I was listening to CBC Radio a few weeks back and the host (I can’t recall his name) mentioned a list of books that relate somewhat to the New Canadian Library. The 100 Books that Make You Proud to Be Canadian is a way for CBC to promote Canadians to read Canadian books, which the NCL has been doing with its catalogue for the last 50+ years.
With over 200 books in the NCL the CBC list would be bound to include some titles from the library. As I mentioned on different areas of this website, the NCL does not include every great Canadian book, but it does include a lot of them. The CBC list shows how many great Canadian novels, especially recent ones, do not have an NCL affiliation.
Of the 100 books, only nine have made it into the NCL catalogue. Why so few? There are numerous reasons but the two most obvious are that most of the books in the CBC list are relatively recent, and therefore have not had the time to go out of print and targeted afterward for inclusion. The second reason is because many of the books are not under the umbrella of M&S and therefore gaining the rights to publish them would prove difficult.
It’s interesting that many books that are considered classics in Canadian literature are not included on this list. You would figure Canada’s best known and most respected novels would make this list. One easy example of this is Barometer Rising. Hugh MacLennan is one of Canada’s greatest novelists and Barometer Rising is his greatest book. If Barometer Rising doesn’t make you proud to be Canadian, I’m not sure what does. Selecting Alias Grace over The Edible Woman is another strange choice. For esteem and historical importance, not to mention that The Edible Woman is a watershed moment in Canadian feminist writing in fiction, The Edible Woman outshines Alias Grace for Canadian pride.
With every list comes criticism and the category of pride is vague and wide open enough to lead to easy misunderstanding and massive interpretations but I think, overall, the list, if confined to whether the books are worth your time and attention, is dead-on; especially if you look at Canadian publishing over the last couple of decades. The books on the list compare extremely well with books published by American, British, or any other country’s novelists during the same time period. Canada has some of the greatest writers in the world and the list of novels shown by CBC Books easily proves this.
One hundred books is no small feat to read, if you tackle one a week it will take you almost two years to complete it. If I were to give recommendations on which books I found most enjoyable, I might be out of place since I have read about a quarter of them (28 to be exact). But in my limited knowledge, if I remove the NCL books on this list since those that read this blog, a blog on the NCL, would probably have those nine books on their reading list already, the following three books easily pop out. The Sisters Brothers, The Book of Negroes, and Whale Music. Lastly, The Handmaid’s Tale is also a book I quite enjoyed and is my number one pick of books that should have been in the NCL a long time ago.
The nine books from the NCL that made The 100 Novels that Make You Proud to Be Canadian are as follows:
1. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
2. A Season in the Life of Emmanuel by Marie-Claire Blais
3. Bear by Marian Engel
4. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
5. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town by Stephen Leacock
6. Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson
7. Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan
8. The Double Hook by Sheila Watson
9. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence