Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Canadian Confession

Four years ago I compiled a list of classics that I should, as a self-respecting reader, be ashamed to say I haven't read. I've made a half-hearted attempt to work my way through them and have since managed to whittle that list of 20 down to 13. Curiously I didn't have any Canadian titles on that list. I'd like to pride myself on my knowledge of Canadian lit, but I've got some pretty gaping holes there as well. While most holes are more recently published works than the aforementioned classics list (I read very few books on current bestseller lists), there are still plenty I'm shamefaced to say I haven't read. Bad Canadian, Bad!

Here's my top 20 glaring omissions:

1. Rohinton Mistry- A Fine Balance
Like a few others on this list, I'm not sure if I've chosen the right novel, but I need to read at least something by Mistry. Should it be Family Matters? Such a Long Journey? What would you say is his most recognizable work?

2. Jane Urquhart- Stone Carvers
We Canadians apparently love books with Stone in the title. Maybe it's the granite cliffs, Precambrian Shield, and inuksuit.

3. Margaret Laurence- Stone Angel
I loved, loved, loved the Diviners and Bird in the House, yet have not managed to read what is perhaps her most well known. If it's any consolation, I've read lots of reviews from people who HATED this book in high school.

4. Donna Morrissey- Kit's Law
I don't think it's got the same public status as most others on this list but I have my reason for including it. Once upon a time I prided myself on keeping up with Newfoundland's literary scene. But slowly I've been getting more and more out of touch. I've not, for instance, read any novel of the Winter siblings. However, it's Morrissey of whom I've been saying the longest, "I really need to read something by her."

5. Richard B. Wright- Clara Callan
This one has the dubious distinction of sitting on my bookshelves the longest without being read. It's been with me in from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut; Summerford, Newfoundland; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and now here in Yellowknife. Why don't I just break down and read it already?

6. Hugh McClennan- The Watch That Ends The Night
It's referenced in "Courage" by the Tragically Hip. That's reason enough.

7. William Gibson- Neuromancer
Like Mistry above, I'm not sure-- perhaps it should be Pattern Recognition?

8. W. P. Kinsella- Shoeless Joe
Can't say I'm a baseball fan, but this one is a classic, or so I'm told. I am mildly intrigued that a famous sports novel from Canada isn't hockey related.

9. Ethel Wilson- Swamp Angel
Really I could just pick 20 books from McClelland and Stewart's New Canadian Library imprint.

10. Wayson Choy- Jade Peony
I've wanted to read it for a while and then when it was a Canada Reads contender my interest was piqued even more.

11. Brian Moore- The Luck of Ginger Coffey
Confession within a confession: When I first started hosting the Canadian Book Challenge one participant decided to make all 13 of her books Brian Moore novels. My first reaction was, "who?" Then, "he wrote how many novels?" How does someone this prolific fly so far under my radar?

12. Marie-Claire Blais- A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
I don't read enough Quebec authors and again, this one seems to have hit canonical status.

13. Michel Tremblay- The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant
Partly for the same reason as the one above but if I'm being perfectly honest, I've been attracted to it simply for the title ever since I'd heard of it. I could almost interchange this Gaétan Soucy's The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches for the exact same reasons.

14. Sheila Watson- Double Hook
Someone I don't respect once told me he read this in university and it's why he now doesn't like Canadian lit. He then recommended a Tom Clancy novel. I think I might love Double Hook.

15. Stephen Leacock- Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
I almost didn't include this one because I thought maybe I've read it before. But now I think I've only read some of the stories in anthologies.

16. David Adams Richards- For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down
I've only read Richards' Hockey Dreams. I have to read his fiction.

17. Joseph Boyden- Through Black Spruce
Through Black Spruce is to Three Day Road as The Other Side of the Bridge is to Crow Lake. In other words, I loved the first book in both of these series and had every intention to read the follow-up, then... didn't. Boyden gets the higher priority because a) I met him and like him and b) His is supposed to be part of a trilogy.

18. Kenneth Oppel- Silverwing
Speaking of series writers, I'd also like to give Oppel's Silverwing saga a shot. Just the original premise alone appeals to me immensely.

19. Tomson Highway- The Rez Sisters
The only play on my list. At first I was interested in reading it simply because I liked the playwright's name. But I've heard such accolades since, that I now need to read it.

20. Susannah Moodie- Roughing it in the Bush
We don't have a lot of Canadian literature pre-1900-- at least stuff that's remembered. Plus, I have Margaret Atwood's The Journals of Susanna Moodie on my shelf and I want to read Moodie herself before reading Atwood's poetry about her.

