The Stigma of CanLit and How We Can Change Our Outlook

This morning my friends Jen Knoch, associate editor at ECW Press and proprietress of the blog Keepin’ It Real Book Club that’s doing Civilians Read, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre, president of the Canadian Booksellers Association, bookseller at McMaster University bookstore, published writer of horror, and my first manager ever at Chapters in Ancaster, from whom I learned so much and who paid me a surprise visit at the bookstore last week(!!), discuss with CBC’s Mary Ito CanLit and the Canada Reads lineup for this year.

Phew! Mouthful. You can listen here.

I think it’s a very good discussion, the questions well thought out and the answers quite articulate, and I was thinking about what I would answer had I been on the program myself. Mary’s first question was a perfect introduction: What do you think distinguishes CanLit from literature of other countries?

It’s an interesting question because it seems prerequisite, a query that won’t go away, just like our ongoing, ad nauseum issue of Canadian identity. Ever since I was first exposed to the issue, which has been long suffering an agonizing treatment by all sorts of academics and the like, I have been puzzled. I wonder what renders a person unable to detect what I see as a very distinct Canadian identity. I think the academics are thinking too hard. Sometimes, just like a writer, all you need do is observe, take note of what’s in and around you. Or read.

Ask your average anyone, and they’ll tell you what they think defines Canada. In fact, immigrants, who are constantly assailed by contrasts to their native land, will likely be able to pinpoint it even better, which is wonderfully ironic.

You’ll get answers like moose and Canada geese and hockey and Tim Hortons and camping and barbecues with beer and the maple leaf and the rodeo and Native culture and conflict and French culture and conflict and immigrant culture and conflict and politeness and our quite distinct politics and our work ethic and our special weather and CBC and TVO, and they might name quintessential Canadian artists and singers and actors and directors and TV shows, because as everyone knows, these things are definable on sight. How many of us have said about a movie or TV show, “Oh, that looks really…Canadian” (and then changed the channel)?

Certainly, these things help define Canada. But how many would include CanLit? Literature defines a country and culture by the very fact that, like art, as art, it reflects a way of life and thinking. What do I think makes CanLit different, then? The same thing that makes any literature from one country different from another: the essence. Our “ness.”

Unfortunately, for many people CanLit means pretty much whatever they were forced to read and dissect in school and what they mostly disliked because it was “depressing.” I myself harbour no special love for The Stone Angel, as I admitted to a student who came in the other day needing to purchase a copy (and I’m frankly perturbed that the elementary and high school curricula doesn’t seem to have changed for what seems a hundred years, to include newer authors). As a student, bookseller, copyeditor, library worker, and CanLit enthusiast, I don’t think I’ve heard any word more commonly associated with CanLit than “depressing.” I find it both frustrating and unfortunate, because there is so much more to CanLit than depressing. If you look for it, if you open yourself up to it, you can find a diversity as rich as our own people. Of course you can. As I said, our literature reflects who we are. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say Canadians as a people are depressing.

It’s true that you can easily divide our literature into regions, because they themselves are so distinct from one another, and yes, I tend to shy away from East Coast and Prairie lit, probably because I do find much of it rather dark or not as interesting, but mostly because I’m still feeling quite full from my overindulgence in university. And that was over ten years ago now.

But there is more to CanLit than flatulent old women, depressed alcoholics, homeless girls, and wilderness stories. Okay, so many people are sick of the poetic lit that seems to take itself so seriously. I hear you. But if you look solely at the œuvre of Margaret Atwood, even (stop rolling your eyes, there’s a point to choosing her!), you’ll see diversity right there: you’ll get wilderness, sure, but you’ll also find history, humour and wit, experimentation, art, speculative fiction, politics, environmental concern, YA, animal life, children’s book playfullness, murder, philosophy, and satire. Atwood’s body of work, like our own country, runs the gamut: you’ll find essays and lectures and illustrations and short stories and novels and poetry, and I think even at least one script. (Also singing. And blogging. And Facebooking. And tweeting.)

