Many ways to contemplate the books that make us proud to be Canadian

cbc-books-logoCBC Books has just served up another delicious helping of CanLit, a way for us to reflect on, ponder and debate the books that make us proud to be Canadian – not to mention a way for us to determine how complete and comprehensive our own reading is, and where we need to fill in some gaps. Here is the list of 100 novels that their team has compiled to meet these general criteria:

Canada has a wealth of writers telling today’s tales, revisiting our past and imagining our future. Literary or mystery, comic or graphic, historical or out of this world, the 100 novels on our list are must-read books.

CBC Books considered everything from cultural impact and critical reception to reader response to choose these titles. The authors all call or once called Canada home, and the novels are all in print. Enjoy!

CBC Books makes it easy for you to determine how many of the books on their list you’ve already read. I’ve read 55 (some of those multiple times), which pleases me in that it’s a nice balance of feeling I’m keeping up, but can always learn and discover more.

What is nice and kinda chewy about this list is that you can come at it from numbers of different angles. The list on the CBC Books page is sorted alphabetically by title, and also breaks out titles by specific types or genres, such as comics and graphic novels, historical fiction, mystery and more. How about these views of the list?

How about your own approaches to the great list which CBC Books has provided to seed our ongoing CanLit discussion – how would you sort, prioritize, add and delete?

CBC Books 100 Novels sorted alphabetically by author

It’s interesting to see which authors – new, established, historical – are represented on the CBC Books 100 Novels list, and which authors avid Canadian literature aficionados might think are missing.

Adamson, Gil
The Outlander

Anderson-Dargatz , Gail
The Cure for Death by Lightning

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale
Alias Grace

Badami, Anita Rau
The Hero’s Walk

Baldwin, Shauna Singh
What the Body Remembers

Barclay, Linwood
No Time for Goodbye

Bergen, David
The Time in Between

Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel

Blunt, Giles
Forty Words for Sorrow

Boyden, Joseph
The Orenda
Three Day Road

Brand, Dionne
What We All Long For

Catton, Eleanor
The Luminaries

Choy, Wayson
The Jade Peony

Clarke, Austin
The Polished Hoe

Clarke, George Elliott
George & Rue

Coady, Lynn
The Antagonist

Cohen, Leonard
Beautiful Losers

Cohen, Matt
Elizabeth and After

Coupland, Douglas
Generation X

Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

Crummey, Michael
Galore

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

deWitt, Patrick
The Sisters Brothers

Doctor, Farzana
Six Metres of Pavement

Donoghue, Emma
Room

Edugyan, Esi
Half-Blood Blues

Engel, Marian
Bear

Fallis, Terry
The Best Laid Plans

Ferguson, Will
419

Findley, Timothy
The Wars

Francis, Brian
Fruit

Galloway, Steven
The Cellist of Sarajevo

Gibb, Camilla
Sweetness in the Belly

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Govier, Katherine
Creation

Gowda, Shilpi Somaya
Secret Daughter

Gowdy, Barbara
The Romantic

Grant, Jessica
Come, Thou Tortoise

Hage, Rawi
De Niro’s Game

Hay, Elizabeth
Late Nights on Air

Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro
Kamouraska

Highway, Tomson
Kiss of the Fur Queen

Hill, Lawrence
The Book of Negroes

Hopkinson, Nalo
Brown Girl in the Ring

Johnston , Wayne
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Tigana

King, Thomas
Green Grass, Running Water

Kogawa, Joy
Obasan

Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel
How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

Laurence, Margaret
The Stone Angel

Lawson, Mary
Crow Lake

Leacock , Stephen
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Lemire, Jeff
Essex County

Lyon, Annabel
The Golden Mean

MacDonald, Ann-Marie
Fall on Your Knees

MacIntyre, Linden
The Bishop’s Man

MacLennan , Hugh
Two Solitudes

MacLeod, Alistair
No Great Mischief

Maharaj, Rabindranath
The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Martel, Yann
Life of Pi

McKay , Ami
The Birth House

Michaels, Anne
Fugitive Pieces

Mistry, Rohinton
A Fine Balance

Moore, Lisa
February

Mootoo, Shani
Cereus Blooms at Night

Morrissey, Donna
Kit’s Law

Nawaz, Saleema
Bone and Bread

O’Malley, Bryan Lee
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life

O’Neill, Heather
Lullabies for Little Criminals

Ondaatje, Michael
In the Skin of a Lion

Ozeki, Ruth
A Tale for the Time Being

Penny, Louise
Still Life

Pullinger, Kate
The Mistress of Nothing

Pyper, Andrew
Lost Girls

Quarrington , Paul
Whale Music

Ricci, Nino
Lives of the Saints

Richards, David Adams
Mercy Among the Children

Richler, Mordecai
Barney’s Version

Robinson, Eden
Monkey Beach

Selvadurai, Shyam
Funny Boy

Shields, Carol
The Stone Diaries

Smart, Elizabeth
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

Swan,Susan
The Wives of Bath

Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian
Skim

Thien, Madeleine
Certainty

Thuy, Kim
trans. by Sheila Fischman
Ru

Toews, Miriam
A Complicated Kindness

Urquhart, Jane
Away

Van Camp, Richard
The Lesser Blessed

Vanderhaeghe, Guy
The Englishman’s Boy

Vassanji, M.G.
The Book of Secrets

Wagamese, Richard
Indian Horse

Watson , Sheila
The Double Hook

Whittall, Zoe
Holding Still for as Long as Possible

Wilson, Ethel
Swamp Angel

Wilson, Robert Charles
Spin

Winter, Kathleen
Annabel

CBC Books 100 Novels sorted chronologically by publication year

Doesn’t this give an interesting perspective of how the CBC Books 100 Novels list spans recent and more historical choices? The CBC Books list offers 43 titles published before 2000, 57 in the last 13 years.

