Across Canada by Story is written by Douglas Gibson, who is a former editor at a major Canadian publisher. Throughout his career he published many books by well known Canadian authors. Now he's stepped onto the other side of publishing to write books. His first book, Stories about Storytellers, is a memoir about some stories he knows about the famous authors he's worked with, which I have not read yet.
Instead I skipped to his second book, Across Canada by Story. The summary gives the impression is about his tour across Canada putting on a show based on his book, but really it's a whole bunch of stories about Canadian authors and literary places across Canada."This book of mine," Douglas
Gibson writes in the section about author Hugh MacLennan, "I hope, will give you some sense of the importance, and the literary magic, of our geography." I think that line sums up the essence of the book pretty well. Across Canada by Story is all about drawing connections between Canadian places and the literary.
However, it is definitely written for a very specific, very Canadian audience. If you're looking for an introduction to CanLit, this is definitely not the book. Gibson talks about the authors and events in his book as if you grew up hearing about these things, which I'm sure a lot of people have. Since I'm relatively new to the CanLit scene (and relatively young), I hadn't heard of a lot of the authors that he told stories about, so I think I lost some of the enjoyment of it as a result.
But the writing is good, witty and upbeat, and the enthusiasm the author has for Canadian literature is evident. If you’ve heard of and know well the people and places he’s writing about, then I’m sure it makes a great, fun collection of little stories about beloved Canadian authors. If you haven’t, it’s obvious the Gibson isn’t catering to you. He doesn’t really go into much explanation and kind of assumes you know a lot about the CanLit literary scene, which I’m sure there are a lot of people out there that are knee-deep in that scene that would find this book delightful. It’s just because I wasn’t the target audience that I enjoyed it a little less, that’s all.
It has encouraged me to go and search out more CanLit though, because it’s made me realize how much I’ve been missing out on, even books that are considered classics in Canadian literature. While I did struggle to get through some parts of the book, thanks to mostly the organization of it (all the chapter section titles were at the beginning of the chapter, which made each section flow kind of awkwardly from one to the next), I did still enjoy some of the stories. I think my favourite story was about Will Ferguson (author of 419) working as a tour guide on PEI and pretending that he could speak Japanese.
The best part about this book, though, is how Douglas Gibson connects Canadian geography and places with not just Canadian books, but Canadian literary places such as indie bookstores, events, or even bookish people, like bookstore owners. He paints a picture of Canada and its literature that is rich with things to be discovered. If you’re passionate about Canadian literature and its history within Canada, and want to learn some quirky stories about your favourite Canadian authors to boot, I’d say definitely give this book a read.
Also there is currently a giveaway for this book on Goodreads! If you'd like to try to win a copy, you can enter here.