And that’s just one author. As a writer, a politician of sorts, an environmentalist, a traveller, a Canadian Opera Company goer, a drinker of coffee, an artist, an inventor, and an activist in general for many Canadian and other causes, Atwood is a fine example of someone who can well tell you what it means to be Canadian, as well as what CanLit is. It’s because she immerses herself as much as she can in what we as a country have to offer. It’s because she not only observes but participates. It’s how she’s able to reflect so much of us back to ourselves.

Over the years I’ve heard people complain that Canada Reads only deals with the literary canon, and that’s what’s cultivated their idea of what CanLit is. But that canon does not, I argue, define CanLit. That canon is a select group’s idea of CanLit. Canada happens to be a quite fertile ground for humour and genre fiction as well. Unfortunately, genre fiction is as often frowned upon as is “depressing” literature—and that’s just because we have various sides with differing views of what literature is, let alone CanLit. Yet, a huge amount of Canadians devour Canadian mystery and sci-fi, for example.

And this is why I liked how Canada Reads went about conducting itself this year. What better way to define CanLit than by asking the country what it thinks is an essential Canadian read? This year we have multiple regions, and canonic CanLit in Unless, Canadian historical fiction in The Birth House, Canadian humour and politics in The Best Laid Plans, Canadian sports in The Bone Cage, and Canadian art, sports, and geography in Essex County (which I can’t really call a graphic novel, since it’s really a collection of three books). The panelists are just as much a diverse group: a home decorator, a musician, a CNN anchor, an actor, and a hockey player. Regardless of your taste, it’s a good mix, a fine sampling of Canadian cultural contribution. Just like Canada: a smorgasbord.

But as Mark suggested in the discussion this morning, it’s not just about the five books we have here. Canadians interested in Canada Reads and CanLit are reading more than the book deemed most worthy of being read. They’re reading more than all five books, in fact. More important are the Top 40 that came to light, and if you can take a look at the impassioned suggestions on the CBC blog even before the Top 40 were chosen, that diversity there will give you an excellent idea of CanLit.

So how do we change our stereotypical and, I argue, misguided view of CanLit? We expand our horizons as readers. We slough off the idea that all Prairie writers are boring, all East Coasters are dark and depressing. That stereotype may exist for a reason but it’s unfair to the many authors, especially new, whose books don’t fit in those categories (I can think of many examples!). That said, we take off our “classics” blinders, we read outside of the literary awards, and foray into unknown territory, both geographically and in terms of new authors.

We read more by Native writers, who are often wonderfully humorous, like Drew Hayden Taylor. We read more Quebec writers, like Nicolas Dickner and Jon Paul Fiorentino and Louise Penny. We read more by immigrant writers, whose outlooks reflect perhaps more back to us of us than we can or do of ourselves. We have debates like Canada Reads. We challenge ourselves, say, to read at least one book from every province to find examples that flesh out our “ness.”

Like the many immigrants who now populate this country and enrich it, we step out of our comfort zone. We are not rootless, as people have said we are, nor is our literature. We are simply rooted in many things. And somewhat reluctant, it seems, to embrace all of our cultural heritage. Reading CanLit is an adventure. It is as Bilbo once said: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door…. You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

But it is there we’ll find the answer to what is CanLit and who we are as Canadians. It is there we’ll understand what Canadianness truly is.

44 comments for “The Stigma of CanLit and How We Can Change Our Outlook

  1. Em
    23 January, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    *Clap clap clap*
    I love this post Steph! It so articulate and so true (from what I see as a CanLit scholar). And, of course, I love your central example :)
    I confirm, she wrote more than one script, but some led nowhere. She originally helped writing the script for The Handmaid’s Tale, but there was a change of director, which had a big impact on the final product. The film was not what she had in mind.
    There is still so much I have to read. What a fascinating culture you have!

    • 23 January, 2011 at 2:30 pm

      Thank you, Em. I’ll bet that you can add so much more to the little I’ve written; I’m sure I know practically nothing compared to you! I love so much that you’re a CanLit scholar. I’d love to read your papers.

