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Euclid Avenue reads

January 2, 2014

On New Year’s Eve, an eclectic group of readers gathered to share their favourite Canadian writing. Selections included excerpts from novels, short fiction, memoir, non-fiction, poetry and drama. The choices were clearly cherished, and the definition of Canadian writing was interpreted creatively. Here’s the list:

Roch Carrier. Le chandail de hockey.1979

Lyn Cook. Pegeen and the Pilgrim. 1957.

Ken Dryden. The Game. 1983.

Adam Gopnik. Winter: Five Windows On The Season. 2011.

Michael Ignatieff. True Patriot Love. 2009.

John Irving. A Son of the Circus. 1994.

Margaret Laurence. The Stone Angel. 1964.

Stephen Leacock, “The Marine Excursions of the Knights of Pythias” 1912.

Stephen Leacock, “The Mariposa Bank Mystery,” 1912.

Yann Martel. Life of Pi. 2001

Don McKay. Poems: “Astonished- Petrified.”  From Strike Slip. 2006.

Rohinton Mistry. A Fine Balance. 1995.

LM Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables. 1908.

Michael Ondaatje. Running in the Family. 1982.

Michael Ondaatje. The English Patient. 1992.

Noah Richler. This is My Country, What’s Yours? A Literary Atlas of Canada. 2006.

John Schreiner. The Wines of Canada. 2006.

Carol Shields. Unless. 2003.

Colleen Wagner. Play: The Monument. 1993.

What is Canadian writing? Writing set in Canada? Writing by Canadian-born authors? Canadian-resident authors?Which of these pieces is your favourite?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Frank Gavin permalink
    January 4, 2014 4:47 pm

    Canadian birth shouldn’t be the criterion or Saul Bellow’s work would have to be considered Canadian. And from what I’ve read of Eleanor Catton’s life, the fact that she spent her first six years in London Ontario hardly makes “The Luminaries” a Canadian novel.

    As for residency, some people wanted to claim “Under the Volcano” as a Canadian novel because Malcolm Lowry wrote at least some of it while living in Vancouver, but the novel itself shows no sign of having been touched by the author’s brief Canadian experience. Gopnik’s book on winter, on the other hand, was much shaped by the author’s experience as a teenager in Montreal and even by his marriage to a woman from the prairies, but neither fact makes him a Canadian rather than an American writer. Still, the book itself could fairly be called Canadian.

    Mavis Gallant is an interesting case. She has lived almost her entire adult life in France, but all of her work to me seems Canadian. She once said that a person’s social identity is shaped largely by his or her school experience, especially in primary school. If that’s so, it may help explain why her work has remained Canadian. But if it’s where the school years were experienced that is determinative, then Michael Ondaatje and his work really aren’t Canadian–a notion that is ridiculous.

    I’m not sure how relevant this is, but the questions you asked made me think of Conor Cruise O’Brien’s definition of “Irishness”: it is “not primarily a question of birth or blood or language; it is the condition of being involved in the Irish situation, and usually of being mauled by it.” I’m not sure if anyone other than a careless hiker in bear country has been mauled by “the Canadian situation” but maybe something about being involved in the Canadian situation might point toward possible answers to your questions.

    • Valerie McDonald permalink
      January 10, 2014 3:53 pm

      Being mauled may be an extreme criterion, but I certainly agree with your (O’Brien’s) argument that one must be involved! Thanks for the thoughtful response!

  2. Valerie McDonald permalink
    January 13, 2014 11:47 pm

    Writing set in Canada? Writing by Canadian-born authors? Canadian-resident authors? Selections by most of the authors we chose met at least two of those criteria. Adam Gopnik wrote “Winter” for the Massey Lectures—certainly a Canadian preoccupation. But he is described as a “Canadian-raised American writer, essayist and commentator.” Yann Martel was born in Spain to French-speaking Quebecers who were Canadian diplomats. He was raised in Costa Rica, France, Mexico, and Canada. He wrote about an Indian boy at sea with a tiger. Ondaatje is Sri Lankan-born, moved to England and then settled in Canada in 1962. He is a Canadian citizen and has been spotted at Fiesta Farms.
    John Irving has homes in Vermont, Toronto, and Pointe au Baril. But he said, “If I’m going to continue to pick on my country then I’d better live here (the US). I live part-time in Toronto because my wife is Canadian. I’m an American and I always will be.”
    Rohinton Mistry said, “I’m referred to more often as a Canadian writer than an Indian writer. Or – what is it they say? A Canadian-writer-born-in-India. And I’m certainly more of a Canadian writer than an Indian writer, because I have no sense of being part of any group or school or generation of Indian writers. But that doesn’t really interest me at all. All I try to do is tell a good story.”

    • Frank Gavin permalink
      January 14, 2014 12:21 pm

      Maybe it’s easier for Canadian writers and Canadians generally to have and to accept hybrid or complex identities than it is for American writers or Americans generally. (Just think of Ted Cruz’s eagerness to shed his newly-discovered Canadian citizenship compared to Thomas Mulcair’s and Stephane Dion’s at-easness with having dual French and Canadian citizenships.) If Emma Donoghue were living in the U.S. I bet she would be either an American or an Irish novelist but since she lives in London, ON she can be both Canadian and Irish. Carol Shields is any interesting case and maybe she doesn’t fit into my distinction between Canadian and American attitudes. I think of her as both American and Canadian–as I think she thought of herself–but I’m not sure if most of her readers in either Canada or the U.S. thought of her as both. In the big picture, I agree with Mistry that making too much of national categories can take you down a rabbit hole.


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