1912
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town
Leacock, Stephen

1945
Two Solitudes
MacLennan, Hugh

By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Smart, Elizabeth

1954
Swamp Angel
Wilson, Ethel

1959
The Double Hook
Watson, Sheila

1964
The Stone Angel
Laurence, Margaret

1966
Beautiful Losers
Cohen, Leonard

1970
Fifth Business
Davies, Robertson

Kamouraska
Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro

1976
Bear
Engel, Marian

1977
The Wars
Findley, Timothy

1981
Obasan
Kogawa, Joy

1984
Neuromancer
Gibson, William

1985
The Handmaid’s Tale
Atwood, Margaret

How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired
Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel

1987
In the Skin of a Lion
Ondaatje, Michael

1989
Whale Music
Quarrington, Paul

1990
Tigana
Kay, Guy Gavriel

Lives of the Saints
Ricci, Nino

1991
Generation X
Coupland, Douglas

1993
Green Grass, Running Water
King, Thomas

The Stone Diaries
Shields, Carol

The Wives of Bath
Swan, Susan

Away
Urquhart, Jane

1994
Funny Boy
Selvadurai, Shyam

The Book of Secrets
Vassanji, M.G.

1995
The Jade Peony
Choy, Wayson

A Fine Balance
Mistry, Rohinton

1996
The Cure for Death by Lightning
Anderson-Dargatz, Gail

Alias Grace
Atwood, Margaret

Fugitive Pieces
Michaels, Anne

Cereus Blooms at Night
Mootoo, Shani

The Lesser Blessed
Van Camp, Richard

The Englishman’s Boy
Vanderhaeghe, Guy

1997
Barney’s Version
Richler, Mordecai

1998
Kiss of the Fur Queen
Highway, Tomson

Brown Girl in the Ring
Hopkinson, Nalo

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
Johnston, Wayne

1999
What the Body Remembers
Baldwin, Shauna Singh

Elizabeth and After
Cohen, Matt

No Great Mischief
MacLeod, Alistair

Kit’s Law
Morrissey, Donna

2000
The Hero’s Walk
Badami, Anita Rau

Forty Words for Sorrow
Blunt, Giles

A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali
Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton

Monkey Beach
Robinson, Eden

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches
Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman

2001
Three Day Road
Boyden, Joseph

George & Rue
Clarke, George Elliott

Life of Pi
Martel, Yann

Mercy Among the Children
Richards, David Adams

2002
The Polished Hoe
Clarke, Austin

Crow Lake
Lawson, Mary

Fall on Your Knees
MacDonald, Ann-Marie

2003
Creation
Govier, Katherine

The Romantic
Gowdy, Barbara

Lost Girls
Pyper, Andrew

2004
A Complicated Kindness
Toews, Miriam

2005
The Time in Between
Bergen, David

What We All Long For
Brand, Dionne

Sweetness in the Belly
Gibb, Camilla

Spin
Wilson , Robert Charles

2006
De Niro’s Game
Hage, Rawi

The Birth House
McKay, Ami

Lullabies for Little Criminals
O’Neill, Heather

Still Life
Penny, Louise

2007
The Outlander
Adamson, Gil

No Time for Goodbye
Barclay, Linwood

Late Nights on Air
Hay, Elizabeth

The Book of Negroes
Hill, Lawrence

Certainty
Thien, Madeleine

2008
The Best Laid Plans
Fallis, Terry

The Cellist of Sarajevo
Galloway, Steven

2009
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel
Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman

Galore
Crummey, Michael

Essex County
Lemire, Jeff

The Golden Mean
Lyon, Annabel

The Bishop’s Man
MacIntyre, Linden

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life
O’Malley, Bryan Lee

The Mistress of Nothing
Pullinger, Kate

2010
Room
Donoghue, Emma

Fruit
Francis, Brian

Secret Daughter
Gowda, Shilpi Somaya

Come, Thou Tortoise
Grant, Jessica

February
Moore, Lisa

Skim
Tamaki, Mariko & Jillian

Holding Still for as Long as Possible
Whittall, Zoe

Annabel
Winter, Kathleen

2011
The Antagonist
Coady, Lynn

The Sisters Brothers
deWitt, Patrick

Six Metres of Pavement
Doctor, Farzana

Half-Blood Blues
Edugyan, Esi

The Amazing Absorbing Boy
Maharaj, Rabindranath

2012
419
Ferguson, Will

Ru
Thuy, Kim
trans. by Sheila Fischman

Indian Horse
Wagamese, Richard

2013
The Orenda
Boyden, Joseph

The Luminaries
Catton, Eleanor

Bone and Bread
Nawaz, Saleema

A Tale for the Time Being
Ozeki, Ruth

A list of 100 Canadian books (read or to be read) inspired by the CBC Books 100 Novels list

