CanLit Confessions

The English Patient by Michael Odaantje

The cover is totally blah, too.

Tomorrow night I’m going to the MacEwan Book of the Year event featuring Michael Ondaatje. Not only will I be at an event with grown ups and out of the house after 7:00pm, I will also get to hear the iconic Canadian author read from his book The Cat’s Table and take home a signed copy. I hope it fares better than my last signed book (see the footprint incident.)

I have to tell you something, though. I’ve never read any of Ondaatje’s books. It gets worse: I started The English Patient but didn’t finish it. I am a book-finisher, so when I DNF, that’s pretty bad. I read the synopsis for The Cat’s Table and it sounds pretty far removed from The English Patient, so I want to give it a try. I’m still going to feel like a straight up poser at this event, though.

Here are a few more shameful CanLit Confessions. Please share yours!

1. I’ve only read two of Margaret Atwood’s books, and I only liked one of them (The Handmaid’s Tale, duh.) Surfacing was a little too out there for me, and her books are just not high on my list of priorities right now.

2. I hated Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. Yeah, I was forced to read it in high school, but I was also forced to read books that became favourites (CanLit classic The Stone Angel was one,) so I can’t use that excuse.  I just read the plot summary over on Wikipedia and I think a reread is in order. I forgot about the “he wanted it so badly” part. That’s a killer line.

3. I hated The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordechai Richler. I was forced to read this in high school too. In fact, I often get Fifth Business and Duddy mixed up, which is pretty silly, now that I’ve read the plot summaries of each. No desire to reread this one though.

4. Until recently, I’d never heard of M.G. Vassanji. I just finished his latest novel The Magic of Saida. It was difficult to get into, and challenging to read, and brilliant, just brilliant. The guy has won two Giller Prizes. Where the heck have I been?

5. I’ve only read one of Alice Munro’s books. Too Much Happiness was so utterly devastating that I’m kind of scared to read more, though I know that I must.

6. I don’t understand all the fuss about Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. I should have loved it. I wish I had loved it. I did not.

7. I have no clue how to pronounce Ondaatje. I guess I’ll just call him Mike.



    • lauratfrey

      Oh, YA Confessions could be it’s own blog post. I haven’t read any Farley Mowatt either. I haven’t even read Hatchet, even though there were a million copies in every elementary school in the 80s!

  1. tanya

    I didn’t like Duddy Kravitz either. I prefer Anne Marie macDonald’s other novel – The Way the Crow Flies. I always get Carol Shields and Alice Munro mixed up. There, those are my confessions. And you really should read Oryx and Crake by Atwood if you liked The Handmaid’s Tale.

  2. .Ambur.

    haha I think he’d get a kick out of you calling him, Mike. 😀

    On-dat-jey is how I pronounce it–not sure if it’s right though. 😛
    I haven’t read much CanLit to be honest…and I haven’t even read a Margaret Atwood book. I do want to read The Handmaid’s Tale though and The Penelopiad definitely interests me. 😀 I think I’ll have to actively seek out more Canadian authors…and not just the ones that write paranormal like Kelley Armstrong. haha

    I hope you have fun at the event, Laura! I’m looking forward to hearing about it. 🙂

    • lauratfrey

      I’m interested in The Penelopiad, too. It’s playing at the Citadel this year I think. That would be a good outing, if a little expensive!

      I’ve started leaning towards Canadian authors lately. I kind of go through phases. Tonight should be good, other than the driving!

  3. Andrew Loeb

    I got to the first year of a Ph.D. in English literature before I ever took a course in CanLit.

    I’ve always been similarly ambivalent about a lot of Canadian authors that are supposed to be amazing. Though I have since discovered lots of really good stuff by being forced into reading some Canadian works. I’ll second the suggestions to read Oryx and Crake. It’s by far Atwood’s most accessible read and is a thoroughly modern dystopian novel. I’m teaching it to my first-year English students right now and they are more excited about it than anything else we’ve talked about.

    I’ve never read Ondaatje, Munroe, Richler or any of the really Canadian classics.

    Do I remember reading that you were going to be tackling Urqhart’s “Away” at some point? I loved that one. That’s a good piece of CanLit.

    • lauratfrey

      Maybe I should do a post about Canadian authors I do love. Now that I think about it, the ones I discovered and loved through English classes I tend to never read again (Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findlay) while the ones I discovered myself, I tend to go on a tear and read everything they’ve ever written (Douglas Coupland, David Adams Richards)

      Yes, I can’t wait to read Away. I have ancestors that came over from Ireland around the same time.

  4. Kristilyn

    I’ve read The Cat’s Table and thought it was okay … I mean, it was good, but I don’t see WHY it won awards. I think it’s pronounced ‘On-daht-ee-ey.’

