Babble Book Club: What are the best Canadian short stories?

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Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture
Babble Book Club: What are the best Canadian short stories?

Welcome to the "What are the best Canadian short stories" Babble Book Club thread!

Here we will discuss our latest book club topic as detailed in the books blog: What are the best Canadian short stories?

This thread will serve as the discussion board for our opinions on: (1) what defines a short story, (2) if we prefer novels to short stories, and any other opinions related to this topic; and will also provide a great resource for influencing other readers with your selections.

It's the "take a penny leave a penny" idea of book sharing: what authors or books have you previously read that you enjoyed? Let us know what they were and why you loved them and others will do the same. The goal is to provide a diverse selection of authors and stories beyond the Penguin Canada List, Century List and Salon Lists mentioned in the books blog post, and get everyone talking about Canadian authors, writing technique and form, and our favourite authors!

I'll lead off with my first selection: Pasha Malla's The Withdrawal Method, his collection of short stories. I am choosing to read this book because his latest novel People's Park is supposed to be phenomenal (he is quoted as the Canadian David Foster Wallace) and after researching him I found his previously publication of this book of short stories. I try to read authors chronologically (if possible)(I realize how nerdy and obsessive compulsive that is) and also prefer short stories, so this choice was a win-win!

Does anyone have any suggestions right off the bat?

Regions: 
Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Great topic!

Two of my favourites -- two classics by two classic Canadian authors: Thomas King's "One Good Story, That One" and anything by the Canadian short-story master, Alice Munro. I rember "Miles City Montana," "Carried Away" and The Bear Came Over the Mountain.”

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Alice Munro seems to be on of those authors that everyone -- from the literary snobs to literary enthusiasts to literary beginners -- can agree upon is awesome.

If she were a Wes Anderson movie she would be 'The Royal Tenenbaums' ya know?

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Absolutely! I have never met a single person who didn't find her utterly charming and engrossing in every way. A true Canadian legend!

A colleague of mine who studies Aboriginal and Métis literature has recommended Richard Van Camp's "Mermaids" from Angel Wing Splash Pattern. I haven't read it, but I have read his short story/prose poem "The Uranium Leaking from Port Radium and Red Rock Mines is Killing Us," and his children's book What's the Most Beautiful Thing You Know About Horses?

You can hear a reading of "Mermaids" by Cree actor Ben Cardinal on Richard's website (scroll down to image of ipod and click on "Mermaids").

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

One of my recent favourite Canadian short story collect was exposed to me through another book club (and I have attempted to make it a BBC selection) -- The Beggar's Garden by Michael Christie. It is mostly about the Vancouver DTES, but ventures in to stories about the suburbs and Yaletown.

It is incredibly well-written and really compelling stories, even if you live outside of Vancouver. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the book club and he seemed a very interesting guy and thoughtful writer.

The collection was great because the stories were interwoven with minute details (pieces of furniture, stores, minor characters) and provided a great meditation on not only the huge descrepancies of quality of life in Gastown DTES areas, but also the idea of being alone and lonliness. It was a great, great read. (i think I read it in two days, which is huge for a slow reader like me).

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

@catchfire -- awesome suggestion! And cool that there is a recording

(also, super meta, we are on babble at exactly the same time Cool)

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

I figure this is as good a place as any to put this.

[url=http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadawrites/literaryprizes/shortstory/]CBC Books -- Canada Writes -- Short Story Prize[/url]

Quote:
Competition opens: September 1, 2012
Deadline to submit: November 1 at 11:59 p.m. ET

This prize is awarded once a year to the best original, unpublished, short story submitted to the competition. All Canadians can participate.

The competition is blind. A jury composed of well-known and respected Canadian authors will select the Grand Prize winner and 4 runners-up.

The Grand Prize winner will receive $6,000, courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts, and will have his/her story published in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine and on the Canada Writes website. He or she will also be awarded a two-week residency at The Banff Centre's Leighton Artists' Colony, and will be interviewed on CBC Radio.

The 4 runners-up will each receive $1,000, courtesy of the Canada Council for the Arts, and their stories will be published on the Canada Writes website.

Submissions to the short story category must be between 1,200 and 1,500 words.

A fee of $25.00 (taxes included) for administration purposes is required for each entry.

You can submit online below or, if you wish to submit by mail, please download the offline submission form.

NDPP

Graham Greene's 'Dear Dr Falkenheim'

Greene sets the story in Calgary where he wrote it while visiting a relative who was living there.

