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September 22, 2010

There is no such thing as a canon

All the books of my dreams are coming out in the UK this fall: I want to read Comfort and Joy by India Knight, Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson, and Burley Cross Postbox Theft by Nicola Barker (which is epistolary and about a postbox, if a book could be so full to bursting). I am going to read Room by Emma Donaghue, which seemed like the most wretched book imaginable when I first heard of it, and I still think so, but too many intelligent readers have convinced me to go there anyway. I have just moved Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting (which I keep calling Lift Lighting in my head) up near the top of my to-be-read stack, due to his Giller nomination, and Robert Wiersema’s review. I am going to be rereading Nikolski, We Need to Talk About Kevin, and Small Ceremonies in the coming weeks. Also from the Giller longlist, I think I am going to read Lemon by Cordelia Strube, and the rest I’m not really fussed about. Because I already read This Cake is for the Party, and it was wonderful, and Jessa Crispin has given me permission to shrug off everything else: “There is no such thing as a canon — what you should read or want to read or will read out of obligation is determined as much by your history, your loves, and your daily reality as by the objective merits of certain works.” Rock on, and bring on the old dead British ladies then with their hideously outdated Penguin covers and pages smelling of must.

In others, I am going to the Victoria College Book Sale on Saturday, but with a budget (how novel) and also, I am obsessive-compulsively fiction writing lately, which is wonderful, because I thought I lost the knack with the advent of my child, but I’m at 10,000 words and haven’t yet thought about giving up because the whole piece sucks (and the thing about having once completed three drafts of a bad novel is that you learn that just barrelling through to the conclusion won’t necessarily work out okay in the end, but at this point I still feel like there might be some worth in bothering).

And also, there is a pie in my oven. And on Saturday, that oven will be replaced with a new one that doesn’t require a barbecue lighter to start.

5 thoughts on “There is no such thing as a canon”

  1. Nathalie says:

    Oh my God! Don’t blow anything up before we get there!!

  2. “There is no such thing as a canon.” This is true for a casual reader, but for anyone who wants to write fiction, or study fiction, or truly appreciate fiction, it is utter horseshit. We can’t know where we are without knowing where we come from. And where we come from involves a canon of literature. Period.

    1. Kerry says:

      But the canon is always decided after the fact, and I think will be far richer for readers reading on their own terms, rather than by what the crowd is dictating. Granted, a reader shouldn’t live in a bubble, but readers who pursue their own reading passions are far more interesting than the umpteenth everyone else’s take on *Freedom*. Further, a critic who (to give a personal example) insists on readings all the Giller nominees every year and detests the process every time is hardly going to have his appreciation for fiction broadened. And seeing as most of those books are destined for the posterity garbage-bin anyway, what’s the point? You’re entirely correct about an established canon for older books, and we have a responsibility to know these (though we should challenge and broaden that canon too), but nobody has a responsibility to read Blood Letting and Other Miraculous Cures, if you know what I’m saying. Nobody should read a brand new book that doesn’t grab them just because Time magazine told them to.

      Anyway, I think we’re sort of talking about two different things, and neither of us is entirely wrong. Or entirely horseshit.

  3. Melwyk says:

    The new Nicola Barker does sound irresistible! I’ll keep my eyes open for that one. I went to the best local church sale last night and found two Barbara Pym’s in good condition – all your influence.

    And I’m afraid I agree, I don’t like to read all the books on the latest prize lists etc. I follow my own taste a lot. But I do want to recommend Dianne Warren’s Cool Water from the Giller longlist. I really loved it.

    1. Kerry says:

      My main problem with Dianne Warren is that I can NOT separate her from Diane Warren, and then start singing Celine Dion and Trisha Yearwood, as you do.

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