I would not have called myself a fan of Canadian literature. And this is because of prairie angst.
You might know what I am talking about: Two sisters (one plain and hardworking, the other frivolous and beautiful) live in an isolated farmhouse on the prairies. Where it is cold. And isolated. Their mother is cruel/a husk of a human being after having the life sucked out of her by farming/dead and their father is a drunk/terrible farmer/book burner/dead or all of the above. They live in the cold and the snow in an isolated cabin where it is isolated. They are all alone with their angst until one winter’s night (because it is always winter), a Handsome Stranger from The City knocks at the door. There is often incest.
This was the first ad that popped up when searching “Canadian Fiction” – coincidence? I think not.
I was fully aware that this was not every single Canadian book ever written but I was so biased and entrenched in my reading comfort zone that any suggestion of Canadian Lit was immediately filed in my mental “NEVER WILL I EVER” folder.
However, one of my professional goals last year was to develop my RA skills by reading widely and daringly. Inspired by some reading challenges, I decided that this was the year to diversify my reading. This meant forcing myself into brave new northern reading worlds. But how do you take those first steps without feeling like you’re back in high school, kicking and screaming your way through assigned reading?
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– Identify what it is in particular about the genre/age group/topic that you find unappealing. Hate the gore of horror? Think YA is all about the love triangles? Can’t stand the angst in the prairies? No genre is a monolith. Use your RA tools to weed out what won’t work for you as a reader and find some titles that have high personal appeal. Ask a friend/co-worker who enjoys the genre to suggest a title for you.
– Start small. There’s no need to commit to 457 pages of your life right off the bat. Short stories, anthologies and novellas are a great gateway into a genre. They are short, punchy and can lead to longer works by authors that catch your interest.
– Read blogs of people that are enthusiastic about your subject. 49th Shelf, CBC Books, Kevin From Canada, Obscure CanLit Mama, and the Canadian Book Review were all excellent places to start exploring. Their passion was infectious and I soon began accumulating titles for my to read pile.
– Check out award winners. Not every award winner is worth reading but it can certainly provoke a conversation. Notably, the 1967 Governor General Award winner “Bear” by Marian Engel has been the source of much discussion, argument and (mostly) laughter in my group of friends. This is the classic story of a lonely librarian who has a passionate love affair with a bear.
– Join a genre-challenge. There are plenty of online genre challenges on a variety of platforms. If you prefer face-to-face, challenge your coworkers and friends. It’s always good to rope people in to your goals to keep you accountable. Identify genre-knowledge gaps in your workplace and make it part of your professional development.
– If at first you don’t succeed, PUT DOWN THE BOOK. If the first book you try is a slog, don’t force yourself. Give it just a few more pages than you would give an ordinary book (my limit is about 5 pages – with Canadian Lit, I give it 5 1/2) and if it doesn’t grab your attention, put it down. This is not assigned reading, you will not be graded for participation. You don’t have to like every flavor of pie and you don’t have to like every book. Take a break and try again with a different book.
These are the steps that I used to transform myself from rabid anti-Canadiana to peaceful CanLit supporter (Speaking of which, have you read Circus by Claire Battershill? No snow-swept sisters in sight!).
Anyone want to share their tips on how to venture outside of their reading comfort zone?