And we’re back.
It turns out that a week in Germany was not conducive to blogging about Canadian literature. The only things that I read were technical documents at a conference and some German and French comic books. So now I’ll be working double-time to catch back up with my reading goals.
Where to start? How about another dip into the classics?
Stephen Leacock is about as classic as we get in Canada. I know some people who aspire to win literary awards, but I also know people who aspire to be like Leacock: that is, be so important that they name the award after you. That’s how you know you’ve made it. The Beaty Prize for Blogging about CanLit...
I’m pretty sure that the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour may be one of the reasons that I’ve never previously read Stephen Leacock. The award seems to circulate within a small circle of repeat winners (Stuart McLean, Terry Fallis, Will Ferguson…) all of whom write in a style that I don’t particularly care for (I remember reading about forty pages of Fallis’s Leacock-winning The Best Laid Plans before abandoning it on a plane). Since this is a year of broadening the literary horizons, I decided to read some humour. And I started with Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town.
Prior to this, my experience with Leacock could be summed up with a single mental image. In the eighth grade, our teacher read a Leacock story to us in which the author argued for the repurposing of letters on the typewriter as new letters (C, which can be replaced by either S or K depending on its sound, would become TH, for example). While I don’t recall the title of the story, what I do remember is my teacher laughing and telling us that it was really funny – if you could read the text – and that we’d have to trust him. A classroom of bored teens stared at him in disbelief.
Sunshine Sketches similarly did not make me laugh. It made me chuckle once (specifically, the line: “I don’t know whether you have ever been a hero, but for sheer exhilaration there is nothing like it”). It generated wry smiles on multiple occasions. Some knowing nods and the realization that “isn’t life still like that?”. The portrait of Mariposa, which, for me growing up in the 1980s, was a folk festival at Molson Park in Barrie (John Hiatt opening for Melissa Etheridge on the main stage!), is one of genteel corruption. The scene in which Judge Pepperleigh acquits his own son of assaulting a Liberal Party organizer seems to lie at the heart of the book’s sense of charming hypocrisies. Ha ha, yes, we nod, there once was a time when the sons of rich men could freely hospitalize their opponents and walk away. Ha ha, yes, good times…
One thing I learned about Canada from this book: Small town Canada isn’t much the same as small town Germany.