It has recently come to my attention that lots of people don't seem to know what's being written and read in Canada these days. "Canadian Literature?," they cry, "You mean that awful stuff we had to read in class?"
I do not mean that awful stuff, dear readers. I mean the stuff that you're not going to get in class. You know, the good stuff.
Margaret Atwood hardly needs an introduction, as her publication list is about as long as my leg -- and, furthermore, you probably have read her in school, at least a little. Most classes on Canadian lit will read The Handmaid's Tale (as well they should!). My favourite -- the one I'd tell people to start with -- would be Alias Grace. Both that and The Robber Bride are frequent re-reads of mine.
Do you like narrative nonfiction? Great, me too. Read Pierre Berton for very interesting histories of Canada. I enjoyed Invasion of Canada and Flames Across the Border (about the war of 1812). The Last Spike is one of his best-known books and is reputed to be very good indeed.
Hey, remember Jpod and and Hey Nostradamus! and Girlfriend in a Coma? Coupland may be dang depressing, but he is also Canadian, and we will therefore crush him to our collective bosom with pride. Plus, sometimes you need to read something depressing. Too much happiness isn't good for you, right?
Another writer who is already well-represented on syllabi everywhere? Why, yes. Like Atwood, Davies deserves it. Davies was fond of writing trilogies, of which the perhaps best-known is the Deptford trilogy, comprised of Fifth Business, The Manticore, and World of Wonders. I am also particularly fond of What's Bred in the Bone. If you're looking for something lighter (and more delightful) than the novels, try The Papers of Samuel Marchbanks.
Woo, science fiction, woo! Start with Little Brother. Or, you know, his blog.
Four words: The Book of Negroes. Hill is another Torontonian, now living in Brampton and writing things like said The Book of Negroes (published in the States as Someone Knows My Name, because I guess you can't say "negro" there anymore?).
I haven't read any Ignatieff myself, but I think that I should, because he could well be our next Prime Minister. I do have smart friends who love everything he's ever written; they are also card-carrying members of the Liberal party, though, so take that as you will. A list of works published is here.
Guy Gavriel Kay
Guy Gavriel Kay is a fantasy writer who lives in Toronto, and deals with Toronto to greater or lesser extents in his writing. My first encounter with Kay was through The Fionavar Tapestry, which comprises three novels: The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, and The Darkest Road. You could start with those, or with Tigana which is monstrously brilliant.
Stephen Leacock is a little dated now, and doesn't help the trend of Canadian reading lists being over-weighted with books that are old and not much else. But Leacock is more than just old; he is very funny, in that dry mostly British way. I would star with an anthology, like Laugh with Leacock or another best-of collection.
Ann-Marie MacDonald writes chunksters, brilliant chunksters that will leave you reeling. At least, Fall on Your Knees affected me that way; I stopped reading As the Crow Flies early on because it's too big to easily carry around. But I'll finish it, don't you worry.
Alistair MacLeod wrote No Great Mischief, which I loved and my friend Elizabeth hated. But since this is my blog, and not hers, I urge you to consider my opinion the better one.
I actually first encountered Stuart McLean as a radio presenter -- he has a show on the CBC called The Vinyl Café, which you may listen to through various methods. Frankly, I don't think much of his taste in music, but I greatly enjoy the stories he tells on air, many of which have since been published. I would start with Stories from the Vinyl Café, or Secrets from the Vinyl Café. You can also get them as CDs, and we have many of those as well.
Yann Martel wrote Life of Pi, which you will hate if you stop after the first hundred pages or so, but love if you make it through to the end. More interestingly, he maintains the site What is Stephen Harper Reading?, in which he sends our Prime Minister books every fortnigh.
Anybody who doesn't know who Robert Munsch is shall be punched in the face.
Another writer rightly found on reading lists. I liked In the Skin of a Lion very much. Many people have read The English Patient, or have seen the film, although I have done neither. I do, however, know a cat named after him.
I ask: who wouldn't love young adult novels about bats having adventures? Describing them like that makes them sound lamer than lame, I know, but they're actually pretty cool. First in the series is Silverwing.
Spider Robinson writes smutty science fiction / fantasy, and his books are very punny. Also, his name is "Spider". That's almost as good as Banana Yoshimoto.
Just kidding! Sinclair Ross sucks.
I read Diamond Grill, by Fred Wah, for my Asian-North American Lit class last year, and enjoyed it very much. It is almost poetry, and among the best of what we read in that class (at least as far as the Canadian books were concerned).
This is not a complete list by any means, and there are doubtless many writers I've overlooked. For those of you with adventuresome spirits, Wikipedia has a large list of Canadian writers for you. And, as always, you can click the covers below to be taken to Amazon for purchasing purposes.