All stories by Steven W. Beattie
For CanLit aficionados, 2013 has been an embarrassment of riches. Major new works from Margaret Atwood, Joseph Boyden, Colin McAdam, Wayne Johnston, Douglas Coupland, Lynn Coady, Lisa Moore, Michael Winter, and Eleanor Catton abutted strong new titles from the likes of Craig Davidson, Elizabeth Ruth, Nicole Lundrigan, Shaena Lambert, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Michael Crummey, Sara Peters, Kelli Deeth, Andrew F. Sullivan, and Douglas Glover. A reader could suffer whiplash bouncing from one book to the next.
Alice Munro won the Nobel and Lynn Coady took the Giller, signalling (hopefully) a renewed interest in the Canadian short story. Elsewhere, maximalism was back in a big way (see what I did there?). In addition to Catton’s 850-page sophomore novel, The Luminaries (the longest novel ever to nab the coveted Man Booker Prize), there were hefty entries from Kenneth Bonert (whose debut, The Lion Seeker, was one of the most overlooked novels of the year, its GG nomination notwithstanding) and Norm Sibum (whose decidedly ambitious monolith, The Traymore Rooms, was iconoclastic and absorbing, if not altogether successful).
Narrowing down my favourites to a clutch of five was extraordinarily difficult, and the books on this list could easily have been substituted for any number of those alluded to above. Once again, I haven’t read everything published this year, so this is not a list of best books, but a highly personal selection of five titles that made an impact on me as a reader over the past 12 months.
When Eleanor Catton won the Governor General’s Literary Award for English-language fiction earlier this week, she said that the winning book, an 850-page tome about the disappearance of a wealthy man during one of New Zealand’s gold rushes in the 1800s, was, to her, not a nationalistic novel. Calling The Luminaries a New Zealand novel, Catton suggested, “feels as uncomfortable to me as calling it women’s fiction.”
Thomas Hodd, an assistant professor of Canadian literature at the Université de Moncton, has equal difficulty calling Catton’s sophomore novel a work of Canadian fiction. Writing in the Toronto Star, Hodd claims that awarding the GG to Catton is a “scandal,” because the author has not resided in the country since she was six years old. The eligibility rules for the GGs stipulate only that a person must be a citizen of Canada to qualify for consideration; they say nothing about residency.
In language that is direct and, frankly, somewhat overheated, Hodd suggests that awarding the prize to someone who has lived outside Canada’s borders for all of her adult life does nothing less than threaten the foundations of our national literature:
[W]hen it comes to Canadian literature, the educational and major cultural institutions of this country simply don‘t care if our writers live here, work here, or create here.
Don’t believe me?
How else can we explain that the majority of our provincial book awards include residency in their eligibility criterion while the Giller, the GGLAs, and the Griffin Poetry Prize do not? How else can we explain the dearth of Canadian literature taught in our schools? How else can we explain Jean Baird’s needing several years of lobbying and a large petition of signatures to get the government of British Columbia to make Canadian literature a mandatory course for students graduating from high school – and that the majority of our provinces are still without such legislation?
Hodd goes on to point out that Sandra Djwa, who won the GG for English-language non-fiction for her biography of P.K. Page, A Journey with No Maps, said in her acceptance speech that she had difficulty finding a publisher for the book. “I’m sure if Catton ever writes a biography of a U.S. or Australian writer,” Hodd quips, “she’ll have no trouble finding a publisher in this country.”
This is the second time in three years that a non-resident has won the English-language fiction GG: Patrick DeWitt, who lives in Portland, Oregon, took home the prize in 2011 for his second novel, The Sisters Brothers. Then again, few people complained when Mavis Gallant won the GG for Home Truths in 1981 (the same year she was invested into the Order of Canada), even though she has lived in Paris for more than 50 years. And few complained in 1995 when Carol Shields won the U.S. Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Stone Diaries.
It is also worth noting that Catton won the 2013 Man Booker Prize for The Luminaries; beginning in 2014, that prize will be open to all works of fiction published in the U.K. regardless of where the author was born (previously, the prize was only open to authors from the U.K., the Commonwealth, and Ireland). Booker winner Julian Barnes, quoted in The Telegraph, decries that change on nationalistic grounds: “There’s a certain cultural cringe in this country to the big American books and I fear that British writers will win it much less often.” Perhaps Barnes and Hodd should get together for a cup of tea and a chat.
