So as I mentioned in a previous blog post, a few key members of my book club and I hit the road extremely early last Saturday morning and drove the 3 hours from Toronto to Algonquin Park. Yes, we wanted to go canoeing, camping and the like, but for me it was about the book that we were reading: Northern Light by Roy MacGregor.
One of the reasons that I love reading Canlit is that it teaches me more about Canada. I feel really proud of the country and I also feel a sense of ownership as well, like: “This land here? Yeah, you may read about it, but it’s mine. I live here.”
Living in Canada, you can read a story like Galore by Michael Crummey that follows the mythical lore/history of Newfoundland, or a story like Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill that chronicles the life of a 12 year old girl trying to survive a parent who’s no more than a child himself in the slums of St. Catherine’s Street in Montreal. Then there’s Miraim Toews, who can write about a part of Canadian history in the stories of the Mennonite community in the Prairies while making you laugh and question what you really knew about the culture anyway. Canada is huge – the culture is different everywhere you go, yet somehow the country is still connected as a whole and I think that’s due largely to the availability of the wonderful, diverse literature that we create, read, and share. Some people think that when you read canlit you’re going to be reading a certain kind of novel. Not so. How different could some of these books be from one another?
Regardless of wherever you are, I suppose, there’s something so wonderfully real, concrete and personal about reading a book, (especially non-fiction), in the place where that book takes place. It was my goal to finish Northern Light while I was on the canoe trip in Algonquin Park. Ripe with mystery, romanticism, theories, doubt and heartbreak, MacGregor shows his passion and knowledge for the story of what happened to the Group of Seven artist, Tom Thomson. MacGregor grew up in Huntsville, and many of his elder family and their friends were around when Thomson was painting in the Park, so MacGregor has been connected to the story all his life. He wrote Canoe Lake – the historical fiction, if you will, of Thomson’s story, and still found he needed to write a non-fiction account of the events. It’s a fascinating read that chronicles the man who many believe captured the spirit of Canada on canvas, and the mystery of how he really met his untimely end. So picture this: I had a glass of wine while sitting on the rocks of the island I’d just canoed 10km to while I read Northern Light. I read about Tom Thomson painting the burnt oranges and deep yellow colours of the trees among the pines surrounding the lake in Algonquin Park. Then at night, when I was the only one up, I read the final pages in my tent by flashlight. The only sound was the rain fall lightly on the tent and through the trees. True magic.