Sourdough, by Robin Sloan

Detail of Sourdough cover

Apparently the sourdough bread in San Francisco is unique in the world; it not only has a reputation for being unusually good, with a strangely tangy flavour, the starter in San Francisco sourdough has its own strain of bacteria not found anywhere else. This sounds so much like bullshit that it’s a perfect metaphor for how San Francisco sees itself; the fact that it’s true almost ruins it. I liked Sourdough almost as much as I liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, which makes sense, because the two books have a lot in common. Sloan’s writing in both is clean and direct; personable, even. He’s not in any danger of developing a reputation as a stylist, but he gets balance and rhythm, knows when and how to be funny, knows when to stop. That’s harder to get right than many imagine; I can direct to you to some books if you… Continue Reading

The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson

Detail from the cover of The Double Hook

When planning this year’s reading project I put out a call for book recommendations; I received several, but the most common one was The Double Hook, by Sheila Watson. It didn’t make the cut for a number of reasons—mostly because my list was already pretty heavy on pre-CanCon material—but I added it as a “just in case” book, because I was having trouble locating copies of some of the other books. But December has rolled around, I’ve finished all twelve of my posts, and it turns out that I have time to do one more: my bonus book, The Double Hook. Sheila Watson’s prose was absolutely glorious. In a great many ways it reminded me of the best of Southern US writing; the same deceptively simple diction, the same idiosyncratic syntax, the same presentation of the mundane as the mythic. The Double Hook was gorgeous from beginning to end, but… Continue Reading

The Inconvenient Indian, by Thomas King

Detail from the cover of The Inconvenient Indian

The Inconvenient Indian was one of the first books I chose for my Canada 150 project. I picked it up in the store, read a couple of pages, and was instantly hooked. Had it not been for my decision to read the books in chronological order, this would have been my first selection rather than my last, though perhaps it’s fitting to end the project here. The Inconvenient Indian was compulsively readable from sentence one, full of wit and charisma and righteous anger. It definitely made me want to read more of King’s work. I’m not always comfortable writing about non-fiction; if you aren’t an expert in the subject—or at least have a solid grounding—then there’s not much you can comment on except the quality of the prose. And I’m certainly not a historian, an expert in Native cultures, nor on any of the specific political issues at play between… Continue Reading

Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan

Detail of Two Solitudes Cover

So far, every book I’ve read as part of my Canada 150 project has felt archetypal in some way. Two Solitudes, a novel whose title has become shorthand for the the complex relationship between French and English Canada, is no exception, although it’s the weakest of the bunch, and lacks the relentless narrative drive of Barometer Rising. It’s a multi-generational novel, and while it’s hardly the first of its kind, it mostly takes place between and around periods of great significance, beginning at the end of World War One, ending at the outbreak of World War Two, and mostly skipping the Great Depression. In that way it seems almost stereotypically Canadian; present for the big moments, but more comfortable in the spaces between. It’s interesting to me that this is the first book I’ve read for the project that deals with the middle class or the wealthy instead of the… Continue Reading

The Tin Flute, by Gabrielle Roy

Various covers for The Tin Flute, by Gabrielle Roy

The Tin Flute has been on my list for years, and I’ve collected various editions in that time, until now all of them sitting unread on shelves or in boxes, the victims of good intentions and bad moods. I had meant, well and truly meant, to read the book when I found myself laid off in 2011 and spent fifteen months unemployed, but the copy I had at the time was so fragile I didn’t believe it would survive the attempt. The copy I did manage to read, a New Canadian Library edition, fittingly perhaps, from 1967, was a gift from a former professor at the University of Waterloo. I was just as afraid for it, but it turned out to be hardier than it looked. Hugo McPherson’s introduction was not promising, and he goes out of his way to warn readers about the flaws in Hannah Josephson’s translation, but… Continue Reading

As For Me and My House, by Sinclair Ross

As For Me and My House, by Sinclair Ross

As For Me and My House is the only book on my Canada 150 list that I hadn’t heard of prior to making the list. Sinclair Ross, as a name, was familiar to me, but beyond the “Canadian author” tag, I had nothing to attach to it. Having now read the book, it’s unclear to me how I escaped high school without having read it. It is exactly the sort of archetypal repressive prairie novel you’d expect to see assigned in Canadian schools—I would say it’s the very model for such books, if Martha Ostenso’s excellent Wild Geese didn’t predate it by a good sixteen years. The story of the country parson and his wife being slowly ground down by the weight of the town’s hypocritical moral gaze is so common in Canadian letters it’s become one of handful of stereotypical plots that are used as shorthand for old-fashioned, unadventurous… Continue Reading