Ian Hamilton, author of the best-selling Ava Lee and Uncle series of mysteries, is giving his many fans an unexpected early holiday gift: a novella that tells the story of how Ava and Uncle met, which will be offered as a free ebook by Hamilton’s publisher, House of Anansi Press.
According to a guest blog post on his publisher’s website, Hamilton got the idea to write the story after an encounter with a fan at Word on the Street in Kitchener, Ontario. The man asked if Hamilton had ever considered writing a prequel to The Water Rat of Wanchai, the first book in the Ava Lee series, telling readers how the popular forensic accountant turned crime fighter first met her shadowy mentor, known in the books only as “Uncle.”
In the winter of 2012–2013, as I was finishing the edits to The Scottish Banker of Surabaya and writing The Two Sisters of Borneo, I found myself distracted by thoughts about Ava’s early life. She was in her mid-twenties, just out of school, living in a tiny apartment in Richmond Hill, and struggling to establish her career. Then dialogue began to pop into my head as I was driving or lying in bed. Uncle and Ava were speaking to each other for the very first time. It was their initial meeting and conversation, and they were feeling each other out, tip-toeing towards the formation of a partnership.
The ebook original, titled The Dragon Head of Hong Kong, will be made available in four parts for a limited time, with the first instalment appearing on Nov. 19. Readers can sign up to receive the serialized novella via Anansi’s website.
Although details are scarce, various sources are reporting that Tom Clancy, best-selling author of books such as The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, and The Sum of All Fears has died. According to the National Post, no cause of death has been given. Clancy was 66 years old.
Widely touted as the leading practitioner of the so-called technothriller, Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels were perennial bestsellers in the 1980s and ’90s, and spawned a number of hit movies. Alec Baldwin played Ryan in the 1990 adaptation of The Hunt for Red October; Harrison Ford took over the role in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger; and Ben Affleck stepped in for The Sum of All Fears.
Clancy may be better known to a younger generation for lending his name to several popular video game series, such as Rainbow Six and Splinter Cell.
In the mid-1990s, he helped found Red Storm Entertainment, which released games — some based on his books, others on original ideas. Red Storm was later purchased by gaming giant Ubisoft, which continues to create games under the Clancy moniker.
“We are saddened to learn of Tom Clancy’s passing and our condolences go out to his family. Tom Clancy was an extraordinary author with a gift for creating detailed, engrossing fictional stories that captivated audiences around the world,” Ubisoft said in a statement.
The Ceeb also points out that (perhaps unsurprisingly) former U.S. president Ronald Reagan was a fan of Clancy’s fiction.
Clancy’s books were so rich in technical detail that many people assumed he had a background in covert operations or the military, although apparently this was not the case. Born in Baltimore, he worked in insurance before turning to writing.
The Writers’ Union of Canada has issued a blistering riposte to the University of British Columbia, resulting from the latter’s claim that the cost of student course packs has been reduced by up to 33 per cent. In a broadcast e-mail sent on Sept. 11 and addressed to UBC faculty and staff, the university claims that it has achieved significant cost savings in the area of student materials created and sold through the UBC Bookstore.
From the UBC e-mail:
Price reductions have been made possible by:
1. Use of Digital Subscription Licences. A significant portion of the material used in course packs can be accessed through digital subscription licences.
2. Reliance upon Fair Dealing. In 2012, the Copyright Act was modernized and the Supreme Court of Canada issued several landmark rulings about the scope of fair dealing. The result is an expanded role for fair dealing in the production of course packs.
3. Avoiding Onerous Blanket Licencing Terms. When UBC’s licence expired, Access Copyright proposed dramatically increased fees and unacceptable terms including surveillance of student and faculty activity. UBC concluded that, within this context, proceeding on terms dictated by Access Copyright would not provide sufficient value for students.
TWUC chair Dorris Heffron today sent a letter to UBC president Dr. Stephen J. Toope, arguing that the savings the university is claiming come on the backs of writers who are not being paid for the use of their work. Heffron writes:
Guidelines claiming 10% of a book, entire short stories, entire chapters, etc. as fair dealing are not supported by established law in Canada, nor are they likely ever to be. Canadian writers and publishers, through our common copyright collective, are right now involved in legal action aimed at confirming such extensive uses are unfair to the cultural creators on whom institutions like yours depend for so much quality educational content.
