By Bookmarked - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 - 0 Comments
The Writers’ Trust of Canada has announced the five finalists for the 13th Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for the best political book of the year. The winner will be announced in Ottawa on March 6, 2013 at the Politics and the Pen Gala. One of the shortlisted authors will take home $25,000 for penning a work that “combines compelling new insights with depth of research and is of significant literary merit. Strong consideration is given to books that, in the opinion of the jury, have the potential to shape or influence Canadian political life.
Here are the nominees:
- Marcello Di Cintio for Walls: Travels Along the Barricades
- Taras Grescoe for Straphanger: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile
- Noah Richler for What We Talk About When We Talk About War
- Jeffrey Simpson for Chronic Condition: Why Canada’s Health-Care System Needs to be Dragged into the 21st Century
- Peter F. Trent for The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal
By Brian D. Johnson - Tuesday, November 2, 2010 at 11:54 AM - 0 Comments
In September I reported a conversation with director Norman Jewison, who told me he was once slated to adapt Barney’s Version for the big screen, and that the novel’s author, Mordecai Richler, wanted him to cast Brad Pitt as Barney. Sounds like a joke, but Jewison swore he was serious. I posted his story online (Brad Pitt as Barney? It was Mordecai Richler’s Pipe Dream). That prompted a perplexed response from producer Robert Lantos, who dismissed Jewison’s claim as nonsense. Lantos should know: he has always owned the rights to the novel, and finally made the movie with Paul Giamatti in the title role. (It opens Dec. 24). Well, today I heard from Noah Richler, Mordecai’s son, who had discovered my post and offered to shed some light on these absurdly mixed-up memories, which would not be out of place in his late father’s novel. Here is Noah’s comment:
“No, no, Norman.
“Such was my Dad’s demeanour and sense of the ridiculous that not even acquaintances such as Jewison really understood him. My Dad never wanted Pitt to play Barney, he was joshing Jewison and, I’d wager, saying something implicit but wicked about the inability of Canadian films, at that time, to garner any stars. No offence to Pitt, but I doubt he really knew much about him other than that he was famous and others were talking about him.
“To wit: when I was at The Ivy in London having dinner with him once, Michael Palin, whom I’d met once or twice, was at the next table, very close. We nodded. Palin’s guest was Johnny Depp and I whispered as much to Dad.
” ‘Who?’ he said. He had no idea.”
By Noah Richler - Monday, December 21, 2009 at 12:13 PM - 5 Comments
Mordecai Richler’s son writes about the legacy of one of our most iconic characters
My stepdaughter, aged 15, has taken to sleeping in the Baron Byng T-shirt my late father brought back from his high school reunion some years back—not sure where she found it. Wearing it seemed a reasonable cue for suggesting she read The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. “You’re old enough,” I said—as, in the back of my mind, I remembered how my father once found me, his impudent teenage son, reading Cocksure and told me the opposite. My father knew randy adolescent lads—God’s Little Acre and all that—and I imagine what he’d really meant by his reproach was, “You’ll be disappointed, go buy a dirty magazine instead.”
My father, note, never handed me a book of his—not even among the dozen that he gave me when, aged 15, I went to work in a Yukon bush camp (Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, Dickens’s Hard Times but also The Art of Kissing among them)—just as he never included any of his own pieces in anthologies he edited. I was assigned Duddy Kravitz at school and then again at CEGEP where, asked to compare it with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, I wrote a story in which Duddy came on to Daisy at a publishing party, the imposter Jay knowing exactly what was going on. Dad liked it but my professor was not amused. I got a 50.
At least the novel was taught, then. The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, it astonishes even me, was first published 50 years ago. Perhaps the movie with Richard Dreyfuss has left it feeling younger. At any rate, this sort of anniversary is less likely to be noticed now that it is quite possible to graduate from the country’s high schools without having read a single Canadian novel. Even when schools do have the option of teaching it, a lot don’t bother. When my nephew asked to study Duddy Kravitz he was told by his teacher not to. It was, he said, “too complicated.”
By Brian Bethune - Friday, December 11, 2009 at 12:00 PM - 8 Comments
Maclean’s books blogger Brian Bethune picks his favourites
10. Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan (2002)
MacMillan’s revisionist take on the peace treaty that ended the First World War—and gave the world such ongoing headaches as Yugoslavia and Iraq—is a triumph of narrative history, one that downplays anonymous “historical forces” to place individuals like Woodrow Wilson and David Lloyd George back where they belong, at the centre of events.
9. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
No one has ever found an easy way to sum up Martel’s novel, a surprise—but highly popular—Booker prize winner. That’s only to be expected, considering the storyline: take one teenaged boy—a devout Hindu who also prays to Jesus, Mary and Allah—put him on a lifeboat for some seven months with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan (all soon to disappear) and an enormous Bengal tiger named Richard Parker (who causes the disappearances). A long, strange trip indeed, “something so bright, loud, weird and delicate as to stupefy the senses,” as Pi himself says about life in general.