      And what you said about Atwood reminded me that I think she helped write or did write at least one libretto for the Can. Opera Company, too!

      • Em
        3 February, 2011 at 6:21 pm

        Indeed, and many puppets shows when she was in high school!

        Your mail got buried under the mass of stressful emails I have received recently and it’s only today I got down the pile. I see you have changed your design. Very sober, very nice!

        • 3 February, 2011 at 7:08 pm

          Thank you, Em. I’m sorry you’ve been stressed; I hope that eases soon!

          • Em
            6 February, 2011 at 6:39 pm

            It will eventually, on the 21st of March to be exact. I will still have a few papers to prepare, but at least I won’t be innondated by emails from the Department of English. I’l stop right now! I shouldn’t rant on your blog.
            Thanks for the concern!

          • 6 February, 2011 at 6:51 pm

            Thank God you can see an end, a very precise one, in fact! That’s kind of funny but mostly a relief. I’m glad for you. And don’t worry about ranting!
            That’s hardly a rant, anyway.

  2. 23 January, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    Steph, I wish I’d known you a few years ago when I was working in a Canadian bookstore. One of my goals when I moved to Canada the first time was to investigate Canadian literature (I even wrote about this in my journal!), which was fine and dandy but it seemed that no one around me had any interest in it. And I was working in a Canadian bookstore and city library; people read books, just not Canadian ones. It seemed perfectly bizarre to me when there is so much great CanLit on offer that the people I worked with seemed somewhat embarrassed by the literature of their own country. Book bloggers like yourself have shown me that thankfully not everyone feels that way.

    • 23 January, 2011 at 2:33 pm

      I totally don’t! CanLit was my specialty in school, and even while I was out walking the dog just now I thought of so many writers I’ve enjoyed that have come from the Prairies and the East Coast, like Shields and Jessica Grant and so on. It’s grossly unfair of us to define regions by citing one or two authors only. That’s why I feel it’s necessary for us to be more adventurous, to explore outside the canon and awards and even mainstream publishing.

      PS. I’m glad to have met you both. I would so love for us to meet in person!

  3. Marie
    24 January, 2011 at 12:48 pm

    “And I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say Canadians as a people are depressing.”
    Er, you’ve heard it first here then. :) I think that is exactly how I would describe Canadians on the whole. Everyone seems unhappy or down or depressed or unfulfilled or, at least, serious. Serious about their work and serious about a whole lot of things. Lightness and a sparkly joie de vivre or devil-may-care attitude is not what comes to mind when I think “Canadians”. Maybe that’s mainly because I live in Ottawa, but I notice it too when I come across Canadians in the UK – they seem oddly and dismayingly heavy-hearted compared to the Brits.

    Sorry. :)

    • 24 January, 2011 at 1:42 pm

      You don’t have to apologize for how you see Canadians! We all have our views.

      Coming from me this may be surprising, since I would prefer to live in Europe, but I don’t think of Canadians as depressing or unhappy as a whole. I think we’re quite relaxed, actually. Not in a Caribbean or Mediterranean way, of course, but in contrast with, say, Asian countries.

      On its own, however, just looking at Canada, I guess my impression comes from radio and TV as well as the people I meet. I think of all our famous comedians both in literature and stand-up or films, and of how much Canadians like to get together with friends, especially in the summer, and party. Many of them love being outside in the winter, as well.

      There are definitely serious elements, definitely is a thread of darkness, bleakness, perhaps tied in with the extreme weather or long winters or harsh landscapes, perhaps even a tendency to explore the human condition, which is often despairing, but in general, I don’t perceive Canadians as uncelebratory or depressing. As in any country, there are both sides, and it depends on what you focus on, I guess, or where your circles are. Certainly, in Ottawa, the capital, where the Parliament buildings are and a couple of universities and galleries and such, I can see how one would see Canadians as serious. I thought so, too, especially when it came to recreational sports.

      But Toronto, as much as I feel claustrophobic in it, is not like that, to me. If I look at other than the depressed areas, I see a people very capable of sparkly joie de vivre.