Ho Ho Ho

Caissa

The Painted Door by Sinclair Ross is one of my favourites.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

@Left Turn: I can't believe CBC has an admission fee. Am I the only one who finds that ridiculous?

@NDPP: ha! Slipped a 'Canandian' story in there! 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Has anyone read any of the books or magazines mentioned? (Penguin's Book of Canadian Short Stories; Shut Up He Explained; Salon des Refuses)

All the books and magazines are available at Canadian libraries as well.

I'm starting to wonder, more and more, what the lists of CNQ and TNQ would have looked like if they had barred both the other lists -- Urquhart's and Metcalf's -- instead of just Metcalf's list. It really seems unfair that they allowed the stories in his list to remain.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I've put up a poll in the Babble Book Club Facebook group to see how people are feeling about the current topic and what it means reading wise as well as discussion wise. Please feel free to vote on the poll (or leave a comment underneath) or leave your opinions here!

Caissa

I'm starting this collection this evening.

http://lostmyths.net/claude/?page_id=1767

DaveW

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Alice Munro seems to be on of those authors that everyone -- from the literary snobs to literary enthusiasts to literary beginners -- can agree upon is awesome.

 

She had a short story in The New Yorker back in about 1980 (anybody?) that was so strongly rural Ontario that I kept the scent even though I was reading it in northern California... hard to do

Unionist

DaveW wrote:

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:

Alice Munro seems to be on of those authors that everyone -- from the literary snobs to literary enthusiasts to literary beginners -- can agree upon is awesome.

 

She had a short story in The New Yorker back in about 1980 (anybody?) that was so strongly rural Ontario that I kept the scent even though I was reading it in northern California... hard to do

Alice Munro, in Wood wrote:

Roy is an upholsterer and refinisher of furniture. He will also take on the job of rebuilding chairs and tables that have lost some rungs or a leg, or are otherwise in a dilapidated condition. There aren’t many people doing that kind of work anymore, and he gets more business than he can handle. He doesn’t know what to do about it. His excuse for not hiring somebody to help him is that the government will make him go through a lot of red tape, but the real reason may be that he’s used to working alone—he’s been doing this ever since he got out of the army—and it’s hard for him to imagine having somebody else around all the time. If he and his wife, Lea, had had a boy, the boy might have grown up with an interest in the work and joined him in the shop when he was old enough. Or even if they’d had a daughter. Once he’d thought of training his wife’s niece Diane. When she was a child she had hung around watching him and after she got married—suddenly, at the age of seventeen—she helped him with some jobs because she and her husband needed the money. But she was pregnant, and the smells of paint stripper, wood stain, linseed oil, polish, and wood smoke made her sick. Or that was what she told Roy. She told his wife the real reason—that her husband didn’t think it was the right kind of work for a woman.

It was re-printed (maybe altered somewhat? don't know) in 2009 in Too Much Happiness (Alfred A. Knopf). I have a copy.

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

@DaveW and @Unionist I have been reading up on Munro for the last few days, and can't help but feel she is overlooked within Canadian culture, even though she is often lauded by critics and literati [that's you!]. I never read her in high school (goes back to my annoyance with the absence of Canadian authors in Canadian schools) or in University either. I think I have read a few passing stories, but never a collection of hers

The NY Times did an artist's retrospective on her as a good starting base, but does anyone have any recommendations for favourite Munro collections?

[I prefer reading short story collections because I think it is fun to discover the overarching theme of the stories]

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Here is a pretty good read about Metcalf tackling all his publications (or most of), his goal of promoting the best Canadian literature (or his version), his universal curmudgeon qualities, and his fascination with writing. 

I'm looking forward to reading this one, for those who prefer for all of us to read the same book, why don't we all try Shut Up He Explained by John Metcalf. Unlike the Penguin Book that is just a compilation of stories, this book his more memoir-like as previously mentioned and discussing the ideas of what short stories are, what are the best, what makes them best.

 

KevinChong1975

Hey guys,

This is a great subject.  There are plenty of good Canadian story collections to choose from.

Right now, I'm reading John Vigna's "Bull Head," which deals with rural men in complicated situations.  John is married to Nancy Lee, whose story "Dead Girls" (from a collection of the same name) went over really well with a class I shared it with.  I also like the short stories of Lee Henderson, Cynthia Flood, and the Walrus normally features a strong story by a Canadian writer every issue.  Oh, and Alice Munro and Mavis Gallant.

