Canadian thoughts

Posted by Guy Pringle, 27th June 2011

Canadian subscriber, Lindy Gomm, is the first of our subscribers to add to our new initiative here - My Books and Other Animals. Just to reiterate, we know we're all bookish folk but this is a chance to share not just books but your cultural life as well. To take part just email info@newbooksmag.com. We're hoping it becomes a must-read for all site visitors. But enough, over to Lindy – 

 

Some random thoughts for you from Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, on the west coast of Canada. I've just come home from a glorious hour-long walk near my home. On account of the rain pouring down from the sky (again!) I saw none of the usual things - no children playing outside during recess at the local school, no dogs being taken for a walk, no cute little Asian twin boys sent out to play in the fresh air for awhile, not even one other person to say hello to. Instead, I walked past fast-moving Eagle Creek. then through the pathways alongside a golf course, through Squint Lake Park - the lake itself is small and hard to find, but when you do you are rewarded with a tranquil spot with dragonflies and families of ducks to admire - then back out to the streets and home.
 
You at newbooks are always sending free books to people so I thought I'd return the favour and send you two books that I've enjoyed very much. I hope you can find time to read them and pass them on to others, and that you get as much pleasure from them as I did.
 
The first, "Under Heaven" by Guy Gavriel Kay, is a wonderful novel. A completely absorbing tale, masterfully written. For the two glorious weeks it took me to read the book, the world of 8th century China was more real to me than the present day. For two years, Shen Tai has been alone, burying the bones of dead soldiers on a battle site, in honour of his deceased father, a general in the imperial army. Then the White Jade Princess makes him a gift of two hundred and fifty Sardian horses in recogniton of his service to the dead. However, "You give a man one of the legendary Sardian horses to reward him greatly. You give him four to exalt him above his fellows, propel him toward rank, and earn him jealousy, possibly mortal jealousy." The "gift" from the Princess forces Shen Tai to travel back to court, and puts him in grave danger. Honour, betrayal, treachery, love, and power during the Tang dynasty, with elements of fantasy. So very good.
 
The other book, "The Woefield Poultry Collective" by Susan Juby couldn't be more different, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Prudence, who lives in New York, inherits a farm in Canada. This is the story not only of what happens to the dilapidated farm with its new owner who knows nothing of farming, but also to the grumpy seventy-year-old foreman who already lives there, the young alcoholic man across the way who hasn't left his house in eleven years, and the serious little girl who keeps chickens. The tale unfolds in short chapters told from the point of view of each of the four main characters in turn. I'm not normally a fan of stories told this way, but this is so skillfully done, and each voice is so unique that I looked forward to hearing from all of them. The book made me laugh out loud many times, yet was poignant just as often. I cared about these people and in the process the author has inspired me to be kinder to people I don't know very well, to realize there's good in most people, to look beyond the face that people present to the world, and to lighten up and see the humour in situations which at first don't appear to have any. And did I mention poor Bertie - the sheep?!
 
Both Guy Gavriel Kay and Susan Juby are Canadian authors. I almost hesitate to say so, only because I'm not sure what people in other parts of the world think of when they hear the words "Canadian author". My personal impression is that much in Canadian "literature" is depressing. That much of it is sombre; introspective; a lot of it has to do with overcoming terrible childhoods/bad parents/poverty/hardship, personal angst of one sort or another; with failure, with loss, with the search for identity; that life is just a struggle. I hope I'm wrong. However, the two books I've sent you are just good stories, entertainingly told, written by authors who happen to be Canadian.
 
Another bookish thing that interests me are book covers and how, for any one title, they are often different from those of the books sold in other countries. For example, "Corduroy Mansions" by Alexander McCall Smith or "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery. The artwork on the covers of these two books are completely different in the U.K. than they are here in Canada. This causes problems for me as I will often judge a book by its cover. If I happen to know a book is available in various covers, I just know I'll enjoy it so much more if I could only read it with the cover I like best!
 
Thanks again for all your hard work to produce newbooks magazine. The inclusion of ISBNs in the directory is helpful, and the new features - "Author's Faves" and "The Chain" are good additions. My only quibble is that I find the new typeface not as easy to read. I also value the supplements you include from time to time on childrens’ books, crime and new authors. I always look forward to newbooks' arrival with much anticipation (and am never disappointed), devouring it from cover to cover within days, whereupon the cycle begins anew as I wait once more for the next issue's arrival. If I could only subscribe to one magazine, newbooks would definitely be the one I'd choose. My life is richer because of it, and if I'm ever fortunate enough to be able to visit England, I'll be sure to come to Winchester to say hello in person.
 
A devoted fan,
Lindy Gomm

 

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