Phew! It was a hard list to compile, especially trying not to add too many recent books (Gargoyle, Room, the Outlander, Bone Cage, The Best Laid Plans...) and authors (Zoe Whittall, Linwood Barclay, Andrew Pyper, Annabel Lyon, Kathleen Winter, Michael Winter, Kelley Armstrong, Robert J. Sawyer, Alan Bradley...) that I still want to read, but there's only so much time in the day.

How about you? Which of the above have you read? Are there any Canadian books that you'd like to confess you haven't read?


Barbara Bruederlin said...

In my humble opinion, some of your doubts are soundly based. I would recommend that the first Rohinton Mistry book you read is Such a Long Journey, I agree that The Stone Angel is far from Margaret Laurence's best book, and I would also recommend that you start your Brian Moore experience with Judith Hearne. Carry on.

Remi said...

Having faced my own list of unfinished must reads, I approached this list ready to give you a complete pass. Some books we just won't get to so we might as well not sweat it.

Then I saw the list and couldn't help myself. A Fine Balance should be read as soon as possible. It's a book that will beat you up and drag you across the floor and still be one of the best things you will ever read.

Shoeless Joe and Neuromancer are also must reads.

I guess one of the bigger gaps in my CanCon reading is that I still haven't read any of Mavis Gallant's stories, despite having a couple of her books on my shelves.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: Well now, I've got some decisions to make, don't I?

Remi: Barbara seems to disagree on the Mistry choice. Hmmm. You guys aren't making this any easier. But, good to know I'm on the right track with Kinsella and Gibson. I haven't, by the way, read any Gallant yet either.

Kailana said...

A Fine Balance is probably the oldest book on my TBR pile that I haven't read... I have had it for years...

I also haven't read Stone Carvers, but it is on my TBR. I tried to read Stone Angel and didn't like it, but I did like Bird in the House.

I love Donna Morrissey. Downhill Chance is my favourite, but this one was really good, too.

Clara Callan is probably one of my favourite Canadian reads of all time. I have read Hugh McClennan before, but not that book... I didn't even know William Gibson was Canadian. oops! I own Necromancer, but haven't read it.

Shoeless Joe was pretty good. Never read Swamp Angel. Jade Peony was good, but not amazing for me.

I had never heard of Brian Moore before either. Now that I have, I still haven't read him.

Oh, the Double Hook is... different... but very very good! Sunshine Sketches of a Little town was really good. I really like David Adams Richards for the most part. I really need to get around to Through Black Spruce. (I read both Mary Lawson books and they were both really good.)

And, The Rez Sisters and Roughing it in the Bush were both good.

This is a long comment...

gypsysmom said...

I've read 10 out of your 20 and a couple of them only recently (Neuromancer and The Jade Peony) so I wouldn't beat yourself up about it. You must read A Fine Balance. You can read Family Matters after but A Fine Balance is too good to put off any longer. Although I haven't read The Rez Sisters I have seen a production of it. I suspect like lots of plays it may be better seen than read. I have Roughing it in the Bush in my TBR pile because it was referenced in one of Timothy Findley's books. Speaking of which, have you read his works? And what about Robertson Davies? He's mentioned in Moxy Fruvous' "My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors". Well, whatever you choose you have some great ones there and you'll up your Canadian book quotient.

Heather said...

I've read The Stone Angel and Clara Callan I'll admit that I don't go out of my way to read Margaret Atwood, but then again, she hasn't read my book,nor has anyone else.

John Mutford said...

Kailana: A long comment, yes, but I appreciate your thoughts. Do you have any other notable Canadian titles you haven't read?

Gypsysmom: 10/20 is pretty good! And I'm not really beating myself as much as I'm just prioritizing my TBR list. As for Timothy Findley and Robertson Davies, yes I've read both authors: The Wars and Fifth Business respectively.

John Mutford said...

Heather: Your book??? What's this? Do tell! As for Atwood, she's my most read Canadian author but I'm a bigger fan of Mordecai Richler.

Buried In Print said...

What fun!

Your post got me to pull down Leacock's stories because I thought I remembered reading that collection too, but I think now that I only read some for school also. So I would add that name to my list.

And I got stuck in the Tremblay novel (just bad timing, I liked it), so that (and Gibson, Sawyer, and Boyden, amongst those you've mentioned) would be on my list too.

Also Grove, Bodsworth, Lemelin, and a number of others on the NCL list, and many more besides. But never a dull moment....