Some Really Good (under appreciated) Canadian Books…Part One

Some books get all the street cred. They win awards and hoopla. Their authors are invited every-which-where and are added to lists (CanLit, writers-to-watch, top 100, etc.).

However, like musicians and artists (in all disciplines), there are those writers and books that escape notice for whatever reason. The authors aren’t in the right circles or the right time and place or they simply miss out on luck. No denying there is a lot of luck involved in getting noticed as an artist of any stripe in this world.

I think about my numerous friends in the arts, too many of whom are devastatingly talented but heartbreakingly unrecognized or under-recognized. I’d like to take this and the nextreally-good-literature-is-seldom-appreciated-in-its-own-day-the-best-authors-die-poor-the-bad-ones-make-money-its-always-been-like-that-walter-moers blog to recognize just a few of these fine people and their fine titles. In fact, this week, CBC stole my blog idea and created this list: 12 Underrated Canadian Novels.   But here’s mine– cultivated with a little help from my friends–of summer reading suggestions (with brief annotations) for under-read Can Lit*:

The Next Margaret – Janice MacDonald   “The very first Randy Craig Mystery was published in 1994 and is the ‘lost book’ of the series. We first meet Miranda ‘Randy’ Craig as she returns to grad school to do an MA in English literature at the University of Alberta focusing on novelist Margaret Athers, a reportedly  reclusive figure who can only be contacted through her publisher. But all is not as it seems. Soon, Randy must use her literary deductive skills to prove that the Department of English is harbouring a killer.”

Doubting Yourself to the Bone – Thomas Trofimuk  “A story about the nature of grief, about what it means to be a parent in the face of great sorrow, the idea of re-invented love and hope. Set in Paris and a small town in the Canadian Rockies, the novel is propelled forward by a horrific car crash that reverberates for the victim’s husband and daughters….this story serpentines through the labyrinth of grief and pain as the victim’s husband wrestles with the question, was the car crash an accident or intentional?”

The Betrayal – Henry Kreisel  “This swift philosophical thriller explores the role of North Americans as witnesses to global history. With rich allusions to Joseph Conrad The Betrayal traces the effects of the Holocaust to Edmonton, Alberta, an unlikely spot for a moral showdown–or so one would at first think. A classic of contemporary Canadian literature.” – Goodreads

Allegra – Shelley Hrdslitschka  “[An] absorbing exploration of contemporary teen life…Hrdlitschka (Sister Wife) realistically depicts teenage emotional turmoil as Allegra’s growing obsession with Mr. Rocchelli combines with despair at her parents’ separation and the ups and downs of her new friendships. The main characters’ devotion to the arts enriches the drama.” – Publishers Weekly

Road Tripping – Conni Massing  “Every summer for the past 10 years, Conni Massing and a gaggle of her theatre friends have embarked on raucous road trips throughout their home province of Alberta….Massing’s funny, compelling, and educational account of these trips….may even inspire a bit of envy on the part of her readers. How can people have so much fun, one wonders, with so little? How do people make a pit stop for beef jerky an adventure?….Her love letter to her home province, is both funny and inspiring.” Quill & Quire

Delusion Road – Don Aker   “A taut, gripping murder mystery thriller… a page-turner that will leave readers both breathlessly cheering for the protagonists and eager to (re)experience the Bay of Fundy’s shoreline and all its rocky, majestic East Coast splendour. Aker excels is in his storytelling, creating vividly believable scenarios rife with razor-sharp tension, all wrapped up in an edgy, realistic portrayal of loyalty, the lies we tell, and the strength of the human spirit.” National Reading Campaign

A Wake for the Dreamland – Laurel Deedrick-Mayne  Friends William, Robert, & Annie are on the cusp of adulthood while the world is on the brink of war. Every arena of their lives is infiltrated by the war, from the home front to the underground of queer London to the bloody battlefields of Italy. Even in the aftermath, these friends fight their own inner battles: to have faith in their right to love and be loved, to honour their promises and ultimately find their way “home.” 

Ghost Messages – Jacqueline Guest  In pursuit of stolen treasure in 1865 Ireland, 13-year-old Ailish winds up trapped on the Great Eastern as it sails! The vessel’s mission is to lay the fi rst undersea telegraph cable across the Atlantic Ocean. On the journey, Ailish, disguised as a boy tries to track down the hiding place of her father’s treasure. With her trademark storytelling skills, Jacqueline Guest has fashioned a nail-biter of an historical seafaring action adventure.

Instruments of Surrender – Christine Wiesenthal  In this poetry collection, “Wiesenthal reveal[s her] mastery of craft and mature sensibilities. [She is an] excavator of past and present: … mining the uncertain terrain of childhood and youth, the hazardous surfaces of adult experience…[who] sees the wide world and record[s her] knowledge of its brutality. [She] write[s] of paternal betrayal with the same unsettling frankness they bring to day-to-day events.” – Antigonish Review

Gwen – Carolyn Pogue   Not only is Gwen a fantastic historical source with its references to Yonge Street, the St. Lawrence River and national heroes including Miss Pauline Johnson and Joseph Brant, it’s also a captivating story of a young girl determined to pursue her dreams and traverse new lands. Gwen is young, but her sensibilities and optimistic character are bound to evoke emotions from all age groups.