 

Kevin

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Thanks Kevin!

Those are great suggestions. I have never read Lee Henderson's short story collection, but have read the Man Game (even got him to autograph it complete with personalized wrestling move!) and really enjoyed it! I didn't think I would take to a sort of historical fiction genre, but I loved how he interwove all the stories and based a lot of the characters on actual people in Vancouver.

Bull Head sounds like an interesting read -- especially if it is a collection spanning this theme. What drew you to the stories?

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

"In the critical assessment of literature, length is still considered a hallmark of virtuosity, and the hoary notion persists that the Great American Novel is a standard of literary achievement.  This fact has unfortunate gender and class implications, as short forms—especially flash forms—are particularly amenable to writers snatching time from obligations."

This is a excerpt from Joy Castro's piece in Brevity Mag called "On Length in Literature". She discusses the short story and novel mediums as a privilege of time (and among others class and gender). And also posits:

"Longer isn’t better. Sometimes it’s merely loose and rambling and self-indulgent. Or showy. Sometimes the impact of an entire book isn’t as strong as that of a powerful, incisive flash piece. Small doesn’t mean insignificant or reductive. Think atoms. DNA. Brief pieces can explode."

 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Great article, Kaitlin. I just scanned it, but I'll go back to it soon. I love the tightness of a good short story. I like the comparison to an atom: small pieces can explode, indeed!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I think it is interesting how she aligns the idea of writing length with the privilege of time and availability. To me, this really rings true for Vancouver living because I find so many people who considered themselves artists don't actually have that field (or anything related to it) as their primary occupation. I know a lot of artists everywhere work outside jobs, but in Vancouver it seems especially compacted because of living fees, artistic space, weather.

A lot of people I know in Van City work 2-3 jobs (usually in the service industry, which has it's own special set of awful problems) so that they can afford crappy apartments and be able to rent out expensive studio spaces or work spaces. For me as well, the idea of 'the busy trap' really filtered in for writing and working and I found myself too burnt out to have extracurricular fun. When I had a day off, I just wanted to be left alone especially with the grey and rain outside.

I don't know if I fully buy the 'privleged people can write novels' completely, but if you wanted to make a more secure living writing (freelancing) producing a lot of smaller pieces instead of two huge ones sure makes sense economically.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

This interview with Alexandra Kimball on The Rumpus discusses the idea of money=time=writing a bit as well. Kimball was the writer who wrote the article "How to Succeed in Journalism When You Can't Afford an Internship" for Hazlitt Magazine.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

What is CanLit? as rediscussed from Douglad Coupland's original theory.

The real issue is that Coupland, like others, thinks that CanLit, which he earlier said was simply a contraction for Canadian Literature, is synonymous with the Canadian literary canon, which has typically contained the same handful of writers who consistently won our literary awards over the past years until recently, and which apparently hasn’t changed an iota.

Relates to our discussion is the 'best' simply the measure of the before, the canonical? Not only has CanLit moved past "CanLit is when the Canadian government pays you money to write about life in small towns and/or the immigration experience" as referenced by Mr. Coupland and perhaps simply in to "book written by Canadian authors" as says the author of the article.

Has the Canadian short story grown beyond the canon? Was there even a canon? 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Here's a little treat: "How to read a short story" by Michael Stewart.

Mike brings up some interesting points about the ideas of short stories v.s. novels, and short stories unto themselves, particularly (in my mind) these nuggets:

"The least among novelists can consider themselves successful by mere virtue of publication."

"The short story, on the other hand, has never given you the whole story, and it never will. It has no interest in so foolhardy a project and wants you to know it. Its only interest is the truth."

"Even today, the main platform for the short story is small press zines or monthly highbrow glossies bound for the recycle bin -- and who keeps the short fiction anthology they were compelled to buy in second year?"

"All of these characteristics -- its brevity and concision, its amenability to consumption, its stubborn ability to persist -- make it a distinctly modern genre. In no ther age could something so artful be so disdained, something so disposable so impossible to forsake."

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

What I like about Michael Stewart's piece is that it does give high praise to the often neglected short story genre (and even tackles the history of its roots and growth into modern society). The process of reading, and the ability to reread, is markedly different.

I think this makes it decidely on the "Metcalf-side" of things because of this view as the genre of itself and not a precursor to novel, which is an idea heavily promoted in Urquhart's edited short story collection by Penguin Books.

