Friday, 22 November 2013
Digression: Books I'm Reviewing / Profiling—Charles Montgomery's "Happy City" and Susan Downe's "Juanita Wildrose"
On occasion I run into an individual who states firmly (and with an odd or contrarian sort of pride), "Nope, I don't read Canadian literature."
"What a tool" is usually my immediate (if unkind and dismissive) thought, as it would be with someone who proudly declares, "I don't do carbs" or "TV? I stopped watching that years ago."
Later, though, I wonder about what they picture as they think of this entire category they're so comfortable with claiming to know and so comfortable to dismiss wholesale.
Is it one of those patronizing, international-in-scope perspectives that would make reading Canadian lit equivalent to remaining stuck in your rinky-dink hometown and never wanting to leave, still wearing those white tube socks purchased at Field's when Kanye's got Maison Martin Margiela face masks? Or do these refuseniks recall one CanLit course they didn't care for in university that featured a handful of doom and gloom novels that started with As For Me and My House and ended with The Stone Angel? Maybe they were assigned The Handmaid's Tale in high school and thought it was a real downer, and from there made this deeply flawed cognitive leap that all Canadian lit was time-wasting and grim.
I don't know.
Maybe next time I hear that declaration, I ought to say, "Oh, really, and why is that?" and encourage the speaker to flesh out a working definition of all that's unworthy in Canadian literature.
If a Group of Seven historico-aesthetic commonality existed between the thousands of books that comprise Canadian literature, then I could understand rejecting the homogeneous entirety of it. But even the slightest of investigations will indicate that such a uniform commonality is, um, a complete fiction.
Coincidentally, there's a handy example from this weekend's newspapers that illustrates the point, two books I read a few months ago.
Susan Downe's quasi-memoir, Juanita Wildrose: My True Life, marries fact with fiction and poetry with prose (and shopping lists) in order to describe the childhood years and later decades of a woman who (actually) lived in the United States and Canada for over a century. In Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery promotes a vision of urban contentedness that's built upon years of global travel and research. Montgomery lives in Vancouver; Downe resides in London, ON: that makes them both Canadian, and their work accordingly CanLit. Other than the fact of geographic 'unity' (kinda sorta: the road-trip would cover 4180.5km), however, I can't find too much in common despite the fact they're examples of a national literature. Rejecting them both because they're fall under one supposedly meaningful category makes no sense whatsoever.