Needless to say, the CBC Books 100 Novels list stirred up a lot of discussion in a household with a pair of folks who are intensely avid readers and book collectors who also happen to work in very book-oriented professions (libraries and literary prizes). While we appreciate the obvious thought that went into the original CBC Books list, we couldn’t resist using it as the basis for own list. The exercise proved not only how challenging (perhaps impossible) it is to compile a definitive list – kudos once again, CBC Books! – but it also highlights just how rich the CanLit treasure trove is. Here’s how we approached our list and some of what we discovered:

  • Our list of 100 Canadian books / works of fiction simply had to include short story collections. Major literary awards for fiction in this country look at it that way, too. Canada is known internationally for its short story craft, with a certain Nobel winner as one of our greatest but certainly not our only ambassador in this realm. Our list wholeheartedly includes short story collections.
  • We felt there should be a bit more balance between books published pre- and post-2000. The CBC Books list is 43/57 – ours is 51/49.
  • We removed and replaced 15 titles from the original list.
  • On this newly compiled list, I’ve admittedly read a few more – 61 as opposed to 55 on the original CBC Books list. That means I still have some reading to do, which I don’t mind at all!

On the following list, I’ve highlighted where we’ve placed different books, or where we’ve substituted different titles for authors represented on the original list.

Adamson, Gil
The Outlander

Anderson-Dargatz, Gail
The Cure for Death by Lightning

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid’s Tale
Alias Grace

Badami, Anita Rau
The Hero’s Walk

Baldwin, Shauna Singh
What the Body Remembers

Barclay, Linwood
No Time for Goodbye

Bemrose, John
The Island Walkers

Bergen, David
The Time in Between

Blais, Marie-Claire
trans. Derek Coltman
A Season in the Life of Emmanuel

Blunt, Giles
Forty Words for Sorrow

Boyden, Joseph
Three Day Road

Brand, Dionne
What We All Long For

Buckler, Ernest
The Mountain and the Valley

Callaghan, Morley
Such is My Beloved

Catton, Eleanor
The Luminaries

Choy, Wayson
The Jade Peony

Clarke, Austin
The Polished Hoe

Clarke, George Elliott
George & Rue

Coady, Lynn
The Saints of Big Harbour

Cohen, Leonard
Beautiful Losers

Cohen, Matt
Elizabeth and After

Coupland, Douglas
Generation X

Courtemanche, Gil
trans. Patricia Claxton
A Sunday at the Pool in Kigali

Crummey, Michael
Galore

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

deWitt, Patrick
The Sisters Brothers

Doctor, Farzana
Six Metres of Pavement

Donoghue, Emma
Room

Edugyan, Esi
Half-Blood Blues

Engel, Marian
Bear

Fallis, Terry
The Best Laid Plans

Findley, Timothy
The Wars

Francis, Brian
Fruit

Gallant, Mavis
The Other Paris

Galloway, Steven
The Cellist of Sarajevo

Gaston, Bill
Mount Appetite

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Govier, Katherine
Fables of Brunswick Avenue

Gowda, Shilpi Somaya
Secret Daughter

Gowdy, Barbara
We So Seldom Look on Love

Grant, Jessica
Come, Thou Tortoise

Grove, Frederick Phillip
A Search for America

Hage, Rawi
De Niro’s Game

Harvey, Kenneth
Inside

Hay, Elizabeth
Late Nights on Air

Hébert, Anne
trans. Norman Shapiro
Kamouraska

Hiebert, Paul
Sarah Binks

Highway, Tomson
Kiss of the Fur Queen

Hill, Lawrence
The Book of Negroes

Johnston , Wayne
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

Kay, Guy Gavriel
Tigana

Kelly, MT
A Dream Like Mine

King, Thomas
Green Grass, Running Water

Kogawa, Joy
Obasan

Laferriere, Dany
trans. David Homel
How to Make Love to a Negro without Getting Tired

Laurence, Margaret
The Stone Angel

Lavery, John
Sandra Beck

Leacock, Stephen
Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Lemire, Jeff
Essex County

MacDonald, Ann-Marie
Fall on Your Knees

MacIntyre, Linden
The Bishop’s Man

MacLennan, Hugh
Two Solitudes

MacLeod, Alistair
No Great Mischief

Maharaj, Rabindranath
The Amazing Absorbing Boy

Martel, Yann
Life of Pi

McKay, Ami
The Birth House

Michaels, Anne
Fugitive Pieces

Mistry, Rohinton
A Fine Balance

Moore, Brian
The Luck of Ginger Coffey

Moore, Lisa
February

Mootoo, Shani
Cereus Blooms at Night

Munro, Alice
The Progress of Love

Nawaz, Saleema
Bone and Bread

O’Neill, Heather
Lullabies for Little Criminals

Ondaatje, Michael
In the Skin of a Lion

Penny, Louise
Still Life

Pullinger, Kate
The Mistress of Nothing

Quarrington, Paul
King Leary

Ricci, Nino
Lives of the Saints

Richards, David Adams
Nights Below Station Street

Richler, Mordecai
Solomon Gursky Was Here
Barney’s Version

Robinson, Eden
Monkey Beach

Ross, Sinclair
As For Me and My House

Selvadurai, Shyam
Funny Boy

Shields, Carol
The Stone Diaries

Smart, Elizabeth
By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept

Snyder, Carrie
The Juliet Stories

Soucy, Gaétan
trans. Sheila Fischman
The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches

Toews, Miriam
A Complicated Kindness

Urquhart, Jane
The Stone Carvers

Van Camp, Richard
The Lesser Blessed

Vanderhaeghe, Guy
The Englishman’s Boy

Vassanji, M.G.
The Book of Secrets

Wagamese, Richard
Indian Horse

Watson, Sheila
The Double Hook

Wilson, Ethel
Swamp Angel

Wilson, Robert Charles
Spin

Winter, Kathleen
Annabel

2014 reading list (so far)

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

As I’ve done in years past, I’m taking a look at the halfway point in the year at the books I’ve read so far, with links where they exist to books that I’ve reviewed (either here on this blog or briefly on Goodreads). As I’ve perpetually remarked – and really mean it – it’s a competition with no one but myself, but it is always useful and interesting to stop and reflect a bit where one is at with one’s reading, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Of the 22 books I’ve read so far this year, 3 were non-fiction, 5 were poetry and the balance of 14 were fiction (novels and short story collections). It’s kind of nice to reflect on this Canada Day holiday that 15 of those 22 books were written by Canadians.

  1. All the Rage
    by A.L. Kennedy

  2. Life After Life
    by Kate Atkinson

  3. canlit

  4. A Recipe for Disaster & Other Unlikely Tales of Love
    by Eufemia Fantetti

  5. canlit

  6. how the gods pour tea
    by Lynn Davies

  7. canlit

  8. Maidenhead
    by Tamara Faith Berger

  9. canlit

  10. Crazy Town – The Rob Ford Story
    by Robyn Doolittle

  11. canlit

  12. The Luminaries
    by Eleanor Catton

  13. canlit

  14. Prairie Ostrich
    by Tamai Kobayashi

  15. Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life
    by Hermione Lee

  16. Bark
    by Lorrie Moore

  17. canlit

  18. Waiting for the Man
    by Arjun Basu

  19. canlit

  20. The Lease
    by Mathew Henderson

  21. canlit

  22. Grayling
    by Gillian Wigmore

  23. Sun Bear
    by Matthew Zapruder

  24. canlit

  25. Ocean
    by Sue Goyette

  26. canlit

  27. Cockroach
    by Rawi Hage
    (reviewed for bookgaga by Paul Whelan)

  28. canlit

  29. Dog Ear
    by Jim Johnstone

  30. canlit

  31. New Tab
    by Guillaume Morissette

  32. Congratulations, by the way
    by George Saunders

  33. canlit

  34. Based on a True Story
    by Elizabeth Renzetti

  35. Americanah
    by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

  36. canlit

  37. All My Puny Sorrows
    by Miriam Toews

Currently in progress:

  • The Rise & Fall of Great Powers
    by Tom Rachman

  • Everyone Is CO2
    by David James Brock

How is your reading going so far in 2014?

Book traffic report #4

pile-of-books

In this household brimming with books, we’re continuing to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. This report reflects the months of April and May, and brings us to almost the halfway point in the year.

At the end of April (National Poetry Month, by the way), the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 13

  • All incoming books were paper.
  • 9 of the incoming books were poetry collections.
  • 6 books were work-related.
  • 1 book was purchased directly from a publisher at a book event.
  • 7 received books were complimentary copies from publishers or authors.

Outgoing: 17

  • 13 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • 3 books were given to friends.
  • 1 book was returned to the library.

At the end of May, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 4

  • 3 of the incoming books were purchased in bookstores (Book City and Ben McNally’s).
  • 1 book was purchased online from Amazon.

Outgoing: 7

2014 to date: 51 books incoming, 71 books outgoing

So far this year, a total of 19 incoming books are read and 33 are unread, and a total of 46 outgoing books have been read … and 28 books that have lived in this house unread are now back out in the world, presumably to join a household where they will be read.

So far this year, 27 fiction, 11 non-fiction and 13 poetry books have arrived, and 37 fiction, 29 non-fiction and 8 poetry books have departed.

Our outgoing numbers continue to illustrate that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes.

A pile of books. Photograph: Lorna Roach (via The Guardian)
(http://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2010/mar/19/how-not-to-title-a-novel)

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette

For days after finishing New Tab by Guillaume Morissette, I kept thinking Thomas’ friend Shannon might pop up on Facebook chat. That’s how disarmingly, perhaps unwittingly, authentic the characters are in this book. That authenticity is especially surprising given that Thomas, Shannon and their shifting circle of roommates, workmates, classmates and various acquaintances are often just disembodied virtual entities, to each other and to the reader.

Morissette’s quietly witty novel is set in up to the moment Montreal and traces a year in the life of 27-year-old (well, somewhat inexplicably 26 to his ostensible friends and colleagues) Thomas, a disaffected video game designer looking languidly and yearningly, but not without an undercurrent of genuine determination, to change career and personal directions. Against a blurred-around-the-edges backdrop of dodgy accommodations, fleeting and vague relationships, substance over-consumption (it’d be harsh to call it abuse because it seems so tinged with a kind of innocence), Thomas makes his way. The reader peeks over Thomas’ shoulder at email and Facebook chat clues as to how he progresses, professionally and emotionally.

