Saturday, July 18, 2015
Across Canada Reading Challenge Part 1: The Provinces
This year I decided to take part in the Around the World Reading Challenge (which you probably know since I've mentioned it in like every blog post this year.) As a part of that challenge, there are a bunch of mini-challenges that you can take part in, like read a book from a certain number of countries. One of the suggested mini-challenges was read a book set in every state, but I decided to switch it to read a book set in every Canadian province and territory, since I'm Canadian. (Also I'm sure I've already read a book set in almost every US state, which just shows you how much influence American media has).
It was really fun reading a whole bunch of Canadian books and learning more about my country and the varying cultures within it. If you're American, you have no idea how much American media often swamps other countries' local media. Most people I know watch a lot of American TV and movies, and probably 90% of the YA I read growing up was set in the US and written by American authors. It's probably the worst in Canada, since we share the same language, similar culture, and a border.
The thing is I probably know more about what makes an American novel than a Canadian one. It's really fun to see how even though a lot of the time I think of Americans and Canadians as being essentially the same, Canadians really do think differently than Americans do. That difference comes across in the books that I read for this challenge. The stories that Canadians choose to tell are very different from the ones Americans tell. Of course, this is only the beginning of my adventures in CanLit, so I can't make too many sweeping generalizations.
For now, I'll just talk about the books I have read so far. I thought I'd split this post into two since otherwise it would be way too long, so in this post I'll talk about the books I read from each province, and then in Part 2 tomorrow I'll talk about the books I read from each territory.
We'll start on the West Coast with BC! I actually ended up reading three books set in BC. The first was Beauty Plus Pity by Kevin Chong, which I did a review of so you can see what I thought here. It's an easy to read but also very interesting family story about a second-gen immigrant from Hong Kong. Another book I read set in Vancouver was Everything Was Goodbye by Gurijinder Basran, about a girl who struggles with the culture and wishes of her Indian family by falling in love with a white man. The story follows how the MC experiences the culture clash her entire life. I also read The Beckoners by Carrie Mac which is set in Abbotsford. That was a very intense YA book about extremely violent bullying. I think I liked the other Carrie Mac book I read, The Opposite of Tidy, better.
Onto the land of black gold. The book I read for this province was Truth and Bright Water by Thomas King, about the life of a young Aboriginal boy and two towns on either side of the US/Canada border. While doing this challenge I also read a lot about and the stories of Aboriginal people. I always find it interesting reading Aboriginal stories, because the way Aboriginal people think is very different from the way I think. Truth and Bright Water was an easy read, and fairly humorous despite one of the characters constantly saying that what's wrong with Indians is they have no sense of humor.
I had so much trouble finding books set in SK. The province has such a tiny population, so there's only a small percentage of published books about it written by Canadian authors and whose books I actually have access to. I ended up reading Dust by Arthur Slade, which was a younger YA about a weird magician-like person who puts a spell on a town in Saskatchewan during the Dust Bowl. I think this book was just a bit too young for me to enjoy. It was weird thinking of Saskatchewan during the Dust Bowl as a place for magic to happen, though.
My home province! I read Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown. If you don't know the name Louis Riel, well you should learn it. He's thought of as one of the founding fathers of Manitoba, although the actual history is a little bit less straightforward. That was the fun thing about reading this biography, is you realize just how not straightforward history is. Louis Riel was one weird dude, that's for sure. I also read A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, who is a prominent Manitoban and Canadian writer. A Complicated Kindness is a story about a young girl growing up as a Mennonite and her struggle with her culture. Mennonite stories are a huge part of Manitoba, so it was interesting learning more about that culture.
It is not hard at all to find books set in Ontario, considering that's where most of the population of Canada lives. I read The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten, which focuses on a young boy with OCD and his affection for a young girl in his group; Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, a short graphic novel about a Korean girl and her trials at school in Toronto, and Lies Beneath by Anne Greenwood Brown, a book about murderous mermaids who live in Lake Superior. It's an interesting concept, mermaids who live somewhere considerably less tropical and oceanic.
For Québec, I read Cockroach by Rawi Hage which is about an immigrant making his way in the diverse community of Montreal. It was very much about the difficulties of being a Canadian immigrant. It's interesting because a lot of the time in the news and stuff you read about all these happy ending Canadian immigrant stories, that Canada has rescued these people and Canada's so great and welcoming and multicultural and all that. But this book, as well as Drive-by Saviours, shows a very, very different experience of Canadian immigration, one that people don't hear about as often, but is nonetheless still true to the experience.
I read a short book called Summer Point by Linda Mcnutt, which was about the longstanding effect of staying at a cottage for one summer in New Brunswick on one woman's life. The writing was very subtle, which I liked, but I felt like it could have gone into a lot more depth with the characters. It was just too short of a book to really flesh out the character's and their stories. I did enjoy the short story that I did get to read, though, it was well-written and the story flowed quite well.
One thing I noticed when trying to find books set in the Maritimes is how many books set there are historical fiction. The Birth House by Ami Mckay was a historical fiction novel about a midwife set in the early twentieth century. It was mainly a novel about women's rights, especially in regards to giving birth. It also touched on the theme of white men coming in and taking over and ignoring the voices who know better in order to give something that they think is better but really isn't, which is a common theme in a lot of the books I've read. But I felt like it was too obvious what the author was trying to say, and it came off kind of preachy. I think truths in fiction need to be more subtle.
PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND
I read an adult romance book called The Catch by Louisa Mccormack, about a middle-aged business
woman finding herself by spending a summer in a small town on PEI. It wasn't a bad read, but I didn't feel like the main character really learned anything by the end which was disappointing. My favourite part was definitely the small town PEI atmosphere of it. I loved how the story of family and friends and neighbours who all know each other was at the heart of the book.
NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR
I read February by Lisa Moore for this province, about a woman dealing with her husband's death. It was also tied in with the story of her son getting some girl he met in Iceland pregnant and trying to avoid doing what his mother thinks he should do. It was okay, but it was just too slow for me. There were too many details that felt unnecessary to me, and that didn't really give any greater insight into the characters or story.
Well, that's it for the provinces, stay tuned for tomorrow, when I'll go over the books I read set in the North: Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut!