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December 1, 2009

Anticipation will get you nowhere

Today was a smaller day than projected. First, we got to the doctor and found out that our appointment wasn’t actually scheduled (which wasn’t my fault, for once). And then the Canada Reads 2010 lineup was revealed, and I’m not so excited now. Though it’s not all bad– Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner is on the list, and I’m pretty passionate about that novel, so I’m pleased it’s going to get wider exposure– it was one of my favourite books of 2008, and you can read my review here.

But I find the rest of the lineup distinctly blah: I read Generation X years ago and might like to revisit it, particularly as it’s such a reference point, but I don’t know how satisfying that reread would be. I read Good to a Fault last year, and though many many people loved this book, I didn’t. Which was odd, because its domestic realm is a place where I spend a lot of my literary time, but the story needed a good edit and didn’t come alive for me. I have never read Fall On Your Knees, though I’ve started it a thousand times but never got very far in (oddly, however, McDonald’s The Way the Crow Flies is a book I absolutely adore). The only book of the bunch that was new to me is Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, which I’m going to read now.

Participating in Canada Reads this year would involve me buying two books I used to own but gave away, and that’s never a good sign. So I suspect I’ll not be taking part, and I’m really disappointed about that. Last dear I so enjoyed reading all the books, looking at them critically, attending the Canada Reads Panel at the Toronto Reference Library, and listening to the broadcasts in March. Last year, however, I was inspired to get involved by a list of book I had a genuine interest in visiting (or revisiting, in one case). In particular, I liked the inclusion of a quirky book from a small press (Fruit), and that I got to discover an important Canadian writer I’d been neglecting (Tremblay). I am not so convinced that year’s list would reap similar rewards.

I’m also not convinced that any of these are books I’d recommend for all Canadians to read, though does any book, I wonder, hold such general appeal?

9 thoughts on “Anticipation will get you nowhere”

  1. metro mama says:

    Yeah, I was disappointed too. Nikolski is the only book I haven't read, so I've requested it from the library. I didn't think much of Good to a Fault either.

    We had our 4-month appt today, and a baby who cried for 3 hrs tonight. On the plus side, he's 100th percentile for height and weight!

  2. Randy Banderob says:

    If you decide to read Fall on Your Knees, let me know what you think about the character of Frances. Has she been totally scooped out of John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire (name and all)or what?

  3. alyssa says:

    I was pleased to see Nikolski on the list too. I loved Gen X 12years ago and, though it might be interesting to see how I respond to it now, I doubt I will devote scarce book time to re-reading it.

    I read the first quarter of Endicott's book and put it down. I think I may have read the Jade Peony but I can't remember, which in itself isn't a good sign. So, perhaps the only title I pick up this year is Fall on Your Knees.

  4. Kerry says:

    I have an excellent plan in the works for anyone who's looking for a more "Indie" version of Canada Reads. More to come soon…

  5. charlotteashley says:

    The Afterword is hosting a "Canada Also Reads"…. I find myself intrigued.

  6. Finn Harvor says:

    "I'm also not convinced that any of these are books I'd recommend for all Canadians to read, though does any book, I wonder, hold such general appeal?"

    I tend to agree with the point of view that these reading projects should focus on fairly new titles, so the following doesn't really apply. But in terms of a novel that says something about the psyche of Canada, how about TWO SOLITUDES? I read it in high school (dating it very much), but I was struck at the time how much I enjoyed it, and its theme of two national identities alienated from each other still holds true. Except these days we would argue there are three, central alienated identities, I suppose (maybe more). And, of course, if feelings of anglo angst are valid artistic material, then we would really need a Quebecois novel paired with TS.

    (Which, incidentally, raises a interesting sidebar question: is NIKOLSKI, a francophone novel, appealing in part — repeat, in part — because it provides mild promise of a Canada Reads' sense of national closure?)

    In any case, the tensions of incompletion that haunt the anglo Canadian soul seem to be ones that qualify as "national", and so a book that addresses these tensions might be considered a national book. We're all Canadians, of course, so we would hesitate to call any such work A Great Canadian Novel — but, well, every nation/bifurcated nation/triplicated nation's gotta have one, right? And after we solve *that* wound of the national psyche, we could discuss a novel about the native/European encounter.

  7. Kerry says:

    I really like Two Solitudes, and also The Watch That Ends the Night. And I wish I had something to add to your thoughtful comment, but a) I'm really tired and b) I'd mainly just write, "Right on…" like a stupid hippie. Thanks for this.

    Oh, except for– could anyone get away with writing nationalist literature anymore? Are we post-national? It seems strange that nothing this reaching has been written for over forty years.

  8. Melanie says:

    I agree with your take on this list. I am glad that Nikolski is one of the choices, as I also really enjoyed reading it. But the others, well, just not that interesting for me.

    I never liked Two Solitudes much, but that may have been because I read it in first year university — too long ago. For another novel about the two solitudes of Quebec (plus a third solitude in their midst) I've always liked Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham. (which is also due for a reread)

  9. sassymonkey says:

    The Canada Reads list this year is just plain dull.

    I don't think it should necessarily be all new books. I think there are hidden gems in many Canadian publisher's backlists. My problem with this is that that most of the books on it have already had their chance to shine. Most of them have gotten good press and accolades in the past. Most people who would have wanted to read them have already done so or already have them sitting on a list somewhere.

    Aside from being dull, it's also a very "safe" list. It just makes me yawn.

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