Thomas’ wit is wistful but rich and constant – a defense mechanism for a psyche both gently bewildered and perhaps singed around the edges from too much time spent online, and an ongoing, rueful delight for the reader, with gems such as:

“My approach with women was like stacking blocks really high in Tetris while waiting for a straight line that might never come.”

“It felt like I was trying to use social networks as a way to prototype myself.”

“Staring at my computer screen, I suddenly wanted to fold my Facebook into an origami crane.”

Morissette keeps the structure of New Tab loose, balancing Thomas’ frequently distracted state of mind while not creating a haphazard or unsatisfactory reading experience. The novel charmingly mixes the epistolary with instances where characters do reach across the static to try to connect, however awkwardly and tentatively. As much as the prevalence of digital communication (or miscommunication) seems to position New Tab as a kind of Virtual Reality Bites, in other respects, the form of correspondence is perhaps irrelevant – just that Thomas and his cohorts are corresponding and trying to communicate is key. In fact, New Tab and the likes of Pride and Prejudice share some literary kinship.

Finally, Thomas stumbles upon a connection between his current vocation and his aspirations:

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like video games and poems had a lot in common. They both tended to take themselves seriously, without caring whether or not the player or reader would be accepting them on those terms. In the story mode of any given Call of Duty, part of the pleasure, for me, came from making fun of the game as I played it, for taking itself so seriously. I sometimes experienced a similar kind of disconnect when reading poems, between the emotional landscape of the poem and my emotional landscape while reading it.

Video games were also often about the player achieving salvation, while poems were often about the speaker achieving salvation.

In the suddenly cinematic last few pages of New Tab, Thomas is propelled into the rest of his life. It feels like the Tetris blocks are falling swiftly and neatly. He is poised to open perhaps the most important new tab of all. The expectations might be downplayed, but you wish him well and kind of hope he pops up on chat or sends you an event invitation for his next poetry reading or book launch sometime in future.

An added delight of New Tab is another arresting book cover by David Drummond (the cover of Marina Endicott’s Good to a Fault is a favourite). The cover of New Tab creates a wonderful sense of physical setting, with slanted transitional light, which could be early morning, or could be early evening, connoting the changes with which Thomas is contending.

See also:

Thank you to Véhicule Press for providing a review copy of New Tab by Guillaume Morisette.

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting For the Man, by Arjun Basu

Thirty-something advertising copywriter Joe doesn’t even realize something is wrong until he unwittingly turns his own professional expertise to perverse advantage on his own personal meltdown. Inexplicably disillusioned and disaffected with a career, lifestyle and life that many might find enviable, at least on the surface, Joe simply stops living that life one day and parks himself on his Manhattan stoop to wait for the Man to signal what he should do next. Who is the Man? Each reader who follows Joe’s journey in Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu is likely to have a different answer.

Joe’s decision to wait for the Man to direct Joe’s next steps can be interpreted many ways. Is Joe paralyzed by depression, truly experiencing something otherworldly and transcendent … or what? Whatever the answer, it almost seems incidental in Basu’s pithy handling (honed by the social media equivalent of an eternity crafting striking one-tweet short stories called Twisters) of Joe’s clinical reaction to his own crisis, as he plays willing party to turning that crisis into a branding and social media event of some magnitude.

As that event starts getting out of hand, Joe perhaps conveniently discerns the signal he needs to depart. The journey commences, replete with pursuing media and copious junk food – rather reminiscent of some of the adventures of a notorious big city mayor we’re all too familiar with these days. Joe’s journey, however, even includes some meaningful if fleeting human connections – connections with people more endearingly and sympathetically sketched than Joe himself. Joe arrives at what is presumably the polar opposite of his slick, fast-paced Manhattan life, a remote ranch/resort in Montana.

Or has Joe really found the dramatic change of scenery that is supposed to symbolize the significant … whatever … it is he’s seeking or craving? For a time at least, Joe works with his hands – peeling apples in the resort kitchen – rather than his head. That sojourn from his own fevered brain is short-lived, though, and it turns out the Montana ranch is as much in perceived need of branding – you know, to take the place to the next level – as any of the products for which Joe built identities when he was thriving, however shallowly, in Manhattan. While a dire turn of events for Joe’s search for whatever he’s searching for, it’s a great satirical turn in the novel.

It’s a wonderful and fortuitous coincidence that this reviewer came to be reading Waiting for the Man one day while listening to a radio in the background tuned to popular CBC Radio program Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence. Much of O’Reilly’s examination of the mechanics of how modern advertising and branding works, and how those mechanics sink their talons into consumers’ emotions and psyches, is in glorious play in Joe’s musings.

You’d be hard pressed to pick one @arjunbasu Twister as the best of them all (although the recent “We’d been to karaoke the night before I lost my job. Was it my singing? Or maybe the gun I’d found. In my boss’s purse. On my bedroom floor.” is a zinger). Similarly, it’s nigh impossible to pull a definitive quote from what is the most compelling aspect of Waiting For the Man – its entrancingly paced and parsed words. The book is rich with well-crafted sentences that have benefited from the rigour with which Basu creates his tweet-length stories. There is a tight, potent economy of expression throughout.