8. This Is My Country, What’s Yours? by Noah Richler (2006)
There are an endless number of lesser matters to quibble over in Richler’s monumental literary atlas of Canada—one of the many great things about the book—but there’s no quarreling with the main themes of this shrewd and subtle consideration of CanLit. Canada is an anti-epic society, born of struggle with an unforgiving land, highly skeptical about authority, and fertile ground for ironic and individualistic novels.
7. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (2007)
Hill has been a very good writer for a long time, a graceful and understated stylist whose latest novel turns a thorny historical subject—the fate of black slaves who served the British in the American Revolution only to be shabbily betrayed in Nova Scotia—into a tour-de-force, an entire era personalized in one superbly realized female character.
6. River Thieves by Michael Crummey (2001)
Historical fiction is one of the dominant themes within CanLit, and there’s no more subtle and profoundly self-aware example than Crummey’s first novel. The weight of the extinction of the Beothuks, Newfoundland’s aboriginal population and the impossibility of truly understanding the past, hang over this story of mutual and tragic misunderstanding.
5. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (2005)
Nothing haunts the national historical imagination like the Great War. The eternal Canadian novel, the one we keep writing over and over again, is set, at least in part, against the mud and carnage of the Western front. Boyden’s first novel, the tale of two Cree snipers—one broken in body and spirit, the other destroyed morally—is perhaps the finest in a rich tradition.
4. There is a Season by Patrick Lane (2004)
The poet’s account of a year in his life and garden begins when Lane, then 65, was barely two months out of the rehab centre he entered after 45 years of heavy drinking. Memory floods him, much of it harsh to recall (and to read), but there are “moments of such joy that to remember them makes me reel through the thin air of the past.” An exquisite memoir, beautiful in its prose and terrifying in its honesty.
3. Where War Lives by Paul Watson (2007)
The author is the Toronto-born foreign correspondent who snapped the famous 1993 photo of U.S. Army Sgt. William Cleveland’s mutilated corpse being dragged in triumph by a howling mob through Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu. The book is Watson’s account—utterly devoid of self-pity and propelled by an apocalyptic mix of anger, guilt and post-traumatic shock—of the interplay of media and war, and his life since Cleveland’s spirit spoke to him that day: “If you do this, I will own you forever.”
2. The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy (2000)
Few anglophone readers know the work of Soucy; a pity, really, given he’s a writer of genius. This slim novel has more layers of meaning than most far fatter volumes can imagine. A word-drunk, hallucinatory, heartbreaking story of two isolated siblings adrift in a surreal landscape after their abusive father’s suicide.
By Aaron Wherry - Wednesday, November 4, 2009 at 12:19 AM - 61 Comments
On the anniversary of Barack Obama’s election, Wendy Mesley posed the above question on the National tonight. The segment isn’t separately online yet, but can be seen at the 35 minute mark of the National here. Mesley acknowledges it’s not an entirely fair comparison—demographics are different here than in the United States—but the discussion that follows is likely relevant nonetheless.
By the Public Policy Forum’s last check, Parliament was 92.2% white. The examples of non-white politicians even running for the leadership of a federal party are few and far between (Hedy Fry was briefly in the Liberal race in 2006, the last black politician to pursue national leadership might be Howard McCurdy for the NDP in 1989). For argument’s sake, Noah Richler posited a year ago that Canada’s Barack Obama moment won’t come until Canada elects an Aboriginal prime minister.
Of course, you could set race aside and wonder when the Canadian public will elect its first female prime minister vote sufficiently for the candidates of a party led by a woman so that that woman becomes prime minister.
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, October 22, 2009 at 1:20 PM - 0 Comments
Next week in Toronto, Diana Athill, 92, and Alice Munro, 78, will have a lot to gab about
“Too Much Happiness” is how organizers are billing next week’s much anticipated on-stage conversation between Alice Munro and the acclaimed British editor and memoirist Diana Athill in Toronto. It’s the obvious choice, being the title of Munro’s new book, a collection of stories her devotees feared they’d never read after she flirted with retiring three years ago at age 75. And felicitous sums up the mood of anyone who scored a $100 ticket for the sold-out show, a PEN benefit that kicks off the International Festival of Authors.
But Life Class, the title of the 92-year-old Athill’s new book, a collected edition of her memoirs, provides the more apt framework for the night. The reference is to Athill taking up life drawing in her 80s, of which she writes: “What you are looking at is precisely life, that inexplicable and astounding cause of our being, to which everything possible in the way of attention is due.” Continue…
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, April 25, 2009 at 12:32 PM - 4 Comments
And yet, while schoolteacher William’s place in the “inheritance” helps explain a little of the book’s pandering tone, it does not excuse how this one is not enquiring, bold or controversial in the way that Ignatieff’s other books are. What could have been the set of penetrating reflections about Canada that Ignatieff’s literary followers have good reason to expect, or even the more thorough biography of his uncle George Grant, or his grandfather George, that might have ensued from the original project, has evolved instead into a slim and disappointing brochure intended to advertise the author’s apparently incontestable Canadian pedigree.