Friday, October 15, 2010 |
At Canada Reads HQ, we've been busy taking in your nominations and looking across the country for recommendations from authors, publishers, and other industry professionals. Today, we bring you picks from the people who live, breath, and possibly eat books: book bloggers.
I recommend The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon, because it's challenging, literary, fun, plot-driven, ripe with allusions, a good read even if you don't get the allusions, a book about girls that's written by a man, because it's a celebration of bookishness, and because it's about the most bizarre book club you could ever imagine.
...My recommendation, which I hope isn't too much of a long shot: Essex County by Jeff Lemire (whom I was introduced to after winning a Lemire prize pack from CBC Radio). My reasons for choosing Essex County are many, but first and foremost I think it's time a graphic novel was thrown into the ring. Graphic novels are more than just a passing fad. People are finally realizing they're not all superheroes and violence and that they aren't all aimed at nerdy schoolboys. But Essex County wouldn't just be a shout-out to graphic novels, an acknowledgment that they've come along way but quickly eliminated before moving on to the "real books." Lemire's writing and artwork are as rich, heartfelt and complex as any CanLit classic. The characters struggle to overcome loneliness and disconnect, shared histories and circumstance. Readers will come to love them not in spite of their flaws, but for them. However, they won't feel the desire to visit Essex County as they will recognize it in their own towns. Move over Manawaka.
Here's where Gibson achieves the true voice that all of his earlier books pointed toward. Ruthlessly efficient prose and a vision of the present time -- this precarious moment -- so crystal clear, so delicately portrayed and so removed from traditional Canadian storytelling channels that it shines like a kind of overlooked jewel in the Can Lit canon. There's an aloofness, for sure, and his affiliation with speculative fiction makes him persona non grata among the literary elite, I still maintain that Gibson takes almost every Canadian writer to school in terms of creatively investigating our current relationship between technology, cities and human nature. We ignore this book at our peril. We relegate it to genre asterisk sidelines and we look like fools because of it. It's a classic Canadian book and would deliver new conversational opportunities among people in every city in this country. This is a book that people can understand, it speaks their language and it doesn't care about our pretenses. That's the highest praise I can give any book.
Picture fireworks: some burst tomato-red and others Christmas-green and some do a crackling machine gun noise you weren't expecting. Every book has merit in the same way every firework packs its own punch, but Jessica Grant's Come, Thou Tortoise is the whole show, start to finish. It's every colour, pop, and bang. I have not ever laughed or loved a book this much, because there has never been another book like it. It's not a "so what's it about?" scenario. This book transcends that. Reading this book is like holding on to fireworks.
The qualities of Jessica Grant's writing are beyond words, and for that reason she is the freshest, most readably original voice in the country. She's a natural wordsmith with diction crisper than celery, and she's more witty than the ocean is wet. She's written a novel not one other author could have possibly conceived. You filter Jessica Grant's wit and wording through her main character, Audrey Flowers, and you end up with the most endearing character to ever grace a Canadian novel, who sees and describes the world in a consistently bright way. Example, she describes Sylvester Stallone as "bullety." No one has ever used that adjective before, that apt neologism, but it's perfect, right? It's no wonder Michael Winter, a CanLit icon known for his own attention to detail, endorsed this novel with a plea, "Please -- I beg you dear reader -- read Jessica Grant.'
Come, Thou Tortoise was a Globe and Mail Book of year in 2009, it won the Winterset Award and the big-deal Amazon.ca Best First Novel Award, and a handful more besides that. The critics have sounded off with all the fervour of firecrackers trapped in a can, and now it's ready for CBC's Canada Reads. It has the funniest passages I've ever read and busts down the walls of what can be done with language and the novel form. It even has leagues of book lovers across the country adopting Audrey's catch phrases. Jessica Grant is a lingual wizard and CBC's Canada Reads is the perfect stage to showcase her magic.
After careful consideration, my recommendation for inclusion is most definitely Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (Freehand Books). Endicott has written a book that is perfect and true, in setting, characters, situation and descriptions, and that leaves me with the feeling when I finish reading of wanting to begin to reread it immediately, and all over again. This is my own personal judgment and test of a great book. The quality of the writing is high, very high, and the book offers one of the best-crafted stories I've read in a long time. Endicott is a master. The fact that Good to a Fault is written by an Albertan author makes it all that much more appealing to me, but is not the prime reason why I am recommending it. This writer can easily stand alongside every other great Canadian writer, as far as I am concerned.
