I suppose it’s probably a good idea to lay out a framework for this project in advance. That way, when I decide to change all the rules, I’ll have a post that I can come back to and edit and say “I never said that!”.
As I say in the “About” page, while I am a Professor in the Department of English at the University of Calgary, I am by no stretch of the imagination a scholar of Canadian literature. Most of my colleagues will remind me that I’m not even a scholar of literature (most of my academic work is on comic books). That said, I have published relatively widely on Canadian film, television, and comic books. But not Canadian literature. This will be mostly new to me.
So. Some rules.
1. I am going to define “books” broadly and am going to try to cover all kinds of types of writing from the novel, to poetry, drama, non-fiction, you name it. I will also include graphic novels and comics. “Books” will be the operative term.
2. I am probably going to define “Canada” broadly as well. That’s a tougher one. I co-edit, for University of Toronto Press, the Canadian Cinema series (it is sponsored by the Toronto International Film Festival). The book I wrote in that series was about David Cronenberg’s film A History of Violence. When it came out I was immediately accosted for writing about an “American” film (subject matter, cast, funding) in a Canadian cinema series. I rolled my eyes at that. My rule will likely be: as Canadian as it needs to be.
3. One book per author. I’m hoping to broaden my perspective here, so that will have to be the rule. Generally I tend to be a reader that gets fixated and will read twenty books in a row by the same writer. Not this year.
4. Read outside my comfort zone. I’m going to try to read more material and in more genres than I generally do. I hope to read in genres that I think I “hate” (hello, fantasy fiction, I’m looking at you). Maybe I’ll end up liking them.
5. I will disclose my relationship to authors. Simply working in an English Department that has a vibrant Creative Writing program means that I know more Canadian authors than the typical Canadian does. I want to be up front about that. Last week I read a list where writers chose the best books of 2016. There were dozens of examples of people recommending books written by their close friends. And those were just that I could see – someone much closer to the field of Can Lit would probably have noted many, many more such examples. I find that highly problematic, to be polite about it. So, if I know an author, I’ll let you know that I know that author. And I’ll probably read books by some of my friends.
6. Not classics. Not not classics. I have no intention of studying for my comprehensive exams here. I’m not going to read a book because it is a “classic”. I’ll read it if it sounds interesting. That said, I’m not deliberately steering away from classics either. I was going to read Anne of Green Gables, a classic, because my wife loves L. M. Montgomery. But she’s trying to talk me into reading a different book by Montgomery. So, we’ll see.
7. No bad books. I don’t envision this as a series of reviews. I’m not giving out letter grades, stars or thumbs up or down. I’m hoping to not read any book that I think I won’t like, so implicitly I’ll be recommending all of these. Certainly, inevitably, there will be books here that disappoint – and I’m sure I’ll note that – but with luck I won’t suffer through bad books. Life’s too short, and there are tens of thousands of good books I can read instead.
8. I have no real plan. Right now I have about six books that I’m intending to read. After that, who knows? I’m sure more will arrive. I was asked if I was going to try to represent all regions of the country. I’m not trying to, but it might happen anyway. I may try to read all the Giller nominees, or Griffin Prize nominees, or Canada Reads books, or I might not.
9. This should probably be a list of ten rules, but I’ve run out at the moment.
10. No, really, I have.