other book stuff

“Give Canadian” and “Defying Convention: Reading Short Stories”

On the #CanLit chat today on Twitter with @CBC books, a couple of us were talking about the impressions people have of Canadian literature. Usually, these are unfortunate and misguided impressions, caused inadvertently by school teachers or others who define CanLit as only from a few major authors like Atwood, Ondaatje, Shields, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with these authors or their writing, but CanLit is so much more than the canon.

We also discussed the negative and negligent attitude toward short stories. I’ve found as a bookseller that the response is exactly the same from each person when I offer short stories and people decline: No, I don’t like short stories. They leave you hanging, they never feel finished, they aren’t fulfulling, etc. It’s true that the short story can seem strange if you’re used to novels. But good short stories are simply not guilty of being unfinished. The craft of writing a short story is very precise. And it allows you afterward to think about the literature more so than after reading a novel. Short stories entice you to engage, and they often cause more of an emotional reading experience than you may have with a novel. Yes, short stories can be a bit of work, but not always. They do take some understanding of form, but not anything that’s beyond you as a reader to comprehend. And most importantly, not all short stories are the same. Lydia Davis’s are sometimes a paragraph, while Miranda Hill’s are long and very fulfilling.

When I made up a short story table at the bookstore where I worked, I targeted those readers who often found themselves short on time or with frequent small chunks of time during their day—such as waiting in line, at the airport, while commuting, before getting out of bed, before falling asleep—saying that they could still read an entire piece of fiction in their busy days rather being constantly interrupted in the story of a novel. And you know what? The table was such a success (in store, on Twitter, and on Facebook) that not only did we keep it going for at least half a year, we also now order in more collections than ever before. Short stories right now are being published left, right, and centre, and are being more widely recognized among our readers and literary awards juries. The signs are all here. Short stories are in. But still far too many aren’t willing to catch the wave.

Many times I’ve argued for the expansion of our views on CanLit, here on the blog or elsewhere. Examples of the posts I refer to can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here. And then I thought, maybe it’s easiest if I just make lists of Canadian contemporary CanLit people can browse. “Give Canadian” was created in response to 49thShelf’s invitation to make a list of CanLit we’d recommend for Christmas. And because short stories are my very favourite format, and I’d love to be able to share that passion and excitement with others, or to change others’ minds about short stories, as well as showcase superb contemporary CanLit, here is my list called “Defying Convention: Reading Short Stories” (contemporary CanLit short stories).

Happy browsing! If you buy any of these books, try shopping at your local indie. If you have to go elsewhere or order online, at least you’re buying and supporting our Canadian talent. I don’t think we should only read Canadian, of course, but I love it enough to say  I think it’s worth trying out. You never know. You may love it. Just as I did when it was introduced to me.

If I’ve forgotten any, let me know. These lists are from my own bookshelves.


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