Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Nick Mount. Arrival: The Story of CanLit. Anansi, 2017.

In spite of my passion for CanLit (or maybe because of it), I held off reading this book – Arrival: The Story of CanLit.  Maybe if he had changed the title to The Story of CanLit in the 1960s I’d be a bit less critical.

I avoided reading because I knew it would make me mad. It would be T-O-centric and phallo-centric. And it is. Moreover, it is the tone. That overly confidant mansplaining talk which presents opinion as if it were fact. I blame that tendency for the false news fad which we are fighting today. Rather than blame myself, and other teachers and former teachers, who have failed to stress, teach, develop the skill of being able to differentiate opinion, fiction, from fact. Or worse, we failed to help groom students who care about the difference, the ethics of opinion. The responsibility of speaking in the public forum.

You can sort of imagine how this book grew. First, everything starts in Toronto. With a bit of bleed from Montreal after the Quiet Revolution. Then someone said You have to include some other part of the country. What about Vancouver, Tish, and the American influence? Then someone said You have to include some First Nations and more women, so he drops in Maria Campbell’s Halfbreed although it is the ONLY indigenous writer and the ONLY non-fiction and published in 1973.

It’s a child’s viewpoint, the belief that nothing happened before I got here. No reference to previous award winners, especially writers who remained in Canada. In the brief biographies, writers like Laurence and MacLennan do pay homage to earlier writers from their regions—Sinclair Ross, Ernest Buckler. Little reference to E.J. Pratt. Nothing important said about Dorothy Livesay, twice GG winner, active in the little mag Contemporary Verse from Edmonton in the 1940s. Or Laura Salverson or Winnipeg. Or Emily Carr. Not enough mention of the Centennial and all the promotion in the years before 1967 which helped young people travel in Canada, develop a sense of Canadian identity and pride, and meet their counterparts in other regions. Money did come from the Canada Council for writers and publishers, but the biggest benefit to me seems to be the creation of a nation of young people who desire a CanLit, to make it and to buy it.

I do like the little blurbs about books, although not the stars. Trust the tale, not the teller. And I did learn the meaning of Tish. Backwards?

I also felt a lack of a definition or an understanding of what literature really is and why it is important. And of the link between colonialism and CanLit. If there was no CanLit before 1967, it was because we were a colony. Even if politically we were not a colony after 1927, in our heads, and in the education of the decision-makers, we were still “lesser than” the mother countries and convinced, as they told us, that nothing of value comes from here.

I avoided reading because I knew it would make me mad, and it did. But, I guess, it also made me think.

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