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Canadian Voices I Love

Though growing up in The-middle-of-no-where, Canada, gave me plenty of wonderful material that I am still discovering when it comes to writing (which would shock my London-obsessed teenage self), it gave me very little in the way of opportunities to meet my heroes. The odd, mildly successful, provincial country singer came through our northern town every 3 or 4 years, but the worthy borough was not exactly a hotbed of culture.

This is one of the things I love about Vancouver, the ability to snap up a ticket at the last minute to go see two of my favourite Canadian authors speak about their new books. Last time I put up with a trek to Point Grey to see a lecture, I walked around for days afterwards in a sort of I-JUST-chatted-with-Atwood-about-writing-for-ten-minutes stupor. I recognize the inconsistency of having JUST chatted with Atwood for days, but nevertheless. Not a fan in most situations (I confess I own no pairs of red mittens, Vancouver), I am definitely a fan when it comes to individuals who’ve written Canadian literature that has in some way defined my understanding of my world. They’ve convinced me that finding a memorable voice in an immense and young land is possible (even if that immense and young land is yourself).

And so today’s little post is dedicated to Elizabeth Hay and Miriam Toews, two women who have written about life in the Canadian north in very different, yet compelling ways, ways that have made me jump off my bed with exultation at just the right phrase, that inside joke, the description that couldn’t be anywhere but where I live. I’m looking forward to reading their new books, but ’till I do, here’s a peek at my old favourites, and links to the books they’re promoting this Thursday.

Miriam Toews


Just out: Irma Toth

Old favourite: A Complicated Kindness

“This town is so severe. And silent. It makes me crazy, the silence. I wonder if a person can die from it. There’s an invisible force that exerts a steady pressure on our words like a hand to an open, spurting wound. The town office building has a giant filing cabinet full of fantasy. There’s so much of that being crammed down our throats every day in this place. The mark of the beast? Streets paved in gold? Seven white horses? What? Fuck off. I dream of escaping into the real world. If I’m forced to read one more Narnia series book I’ll kill myself. I would love to read the diary of a girl my age — a girl from the city. Or a textbook on urban planning. Or a New York City phone book. I would kill to own a New York City phone book.”

Elizabeth Hay

Just out: Alone in the Classroom

Old fave: Late Nights on Air

“In the coming months, Gwen formed an image of the North as an open page in a book of wonders illustrated and illuminated with rare animals and subtle plants. The North was the tropics made simple and cool. A rather more knowable place, since it held on to all traces of passage, to every weathered bone and fire-cracked rock…A world, where if you were a child and the world was a plate, then the plate would be huge and have lots of space between a few select foods. She had been that very sort of child, wanting everything kept separate, and not a lot of different things at once, or much of any one thing at all.”

If you’re going on Thursday, drop me a line!

- Veronica