I had the (mostly) pleasure of taking a course in Canadian Fiction at the university this year. Like my Victorian Fiction class, I enjoyed the reading material much more than I enjoyed the class itself. I think that if I am being honest, all of my classes tend to be like that. After all, most professors can’t teach as well as the authors they talk about can write. Which is a pity.
At any rate, we read eleven texts over eight months, and their names and authors I now do list for you, with some commentary (which may or may not be useful):
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, by Stephen Leacock.
This is the book that a classmate of mind felt “wasn’t a novel” because “there’s no sex in it” and “how can you claim to write a novel but leave out that huge facet of the human experience?” Personally, I tend to judge whether a book is a novel on whether it has, you know, a protagonist and chapters. But maybe that’s just me.
The Temptations of Big Bear, by Rudy Wiebe.
I’ve heard it said that Rudy Weibe’s books are “all vision and no style” which I think is a fairly accurate way of summing up this book. Its vision is breathtaking, but boy is it hard to get through.
Who Has Seen the Wind, by W. O. Mitchell.
This is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and it has shot to quite near the top of my all-time favourites list. It captures childhood perfectly. If you’re reading this, try and make sure that you get the Canadian setting of the text — some American editor cut quite a bit of it for the American publication, apparently, and so it’s best to look for the original. American editors seem to do this to Canadian books fairly often, actually. I really can’t tell you why, on account of it not making any sense to me.
The Mountain and the Valley, by Ernest Buckler.
I’m David Canaan, I’m super-special, I can’t commit to anything, whine whine whine . . .
The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, by Mordecai Richler.
Months after we read this, I was putting together a list of books in a collection I own, for the existence of which I hope to be granted $500 in prize money, and I realized that Modecai Richler also wrote Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. Blew. My. Mind. In case you’re wondering, this book is nothing like Jacob Two-Two. It’s still good — just written for grownups.
Tempest-tost, by Robertson Davies.
My prof maintained that you can’t get any understanding or enjoyment out of this book unless you have read The Tempest. I don’t agree with that; I haven’t read The Tempest but I have enjoyed this book for many years. I am perhaps not getting the full experience, but you know, I think that I’m okay with that.
As For Me and My House, by Sinclair Ross.
This is my prof’s favourite book in all the world, as far as I can tell, which is probably why we spent close to a month reading it. In actuality, I was sick at home with a bad bronchitis for the vast bulk of that time. When I returned and realized that my prof was repeating things verbatim from the first lecture on this text (which was some three weeks previous to my return) I was both relieved that I hadn’t missed much and relieved that I hadn’t had to sit through those weeks.
Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies.
If you’ve never read anything by Robertson Davies, start with this book. It’s the first of a trilogy; the next two are The Manticore and World of Wonders.
Who Do You Think You Are?, by Alice Munro.
Who does your MOM think she is? Ooh! Snap! (I told you that my commentary may not be helpful.)
Home Truths, by Mavis Gallant.
This is a collection of short stories, of which we read six or seven or something like that. They were good. Now you know.
The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood.
Probably no Canadian fiction course is allowed to end without having read Margaret Atwood, and probably without reading this book in particular. That’s okay because it’s still good, even on a re-read. Interesting fact: Margaret Atwood’s mother used to live nextdoor to my friend N. N has a crazy dog named Lola who likes to eat underwear. This habit involves much chasing through the yard, and often as not, when N would be in mad pursuit of Lola, trying to get her bra back, there would be Margaret Atwood, peeking and waving over the fence. We’re still waiting for Lola to make a cameo in one of her books. Hope springs eternal!