      I also think that our vibrancy comes from our very colourful immigrant population.

      And that’s odd: I didn’t find the Brits particularly happy. I certainly enjoyed the ones I spoke to, but didn’t find them light or sparkly! But you lived in London, and were there for years, whereas I was in the country and only for two weeks. My experience was mostly shop owners and locals. I didn’t find them depressing by any means, but I thought I was far more enthusiastic, in general. Perhaps because I was on holiday…

      Considering we are so much affected by weather, I would be surprised to find the Brits much different from us!

      • Marie
        24 January, 2011 at 2:25 pm

        I find the English so much more palpably alive than Canadians. They may be moody about the weather for instance, but then they complain vociferously about it rather than biting down and merely surviving it. They also have a delicious and subtle sense of black humour, which I recognise from Sweden and Finland, but which cannot be found here, and which takes you through the most appalling day beautifully.

        I don’t think a handful of famous comedians is evidence that the population at large is happy. Perhaps the comedians themselves aren’t – comedians always make me think of the clown crying under his smiling face paint…

        • 24 January, 2011 at 4:37 pm

          But of course a handful of comedians isn’t an indication of a happy country. I only mean to say that we as a country can produce—and it’s far more than a handful—things and people that indeed indicate a true sense of humour. You HAVE to have a sense of humour to live here. And I think Canadians do well with that. They make fun of themselves and the country all the time!

          I think Canadians have a wonderful sense of humour, particularly our literary contributors. Take Atwood, again, and Al Purdy, and Terry Fallis, and Stephen Leacock, and Jessica Grant, and so many, many more! My point was that by stereotyping Canada and Canadians as depressing, we’re missing out on the riches.

          I know how I sound to you, when I have so often lamented living here. But for me it’s not about hating Canada or finding it depressing, my lamentations are about fitting in even better elsewhere.

          • Marie
            24 January, 2011 at 4:48 pm

            You’re right that humour is a very culturally specific thing. I don’t think I ‘get’ Canadian humour. I learned to appreciate British humour when living there, but it is so much more akin to Scandinavian humour that perhaps it didn’t require much retraining on my part. I’ve never found Atwood humorous, e.g. (oh shock, oh horror!), nor Al Purdy. Stephen Leacock I do find mildly humorous. And people like the celebrated Rick Mercer I don’t find remotely funny. But we digress…I am not in favour of stereotyping Canadians or any other people – it leads to loss one way or another.

            I just had to mention that I do actually find the average Canadian (not necessarily the authors or comedians or other ‘elite’ figures) to be far more depressive and serious and *earnest* than any other people I have lived amongst.

          • Marie Clausén
            24 January, 2011 at 6:04 pm

            I think Canadians spend far more time making fun of Americans than they do making fun of themselves and each other. That baffled and amused me a little on my arrival, but now I find it stale and a trifle vulgar.

            I don’t hate Canada at all, but it certainly isn’t the happiness of the people that first springs to mind when I think of good things about Canada. So, to bring it back to a discussion of Canadian literature, I find much of the canonical literature of the country actually does depict the people accurately. There are many Marillas in Canada! :)

          • 24 January, 2011 at 8:06 pm

            I agree Canadians make fun of Americans a lot, and I think it has to do with that need to define ourselves as definitely not American. But then, we’re not the only ones who do it. Americans seem to invite it. And in that sense, I think they take themselves more seriously than we do. We might laugh and give them the finger. They might shoot us.

            Haha.

            No offense to my American readers. I’m just…making fun. :)

            And I think you’re very right that much of the canonical lit depicts the people accurately. That’s why I say we need to expand our horizons, why we need to read outside the canon.

            PS. I preferred Marilla to that busybody…Mrs. Lynde, I think? (It’s been YEARS!)

