Just because practically everything in the world makes me think of books, I wanted to celebrate Canada Day with a glimpse back into my first experience of Canadian literature. These definitely won’t be the first books I read by Canadian authors — L.M. Montgomery and Margaret Atwood are literary icons even in the Philippines — but truth be told, I only learned these authors were Canadian when I moved here. Still, these were the first books I read primarily because they are by Canadian authors, at a literature class in Thompson Rivers University (then called the University College of the Cariboo), Kamloops, B.C.
The Good Body by Bill Gaston
I remember being really touched by this book. Retired hockey player Bobby Bonaduce is stubbornly ignoring a medical condition that’s causing him to gradually lose control of his body. In an effort to fix past mistakes, he returns to his hometown and scams his way into university.
It seems almost lazy to choose a book about hockey, but Bobby Bonaduce’s story really spoke to me. When I read it, I had never watched hockey and while many of my classmates seemed to share some childhood memory of playing the game, I had only the most basic idea of how the game worked. What got me though was the horror of Bobby’s experience — I can only imagine how frightening it is to lose control of your body. How much more horrible must it be for a professional athlete, whose whole life revolved around perfect control of one’s body?
Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King
Thomas King’s Green Grass, Running Water blew me away with its brilliant, unconventional writing style. It begins with a creation story, and involves four ancient aboriginals who escaped from a psychiatric ward and have a very important mission to fulfill. There’s a bit of a linear, realistic narrative, about a group of people who live in a nearby town, but mostly it’s a lot of myths and Western pop culture references all coming together in a way that’s somewhat chaotic but still really, really works. It’s hilarious and touching, and just a mind blowing reading experience.
I have since read many other books by Canadian authors, and have explored a much wider selection of Canadian literature. Even within that class at TRU, I remember reading more than just these two books, although I really can’t remember the rest of the list. These were the books that stuck with me. When I moved to Ontario, these were the only books from all my classes that I took with me. It’s been eight years since I took that class, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve read these books since. Still, they’re both on my shelf, partly for sentimental reasons, and partly because I do hope to read them again.
If I were asked now to list my top ten Canadian books, would these even make the list? I don’t know — I’ve read a lot of amazing Can Lit since then. But eight years on and I still remember the impact these books had on me. That’s saying something, eh?
What is your favourite book by a Canadian author? For those who moved to Canada from a different country, do you remember the first Canadian book you read? How’d you like it?
And from me and my bookshelf — Happy Canada Day!