She goes on to express dismay that a university boasting one of the country’s most prestigious MFA programs for creative writers should take what TWUC characterizes as a cavalier attitude to those writers’ livelihoods:
There is a terrible irony in a university like UBC, one with such an illustrious history of preparing creative writers for careers in the arts, claiming costs savings on the backs of Canada’s writers – a group who can ill-afford to lose any income sources. The Writers’ Union of Canada considers such unauthorized and uncompensated use of our members’ work to be expropriation of the property of some of Canada’s lowest paid professionals by some of Canada’s highest paid professionals. There is nothing fair about that scenario.
As of this writing, there has been no official response from UBC.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Scotiabank Giller Prize, currently the country’s richest prize for fiction. To mark the occasion, the Giller administration is making some changes, including one that will likely come as a welcome surprise to many people.
One significant change involves the announcement of the longlist, which will take place this year in a location outside Toronto. The longlist will be revealed on Sept. 16 at the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver. Co-hosted by the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival and the UBC Creative Writing Program, this year’s event “underscores the wealth of talent fostered by creative writing programs across the country,” according to a press release.
But the big news is that for the first time in Giller history (or in the history of any major Canadian literary prize, for that matter), the Giller jury – composed of novelists Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem – will appear at a public event to discuss their process in deciding on the longlist. The event, called “Behind the Curtain,” will be hosted by CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi, and will take place on Oct. 7 at the Manulife Centre Indigo in Toronto.
The Giller jury will announce the shortlist on Oct. 8 and crown the eventual winner at a gala on Nov. 5. Both events will occur in Toronto.
Never let it be said that Margaret Atwood is one to shy away from a challenge. The author of The Handmaid’s Tale and the just-released MaddAddam has already updated Homer in The Penelopiad, a feminist reworking of The Odyssey originally published as part of Canongate’s series of contemporary retellings of famous myths (and subsequently adapted for the stage). And now, she has been added to the roster of contemporary writers who will undertake updating the Bard himself.
According to a press release from Knopf Canada, Atwood will join authors Howard Jacobson, Anne Tyler, and Jeanette Winterson for the “Shakespeare project,” which will adapt selected plays as novels for a modern audience. Slated for publication in 2016, the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the books comprise “a major international publishing initiative across the Penguin Random House Group led by Hogarth UK and published in partnership with Hogarth U.S., Knopf Canada, Knaus Verlag in Germany, and Mondadori in Spain; and Random House Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and India.”
Although the Guardian points out that no one has been bold enough to undertake an update of one of the major tragedies, Man Booker Prize winner Jacobson has done something almost as daring, choosing to take on one of Shakespeare’s most notorious “problem” plays: The Merchant of Venice.
Atwood, for her part (and somewhat unsurprisingly), has chosen The Tempest. The play “has always been a favourite of mine,” Atwood says in the Knopf release, “and working on it will be an invigorating challenge. Is Caliban the first talking monster? Not quite, but close.”
The other confirmed titles are Tyler’s update of The Taming of the Shrew and Winterson’s reworking of The Winter’s Tale.
The books will appear simultaneously in print and digital forms.
At the start of one of the busiest seasons for CanLit in recent memory, one of the most hotly anticipated titles must be the forthcoming book on our national sports obsession, written by sitting Prime Minister (and leader of “Canada’s Founding Party”) Stephen Harper. Due to be published by Simon & Schuster Canada on Nov. 5, the book has already garnered extensive word of mouth attention in and out of publishing circles, as much for the notoriety of its author (a lifelong hockey fan who apparently wrote the book in daily 15-minute chunks) as for its subject.
In a press release yesterday, S&S released the title of the volume – A Great Game: The Forgotten Leafs and the Rise of Professional Hockey – along with a cover image and a video trailer.
From the release:
Drawing on extensive archival records and illustrations, histories of the sport, and newspaper files, A Great Game delves into the fascinating early years of ice hockey. It tells of the hockey heroes and hard-boiled businessmen who built the game, and the rise and fall of legendary teams pursuing the Stanley Cup. With a historian’s perspective and fan’s passion, Stephen Harper presents a riveting and often-surprising portrait, capturing everything from the physical contests on the rinks to the battles behind the scenes and the changing social conventions of the twentieth century.
