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.