(Although I don't think the curmudgeonness and pompous nods to only 'obscure' stories aligns)

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

So, what are people reading for their short stories? Do tell?

Slumberjack

I take literature like I would works of art or politics.  If it doesn't say anything other than announcing itself for sale, then I see little reason to be curious about it.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I'm not sure I follow...

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

UBC professor and 'Canadian Literature' editor Margery Fee has kindly written about one of her favourite Canadian short stories, Lee Maracle's "Yin Chin", discussing different aspects of the story and what drew her to it in the first place. She writes:

"Maracle’s voice is unmistakably hers -- clear, uncompromising, no bullshit. Her diction varies from the intellectual to the street-wise in seconds. This story is about the connections between the Chinese and First Nations communities in Vancouver’s Chinatown, as well as about the ways in which racism divided them."

(Thanks to Catchfire for setting it all up!)

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Stumbled upon Chad Pelley's Salty Ink blog, which puts the spotlight on 'fresh Canadian literature', and his Top 10 books of Canadian short fiction 2011 list. The first three our some recent favourites of mine as well:

Jessica Westhead And Also Sharks -- the story about the cat lady alone is enough; I burst out laughing while reading this story. Westhead had a really smooth writing style, which made it easy to read and easy to get lost in her stories.

Michael Christie The Beggar's Garden -- this collection is always on my personal recommendation list (I believe I have mentioned it here a few times) because it really encapsulates different perspectives and experiences of the neighbourhoods of Vancouver. I read this in two days (for this slow reader, that is a feat and a half) and loved every minute of it. Christie is really eloquent in his prose style and weaves a lot of inside 'tricks' into his stories. I can't say enough!

Zsuzsi Gartner Better Living Through Plastic Explosives -- this was passed along to me by a friend because of my love of satirical writing and dark humour. I enjoyed her hilarious mix of the extreme and ridiculous with the utter sinking feeling. It reminds me at points of the great Etgar Keret and his sense of disgusting whimsy.

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

I love Lee Maracle, but I hadn't read "Yin Chin" until Margery Fee recommended it. So good! I encourage babblers (even Slumberjack!) to read the five-page story.

It didn't take long. Invariably, when people of colour get together they discuss white people. They are the butt of our jokes, the fountain of our bitterness and pain and the infinite well-spring of every dilemma life ever presented to us. The humour eases the pain, but always whites figure front and centre of our joint communica- tion. If I had a dollar for every word ever said about them instead of to them I'd be the richest welfare bum in the country. No wonder they suffer from inflated egoism....

 

Slumberjack

Kaitlin McNabb wrote:
I'm not sure I follow... 

It was just a personal musing about works of literature, written art that is, within a system of exchange, what each individual creation attempts to achieve.  Pay no mind..I was at a Coles the other day looking for something to read.

Caissa

Have we picked a date yet for when we are moving on to another book?

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

There are three reasons why I tend not to read many short stories. I wonder if these are reasons other folks may not be big on short stories either.

The first is the way short stories are marketed. Short stories are usually marketed together as part of a collection, and there usually arn't synopses of the individual short stories anywhere. I find if I don't know anything about the subject matter of a piece of writing, I'm less likely to read it. Now, the titles of short stories can tell sometimes tell us something about them, and the blurb on the back cover of a short story collection can sometimes give us some sense of the overall subject matter of the collection, but it's a fairly hit and miss proposition.

The second is the way short stories are taught in high school. From my experience, we were usually assigned a short story one class, and were expected to have read it by the next class. This meant there was little flexibility in trerms of working the reading around extrecurricular activities and tv shows.

We were also usually assigned reading comprehension questions on the story, which we had to complete for homework. This meant that I usually found myself reading the short story sitting at my desk so I could have my piece of paper in front of me to write down the answers to the reading comprehension questions. Not to mention that answering the reading comprehension questions interrupted the flow of the reading. And if we wern't given reading comprension questions to hand in for a particular short story, we usually had to do a reading comprehension quiz instead.

This was completely counter to how novels were taught in high school. With novels, we were given anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months to read them, which was usually plenty of time to work around extracurricular activities and tv shows. Also, the assignments for novels were usually either book reports or essays. Since I'd do these after I'd read the book, it meant I could read the book lying on my bed, or on the living room couch, or sitting in the living room chair, ect. Not to mention that writing an essay about a piece of writing allows for a level of insight that reading comprehension questions simply don't.