But are you going to feel a connection to Joe? Is it even critical to feel that to derive measures of satisfaction and meaning from Waiting for the Man? This reviewer is not dismissing the main character because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and perhaps unbelievable – rather, very much crediting him because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and decidedly believable. He’s us, desensitized by and rendered somewhat helpless under the cloud of branding and digital everything under which we live these days. He’s not quite the cipher of Chance the Gardener from the Jerzy Kosinski novel and movie Being There, but Joe is someone onto whom we can to some extent imprint our own disillusionment and dysphoria.

There’s this …

Deep in my heart I was doubting myself completely, but I could not bring myself to admit this. I could admit that the trip was a cheap spectacle cooked up by the media to fill some minutes during the summer’s newcasts. To Dan, the prize came at the conclusion of the journey. The event only had purpose at its conclusion. To me, this ordeal was a path to the start of a new journey. A new life. That’s what I had hoped.

… but then, right at the end, there’s this …

I may have felt freedom. I’m not sure.

Oh, Joe is us all right. He’s irritating and his fate is inconclusive, but we can totally relate.

Learn more about Waiting for the Man, by Arjun Basu

Waiting for the Man in ECW Press book catalogue, including excerpt

Waiting for the Man book trailer

See also:

  • Book Review | Waiting For The Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Lynne for Words of Mystery
    Joe is just your average guy who like several people feels overworked and burned out. One night he has a dream of a man who tells him that he is waiting for him, and it is that one thing that causes him to leave his job and home in search of this mysterious man. What follows is more than just a story of one man’s journey …

  • Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (2014)
    reviewed in Buried In Print
    “We crave narrative,” Joe tells us.
    And the Reader who picks up Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man nods: a narrative craver.

  • Waiting for the Man – Interview with Author Arjun Basu
    by Katherine Krige for A New Day
    Joe is a cynic and his journey isn’t easy. For one, there is a mini van. And lots of bad pizza. Showers and sleep are minimal … Sounds like the making of any great adventure, right?

  • Review: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    by Alessandra in The Book Stylist
    Joe’s journey is a mental one, where he establishes an acute and cynical awareness about the world we live in, a world that is pockmarked in ruts and rigged like bear traps for the unsuspecting.

  • Waiting For The Man – Arjun Basu – Review AND Giveaway
    by Luanne in A Bookworm’s World
    Basu has crafted an unsettling, thought provoking first novel, one sure to leave you taking a second look at many aspects of our society and our own lives.

  • Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
    reviewed by Heather Cromarty for Quill & Quire
    At an historical moment when everyone demands to be perceived as special and kids grow up wanting only to be famous, Montreal writer Arjun Basu’s debut novel ponders the possibility of escaping the ennui of modern life, where the safe, corporate dream jobs of our parents don’t offer the expected fulfillment.

Thank you to ECW Press for providing a review copy of Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu.

Book traffic report #3

Flying books

In this household brimming with books, we’re continuing to take a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. Three months in, things are getting very interesting. I’ve decided to categorize the incoming and outgoing books in some additional ways.

At the end of March, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 17

  • 17 paper books / 0 digital books
  • 9 purchased / 7 received / 1 borrowed from the library
  • Of the 9 books purchased, 6 were purchased online and three were purchased in stores or in-person transactions (Book City, Ben McNally’s and directly from an author at a reading).
  • All 7 received books were complementary copies from publishers or authors.

I’ve observed from the outset that I’d like to see more of our purchases taking place in physical bookstores, where possible. I confess I’m a bit surprised that our online purchases are still as high as they are, but I’ll point out that two of those purchases were for rare books obtained from non-Amazon vendors’ web sites.

Outgoing: 16

  • 15 outgoing books were contributed to three local Little Free Library boxes.
  • One tattered, outdated technical reference book was consigned to the recycling bin.

2014 to date: 34 books incoming, 47 books outgoing

I’ve added some new categories by which I’m going to track incoming and outgoing books. First, I’m going to note whether a book is read (by my husband or me) or not yet read at the time I tally things up each month. Obviously, a new incoming book is likely to be unread initially, but I’m interested to see how many of those books are read by the end of the year. Also, how many books are we sending back out into the world that no one in this household got around to reading?

So far this year, a total of 14 incoming books are read and 20 are unread, and a total of 35 outgoing books have been read … and 12 books that have lived in this house unread are now back out in the world, presumably to join a household where they will be read.

I’ve also categorized incoming and outgoing books as fiction, non-fiction (including reference) and poetry.

So far this year, 23 fiction, 7 non-fiction and 4 poetry books have arrived, and 21 fiction, 24 non-fiction and 2 poetry books have departed.

Our outgoing numbers continue to illustrate that we have an abiding affection for our local Little Free Library boxes.

Let’s see how the books fly back and forth this upcoming month!

Flying books image from http://spl225.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/flying20books.jpg

Canada Reads 2014 – refreshed, inspired, re-energized

Canada Reads

This was a palate cleanser year for me with respect to Canada Reads, an annual Canadian literary event I’ve followed regularly since its inception in 2002. (Here’s a handy summary of the books, book defenders, moderators and more, including the parallel lineups for the French language equivalent, Le Combat des livres.) I’ve been most engaged in the books, the discussions and the featured debates since 2011, the year the event was extended to invite more online participation.

