It’s Not Just A Good Idea, It’s the Law

If there’s anything folks love to do on the Internet, it’s talk and argue, argue and talk. Anyone who spends enough time online will, whether they know it or not, eventually run into Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1. There are numerous variations and corollaries, and after eleven years of talking about books and with Book People, both in person and online (including an absolutely epic party last night, thrown by the one and only Julie Wilson), I’ve come up with a corollary of my own*. I hereby present you with August’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: As an English-language literary discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving William Shakespeare, James Joyce, or Ulysses approaches 1. *What finally tipped the scales for formulating the Corollary was Perdita Felicien’s appearance on Canada Reads.

A Winner Declared

I know I’m late to the party on this, but I wanted to wait until I’d posted my final review. Without further delay, let me congratulate Ray Smith and Dan Wells for Century‘s Canada Reads: Independently victory, and Kerry Clare for organizing the contest. Century was my favourite of the bunch, but it was a fine group of books, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting a chance to read along with others for the first time since I left university almost five years ago (actually, four years and eleven months to the day). I hope to get the chance to do something like this again sometime.

#12 – Wild Geese, by Martha Ostenso

I chose Wild Geese as my final Canada Reads: Independently selection because it was the only one I’d already read, and therefore if I was late finishing it—and I was—I’d be able to vote on a winner knowing that I had read all the books. Summarizing Ostenso’s novel is difficult without making it sound like a CanLit stereotype. It is, after all, a family drama set against the backdrop of a poor, isolated farming community on the windswept Manitoba plains. To say that it’s about a young girl wanting to escape a domineering father, and a school teacher who falls in love with a young man with a shame hanging over his head so secret that even he doesn’t know of it… well, we’re into the realm of melodramatic stereotypes, into the realm of being force-fed books like Who Has Seen the Wind back in high school. Wild Geese has… Continue Reading

Canada Reads 2010: Day Five

Congratulations to Nicolas Dickner, Lazer Lederhendler, and Michel Vézina for Nikolski‘s victory. I was rooting for Nikolski all along, but never did I actually believe that it would win. I almost don’t know what to say, except that I think it was the most deserving title. It was beautifully translated, complex and inventive without being inaccessible, and full of life and fun even in its darker moments. Its truly a remarkable book, and I hope to read more of Dickner’s work—and more French Canadian work, if this is in any way indicative of what’s going on in that particular solitude—in the future. I took the time to drop by the CBC chat again today, and found it smoother going. Perhaps yesterday was simply an off day. The discussion was not a bad one, in some ways better than what was going on in the official panel. If that’s the sort… Continue Reading

Canada Reads 2010: Day Four

Fall On Your Knees was voted out today! I wanted it to happen, and even I’m shocked. It never would have occurred to me that the panelists, these panelists anyway, would have been that strategic. Everybody in the studio and online were just as surprised as I was. Perdita Felicien was such a forceful advocate that I was worried her personality alone might carry the day. Like Mr. Beattie I’ve found cause to slam my head against my desk more than once during this year’s debates. Seeing Nikolski criticized for being too difficult and requiring the reader to do too much work, but also for being “thin” is what’s given me my forehead welt. None of the panelists has mentioned Lazer Lederhendler’s translation as the cause of the difficulty, and a good thing too, because it was absolutely amazing. It’s not my idea of a difficult book, and part of… Continue Reading

Canada Reads 2010: Day Three

Generation X is off the island: quelle surprise (did I really make a Survivor reference? Ugh). Today was the day where they talked about “Canadianess”, whatever that means. Is it a point of view? A setting? A tone? I feel ridiculous even posing those questions, because aside from having been asked hundreds, if not thousands of times, they seem like stand-ins for serious questions about the themes or quality of a book. If we can place it as “Canadian” then we can behave as though it has some kind of inherent value. It’s our story, so therefore it’s worth reading regardless. Blah. The panelists didn’t go very far down that road, and though Jian Ghomeshi rightly asserted that it was Roland Pemberton who brought it up in the first place (come on, Jian, you would have brought it up if nobody else had), I’m glad that Pemberton also questioned using… Continue Reading

Canada Reads 2010: Day Two

We won’t know for certain until tomorrow morning, of course, but it looks like Generation X is going to be the first book on the chopping block. Roland Pemberton didn’t really do much to help himself, though. Despite coming second-last in my own lineup based on this year’s contenders, I felt sorry for both Pemberton and Coupland that it had such a poor showing today (though admittedly, I would have been even harder on the book than the other panelists were). The Jade Peony is the weakest book on the list; while nobody’s said anything negative about it, Samantha Nutt is the only one giving it any real attention at all. I think it’s so unlikely a victor that continuing to ignore it may be the best way to keep it out of the race. Were I a panelist, Fall On Your Knees would have been my first target. Oprah… Continue Reading

Canada Reads 2010: Day One

Today on Twitter I posed what I thought was an interesting question, but I got no bites. What manner of beast is Canada Reads? I know it’s meant to be all in good fun, but does that mean it isn’t worth taking a closer look at it? Mr. Beattie thinks it is, and has once again enlisted Alex Good to help him provide commentary on the proceedings that goes a step beyond the Corky Sherwood coverage this sort of thing often attracts. Their banter is often the best coverage around. But it got me thinking: exactly what sort of journalism is Canada Reads, and book coverage in general? I’ve complained before that newspaper Books sections, and even the Ceeb’s own offerings, can come off like extensions of a publisher’s publicity department rather than a news gathering organization, recycling MadTV jokes about menstruation instead of covering real industry issues. All of… Continue Reading

#11 – Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott

Morality and religion are not the same thing. This strikes me as one of those things that ought to be taken for granted, but Good to a Fault reminded me that it isn’t. Morality and ethics have caught my interest in the last couple of years beyond the every day attention I would give those issues just being a person in the world, so when I first heard the premise of Good to a Fault I thought it would be right up my alley. Serious moral inquiry from a Canadian author in a plausible real world situation. That’s not exactly what I got. Clara Purdy is a woman in her forties whose life stalled after her husband left her and then, later, she spent years caring for her mother when she died. Before that, she was at her father’s bedside as he passed away from cancer. She does something in… Continue Reading

#10 – Hair Hat, by Carrie Snyder

So it’s hair, but it’s shaped like a hat. I saw Carrie Snyder read at The Starlite in Waterloo a few years back, at the only UW alumni event I’ve ever attended. She shared the stage with George Elliott Clarke, Erik McCormack and a few other distinguished bookish folks from UW’s past (perhaps even Evan Munday, though I honestly don’t remember). She read “Tumbleweed,” and I’m pretty sure part of one other story, and I have to be honest and say that I didn’t think much of it. As I’ve written here before, I’m not very good at following fiction when it’s read aloud. And really, the hair hat seemed kind of gimmicky. Every time I saw her book in the store (and I’ve actually seen it quite a bit; for a not-very-well-known first-time author, Penguin sure as hell got that book into stores) I walked past it thinking, maybe… Continue Reading