Here’s a confession: I get kind of ridiculously excited when books mention and/or are set in Canada. Not the CanLit type of books set in Canada — where everything is ostentatiously Canadian, the kind of books that teachers like to thrust at you with crazy eyes, proclaiming that yes, we do have a literary culture here — but books where characters are Canadian, or things are set in Canadian cities, and it is what it is, with no fuss about it.
It bears repeating: although I like a lot of Canadian literature, I don’t like it because it’s Canadian, really. And some of it I don’t like. Actually, a lot of it kind of sucks. There’s this one book in particular, As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross, that is probably in the twenty worst books I’ve ever read. Nobody likes it — but it’s still on syllabi everywhere because it’s So! Canadian!, and so we have to read it even though it’s terrible.
That’s silly. And I think that it does a disservice to the amount of books out there that are written by Canadian authors and are really darn good. Things like Fall on Your Knees, for example, or Tigana, or Life of Pi. I wish more of the Canadian lit studied in school was less self-conscious, and more well-written.
What brought this up, you may ask? I just started reading Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear, and I am so very excited because it’s full of Toronto, which is where I live. It’s full of streets I’ve eaten on, or shopped on, or gone to school on — streets I’ve walked almost every weekday, although hers are set in 2062 and are no doubt different in some crucial respects. But still: it’s neat. And E. Bear is American and lives in Connecticut or something like that, and so it is doubly charming.
Of course, this probably wouldn’t have charmed me as much as it did, had I not received a very peculiar piece of mail earlier in the week, of which I have provided a photo:
Yup. “Canada”. Canada, the magical fairy land that may or may not exist, hence the dubious quotation marks. I live in “Canada” — allegedly.
Now, normally I wouldn’t make fun of Phenix & Phenix (blog/company site) at all, because they are staffed with very nice publicists who often send me very interesting books. But come on: this is silly. I know that Canada is rather far away from Texas (and, like, a millionty times BIGGER than it, don’t even get me started) but I feel compelled to assure everyone that, yes, it does exist. Also, a lot of the rumours are true: we have a Queen, two official languages, a socialized healthcare system that mostly works, and we eat poutine (the food of emperors). We do not typically live in Igloos.
(Yes: I know. This was probably someone’s hurried addition to the envelope, since the CANADA part of the address was initially left off. Honest mistake, etc. I’m still going to laugh at it.)
It makes me wonder, though — and this question is for you, Americans, et al — what do you notice if/when books are set in Canada? Do you notice? Do cultural references sometimes leave you hanging? I know that I am often called upon by my American cousins to explain points of governance or culture — are you inclined to call up an Canuckian friend for clarification, or do you just let things be?
And does anyone else get excited when they read things set in their hometown? I am lucky; Toronto‘s a big city and there’s lots written about it. But I wonder about smaller cities. Does anybody write about Toronto, Ohio, population 5676?
Maybe they should. Authors, I bring Toronto, Ohio to your attention. But if you’d rather write about the original, that’s definitely fine with me!