Perhaps I’ve been so engaged since then that I’ll admit, I experienced a touch of Canada Reads fatigue going into the ramp-up to this year’s debates. I’d mused a year earlier …

“… you know, part of me wishes I could go into the debate one of these times to be convinced without having read any of them, or to test with some purity whether the debates stand on their own as a truly useful way of being introduced to the books. Of course, the debates can’t help but be predicated on some beforehand knowledge of the books and authors. Anyhow, it’s not how Canada Reads books have come to be marketed nowadays, is it? The five-book packages and bookstore displays started in November, and we’re meant to respond. Still, don’t you think it’d be an interesting approach to learning about the books to intentionally go in blind one year?” (from Some thoughts on Canada Reads Eve [February 9, 2013])

So, that’s what I did this year.

Taking this approach, I went into the debates feeling refreshed, with some new perspectives and very curious to see how the celebrity defenders were going to do their jobs. I’ll also admit that I emerged from the 2014 Canada Reads debates feeling entertained, challenged and energized, having had my thoughts about the contending books and subject matter provoked in all sorts of positive ways.

Bearing in mind that Canada Reads is not just a battle of books, but the alchemy of theme, book, defender, strategy and a dollop or two of the unexpected, the 2014 edition delivered … and some. The two final defenders – Wab Kinew, championing Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda and Samantha Bee, championing Rawi Hage’s Cockroach – were two of the most determined, articulate, well prepared and quick thinking combatants the program has ever seen (Bee’s periodic dips into weepiness notwithstanding). Add to that the eminence, eloquence, gravitas and revelatory humour of statesman Stephen Lewis, and the program boasted some of the most balanced, respectful and riveting Canada Reads exchanges ever, such as the Kinew-Lewis debate about violence and torture in The Orenda.

You could almost put aside the books here and argue that the arguments themselves were the most potent and inspiring aspects of this year’s program.

Cockroach, by Rawi Hage

Interestingly, the tenacity with which the book/defender combination of Bee/Cockroach made it to the final round had me the most intrigued throughout. That’s the Canada Reads finalist book I’m going to read first, based on both Samantha Bee’s spirited and resourceful defence, as well my friend Paul Whelan’s great review.

Suggestions for next year? On the basis of the invigorating discussions this year, I know I’ll be interested again in 2015, and would love to submit the following ideas for consideration:

  1. Thematic idea #1 How about an examination of indelible characters in Canadian literature that all Canadians should get to know … but not the usual suspects, like Anne of Green Gables or Duddy Kravitz? I’d nominate the likes of Maggie Lloyd from Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel, Desmond Howl from Paul Quarrington’s Whale Music, Sheilagh Fielding from Wayne Johnston’s The Custodian of Paradise or Egg from Tamai Kobayashi’s Prairie Ostrich.

  2. Fifth Business, by Robertson Davies

  3. Thematic idea #2 How about books that will introduce you to the complete works of (perhaps) underappreciated or unknown authors, or authors that have slipped a bit below the CanLit radar? How about selections from the works of Barbara Gowdy, Matt Cohen, Robertson Davies or Judith Merril, for example?

  4. Host/moderator The inaugural Canada Reads in 2002 was moderated by actor/comedian Mary Walsh. For the next five years, Canada Reads was moderated by author and broadcaster Bill Richardson. For the last seven years, Jian Ghomeshi has helmed the program. Is it maybe time to give Jian a well-deserved break and seek a change in the moderator’s chair? (Heck, if he is reluctant to completely disengage, Jian could probably be an able book defender.) While there are already calls for him for Prime Minister, a good interim role for Wab Kinew might be as an incisive and astute moderator who would bring an informed sensibility to the proceedings. His impressive acumen in this year’s Canada Reads proceedings was enhanced by his overall preparedness and knowledge of all of the books, and his ability to respect his opponents without being either hostile or overly ingratiating. I think he could manage a future Canada Reads competition with equanimity and aplomb. Just a thought …

See also:

Post-mortem: Canada Reads 2014, by Allegra Young

Spending time most gloriously with 500 poets and poetry translators

Gathered at another table

A year ago, the table welcomed 300 poets and translators. A year later, 200 more poets and translators have joined the festive gathering, making for some interesting shuffling in the seating arrangements, to say the least. Are Helen Adam and Fleur Adcock having a surprising meeting of minds? How about ee cummings and Nancy Jo Cullen … or Edna St Vincent Millay and Joe Strummer? Anselm Berrigan is now next to his father, Ted, and his mother Alice Notley is further down on the other side, engrossed in conversation with Idra Novey. We trust Helen Guri and Jason Guriel will have no mishaps with wine glasses or cutlery …

I’ve been tweeting a #todayspoem tweet every day since December 26, 2011, inspired by this. In addition to revisiting and going deeper in my own poetry collection, #todayspoem has compelled me to go further afield in print and online, and my daily tweets have reflected both my own explorations and those sparked by other generous and eclectic #todayspoem contributors. While I continue to imagine what this 500 poets and translators I’ve tweeted would have to say to each other if I sat them at a table … again, I’m fantasizing about the new guests who will be joining them in the days, weeks and months to come.