    I think there’s some great Canadian talent out there, but I think there are some books that are just stuffy and not great. Like, they get recognition and awards because of the name behind the book.

    I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale, too, and loved it — though I do have a few other titles by Margaret Atwood on my shelf. I’m really looking forward to Oryx and Crake.

    I really love Ami McKay and think she’s a wonderful Canadian talent and worth a read!

    • lauratfrey

      Yeah, that’s true of a lot of literary fiction, I think!

      You should let me know when you plan to read Oryx and Crake. Maybe we could read it together.

      I have complicated feelings about Ami McKay. I LOVED The Birth House and HATED The Virgin Cure. I will read whatever she does next, though!

  5. Andrew

    A CanLit-professor friend of mine says “On-daht-chay,” if that helps. And she met him at a conference recently and didn’t mention embarrassing herself or anything.

    • lauratfrey

      Haha, that’s like the 3rd answer I’ve got so far. It’s okay. I don’t think I’ll have any reason to say his name. I’ve actually never been to a signing, but I imagine there’s not a ton of time for chit chat?

  6. Brie @ Eat Books

    Well, to be fair, you’ll be in good company tonight – I’m pretty much a poser too, seeing as how I’ve only read Ondaatje’s, In the Skin of a Lion, and did not like it at all. But I’m not one to pass up a literally opportunity like this one! 🙂

    I haven’t read anything my Margaret Atwood or Ann-Marie MacDonald. Not because I don’t want to, I’ve just never gotten around to it…and I’ve only read Alice Munroe’s, Runaway, which is a collection of short stories and I did not like it either! BUT, to be fair – I just don’t think I’m a huge fan of short stories.

    My favorite Canadian author is Lori Lansens. Have you read The Girls? Or Rush Home Road? They are two of my all time favorite books.

    • lauratfrey

      You don’t like Alice Munro??? For reals??? I’m not sure what to do with this information!

      But then you may not be able to deal with the fact that I’ve never heard of Lori Lansens. I think I must read The Girls immediately.

      • Brie @ Eat Books

        Well, I wouldn’t say I don’t like *her*, I just didn’t like Runaway and so I’ve never been inclined to try anything else of hers…there’s just too much else out there!

  7. alexis

    OMG, The Girls is amazing. Don’t bother with Rush Home Road. I read mainly Can-lit. I don’t really like Ondaatje and I didn’t like “Fall on your knees” either (and have read it twice) I dislike Stephen Leacock.

    I HATE David Adams Richards’ work. I’ve met a lot of Canadian authors and there is one woman I won’t read because she was a bitch to me when I was a bookseller in Saskatoon.

    Also, if you want cheap tickets to the Penelopiad, try to get them for the preview nights. You can also get cheaper single tickets the night of the show.

    (I am a Citadel subscriber and paid $138 for 6 plays for preview tickets. You can’t tell the difference between the preview and the regular run and I have great seats. I’m going to do it again! I just go by myself and have a great time.)

    I love Farley Mowat, mixed on Margaret Atwood and love Carol Shields and Margaret Laurence. I read mainly Can-lit.

    ps- Hatchet isn’t by Farley Mowat. It’s by a writer called Gary Paulsen.

    • lauratfrey

      You win the most thorough comment award 🙂 I can tell that you know your CanLit!

      I’m wondering if anyone likes Ondaatje. Maybe I’ll see what the fuss is about tonight.

      We need to discuss your David Adams Richard hate. Nah- I get it. I don’t know anyone else who likes him other than my dad, who forced me to read Mercy Among the Children. I loved it so much I’m scared to reread it in case it doesn’t hold up (I was only 19.)

      That is a good idea! Are you planning to see the Penelopiad? Maybe we can do a Tweet up 🙂

      Oh and I know Hatched isn’t Farley Mowat, it was just ubiquitous in the same way Mowat’s books are (or were, I haven’t been in and elementary school in a while!)

  8. bluelotus13

    I know lots of people who like Ondaatje. His writing is dense and lyrical and I’m a bit of a minimalist. I tend to get trapped in his words and sentences and lose the plot and imagery. I had the same problem when I read “The Sentimentalists” or Haruki Marukami. I’m extremely linear and so non-linear things are not my bag. A friend suggested I read Ondaatje’s poetry. She thinks I would like it.
    Ondaatje was also supposedly super smoking hot and sensual in the 1970s, so that doesn’t hurt him today either. 😉
    I just think David Adams Richards creates characters that I don’t like. Sure, they are real characters, but I don’t enjoy hanging out with them.

  9. Pingback: Confessions of a Slow Reader | Jennifer Quist

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