Thursday, September 24, 2009

O.K. Into the Fray

So, is it all rubbish?

CanLit or Victoria Glendenning's remarks about our culture and literature here in Canada?

First off, I do think some of her comments were meant as affectionate teasing. Yes, they were ill-timed and in bad form, and a tad condescending(Brits from the former empire can be that way, after all, they are British),BUT, we might demonstrate a bit of a sense of humour about such remarks, demonstrate that we have a sense of humour up here in the North Way, about ourselves.

Is there a grain of truth in what she says? Yes. Does the truth hurt? More than anything.

Indeed, some of CanLit suffers from the QUIET genre of meditating upon the past, complete with granny's letters, if not from the Ukraine, perhaps from some cold corner of Canada, where nothing happens and there is nary any sex, drugs, or rock 'n roll, but everything is cozily P.C. Yawn. I've had to read and review some of these books.

But, there are many outstanding Canadian novelists who do not fit into this soporific genre. Take almost anything by Newfie Kenneth Harvey, the wonderful novel by Gil Adamson, The Outlander, a new daring collection from my adopted hometown of Montreal, Animal, from Alexandra Leggat, The Night is a Mouth, Lisa Foad,the first novel by Camilla Gibb, Mouthing the Words, and the work of Kanuk Nancy Huston, yes, she lives in Paris and writes in French, but she is nonetheless Canadian.

I'm sure there are more. Many.

In the meantime, please let's learn not to take ourselves so horribly seriously. Life is too short, forgive the cliche from this author.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Shana Tova

We are now in the midst of the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe. For me, this is a time to break free from my hectic, fragmenting routine, where I find myself racing around scattered in too many directions, bombarded by pressing demands, concerns, requests, distractions, to instead stop and reflect on how to be a better person.

There is something calming, also bracing, about taking time out from time to meditate about this question. I am comforted by the change in priorities and the falling away of all the sharp pricks, needling and often trivial concerns of my day-to-day existence.

When we, as Jews, usher in Yom Kippur on Kol Nidre this coming Sunday evening, our reflection about where we have fallen short, our prayers for forgiveness, our resolves to do better, will be the locus of our concentrated focused attention. Nothing else. We will wear white. Many will fast. Others will give up something they desire. We will be amongst family, or if you are like my family, expats or lost or cut off from your blood, then among friends, community, who become one's family.

Wishing you shana tova.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Those Were the Days, My Friends

Yesterday, I attempted to order books from a local shop. I was after classics, a few choice Edith Wharton novels, a couple of fat novels by the beloved Dickens. You know, Charles.

Well, it took much Dicken-around before I was understood by the befudddled bookseller on the other end of the line.

"Warton? How do you spell that? Does he write novels?"

"Dickin, what is the last name? Is it a novel?"

"You mean you work in a bookstore and you're not familiar with Edith

Wharton, Charles Dickens?"

"I'm the manager."

"Read a book!" (One sometimes forgets one's manners.)

Remember the days, my friends, we thought they would never end. When booksellers loved--and knew--books? I spent my childhood, teen, and early adult years in New York City and frequented many bookshops, both large and indie. St. Mark's, Spring Street, Three Lives, Border's, B&N, the Strand....and I fondly recall the experience of shopping for books and having a passionate bookseller recommend great titles for me, introducing me to books and authors I might come to love. They knew the classics, they knew what was new.

I miss the passionate bookseller who is not selling bubblegum...or widgets, but books.

I know they still exist. I will find them out.

I miss the booktalk.