You Haven’t Changed a Bit – Astrid Blodgett Edmonton-based Astrid Blodgett’s debut story collection is a complex and darkly tinged look into the lives of troubled characters and the traumatic, life-altering events of their lives.“You Haven’t Changed a Bit” has the complexity and texture you’d expect from a well-established short fiction writer. The fact that this is a debut collection is a remarkable achievement and should convince you to keep an eye out for more of Blodgett’s work.

Finton Moon – Gerard Collins  Set in the fictional town of Darwin, NFL, Collins “build[s] his themes: of cruelty and malice, intolerance of every kind, violence, poverty, repression, and the pain of growing up, especially in the closed and claustrophobic environment of Darwin. But it’s not all to do with struggling against the cramped and insular confines of a small town. In the context of growing up, the book is about friendship; the obligations of familial and romantic love; and the hard, but often thrilling journey of self-discovery.” The Western Star

Part Two – Next Week!

(And thanks to all who suggested The Book of Mary by me!  Shucks.)

* You’ll note a decidedly Edmonton/ Albertan bias, but that’s just fine.

 

Writing Quote: “Even to be a famous author in America is no piece of cake. There are no screaming lines of fans waiting hours for the new release, no instant recognition that accords respect, no government funding for the arts to speak of and a risky living to be made at best. And for the other writers, it’s a struggle that only a passion for stories and books, bred early and deep, can sustain.” – bookwritingworld.com

Writing Tips:  There’s a saying in publishing that the moment you spot a trend, it’s too late to join it. By the time you finish writing something you think will be popular because it’s popular now, that ship will have largely sailed. – Writer’s Digest

Writing Prompt: ‘Shh! Hear that?’ ‘I didn’t hear anything.’ ‘That’s right. That’s the sound of your own oblivion.’

 

 

 

 

RWIR Call for Applications, 2016

Regional Writer In Residence Call 2016 – pdf, revised Aug 10

We are accepting applications from Edmonton and area writers for two positions as Writers in Residence for the period of January 4 to December 30, 2016.

Goals of the Residency:

  • To provide space, time and resources for writers to work on their own writing projects
  • To provide encouragement and critical support of both established and emerging writers through individual consultations, community/school outreach and group workshops and seminars
  • To raise the profile of the Regional Writer in Residence program

Details

CBC’s This is That Hoodwinks WIR

Yes, I’ll admit it. This week I was a victim of click bait on Twitter:

I saw this and mindlessly clicked:

Screen Shot 2015-08-05 at 4.34.49 PMI read the article with horror and spent the next hour constructing a passionate counter-argument.

Then I thought I’d better do a little research.  I could find no trace of either the Canadian Education Committee or of Harold Wright.  After more digging, of course, I found the link to CBC’s satirical This is That.

I felt my outrage go limp.

CBC had baited me, and I’d fecklessly fanned the flames of my righteous indignation to the point of indigestion.

I took a Tums.

But the entire episode left me thinking about children’s and young adult books that feature talking animals and anthropomorphized animals, in general.  As a teacher-librarian and a children’s literature specialist, I find children’s books featuring animal protagonists to be charming and illustrative.  As an educator, I’ve always felt that talking animals built empathy for animals and humans and indeed worked on the level of allegory for human behaviour.  I think of E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan to name but three of my favourites.  For me these are the precursors for more advanced study of such works as Orwell’s Animal Farm, Richard Adams’ Watership Down, Martel’s Life of Pi, and even those hobbitty creatures.

So I found the U of T research cited in Dominic Ali’s recent article, “When kids’ books feature animals with human traits,” troubling:

“…kids’ books featuring animals with human characteristics not only lead to less factual learning but also influence children’s reasoning about animals.

Researchers also found that young readers are more likely to attribute human behaviors and emotions to animals when exposed to books with anthropomorphized animals than books depicting animals realistically.”

Well, this sounded much like the claims of the fictitious Harold Wright of the non-existent Canadian Education Committee. I felt my ire rise again.

I do see the argument that an exclusive literary diet of talking and dancing mice can limit a child’s understanding of the natural world. I agree with the lead author of the study, Patricia Ganea, that a variety of books from magical realism to realistic depictions of the natural world are important. We need to feed the imagination and the intellect.  But I would argue that the imagination is better fuelled by stories featuring animals that talk and behave as humans than by the factual science book.  (And the notion of displacement seems a significant means for children to deal with how badly or kindly humans disguised as animals can behave.)

Missing in the study is any discussion of the vital role the parent or adult reader, teacher or librarian plays in guiding young minds to see the link between human and animal, or to understand the difference between reality and fantasy, or to grapple with the often harsh and cruel realities of the animal kingdom. Early readers need adult guides to help them understand, and they have such helpers in schools, libraries and at the bedside to explain these crucial distinctions.

I leave you with two lovely sites to consider:

The Guardian’s “The best talking animals in children’s books

and

PETA Kids’ “The Best Books for Kids Who Love Animals

Writing Quote: “What I mean is, things like that happen. They may seem might cruel and unfair, but that’s how life is a part of the time. But that isn’t the only way life is. A part of the time, it’s mighty good. And a man can’t afford to waste all the good part, worrying about the bad parts. That makes it all bad.” – Old Yeller, Fred Gipson (American author, 1907-1973)

Writing TipsTom Moorhouse, author of The River Singers and The Rising on writing about animals.

Writing Prompt: Musings on humans by your pet or choice of animal.