  4. Marie
    24 January, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    “But how many would include CanLit?”
    I would. I think Canadian literature is the crowning glory of this country. The one thing people from around the world will know about Canada is either its reputation for peace-keeping, or Margaret Atwood. Canadian literature is universally lauded. In fact, I can’t think of anything else cultural that stands out as much, at least not positively.
    (Moose and geese are not cultural elements after all.) :)

    • 24 January, 2011 at 1:50 pm

      But they are certainly Canadian icons, like the loon and the beaver as well. They feature on all our postcards and our Canadiana, whereas Atwood does not. An average person would name these things as Canadian before, say, a picture of Carol Shields.

      There are for sure literary icons, authors whose faces we would recognize, but again these are part of the literary canon and not the only faces to (or who should) define CanLit.

      Not only that, but of course you would include CanLit: you’re not an average citizen. And I don’t mean that negatively, only that you’re highly educated with a particular interest in literary fiction. Atwood is certainly universal, not only for her literary work but for all the things I mentioned above, her international involvement in things. She’s pretty much a Canadian ambassador. But would those not interested in literature know her picture?

      I couldn’t agree more that CanLit is the crowning glory of this country. (Our politics is just as famous, but not the crowning glory, needless to say.) But I doubt everyone would say that, that CanLit is the crowning glory. I might guess there are fewer in number who would name CanLit than we who would.

      • 24 January, 2011 at 1:51 pm

        Then again, perhaps this has to do with region as much as how we perceive Canadians.

      • Marie
        24 January, 2011 at 2:03 pm

        I’m not sure it has to do with being educated. After all, literature is not my academic specialty. But long before I would have been able to point to Canada on a map or say anything else about it, I’d read Anne of Green Gables. So has half of the world. Canadian literature is inescapable! (And that’s a good thing.)
        What are you referring to when you mention Canadian politics? I can’t think of anything in particular that are so special about them?

        • 24 January, 2011 at 4:40 pm

          I’m still thinking about how to answer this.

      • Marie
        24 January, 2011 at 2:16 pm

        I’m not sure it’s the *faces* of authors that we recognise. I know what Atwood looks like now, but I had read several of her novels before coming to Canada and before I had any distinct idea of what she looked like. I don’t think of authors being recognizable in terms of their facial features, but rather in terms of their writing itself. We recognise titles, perhaps, not faces. To this day I have no idea what L M Montgomery looked like, but I have read every book she’s written.

        • 24 January, 2011 at 4:39 pm

          Yes, good point. I agree.

    • Em
      3 February, 2011 at 6:35 pm

      I’ve just popped in and read this interesting conversation and I can’t help jumping in and adding a few names. Northrop Frye, for instance, is someone who revolutionised literary theory. And if this is too elitist, I would add a couple of musical names: Neil Young and Oscar Peterson.
      As for Canadians being happy, I’m not too sure, 3 weeks is a bit short to judge, but I found them more positive than the Irish (who also moan a lot about the weather and other things, and also make jokes about the British quite extensively).

      • 3 February, 2011 at 7:15 pm

        Haha! I can see the British being the butt of Irish jokes. Willing to bet it’s the other way ’round, too!
        And yes, the three you mentioned, all significant Canadians.

        • Em
          6 February, 2011 at 6:46 pm

          Canadian studies are slowly taking on abroad, but still not raging in Ireland despite the connections. I am not aware of any Canadian studies centre here.

          • 6 February, 2011 at 6:55 pm

            I never had any special Irish Lit class, though I find many readers around here are crazy for Irish fiction. Particularly the older people.

          • Em
            6 February, 2011 at 6:59 pm

            That doesn’t surprise me. From reading works from Nova Scotia I can see where the connection lies. There are some many smilarities and I imagine it might bring comfort to the reader.

  5. 24 January, 2011 at 5:11 pm

    I just asked a guy from South England who’s been here two years now how he would define Canada. His answer in sum: weather and geography. :)

    So I prodded and then he said diversity. I prodded some more since I’d just sold him Irvine Welsh’s Glue and figured he liked to read, and he turned out to be quite the reader, in fact. Coupland is his favourite Can author, and he knew of Emma Donoghue, though she’s Irish originally, he admitted, but hadn’t yet read her book, and he enjoyed Yann Martel, too…

    We had a fascinating discussion, actually! Made my day.

