The Canadian Canon

Happy 4th of July to my American Moondoggy readers and a belated Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canucks!

In honour (that's right, I'm spelling the word with a 'u') of our country's special day, I wanted to post a piece from The Globe that recruited a bunch of writer types to revisit the Canlit canon that was originally envisioned in the 70s and update it with a new list of their top 10 Canadian books.

I don't know if I agree with canons in the first place as canons have a tendency to exclude works that are more interesting than those that are chosen so I'm glad that the new lists were done more in a spirit of fun rather than with authority in mind, plus this gives me an excuse to write about and list my own favourite Canlit works, too.

Read "Taking a shot at a new canon" (what a witty title!) from The Globe and Mail.

And here (in no particular order) are some of Moondoggy's Favourite Canadian Books, which include both poetry and prose works:

1. Anything by Michael Ondaatje. My favourite book by Ondaatje is his genre-bending work, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid but The English Patient is also great (I enjoyed the movie but the novel is way better) but if you are looking for a particularly Canadian flavoured work by Ondaatje, you can do no wrong with In the Skin of a Lion, which one can consider a prequel to The English Patient and a love letter to Toronto.

2. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen. The poet, novelist, singer-songwriter wrote a previous autobiographical novel about a young Montreal man who finds his identity through his writing entitled The Favourite Game but it's Cohen's second, experimental novel, Beautiful Losers, that still remains one of the most bizarre yet beautiful books I've ever read. Here's Wikipedia's description of it:

"At the centre of the novel are the members of a love triangle, united by their obsessions and fascination with a seventeenth-century Mohawk blessed, Kateri Tekakwitha. The triangle is made up of the unnamed narrator, an authority on the vanishing A------ tribe, his wife Edith, one of the last surviving members of the tribe, and their maniacal and domineering friend, F, who may or may not exist."

The plot summary doesn't do Beautiful Losers justice, you just have to read it.

3. The Divine Ryans by Wayne Johnston.

The Divine Ryans is definitely one of the funniest and strangest novels I've had the pleasure of reading. Newfoundland, religion, hockey, and a whole slew of dream-sequences to make all you Freudians happy.

4. The Double Hook by Sheila Watson.

When I think The Double Hook, I immediately think Canadian-Gothic, in other words, think William Faulker if he had been Canadian.

5. Whylah Falls by George Elliot Clarke.

This beautiful book is a jazzy, long, narrative poem inspired by the history and culture of the Black Canadian community in Nova Scotia, told in a whole array of writing styles, including sonnets, free verse, haikus, songs, dramatic monologues, and much more.

6. Eunoia by Christian Bok.

A lipogram is a type of constrained writing or word game that consists of writing paragraphs or longer works where a particular letter or group of letters are missing. Eunoia is a lipogram that uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters. For an experimental work of literature, this book has become a surprise Canadian best-seller. Not for everyone but worth checking out.


Josh said...

Hi Greg,
Most of those books make my top 10, as well and the ones that don't are books I haven't read, so I'll have to pick them up.

Right now I'm falling back in love with Dostoevsky, the king of St Petersburg, and am half way into Crime and Punishment - his most famous book and, ironically, one of the only ones I hadn't yet read. Fydor is a bad person to fall in love with because he won't love me back. Besides being dead, I don't think he loved anything. His books are love letters to misery. Cheerful travel reading!

I remember the Dyvine Ryans. Eva recommended it to me and I loved it. I wish I could have had the background on the book that you and Eva must have enjoyed in your class.

I must once again suggest a contender for best Canadian novels: 'Second Scroll' by A.M Klein. I love when poets write prose because it just means that is more poem to love!

take care and see you soon, my friend.


Greg Santos said...

Dean Irivine from The Globe piece listed "Second Scroll" as one of their picks:

"At once novel, poem, play, essay, travelogue, scripture, and prayer - a magnum opus compressed into the space of a Jamesian short story, a history of modern Jewry for a post-Holocaust generation."

All the genre-bending sounds right up my alley; I'll have to pick a copy up.