The following are links to more information about each of the unique poets and translators from whose work I’ve tweeted in a little over two years – personal web sites, articles, interviews, essays, biographies and bibliographies. I kind of hope that these might be starting points for others to explore these artists, too. The excerpts from their work that I incorporated into #todayspoem tweets are saved as part of the Today’s Poem Pinterest board.

Tea table image from chestofbooks.com

Book traffic report #2

Stack of books

As I’ve mentioned, we here in this household overflowing with books have launched a year-long look at how books make their way into (and out of) this place. We’re now two months into the exercise and we’re not only learning some interesting things about our book acquisition and sharing behaviours, but I think this added awareness might be influencing us, at least a bit.

At the end of February, the two columns on my home office whiteboard tallied up as follows:

Incoming: 9

  • 9 paper books / 0 digital books
  • 2 purchased / 7 received or received as gifts
  • Of the 2 books purchased, one was purchased online and one was special ordered via and purchased in a bookstore (Book City)
  • 5 of the 7 received books were complementary copies from publishers or authors
  • 1 book that had been loaned to a friend was returned.

I observed last month that I’d like to see more of our purchases taking place in physical bookstores, where possible. So, we paid more attention to that this month, and I’d like to continue to do that in future.

Outgoing: 16

2014 to date: 17 books incoming, 31 books outgoing

Not sure if there is much to conclude this early on, but I do want to keep up the Little Free Library habit (maybe it’s time for us to get a box of our own, either at home or hmm, maybe up at the cottage …?) and I also want to be mindful of purchasing at and supporting our bookstores. I admit the outgoing book figure surprises me a bit, but then my husband commented that he’s surprised at how many books are still coming in …!

I mentioned before that I am keeping track of the titles coming in and going out, but am not specifically listing them in my reports here. (No one gave an opinion either way about me mentioning titles.) With outgoing books in particular, I’ve wondered if mentioning the titles might make it look like we’re rejecting or kicking perfectly fine books out of our house. Again, I note that some of the books we’ve taken to Little Free Library boxes are reading and/or paperback copies of books we’ve since purchased in hardcover and/or in first editions. In some cases, the books were on specific subject matter and have grown out of date or usefulness. In some cases, admittedly, there are books we’ve relinquished that we don’t expect to revisit, to put it carefully. As I said previously, that doesn’t mean that someone else might not happily welcome them and add them to the “incoming” column in their households. (In fact, when I check our neighbourhood Little Free Library boxes to which we’ve donated, I’m also kind of happy to see that our books have departed.)

Book stack image from ypulse.com

Cockroach, by Rawi Hage

I’m excited to introduce Bookgaga readers to another insightful guest book reviewer who comes at things from some intriguing angles. Paul Whelan, over to you: I am an architect whose worldview has been shaped by a belief that cities and buildings are active participants in our real and imagined lives. My reading is evenly split between fiction and non-fiction, but usually underpinned by my deep love of human history.

Cockroach, by Rawi Hage

A book titled Cockroach almost begs the reader to embark on an insect-metaphor hunt. And there are many here to find. If you are the type of reader who wants to make connections between for example Kafka and derogatory racial profiling, it’s all here for the counting. But for me there was so much more to this engaging novel. I read it twice as the combination of character, story and language aligned to keep me off-balance, but eagerly stumbling forward.

The nameless main character is simultaneously off-putting and endearing. His childlike attitude towards his shoplifting and break and enter crimes seems devoid of conventional morality. He oscillates from compelling observations of his adopted city through to being weirdly off-putting. Regardless I wanted him to succeed in his seductions and his crimes. I never lost interest in his interactions with Montreal and its inhabitants.

Cockroach inhabits a city that operates under rules that are invisible to him. His judgment of the naïveté of those around him is equal to his own unexamined naïveté. He coolly exposes the false posturing of both his fellow-immigrants and the soft lives of the Montreal well-to-do. Rawi Hage creates passages of power and beauty such as the hero’s musings on his state-appointed psychiatrist.

“She was quiet and I knew she wanted to ask me if I had killed Tony once I had the gun. I knew she was hooked, intrigued. Simple woman. I thought. Gentle, educated, but naïve, she is sheltered by glaciers and prairies, thick forests, oceans and dancing seals.”

Cockroach’s hero has experienced a far harsher world and has little patience for the morality of the well-fed.

Hage’s novel maintains a tight relationship to the viscera of Montreal. The reader is kept in constant contact with the ice and slush of winter, the hunger before the next welfare check and incessant sexual longing. The hero is desperately in touch with his physicality and is deeply grateful for every scrap of food or sexual encounter. Even his break-ins seem tempered by seeming simpler needs. He takes what he wants based on his assessment of the inhabitants, but mostly food and information.

What I have avoided writing about is the plot. For most of the novel I simply read along for the ride. I was equally intrigued by the hero’s direct pleasure from life and the inexorable unfolding of his story, which skirts around all the great issues – hunger, sex, love and revenge. But there is a great story here that slips through the entrails of Montreal and all its inhabitants.


Note: I’m approaching my preparations for Canada Reads 2014 a little differently than previous years. This year, I’m not reading and reviewing the books in advance of the debates. Instead, I’ve asked five wise and articulate readers – of whom Paul is the fifth and final – to review the contending books and convince me one way or the other of the value of the book and its suitability for this year’s Canada Reads theme of “What is the one book that could change Canada?”