    • Marie Clausén
      24 January, 2011 at 8:32 pm

      So what did he reply when you prodded him further?

      I think we are talking about apples and oranges here. You are asking what defines *Canada* and in that one can of course mention things like geography, weather, moose and geese and other natural phenomena that occur within the borders. But the academics you criticise are trying to get at what defines Canadian *identity* which is more of a cultural studies question and has to take into account cultural factors, which change. You mention immigration – Canada accepts more immigrants per annum than any other country in the world in absolute numbers. That has got to change the culture, has got to keep it moving, keep it fluid, and I do think it is relevant for an academic working in the field of social sciences in Canada to explore what those changes might mean to the shifting collective identity. We can’t just keep doggedly coming back to the moose and Tim Hortons no matter how large a percentage of new Canadians don’t particularly identify with those things. We must remain light on our feet and keep asking the questions. One of the things they may be hoping is of course to find some lowest common denominator, some key essence, that really does define the nation as a whole, but so far that something is elusive. And it is to you, too, I think (even though thou protesteth much) :) as you end up saying that what defines CanLit is its essence, its ‘ness’. Ah yes, but what is said essence? That’s what we’re trying to get at, but it’s not so easy to pinpoint in the end.

      And this questing and probing is far from uniquely Canadian – the question is asked daily in the UK. That’s another country in a state of huge change – it is unrecognizable from the Britain of the 1950s or 60s, or even 1980s.

      p.s. I preferred Marilla to Rachel Lynde, too.

      • 24 January, 2011 at 9:24 pm

        The point of the post was simply to say we need to look outside the canon, what is typically used to define CanLit, to really discover what CanLit is. I am trying to convince people that CanLit isn’t as depressing, at the very least, as so many maintain it is. People’s idea of CanLit is very narrow.

        That said, I find it difficult to talk about CanLit without speaking of Canadian identity as well; the two are intertwined. Since I think CanLit greatly defines Canada, because it reflects who we are as Canadians and what we are as a country, because it deals with religion, philosophy, sociology, geography (esp. this, our lit tends to deal very extensively with landscape) etc, etc, etc, I think therein lies our identity, our essence.

        Of course as academics, philosophers, writers in general, we will continue to question, because that is the nature of being academics and philosophers and writers, and because, as you say, culture is ever shifting, though some would argue things are cyclical. I’m not saying our culture is stagnant, regardless of the stereotypes that seem to make it so. In fact, if I think about it, in a way I’m saying the opposite. I’m saying, keeping the topic to CanLit, that it has changed, is changing, and we need to look outside that body of literature that is still being taught in schools, that seems to have defined Canada forever as serious and dark and such, to see what else we are.

        I mentioned immigrants because it is they who often can tell us who we are better than we ourselves can, as I said earlier. There is a great body of immigrant literature to study in terms of having ourselves reflected back to us.

        I don’t think the ongoing search for identity is just about shifting identity. Other countries may also be questioning but nowhere is there anywhere that has searched like Canada. In fact, the search rather defines us. It’s a given that all identities, including our own personal ones, shift constantly, and we do question ourselves as well, just as constantly, to answer who we are. But essentially, and I use that word on purpose, countries or cultures, and individuals, have something they can pinpoint to define themselves that doesn’t always shift, as you said. And as you say, that something has so far seemed elusive. I’m saying I can’t understand why.

        To me, our Canadian identity is not as elusive as we think. We’re living it. We’re writing it, we’re portraying it, all the time. Our essence is abstract, yes, but I think we need only to look within rather than outside in comparison to others, or to study outside the canon.

        I’m certainly not pretending I have the definitive answer. I’m including myself in that body of observers.

        • Marie Clausén
          25 January, 2011 at 9:49 am

          I don’t know what it is either. The most obvious component of Canadian identity is the tug-of-war with all things American. The desire not to be American or confused with an American or, politically, not too obviously kowtowing to the US in military and security matters, but also the desire to be American or like them. We see this in people’s choice of films they watch, clothes they wear, celebrities they follow, etc. So, it makes sense then that the identity at least partly lies in this pull-and-push with US culture.

