CanLit, other book stuff

What is CanLit: The Illustrated Version

If you’d like to read yesterday’s post on CanLit, you can find it here.

In case you saw it and thought, “Hell no, that’s WAY too long!” here is the gist of it, in photos. Some people don’t want to have to do all that reading and instead prefer illustrations. No problem.

What is CanLit?

In 2006, this guy

said that CanLit was this:

Unfortunately, people still believe him. I think that myopic view was outdated in 2006 and is indubitably irrelevant today. I say that CanLit is not only that (above, and note, that looks like a lot of books but is only 13 authors) but also this:

And that’s not all, of course. I can’t possibly own all the Canadian literature out there. (If you want to send me your CanLit for review, let me know.) But let’s take a closer look at what we have here, just to make sure we’re clear.


CanLit is not only the (old) literary canon, and not only about rural areas, small towns, and immigrants. It is not necessarily depressing and bleak and humourless and boring. It is not even stories that take place only in Canada. In my view, CanLit is anything written by a Canadian author.*

Thus, altogether now:

Like our country, comprised of a diverse mix of imaginative people from all corners of the earth, our literature should also be inclusive. As readers and writers, we have a responsibility to continuously redefine CanLit. A culture, and literature, that remains stagnant cannot survive. I suspect that the broader our view of CanLit, the prouder we’ll become of it.


Absent from photos: Miranda Hill’s and Sarah Selecky’s stellar and award-worthy collections Sleeping Funny and This Cake is for the Party, respectively. Hill’s book is behind these piles, with Michael Cho’s Back Alleys and Urban Landscapes and Sarah Elton’s City of Words: Toronto Through Her Writers’ Eyes, on the coffee table, as I just (regrettably) finished it, and Sarah’s book is with my sister in Yorkshire because Anne couldn’t bear to part with it before finishing. Julie Wilson’s Seen Reading is on display on a side table. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series and a few others by her, as well as Moodie and Traill, are also not in these photos, because I forgot to include them from the small shelf behind these piles you see in the photos.  Also absent are Vincent Lam’s Headmaster’s Wager, Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten and Stolen, Anne Michaels’s Winter Vault, Jim Williams’s Rock Reject, Hilary MacLeod’s Mind over Mussels, Cary Fagan’s Valentine’s Fall, Andrew J. Borkowski’s Copernicus Avenue, James King’s Etienne’s Alphabet, Katrina Onstad’s Everybody Has Everything, Charlotte Gill’s Eating Dirt, Shree Ghatage’s Thirst (*this is a tricky one. Shree and her family moved to Canada in the 1980s. Possible post: What is a Canadian Author?), Catherine McKenzie’s ArrangedHelen Humphreys’s Reinvention of Love, and Tony Burgess’s Idaho Winter. One last thing: Obviously, I haven’t included any children’s and YA literature here, although I do have some that’s Canadian. 


  1. Jessica

    …you need some Sheila Heti, Russell Smith, Cordelia Strube, Andrew Pyper, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, Susan Swan in there too. It looks like most books in there are either the usual suspects or whatever got a lot of media attention in the past 3 years… just saying

    1. Steph Author

      Hi Jessica,

      Strube’s in that pile! And Heti is on my wish list. Which of hers would you suggest? Thanks for the other suggestions. I think you’re right. Of course, my piles are only a hint of all the CanLit out there.

  2. Holy crap it’s a bookstravaganza! For the record: I love what you said in your text-based post on Can Lit. This post — eye candy, Steph, total eye candy.

    I also hate to be the shallow skimmer and notice the irrelevant details, but I can’t resist — OMG to your collection of yellow hardcover Nancy Drew mysteries! :D

    I’ll do my best to come up with a more thoughtful / intellectual response at some point. For now: BOOOOOOOOOOKS!!!

  3. Steph Author

    Haha! I love your reaction! I have the same reaction to other people’s shelves. I’ve looked at my own shelves with lust. I understand.

    No need for a more thoughtful, intellectual response. Your enthusiasm is exactly right. (And thank you for saying what you did about the previous post.)

    And unfortunately, I don’t have all the Nancy Drews. Yet. (PS. There are no irrelevant details, as such. Your noticing things outside the focus is awesome.)

  4. Steph this is fabulous!! Not only the piles upon piles of books, but the message – CanLit is so much more than the “Canadiana” table at Indigo. (Not to say that there’s anything wrong with the big names – they’re fabulous for a reason.) I’m looking forward to a time when kids don’t graduate from high school with the mentality that when they read CanLit, they’re doing the author a favour. Making authors like Atwood required reading is important, but I find then that students read the books with the “do I HAVE to?” mindset.

    Also – I loved alphabetizing my bookshelf last month. I can’t imagine how fun it would have been to touch and page through all of these books! (And thanks for reminding me that I still haven’t read “This Cake is For the Party,” must get a copy!)

    1. Steph Author

      Yes, do! I think you’ll love it.

      And that’s what made it so exciting: pulling down book after book. Though I admit I felt as though I didn’t have enough CanLit, that the piles didn’t look like very many books. I’ve read so many that aren’t there, too, in manuscript form or borrowed. Had I a pocketbook that could keep up with my wish list…

      The Do I Have To mindset is really sad. I see it all the time. And whenever students come in having to pick two books for comparative lit, I pick contemporary. Or contemporary with a classic. Just so they can see that CanLit can be cool, too. Jessica Grant usually goes over well. :)


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