Friday, November 18, 2005

100 books you should read (if you call yourself a real Canadian)

The Literary Review of Canada today released a list of what it feels are the one hundred most important books in Canada. In many ways, it's a surprising list, but I have to say that most of them are probably pretty good choices (and I've read 'em all, believe you me!).

Strangely enough, when I heard about the list, the first book to pop into my head was Neuromancer by William Gibson. I was doubtful that a science fiction novel would make it, so when I saw it there, at number 77 (the books are listed in chronological order), I was suitably impressed. Other books that should be there and are, are Dennis Lee's Alligator Pie and Leonard Cohen's The Spice-box of Earth (was that really written way back in 1961!). On the other hand, why was Howie Meeker's Hockey Basics there, rather than Ken Dryden's The Game? Do the editors really think that we have Howie Meeker to thank for the NHL's current crop of millionaires? (Actually, I'll admit that I haven't read either, but by all accounts, Dryden's book is a classic; a 20th anniversary edition was published a few years back, and its on my "to read" list.)

I was also a little surprised to see only one book by Pierre Berton. I’ve blogged about Berton before; he was one of Canada’s best and most prolific writers, and a masterful storyteller. More than any other writer I can think of, Berton taught Canadians about their own country. The Last Spike certainly deserves to be on the list, but so do a number of his other works, such as The Arctic Grail. The oversight is even more glaring when one considers that two other contemporary writers, Mordecai Richler and Margret Atwood, got two mentions each. I can see A Handmaiden's Tale and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, but Survival and Solomon Gurskey? Give me a break. If you ask me, Richler's best novel was Barney's Version, but obviously, they didn't (ask me, that is). Maybe Berton only got one spot because he didn't write novels. What a shame.

I'll end by mentioning two fantastic novels that did make the list: The Stone Angel, by Margaret Laurence, and Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan. The former is one of the great Canadian novels of the 20th century; and if you've ever been to Quebec and wondered why it is the way it is, read the latter.


Aisha said...

surprised how many I knew, or at least knew many great Canadian authors!

A list is always difficult and you are bound to miss some, question others.


H. W. Alexy said...

Thanks, I now feel very little like a Canadian. Then again, I didn't grow up reading Dr. Zeuss or A.A. Milne.

And Northrope Fry, that brings back memories. Burton, I agree, much too little of his hand on this list. And who wrote, "I Heard An Owl Call My Name"? And no children's books, the cornerstones of what shapes much of our perceptions of the world. To this day, I remember the story of that canoe which was placed in the headwaters of Lake Superior and made its way to the Atlantic. Where are the poets? Was Canada shaped by the language of newspapers, or by the language of the heart and soul? Where's W. O. Mitchell? Where's the west?

Ah yes, lists, always room for debate.


Peter Garner said...

Actually, Mitchell's "Who Has Seen the Wind" is on the list, and "Aligator Pie" is considered a children's book, but mostly I agree with you.

I read Margaret Craven's "I Heard the Owl Call My Name" last year. An amazing and touching book. And I too remember the story of the little canoe: Paddle-to-the-Sea, by Holling C. Holling, though for me, it was the short film version that I remember from grade school.

Carol said...

You will be happy to know that Paddle-to-the-Sea is alive and well in my library, and that I thought I'd check out a Robertson Davies this weekend for my own amusement. I liked Carol Shield's Stone Diaries and I just missed Margaret Atwood this past Thursday at the Miami International Book Fair.

However, I am absolutely shocked at how few authors I knew. The good news is--lots of great reading ahead of me!


portuguesa nova said...

I had no idea half of these people were Canadian!! Leonard Cohen??

Peter Garner said...

PN: Yes, THE Leonard Cohen. Canadian, and a Montrealer to boot. Cool, n'est-ce pas?

Carol: I OD'd on Roberson Davies in college and stopped being able to read him without gagging. It's been well over 15 years since I tried to read Lyre of Orpheus and stopped. Maybe I should pick it up again.

And I'm definitely going to hunt down a copy of Paddle-to-the-Sea now.

Aisha said...

I of all people have Paddle to the Sea! in from mother of a Canadian college friend :)


paddy said...

Peter, Dryden's book is a great read, but Meeker's book in the right hands makes a difference in how young hockey players learn the game.

Peter Garner said...

Paddy, you're probably right. As I said, I never read either book (still haven't got around to Dryden's), but I shouldn't have dissed Meeker without at least reading him. I guess I based my comment on my impressions of him growing up in the pre-Don Cherry era, when he was the analyst. Come to think of it, things went from bad to worse in that regard, though I must admit I find myself agreeing with Cherry on the odd occasion.

BTW, thanks for the comment on this old post. If you read this, include your URL so I can check out your blog.