The third reason, related to the first two, was the actual short stories we read in high school. Most of them were so downright boring I can't remember anything about them. The only one I can actually remember was one about a soldier who gets court martialled for running from the battlefield in Italy in WWII. My recollection is that the plots of all the other short stories we read in high school boiled down to a day (or a few hours) in the life of the main character, in which nothing out of the ordinary happens, and where the sole point of the story is to make some observation about the characters personality and/or their circumstances.

Which brings me back to my first point. If most of the short stories I've read have been downright boring, and basically force-fed to us in a very pedantic manner, it's no wonder I'm weary of reading them without some sense of what the subject matter is. Now, I'm sure there are some very exciting short stories out there, as others in this thread have testified to, but finding the good ones amidst and the very boring mediocre ones out there just seems like too much of a hit and miss proposition.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Yep Caissa November 6!

Why don't you try one of the books that has been mentioned and let us know why you think at the final discussion?

I've been reading Metcalf's book 'Shut Up He Explained' -- and just, wow.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Been thinking a lot about CanLit lately, due mostly to this canonical categorization of the whol genre, or parts of the genre, and I can't help but wonder if the whole of CanLit interests anyone (or is familiar to anyone) besides Canadians?

Of course there are famous Canadian authors that are international best-sellers, but what draws me to the genre is the familiarity I feel from the content as well as the authors, even if the stories don't have anything to do with Canada. It's probably that same familiarity you feel when meeting a Canadian celebrity -- I mean I always get that sense that you can just hang out, no?

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Left Turn I really enjoyed your thoughts about your distaste for short stories, and I bet a lot of people feel ya on those high school nightmares. 

Your point about cohesiveness and explanation of short story collections is really interesting because I actually find the things that you dislike to be the reason I like them so much. I enjoy the absurdity that some stories can present and leave you in. The aforementioned Etgar Keret, an Israeli writer, is probably on top of the crazy-surreal writing credentials with his minimalistic stories and his freakish plots and presentations. He literally leaves everything to the imagination. I find I like those quick dips into stories, especially when they allow you to reflect your own projections.

When i think about the authors I have read, I think most if not all have been friend recommendations or recognition of name (or a couple book club picks here and there). It is really hard to gather from book jackets what is going on in most story collection (potentially the mark of a good collection?), so I tend to go for theme. I like when collections are centred around an idea, a place, or a person. I think that is why I liked Michael Christie's collection so much -- it was Vancouver (where I used to live), discussing lonliness and community, and had mingling characters and items. Somtimes the obscurity and unknown when I enter into a collection with can be beneficial because I'm not waiting for the plot.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good novel, but sometimes I find a lot of details and moments straining for purpose, and overly mechanical. Some of this is bad writing :( but some is the fact that all needs to be explained for plot (for certain stories). I find magical realism gets around this and short stories get around this and it provides a whole different reading experience.

I can't think of any better way to suck the fun out of reading than reading comprehension questions. I had to do them for Shakespeare (MacBeth! Hamlet! Romeo and Juliet! Taming of the Shrew!) and will forever dislike his writing. If someone suggested reading any of the Bard, I would most likely not. Or maybe I would? I don't know -- it would have to be a convincing note.

All in all, your high school teachers sound like a bunch of losers (ha, totally kidding!). Have you partaken in any of the clubbers suggestions?

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Reminder that next week on November 6 at 7:30pm EST is our final discussion of the Canadian short stories topic. Bring all your thoughts on:

1. The short stories you read, why, and what you thought about them

2. What stories and authors you think should be in the "Canadian short story canon"

3. Your preference between short stories and novels and why

4. The long drawn conflict on short story collections between Metcalf, Urquhart, and TNQ and CNQ

and any other thoughts about this topic!

After, we will be moving on to our next selection!

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Final meeting on Canadian short stories this evening at 7:30pm EST! Woot! 

Catchfire Catchfire's picture

Hopefully CanShLit fans come to peek out from under the election's shadow. I have to admit that this topic made me think of what counts as a "Canadian" short story, since I don't tend to nationalize the literature I read. If pressed, I would have just said "Alice Munro" and that would be the end of it.

I can't comment on who I would put in the Canadian Short Fiction canon, and I'm not one for canons anyway. I think that canonicity probably led Jane Urquhart to some of her choices, which weren't very thoughtful (I agree with her when she says she wasn't the right person for the job!), but I don't think her methodology was completely off: craft is important, but her attempt to thematize is also critical to the genre, which is concerned as much with craft as truth. Metcalf strikes me as more or less an elitist asshole -- and as someone occasionally accused of being an elitist asshole, I don't mean that politely.