My pick is most definitely Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. I am almost positive this book qualifies since it was nom'd for the GG's.
I nominate this book because there is no other like it. It is breathtakingly original, witty, well-paced, and intelligent. The characters are well-rounded and capable of the unexpected, the format is creative, and most of all, the use of language is consistently sparkling. This is a book with the capacity to surprise. Its daring is always accompanied by a wink, though, and the reader is never yoked by the novel's obvious intelligence.
When I read that the folks behind Canada Reads were opening up the doors and letting anyone and everyone throw in their two cents about what books should be defended in 2011, I clapped my hands in glee. I did a squiggly little chair dance. I laughed out loud. And I knew, in about two seconds, what my nomination was going to be.
Cathy Buchanan's The Day the Falls Stood Still is a Canadian book through and through. It's quiet and polite and doesn't bash you over the head with any all important and consuming message. It's a book about love: family love, romantic love, environmental love and self love. But it isn't gushy about it, you see. It doesn't come at you with a slew of public displays of affection and over the top declarations of all consuming love. But it's there, all over the place. Love. You can feel it with each word and in each scene. Whether Cathy is talking about Bess and Tom, Bess' dressmaking or the Falls themselves you get the sense that there's loved involved. In the plot and in the creation of the book.
The Day the Falls Stood Still broke my heart so many times. I was only a couple of chapters in when I realized I was going to need a seriously large box of Kleenex. I'm an emotional reader at the best of times but this book left me a blubbering, drooling idiot. And it wasn't just the sad parts that made me cry. The way that Cathy describes the Falls made my heart ache, her writing was filled with such respect and awe and love. I've never been to the Falls, had never had any desire to visit them, but after reading this book I wanted to hop on a plane and witness the beauty first hand. But then I realized I didn't have to: Cathy described them so vividly, I actually felt like I had been there.
I always find it hard to explain the greatness of a book when I feel an emotional attachment to it. I usually just end up gushing and not making a whole lot of sense. What I really want to say to people about The Day the Falls Stood Still is read it. Seriously. I don't care if you aren't a fan of Canadiana, historical fiction or love stories. Read it. You won't be disappointed.
Canada Reads is about great Canadian literature, sure, but I think it should also be about books that people can and do fall in love with. For me, this is a no-brainer. The Day the Falls Stood Still is all about love. And I think it's about time ALL of Canada falls in love with it like I did.
Alexie's novel is a ruthless examination of after-effects of residential school abuse in a Northern community. It does not just explore the horror of those who were imprisoned and abused in the schools, it raises the issue that will be with us as a nation for generations: how can you expect those who never experienced parenting (except as authoritarian abuse) to be parents themselves? The book is not without an element of hope however as Alexie chronicles the efforts of his central characters to find a place in a friendlier world.
Margaret Atwood famously identified survival as the abiding theme in Canadian literature, but this has usually been interpreted to mean survival against the elements, or disease, or war, or the depredations of time. Renegade novelist Kenneth J. Harvey reconstitutes this theme in his 2006 novel Inside, about a man who is released from prison after 14 years when his conviction for murder is overturned. Given his freedom and the promise of a government cheque to compensate him for his time inside, the novel's hero, Myrdon, tries to return to civilian life, but has been institutionalized to such an extent that he finds the experience viciously daunting. Told in staccato sentences that mirror Myrdon's psychological malaise, the novel is an uncomfortable, at times almost off-putting read. But for all its ferocity -- this is a very cold, violent book -- it also stands as a stark and precise dissection of one man's alienation and loneliness. Part Albert Camus, part James Ellroy, Inside is an excoriating examination of modern anomie, of one man's attempt to survive life outside the walls of a prison cell. Its shattering final scene carries all the force and effect of a Greek tragedy, and only solidifies this novel's place as one of the most potent works of fiction to appear in this country over the past 10 years.
Who do you want to see on the list? There's just a little over a week left for you to nominate an essential Canadian novel from the last 10 years. Fill out our online form, or contact us through Twitter or Facebook.
Kimberly Walsh is an associate producer for Canada Reads and the Book Club.