Friday, December 4, 2009

Canada Reads Report

I don't know a lot about...stuf that happens...unless that stuff a) happened in my living room or b) someone came to my living room (or invited me to theirs) to tell me about it. This is not helped by the fact that I can't really listen to talking on the radio. Here's my terrible secret: I have a hard time listening to a voice without looking at its source. Great for being an attentive conversationalist, lousy for radio listening. Music, no problem, and inane chatter I can maybe drift in and out of as I mop the floor, but to listen to a newsreport, an audio book, or a dialogue about books, I would pretty much have to sit down and look at the radio, or at least close my eyes.

So I don't, which is why I used to always miss everything about Canada Reads: things that happened on the radio and involved talking were not for me. But then some of my favourite blogs started covering it, and last year I (felt I) had a really good sense of the process despite never listening to the actual show.

This year, however, no one is all that excited about the list, so I think my sense of the process is about to go away again. But I can't help but be excited that one of my favourite books of all time, Douglas Coupland's Generation X, is on the list. I know it's no longer as cutting edge as it was when it was first published, 18 years ago, I know a lot of people have already read it--but in my mind, good books don't get old, and they don't get used up.

Do they?

I am one of the youngest members of Generation X (1961-1981, according to Wikipedia) so maybe I don't exactly relate as those more embedded in it do. But I think even those who came before 1961 or after 1981 can relate to loneliness, career disorientation, the wish for less, and the feeling that stories and friends can save your life. That last bit is pretty much my philosophy of life.

It's true I read this book really young, and it is possible that I imprinted on it as a baby goose does on its mother, or sometimes a human or a feed trough. I read the review in Sassy Magazine (that literary bastian) and it impressed me enough that I recognized the book later that year when my parents said I could have a book from Barnes and Noble on our trip to Manhattan (that was before B&N was a commonplace thing). I actually got two, that and Trainspotting (a book I consider even less of a "novel" than GenX). Both books have stuck with me through countless rereads, but I admit that I did start with them during an impressionable period in my life.

But my last read of *GenX* was only a couple years ago, and for a grad school class, and it was still as funny and wistful and lovely as I remember. And looking at the structure with a more grad-school critical eye maybe even made me appreciate it more. I love the tales that form the much of the "novel" that is *GenX*. This year's Canada Reads list has no short story collection on it, but the nested narratives of Coupland's book come pretty close, and I love that formal envelope-pushing.

I've heard this a time or two, but surely people don't really think the book is shallow, do they? Perhaps it is confusion akin to those around Calvin and Hobbes's mystification over colour photos of a black-and-white world--*Gen X* is a deep searching warm and funny novel about a shallow world--I mean, the liposuction fat and trinitite and stuffed chickens are just...detritus.

Aren't they?

Maybe I'd better watch the radio show.



August said...

I'm pretty sure I count as one of those who told you I thought Generation X was shallow (not my exact words, but certainly my sentiment),. But! When I first read it I was a rural teenager who had grown up dirt poor, and I simply couldn't find anything in it that I recognized as 'the world' as I knew it.

Since then I've become more urban, more sophisticated and nuanced in my think (or, at least, I hope I have), and though I'm once again dirt poor, I went through a period of about seven or eight years where I was pretty firmly entrenched in upper-middle class life.

So what I'm going to do is this: taking your Twitter comments to me, and this post (and the pro-Coupland upbraidings I've received from other bookish types) as both endorsement and challenge, I will go out on my lunch break and grab a copy of Generation X, add it to the top of my stack, and come at the book with fresh eyes, my past opinions about the book put as far aside as I can manage.

And if my opinion changes greatly in favour of the work, I will (aside from having a much better reading experience) eat my hat. Wherein 'eating my hat' is a euphemism for doing or saying something reasonably public to demonstrate that I was wrong. Deal? :)

August said...

Bah. "nuanced in my think" should of course be "nuanced in my thinking". I always make more typos when I'm at work.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

August: yep, you were one of the *GenX* dismissers, but one of many, rest assured. I have been really really surprised that a book I so respect is not respected by so many people I...respect (vocab fail). So, yeah, if you read it again, I would really curious to hear an articulation of your views, whatever they turn out to be. And I'm starting to wonder if I could manage to listen to a few broadacasts of CR, somehow, to see what people have to say against it.

But, full embarrassing disclosure: I am so focused one this one of five because...I haven't read any of the others. If I'm going to push you into a reread, want to push back--which of the remaining 4 should I read?

August said...

I have no idea which of the others you should read, because... I haven't read any of them either. I may just wind up reading them all in the new year, if time and money permits. Endicott and Dickner's books appear the most appealing to me, but your mileage may vary.

I have a similar problem to your radio issue; I can only follow non-fiction in audio format. I can't follow fiction. So on the rare occasion that I listen to an audiobook or non-music audio broadcast, it has to be a lecture or non-fiction debate or something of that nature, otherwise I lose track of what's happening inside of three or four minutes.

As you can imagine, going to literary readings requires *tremendous* concentration on my part, and I wind up mostly focusing on the reader's delivery.

Steven W. Beattie said...

Read. The. Dickner. One of the best books of last year. Really.

And neither of you has read Fall on Your Knees? I'm shocked.

Rebecca Rosenblum said...

Ok, Steven--Nikolski it is.

Re: *Fall on Your Knees*: I attended my first literary reading when I was 15. It was M. Atwood, Anne Michaels, Anne-Marie MacDonald and one other whose name escapes me. MacDonald's reading was a scene in which, on a darkened side-street, a lady performs on another lady a sexual act I was not theretofore aware of. If context was presented, I didn't absorb it, and I actually have no idea what the book is about, but for some reason this experience makes me feel as though I've read it, and I always bypass it on the shelf, with a mental "Oh, yes, *that* one."

I should probably read the rest of it, shouldn't I?

August said...

Okay, now I'm intrigued.



日月神教-向左使 said...