          I overall agree with you that it would be a good idea if people, especially those who complain about classic Canadian literature, widened their reading habits and included contemporary and lesser-known authors in their reading lists. We don’t want the conception of CanLit to become stagnant after all. As long as this doesn’t have to be an either-or, that newer authors (who may turn out to be flavour of the day, a flash in the pan) would take precedence over those authors whose names and fame have passed the test of time. One should probably read both if one wishes to be considered well-read in the area of CanLit.
          I wasn’t taking issue with this thought at all – I was just catching on a couple of peripheral things that I thought I would mention for the fun of it: the alleged politeness of Canadians (ha!), the fact that they are not depressive, and then your list of what defines Canada to you. In the last case especially there seems to be a disconnect between your desire to infuse the literature with new, exciting voices, but then when listing what is Canadian you go back to a rather old and tired list of attributes. Do you see what I mean?

          • 25 January, 2011 at 10:27 am

            I said if you asked the average Canadian, they’d answer with the old and tired list of attributes, like moose and beer and bbq. If that’s what you’re referring to. But I also said that we have to ask the average Canadian what they think, because it, with any luck, will take us past the CanLit stereotype. That said, I see your point; it doesn’t really if their answer is stereotypical. Maybe, though, since it’s old, that’s our identity, the concrete bit of it.

            Since I often have trouble articulating myself, it’s quite possible I wasn’t clear about it! I do hear what you’re saying but feel as though what I said is being misunderstood, or expanded past what my intention was (then I get turned around…).

          • 26 January, 2011 at 8:22 am

            To try and clarify for all: as a CanLit student and someone who’s worked in the book industry in several capacities, I too often hear that CanLit is depressing, etc. Most of the time, what those who call it that have read is mostly the canon.

            Certainly, CanLit deals much with landscape and weather and such and does reflect Canada’s identity. At the same time, if you ask the average Canadian what they think Canadian identity is, they won’t mention depressing, etc., or often even CanLit, as descriptors of Canadian essence. Which leads me to want to look outside the canon to find Canadian identity. Because if we have other traits, wonderful traits, that also make up our identity, like a sense of humour, for example, an ability to make fun of ourselves, then I’m sure it will be found in CanLit, since our literature reflects who we are.

            Thus, to change our impression of CanLit, and to become more excited about it, we need to first look outside the literature itself and then back to it, to find what we see around us. I can think of so many examples that are not depressing or overly serious that could shatter that stigma of CanLit, and get more people enjoying it.

  6. 26 January, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Damn, and even that sounded unclear. But I know what I mean!

    • 26 January, 2011 at 7:24 pm

      I also want to say that I don’t actually believe that literature, or fiction, or CanLit necessarily mirror our lives or country or world back to us. But if Canadian writers are going to be criticized as naval gazers, if CanLit is to be labelled self-regarding, and we’re willing to let go of those persistent accusations, then we need to look outside the canon and typical CanLit examples to those whose writing disproves or defies said labels.

    • Em
      3 February, 2011 at 6:48 pm

      No, this seems clear to me.
      Maybe because I have read about the old literary canon and I’m now reading the new, exciting things.
      I think I know what you mean because in some ways we have the same thing in Ireland. Mind, I love Irish literature, but sometimes the old themes get a bit overdone and it is nice to see a bit a freshness in what is produced.

      Interesting conversation…

      • 3 February, 2011 at 7:10 pm

        Thank you, and I’m glad it makes sense!
        I suppose the old themes are overdone in any country…

        • Em
          6 February, 2011 at 6:43 pm

          I find it especially true for drama in Ireland. I saw a more “modern” play lately; it was good but not that impressive.
          I have also started a recently published Irish novel and I am a bit scared. Thankfully, we have John Banville!

          • 6 February, 2011 at 6:53 pm

            Okay, I haven’t yet read Banville, but I do have The Sea, which I will read someday!

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