Canada Reads Challenge

February 2, 2010

This year I decided to join in with the Canada Reads Challenge, headed up by Melo over at her blog “Roughing It in the Books”.  I do realize this was my year to be free as a feather floating on the breeze, but joining in sounded good this year.  Last year I passed on the challenge (five books are chosen by various Canadians, and in March the books are “defended” and one chosen as the winner.  It is a contest designed to promote Canadian literature) as most of the book summaries appeared to be depressing.  There are many great works of literature that are also very depressing tales of horrible people doing horrible things to other horrible people, and many times I can’t bring myself to read those either, even if the writing itself is outstanding and the prose commendable.  This year the books seemed like a nice assortment of stories, plus one non-fiction type, I had never read any of them, and a good way to be introduced to new to me books and authors.

I’ve been reading novels constantly for a very long time, and have wide ranging interests.  My favorites always seem to come back to historical non-ficiton, historical fiction, adventure, fantasty, sci-fi, and contemporary novels with a quirky edge.  I love going to the library, and picking out just what seems interesting at the time. This is my first stab at being a “literary critic” and I’ve had fun examining why I liked certain novels, and why I didn’t like others.  I generally have a feeling one way or the other, but to know specific reasons, and put that down in words is challenging!

I’ve finished two of the novels now, and am working on a third.  The first novel I read was “Fall on Your Knees’ by Ann-Marie MacDonald.  This novel is set in Nova Scotia in war time, and chronicles the events in a very tragic family.  After describing the plot to Mr. J he practically collapsed from depression, and I personally found it hard to keep reading in order to find out what terrible thing would happen next.  I realize the writing was good, the imagery was good, but I had a problem identifying with any of the characters, other than feeling really sorry for how crappy things were turning out.  I also need to discuss the “why” of some of the events, as I just don’t understand why certain characters did certain things.  I’m hoping once everyone is done reading we can have a discussion.  I’ll bring the anti-depressants.

The next novel up was “Jade Peony” by Wayson Choy, set in Vancouver in war time (a trend perhaps?) and is set up as quick windows or narratives in to the lives of 3 first generation Chinese.  Again, the writing was nice, the story was more uplifting, but I found the novel to be a bit “expected”.  The older family members wanted to remain Chinese, the younger members wanted to throw off the old ways and be cool.  This is a familiar theme for many novels, and while it was explored well, it is familiar.  I found the descriptions in the book to be mostly of the people, I didn’t get much of a sense of place in the novel, other than I knew it was in Vancouver.  Towards the end of the book there were descriptions of the grandmothers room, a cottage, and a park which made the scenes come alive, rather than just people on a gray background.  When I read I tend to watch a mental image of the action in my head (I hope that makes sense to someone out there) and rich descriptive language can make a novel come alive for me.

Whew, the unpleasant reviews done, and I’m up to the third novel. I’m reading “Nikolski” by Nicholas Dickner.  I’m just over halfway through, and so far I love this book.  The themes of wandering, space, claustrophobia, are ones I can identify with.  The constant imagery and prose utilizing water and fish are clever and entertaining.  The story is unique, not at all predictable, although I have a guess about which two characters should come together.  This morning on the bus I had quite the moment while reading a description of Noah’s tiny room, filled with belongings.  The narrative switched quickly to compare it to the wide open spaces of Saskatchewan where he grew up wandering, and the image in my head went from confined, to huge, it snapped open and almost audibly popped.  This book fits into my quirky category, with a twisty, unpredictable story with themes even I can pick out. So far, this is my winner, but I have two more books to read!

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3 Responses to “Canada Reads Challenge”

  1. Jocelyn said

    Nikolski was a fun read and it was my fave until I read Good To a Fault. Still have Jade Peony & Generation X to go.

  2. Billy said

    I´m afraid I don´t know any of those books or authors but I sure can relate with what you say about the unpleasant feeling of reading a story that goes from bad to worse. In my case, I read because I´m hopeful, I think.

    I had the same problem with Jonathan Littel´s “Les bienveillantes”; I went from depressed to bored and then just left it. The highest point for me in the narrative was when he described an allucination the main character had.

  3. Heather Joins The Round said

    I am so with you! There are tons of books which, although I’m sure they’re chock full of literary merit, I can’t force myself to read because they’re too darned depressing. I mostly read genre things because it’s less possible that a small child is about to be hit by a bus or whatever.

    Fav Canadian books? I liked _The Stone Diaries_ (Carol Shields) and I liked _Murther and the Walking Spirits_ (Robertson Davies). Am clearly stuck in the 90s here…Plus a bunch of Canadian SF and romance novelists.

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