Sunday, December 1, 2013

Looking For A Good Read? Look No Further Than Canada.

Caryl lists 7 Best Books from 2013--all with a surprising connection

Five-time  Agatha award winner Louise Penny may be reading one of her mysteries.  Who knows?
Maybe Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. 

With Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas gaining on us, we need a moment to relax, unwind, catch our collective breath. And what better way to return to our calmer selves than settling in with a good book. But what to read? Lately, I’ve become addicted to author Louise Penny (pictured above). She’s a mystery writer who sets her stories in
the remote outreaches of Quebec.  Surprisingly, I have never read this genre before, and geography doesn't ordinarily influence my book choices (okay, occasionally India) but I’m smitten. Actually, another Canadian author is my book club's selection for December. Next Monday, we will be discussing Dear Life, the latest and reportedly last book by a “shy housewife” who began writing short stories in the 1960s at her kitchen table in Western Canada while her three daughters napped or were at school. This year, Alice Munro, now 82 and with 14  short-story collections behind her, won the Nobel Prize for literature. Another Canadian-born writer 54 years her junior, just snagged the Man-Booker prize for her second novel.

What’s the story with these Canadian women who have stealthily entered our
literary canon? I found the answer at Publishers Weekly where associate reviews editor (and coincidentally—ha!—my daughter) Annie Coreno considers her own conspiracy theory in (if I do say so) a brilliant post.

The 2013 Nobel prize winner for literature studies (or maybe hides behind) one of her own story collections.

Oh Canada by Annie Coreno

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Riot Grrrl Collection by Lisa Darms
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

What do these titles have in common, aside from the fact that they are all on PW’s 2013 best books list? All the authors are women, yes, but they are also all Canadian. Pretty shocking, considering the fact that the entire population of Canada is smaller than that of California. Is this a mere coincidence or is it evidence of something larger?

I may be prone to conspiracy, but I have a theory that Canadian women are the new old white men of the book world. In other words, they are taking over publishing. Come to think of it, this plan of theirs has been in the works for years—decades really. The Canadian literary scene is booming, yet completely under our radar in America. (If you don’t believe me, visit Toronto; there’s a bookstore every block and a half on Bloor Street.)

Somehow it’s only now—with Alice Munro in the limelight—that I am beginning to pick up on it. You see, all along they have taken the “kill ’em with kindness,” approach—a classic Canadian tactic. Their books are slow burning—subtle and powerful, sneaking into our bookstores like Trojan horses. While we’re busy debating whether The Circle is worthy of the Orwell comparison, the Canadians are seeping into the cultural canon, poised for literary world domination. But with Alice Munro reigning as this year’s Nobel laureate, their cover is blown. Why else do you think she went into hiding upon hearing the news of the award?

Then, only weeks after the Nobel was announced, Eleanor Catton, a 28-year-old New Zealand–based author, nabbed the Booker with her brilliant and beastly second novel, The Illuminaries. They tried to pass her off as the Kiwi sleeper pick, but secretly, she’s a Canadian protégé—born and raised in Ontario for the first six years of her life.

Meanwhile Canadian women have been infiltrating New York—the publishing capital of the world—for years, beginning in 2004, when Sarah McNally of the Canadian McNally-Robinson bookstore dynasty first opened her shop on Prince Street in Soho. Sarah’s creation, McNally Jackson, is now one of New York’s foremost independent bookstores. Author, news editor, and star tweeter Sara Weinman is also Canadian. It doesn’t stop there. Leanne Shapton, also a writer, also Canadian, is a wildly popular graphic artist, whose lettering appears on numerous books. If you’re one to buy into subliminal messages, I’d be wary of paperbacks by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sylvia Plath, Joseph Heller, Henry James—to name a few off Leanne’s resume. With forthcoming novels from Lisa Moore and Emma Donoghue, the examples are numerous and all around us.

What is it about Canada that breeds such successful writers? Is it the cold? Maybe something in the water? The poutine? My thinking is that this is all part of a master plan, but who is the brains behind the operation for the future takeover? The choice is obvious: Margaret Atwood, of course.


  1. I have recently discovered Louise Penny and am enjoying the characters in the Inspector Gamache novels. Munro and Atwood are certainly national treasures. We have a tradition of great women novelists dating from Margaret Lawrence in English and Gabrielle Roy in French.

  2. don't overlook the MFA program @ the Univ. of BC!

    Seriously, that is a very influential program...