a late ode to Canada Day

In honour of our 140th birthday (ha ha! we secured Confederation before Germany or Italy!), I offer up my Top 10 picks for best Canadian books.... Recognizing, of course, that this is a rather sad, English-only list. But taking pride for a moment that it's also a rather woman-heavy list.
  1. Anne of Green Gables. Long before I fell for Tennyson, we were kindly introduced by L.M. Montgomery. Was there a girl more imaginative than Anne Shirley? I wanted curly red hair. And freckles. Without any real understanding of what a gingham dress might be, I longed for one. I wanted a group of little girl friends who would join me in my story-writing and play-acting. I wanted a Gilbert Blythe of my very own....

  2. Oryx and Crake, by Margaret Atwood. If Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale was a harrowing look at where humanity could go -- in its worst-case, women as little more than baby-producing cattle, way -- then Oryx and Crake is a worst-case tale of where science could go in a world poisoned by man. And woman. This is not a book of lyrical feminism but achingly dirty and ego-driven masculinity. A world where one needs lots and lots of sunblock. And hope. For something.

  3. I just finished reading a story as told through the eyes of a very young girl. And while admirable, it was no A Complicated Kindness. Miriam Toews gently imbues her tale of a young woman living in a small Manitoba Mennonite community with angst and confusion and hope and hopelessness. For example: "Travis told me that when I was dying to get high was when I was the most together and brilliant. Well, I said, it's the dying part that makes me feel alive."

  4. There are moments when Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees feels like the worst kind of melodrama. They are tiny glimpses of moments buried amongst all the overwhelmingly excellent prose. Her The Way the Crow Flies, however, may be a little shorter on the poetic prose and a little longer on the excellent story-telling. Maybe it's because my mom grew up on an Air Force base, maybe it's because there's a hopefulness and news-worthiness to her tale of Madeleine McCarthy -- an eight-year-old girl accidentally drawn into the biggest news story of her time, whose ripe fear keeps her silent -- but I would have to say MacDonald's second major novel outshines her first.

  5. Remember when Maclean's was really really good? And you always read the back page first? Fotheringham's Fictionary of Facts and Follie is an ode to that time, an ode to the days when you ran to the post box on Tuesdays, eagerly awaiting that week's periodical. And then you laughed and laughed.

  6. If I was astounded by Atwood's ability to depict a man gone wild in Oryx and Crake, I was far more blown away by Richard B. Wright's tale of two sisters in Clara Callan. Was Clara a realistic, representative small-town Ontario woman of the 1930s? I still can't decide. She was daring in her silence, in her privacy, in her life choices.... More daring, really, than the sister who pursued adventure in the United States. Clara is a tragic anomaly, and Wright created her so perfectly.

  7. Rilla of Ingleside is the somewhat melodramatic final tale of Anne of Green Gables. Rilla is Anne's youngest daughter, a girl so feckless and unimaginative she is completely unlike her mother. Instead of the bouncing chapter-to-chapter fun of L.M. Montgomery's first novel, Rilla's story speaks to the author's last wishes for peace and love in this world. I have long loved Rilla, even for her self-centredness. Her tale brings the whole story to a close -- a close that allows us to remember Anne forever as an adult, too, a mother who hurt and cried and laughed and loved....

  8. Okay. This list is making me gross sentimental. Time for some harsh come-uppance. Cue Naomi Klein's No Logo. I don't think there's any Canadian between the ages of 20 and 30, who went to university or college at some point during that time, who doesn't remember when this book came out. When it kicked ass (depending on your opinion). When it made you feel guilty (again, depending on your opinion). When it made you want to make a change in your world. (Come on!)

  9. No list of top Canadian books is complete with Timothy Findley. (I'm sure people would say the same about Mordecai Richler. I'm not one of them, but I respect the opinion.) I offer you the mystical, sepia-toned tale of The Piano Man's Daughter.

  10. In The Strangest Dream, Merrily Weisbord tells tales of Canadian communism. Of sweatshops in Montreal and the Cold War. Of spies and treason and, yup, I'm going to say it again, hope. I have almost as many folded-over corners and drawn-in stars and arrows in this book as I do in More's Utopia. Perhaps that says more about me than the book.... "What now? What do we believe now after the death of what was at once the most noble dream and a soul-destroying nightmare? Is global capitalism all there is? What remains of the impulse for social justice? What, if anything, is the legacy of the strangest dream?"

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