I really loved the Lee Maracle story recommended by Dr. Fee. I am a big fan of Thomas King's stories, but I'm also remiss to call them "short stories" as such, because I think they come from a slightly different tradition than the commercially based, digestible Western tradition.

I have some comments about TNQ and CNQ, but maybe I'll save them til later.

derrick derrick's picture

I just wanted to share that I think it's terrific that the final discussion of this topic is taking place on U.S. Election Day. Where was it that Margaret Atwood referred to the Canada-US border as a 'one-way mirror'? I'm not sure whether that line comes from a novel, short story, or whether it was just an off-the-cuff remark... 

I have a suspicion about short stories that I wanted to share: a lot of news/semi-literary publications feature one short story by a big name writer. I've rarely if ever seriously read these stories -- I think because I presume they're kind of a 'throwaway' by authors who can whip them off to make a pay cheque. I assume their best work is in their novels. Maybe this is just a sign that I need to turn my political brain off sometimes... 

In terms of memorable short stories, for me they almost all involve stories that deal with darker or sadder themes -- death, infidelity, betrayal, terror and fear. From school, Sinclair Ross' 'The Painted Door' stands out; from adulthood, I recall Mordecai Richler's The Summer My Grandmother Was Supposed to Die -- family grief is something we can almost all relate to plus the story provides a vivid window into Jewish culture. 

 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

I can't say that the discussion being on Election Day was premeditated, however, being here in the pit of it all (oh DC) and being Canadian has too gotten me thinking of identity and representation, or rather misrepresentation.

Catchfire I agree that I don't tend to nationalize the things I read, but do tend to read Canadian authors. I'm not sure if it is a familiarity or style I most appreciate, which reminds me of something someone said that CanLit as a whole had moved from a pastoral and 'heritage' style to a more ambiguous identity. I find I identify with Vancouver authors especially -- Lee Henderson, Michael Christie, Kevin Chong -- not only because they filter in recognizable areas, but because the cultural identity in terms of representation is really similar.

Living here in the states I have noticed such a huge, HUGE, gap between, most things, but especially experiences in growing up. It's kind of strange...

It all makes me curious about what identity CanLit is crafting for itself now, and how and why these should be categorized. I'm not a huge fan of canons, but they do provide a great starting point for interested readers. 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

And to follow up on that note of canons, I do think Penguin Books made a poor choice in Urquhart (as she states) as well, and that if a Canadian literary canon is something Penguin wants to perpetuate, it might be best to follow the format as some of our American publishers who produce 'the best' collections every year. I think that would also pull away from the monotony of some of these lists, and the on-offs that Derrick was talking about as well.

derrick derrick's picture

I have the Urquhart collection but must (shamefully) confess I have only started reading the Introduction. Kaitlin, what collections/anthologies do you recommend? 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Funnily enough, his collection was a precursor to his novel People Park and has got me wondering about the whole idea of novel as the final and only product. 

I'm sure there are authors who believe that, and others who don't, and some who flip flop. 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Well I definitely don't recommend the memoir by John Metcalf, I read that, and boy he is a convoluted dick. It was really, really nauseating. I also mean that in a mean way.

I really enjoyed the Pasha Malla collection I read for this topic: The Withdrawal Method. He is such an inventive writer and quite unique in his style. He has been mentioned as the David Foster Wallace of Canada, which I'm sure will get all those hipster hairs a-tingling.

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

Do you prefer reading the old short story to the novel, or is that something that factors in?

derrick derrick's picture

I think I have a bit of a bias -- as mentioned -- toward the novel form, but I realize that's pretty irrational. If the Pasha Malla collection is good enough for you, and Catchfire -- and hipsters too -- then I will have to give it a read. 

derrick derrick's picture

I also wanted to second the recommendation of Thomas King. His Massey lectures, published as The Truth About Stories, is a wonderful introduction to his engaging style and work. 

Kaitlin McNabb Kaitlin McNabb's picture

haha. I realized I have a bias towards collections of short stories as opposed to a single story. I like to dive into stories as well, but prefer collections because of their ability to dive into moments and also leave them too.

I think the process of reading and writing short stories is so compelling and exciting and really allow the reader or writer to share or experience the moments they want as well as reflect and grow them. Sometimes I find a novel very finite in its structure whereas the short story can choose moments as well as leave the reader to decide those explanations.

 

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