to a short list of new novels published that year. The winner is announced in November. They have the lists and winners on their site going back to 1994. It’s a great place to find superb books.
Along a similar vein, there’s CBC’s Canada Reads competition. They choose five books and a well known Canadian defends each book, promoting it’s good points in a televised competition over a few days where one book is eliminated by a vote of the defenders each day. The books are not always new releases, either, they can be much older. Each year the competition sets a theme for the books and picks a long list and each defender must read all five of the shortlisted books. There are some wonderful books to be explored. The website has the shortlist and winners back to 2002. The shortlist for 2017 will be announced at the end of January with the competition near the end of March.
CBC, the national television and radio broadcaster, is a big supporter of the arts and their Books section has lots of great information, interviews, lists and you can click and click and find all kinds of interesting things like “My Life in Books” where prominent Canadians share their favourite books. There are two radio shows that feature books and interviews, too. You can listen on line to past episodes or to podcasts and one also has a blog. The Next Chapter is one and Writers and Company is the other. Follow CBC Books on Twitter.
I have long decided that Margaret Atwood is my favourite Canadian writer and I plan to try to read all her novels and short stories, maybe even her poetry. I admit that’s not really my favourite thing to read but for her, I’m willing to experiment! I’ve seen her interviewed and she’s sharp and witty and so interesting!
Other Canadian authors I’ve discovered and really enjoyed include Miriam Toews (Manitoba), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Nova Scotia), Ami MacKay (Nova Scotia), Lesley Crewe (Nova Scotia), Michael Crummey (Newfoundland), Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland), Frances Itani (Ontario), Kathleen Winter (Quebec), Linden McIntyre (Newfoundland), Heather O’Neill (Quebec), Jocelyn Saucier (Quebec), Sussana Kearsley (Ontario), Louise Penney (Quebec), Richard Wagamese (Ontario) and Elizabeth Hay (Ontario). There are more but those are the ones that particularly impressed me. In fact, Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese is probably my favourite book from my reading in 2016. It certainly stayed with me for some time after I finished it.
I am most definitely going to be reading Canadian authors regularly. I look forward to finding new ones and discovering more books written by our classic authors in addition to Ms. Atwood, such as Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley just to name a few. I think it’s important to promote home grown talent though I’ll continue to read from other countries, too,(I’ve developed a fondness for Scandinavian crime novels!) and I plan to continue my quest to read literary classics.