Hi, folks! Just wanted to say a little hello, and let you all know that I’m pleased as punch to be attending the Canada Reads: True Stories announcement today at noon. Simply can’t wait. As it was the Canada Reads initiative by CBC Books that started all this for me, I’m so pleased to be involved in the next incarnation of the program.
To keep you all interested, I thought I’d repost the article that I wrote for Harper Collins Canada’s wonderful blog, The Savvy Reader a couple of weeks ago. Enjoy!
But first, I thought you might enjoy this photo of me and my girl Julia Barrett (Harper Collins Canada publicist) at the Giller Light Bash in Toronto:
Reading Canada, in Canada: A guest post by Allegra
I’ve been reading a lot of Canlit for the past little while because I’ve taken on the challenge to read the CBC Canada Reads longlist from 2010. Why 2010, now? That particular year of Canada Reads was the 10th anniversary, so the longlist was populated by books that have been on the shortlist of Canada Reads in the previous 10 years. According to the longlist, these 40 books are the best of the best of Canadian fiction. These are 40 books that every Canadian should read. I don’t know if I thought I would get anything from this challenge other than some really good reads, but I have: a whole different knowledge of Canada.
My first discovery was that all the books I had read were coming together in my mind. I figured that they would all remain like separate adventures and stories as it is when reading any other fiction. What I found, however, was that I had unconsciously created a map of Canada in my head and each time I read a book, I would place a little pin in the map and that’s where that story would live. It was when I was reading Clara Callan, by Richard B. Wright, that I realized I had created this map. The two sisters, Clara and Nora, take a trip to see the famous quints that were born in Callander, Ontario in 1934. I was visualizing their trip in my head, which brought up a map of Canada, and I found that where I visualized Montreal, there was a little pop-up, almost, of the book Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. There was the main character, Baby, going about her daily life in Montreal and without thinking, I wondered how she was doing. I think because I’ve been solely reading Canlit for the past 6 months, I had created a map where these stories could live, interact with each other, and form a rich tapestry of the many lives that represent the plethora of different people that live in Canada. I’m currently reading The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe, and when I read about their party’s interaction with the Blackfoot natives, I feel like I understand the history much more having now also read Elle by Douglas Glover.
This realization made me think of what it would be like to read these novels in the places where their stories unfold. Now, of course I can’t really go back to Canada in the 1500s to an aboriginal village, grab a spot at the campfire and dig into Elle. I can, however, go to Algonquin Park to read Northern Light by Roy MacGregor; a biography of Tom Thomson. This book wasn’t on the list, but I picked it for my book club last month because I had read Canoe Lake, also by MacGregor, and have been fascinated by this mysterious, romantic, Canadian legend ever since. I got some friends together that were in the book club, and we decided to go on a canoe/camping trip to Algonquin Park, where I planned to finish Northern Light. It was the last weekend in September and though the forecast was mighty ominous, the rain cleared just as we hoisted our canoes up to portage across the highway and start our trip. We canoed about 10km to our campsite on Ragged Lake and once we settled in, poured ourselves a drink and sat by the water. It was incredible looking across the lake at the deciduous trees in burnt orange, mustard yellow and that vibrant red so notoriously Canadian. The lake was like one giant mirror and if you unfocussed your eyes enough while looking at the reflection of the land and sky, you would feel on the verge of falling into some haunting abyss. It was truly impossible not to see how Tom Thomson was so enraptured with the landscape in Algonquin Park.
That night after we had eaten our dinner (steaks and baked potatoes cooked over a campfire, I might add), finished our wine and done some stargazing away from the blaring lights of the big city, we all got into our tents. The others went to sleep, but I stayed up to read. I’ll quote what I wrote in my blog a couple of weeks ago:
“At night, when I was the only one up, I read the final pages [of Northern Light] in my tent by flashlight. The only sound was the rain falling lightly on the tent and through the trees. True magic.”
And it was. Reading Canadian novels, in the places where their stories unfold is such a unique experience – especially in a country like Canada. From the west coast to the east, Canada is full of such a wide-range of landscapes, peoples and culture. If I was only reading books from another country, say, Italy, I’m sure the literature would be interesting, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as diverse as the output that we are lucky enough to be receiving from Canadian authors these days. From Whitehorse to Toronto, Lunenburg to Medicine Hat, the inspiration for our Canadian authors is rich and inviting. I urge all of you voracious readers to try reading at least five Canadian books in a row and I guarantee you’ll discover not only an interest, but an obsession with all things Canadian. That, and some heavier bookshelves.