An article by Toronto Star political reporter Susan Delacourt indicates that the PM consulted the ethics commissioner about which publisher to sign with and what to do with royalties from the book. Proceeds from A Great Game, which will also appear in a French translation, will be donated to the Military Families Fund, which provides financial assistance to the families of Canadian soldiers and military personnel.
“The poet and Nobel laureate died in hospital in Dublin this morning after a short illness. The family has requested privacy at this time.”
Heaney’s publisher, Faber, said: “We cannot adequately express our profound sorrow at the loss of one of the world’s greatest writers. His impact on literary culture is immeasurable.
“As his publisher we could not have been prouder to publish his work over nearly 50 years. He was nothing short of an inspiration to the company, and his friendship over many years is a great loss.”
The winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Heaney was known to many for his popular 1999 translation of Beowulf, although his own poetry – from collections such as Wintering Out, Station Island, Field Work, and The Spirit Level – won accolades from critics and readers alike. An obituary in The New York Times states, “By some estimates he was the best-read living poet in the world at in recent decades [sic].”
In 2012, Heaney was presented with a lifetime achievement award from the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry.
A Catholic in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, Heaney did not shy away from politics in his writing or his life, going so far as to recuse himself from consideration as Britain’s Poet Laureate after the death of Ted Hughes in 1999. (The position went to Andrew Motion.) Heaney addressed the incident in a 2009 interview with the Telegraph:
Did he turn down the laureateship 10 years ago for political reasons? “Partly,” he says, quickly adding that, “I’ve nothing against the Queen personally: I had lunch at the Palace once upon a time … it’s just that the basis of my imagination, the basis of the cultural starting point, is off-centre.” This is a less forthright response than the one he gave in 1982, after being included in an anthology of British poets: “My passport’s green / No glass of ours was ever raised / to toast the Queen.” (He has lived in the Republic of Ireland since 1972.) His close friend Ted Hughes could write “mythological poems about the Queen Mother” because he was “an English patriot” – something Heaney could never have been.
In a 1997 interview with The Paris Review, Heaney talked about politics, poetry, and his experience teaching at Harvard. Asked about the way his approach to poetry had changed over the years, Heaney summed things up this way:
I have begun to think of life as a series of ripples widening out from an original center. In a way, no matter how wide the circumference gets, no matter how far you have rippled out from the first point, that original pulse of your being is still traveling in you and through you, so although you can talk about this period of your life and that period of it, your first self and your last self are by no means distinct.
In the wake of the recent report on the feasibility of mounting an annual book fair in Toronto, Vancouver’s Black Bond Books has announced an inaugural fair in Richmond, B.C., dedicated to supporting independent writers.
Touted as “Sundance for Books,” Raindance: A Festival for Indie Authors is being mounted by the bookstore mini-chain, which operates 10 locations in the greater Vancouver area. The fair is in partnership with Vancouver’s Vivalogue Publishing, an author services company that provides publishing and editorial assistance to self-published authors. Donations, a book drive, and a post-fair fundraiser will support the literacy work of Frontier College.
Vivalogue director Lynn Duncan says in an e-mail that Raindance is “our first attempt to start the migration from ‘vanity’ to ‘indie’ publishing.” Vivalogue, which also maintains an office in London, U.K., was launched in 2010 “to provide quality, cost-efficient services to self-published authors as an alternative to the POD model,” Duncan says. “It was clear that publishing needed to make the same transition as music and film, where ‘indie’ is an accepted (and often celebrated) term.”
In a press release about the Raindance book fair, Black Bond owner Cathy Jesson explains why the partnership with Vivalogue is a “natural fit”: “We welcome this opportunity to promote local independent authors,” Jesson says. “We also know how important it is to help Canadians improve their literacy and increase their opportunities. Supporting Frontier College is an effective way of doing that.”
“As the major independent bookstore chain in the Metro Vancouver area, Black Bond is continually approached by self-published authors,” Duncan writes. “I had increasingly come to believe that something like a co-op model might allow self-published authors to help each other.”
Helping self-published authors gain a foothold in an increasingly crowded marketplace seems to be one of the primary goals of Raindance, which will be free to the public, and feature author readings and one-on-one mentoring sessions with publishing professionals. For $20, participants can learn how to produce and market a self-published work, and $50 will secure a half-hour session with a professional editor.
The inaugural Raindance book fair will be held on Nov. 9 at Richmond’s Lansdowne Centre.