Canadian Music and Literature

Something that has occasionally bemused me is the fact that all of my favourite musicians and bands are Canadian, whereas none of my favourite authors are.  I’m not sure why this is the case at all, unless it is that somehow the musicians manage to speak the country to me, while the authors do not.  This may, of course, have a great deal to do with what Canadian books (literary or popular) I have or have not read.

I admit I have not read so many as I should like, nor finished so many books as I ought in order to form considered judgement, even of the celebrated Canadian authors.  Most of this is because they do not speak to me.  I keep expecting them to, but then they don’t.  I have begun various books by Margaret Atwood, and never finished them.  I do enjoy one series by Robertson Davies — The Rebel Angels, What’s Bred in the Bone, The Lyre of Orpheus — but again, have never finished anything else by him.  I did read all of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient, but remember almost nothing of it (and I have a fine memory for books as a rule).

I did enjoy Timothy Findley’s From Stone Orchard, however, so I am not totally lost to Anglo-American fantasy and the Western Canon. — At least not when it comes to memoir, where my taste is catholic.

But in general, there is something about the mood of Canadian writing that does not stir my soul.  It’s generally too flat, too monochromatic, too subtle, perhaps, for me: I like pageantry and colour in my stories.  The Robertson Davies are like pen-and-ink drawings, sharp enough contrasts to draw my heart; sometimes.  I’ve only read them twice, and that was long ago.  The books I truly love I read and re-read often; I have multiple copies of my very favourites, in my apartment, in my parents’ house, even a few spares so I can give them away to a friend without pangs.

But music: well.  Leonard Cohen; Loreena McKennitt; Joni Mitchell; Great Big Sea; The Arrogant Worms . . . only a handful, perhaps, but I listen to them over and over again.  Apart from the musical western canon (from which I do prefer Bach) and a collection of musicals, these are the ones I actively seek out.  I don’t know what it is; these speak to me and my imaginative life.  Perhaps it’s because (with the exception of the The Arrogant Worms) they don’t seem to try to be “Canadian”; or perhaps it’s just because their inspirations don’t all seem to come from southern Ontario.  They don’t seem caught in winter grey to my mind.

Just a little puzzle.  I think I haven’t read enough.  I do like Guy Gavriel Kay, especially his latest, Under Heaven (which I’ve already read three times, so it’s assured of its place); I keep circling around Charles de Lint.  I’ve had John Scalzi recommended to me; perhaps that’s where I go next.


3 thoughts on “Canadian Music and Literature

  1. I know what you mean. For some reason, a lot of the big Canadian authors do nothing for me. However, I have to say a few have absolutely blown me away. Margaret Lawrence for one – The Diviners, not that The Stone Angel crap. W.O. Mitchell is also pretty good. Alistair MacLeod’s No Great Mischief and his short stories are favorites as well – though they may not be to your liking as I think they sort of fit your description of why you don’t typically like Canadian lit. In terms of poetry, I am still a fan of Archibald Lampman.

    Typically I look at who’s been shortlisted for the Giller and go from there. I recommend you check it out because you can find some great work by below the radar Canadian authors that way.

    Of course, two of my other favorites are Lucy Maud Montgomery and Bernice Thurman Hunter. Tee hee. 😉 I should probably be embarrassed to write that, but I’m not.


  2. Have you listened to Hey Rosetta! or Amelia Curran? Both from Newfoundland – I think you’d really like their music, especially the latter. So beautiful.
    Bet you thought I was going to start recommending CanLit, eh? 😉


  3. Katherine: No, I haven’t heard (or indeed heard of) either of those two, so I will gladly look them up. And indeed, I did wonder whether you might not give me some CanLit to look into — but new music is welcome, too! I have a tendency to listen to the same people and bands over and over again.

    Trish: Do you know, I read Lucy Maud Montgomery for the first time a couple of years ago, and found how much I liked the Anne of Green Gables books. I only read the first three, but they were delightful, much more adult than I was expecting. (My parents live on PEI now, so I felt I really ought to read the books . . .) I’ll have a look at your other authors next time I’m at the library; I’ve always loved the title of The Stone Angel, but have to admit it looked too depressing for me. I’ll try The Diviners — some times I’m in the mood for monochrome!


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