This post comes from Mary Lynn via Dani Girl who posted about Canada Reads 2011 on CBC. Apparently this is a list of the 'best novels of the 2000s', winnowed from a list of 400 'after a hot online discussion and campaigning by both readers and writers.'
I'll be honest. I'll whore myself out to anything for an easy blog post. But in the words of one of my dear book club friends while declining to participate in a 'Survivor: The Book Version' game at our year-end dinner, "I think this is stupid." There's nothing wrong with discussing great books, and our society is one that cherishes its top ten lists. (Oh my god, I totally just typed it's instead of it's and then ALMOST MISSED IT. The horror). But really, what does saying that these 40 books are The Best of the Decade even really mean? I guess campaigning by people who wrote the books is okay, because it wouldn't be any more 'objective' than if it was decided by some jury of people who weren't the authors or friends of the authors.
But like both Dani Girl and Mary Lynn, I was surprised to realize how many of the authors on the list I had never even heard of, let alone read their book. I was also struck, as I commented on Mary Lynn's post, how these types of lists always seem to demonstrate short memories. At least two of these books are so recently published that it would be almost impossible to have read them unless you purchased the hardcover, which I rarely do (I did get one sent to me by the publisher to review, which is the only reason I have already read it). So I appreciate the list for its reading suggestion value, if nothing else.
I put the titles I've read in bold and the ones I've never heard of in italics.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews *
Bottle Rocket Hearts by Zoe Whittall
Clara Callan by Richard B. Wright
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
Conceit by Mary Novik
Crow Lake by Mary Lawson
Drive-by Saviours by Chris Benjamin
Elle by Douglas Glover
Essex County by Jeff Lemire
Far to Go by Alison Pick
February by Lisa Moore
Galore by Michael Crummey
Heave by Christy Ann Conlin
Inside by Kenneth J. Harvey
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
Moody Food by Ray Robertson
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
Room by Emma Donoghue
Shelf Monkey by Corey Redekop
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
The Fallen by Stephen Finucan
The Girls Who Saw Everything by Sean Dixon
The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe
The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart
The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
Twenty-Six by Leo McKay Jr.
Unless by Carol Shields
Dani Girl and Mary Lynn mentioned the notable absences of Douglas Coupland, Alice Munro and Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner which actually won Canada Reads last year. I would add Michael Ondaatje as someone I would think might be on this list -- maybe he just hasn't published recently enough. I haven't looked at the list of 400 though. I also think it's kind of silly when an author has two books on a list like this -- I mean, if there was such a thing as an objective list of this sort, then I guess it could happen, but there isn't, so why not give two other authors a slot?
I did start reading Lullabies for Little Criminals, but I couldn't make it to that book club meeting, and I just didn't like it enough to keep reading. It's still on my shelf, but it's moved way down the list.
I do think Canadian literature has come a long way in the past ten or twenty years. When I studied it in university lo these many years ago, most of what we studied was of the Painfully Obviously Canadian variety -- you know, long lonely stretches of prairie and accompanying long lonely stretches of prose, Hugh McLennan's book on the Halifax Explosion, pastoral poetry. One year in book club we did quite a few Canadian novels and then had to declare an incest moratorium for the next year's list. Since then, I've discovered Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore, Miram Toews, and other Canadian authors who I'm too lazy to click over to Goodreads to remind myself of, and was relieved to discover that a Canadian novel can be funny, profound, passionate and lively without a hint of Gothic overtone or existential despair (okay, I'm not averse to a sliver of existential despair).
The Bishop's Man and Sweetness in the Belly have both been on my bedside table for the past few months. I might have spent all tonight reading both of them if I wasn't going to post this immediately, just to boost my total and beat Mary Lynn. But I am going to post this immediately, so I guess I'll have to take the honourable course. I'm so Canadian.