Friday, March 7, 2014

Violence, Bad Words, Affairs in Fiction

What a book-filled week! Canada Reads finished yesterday with The Orenda, by Joseph Boyden, winning the contest. It is the book my book club also chose as our number one a month ago in our own mini-contest.  We had Annabel as our second choice but the CBC panel chose Cockroach as their second choice. Annabel was third, Half Blood Blues second and The Year of the Flood went off first. We eliminated Cockroach first but Samantha Bee kept it in the running right up to the nail biter at the end. She cried a couple of times which could have been seen to be a ploy to get sympathy to win votes but I choose to believe she was genuine and is a crier by nature. If she was 'using' her tears it didn't work. 

 Boyden’s new novel, The Orenda, is a finalist in this year’s Canada Reads competition. It’s been highly acclaimed for its look at the relationships between indigenous groups and settlers prior to the formation of Canada in the 17th Century.

But it’s also faced criticism for its portrayal of some of those people and the violence between them.

Still, the book’s capacity as powerful new art that forces the mainstream to take note of indigenous issues and experiences transcends that debate and fuels an importation conversation.

"These were incredibly complex, sophisticated people that have been around for 10,000 years when the Jesuits arrived, as complex a spiritual system, as complex a society, as complex a social system as anyone in the world," says Boyden.
"This novel, in a way, is an exploration of this first wrestling with different world views – that we still see today, in First Nations life versus the western world."
Boyden's first novel, Three Day Road, won the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Price in 2005. His 2008 novel Through Black Spruce won the Scotiabank Giller Prize that year. Born in Willowdale, Ont., of Irish, Scottish and M├ętis heritage, Boyden writes about First Nations characters and life both in modern and historical settings.

Wab Kinew the champion for The Orenda
Amazing intellect and speaker
Someone to watch for

If you haven't been listening to the broadcast you can still see the podcast on CBC/ which will show you how Canadians can sit and talk about literature and hold the countries interest for four days. It tells me our country is more than just hockey!!

I also finished the book A Son of a Certain Woman by Wayne Johnston yesterday. I had to finish it for Saturday so had left it until this week to read. It was a wild ride. I heard the author speak and read from the book at the University of New Brunswick in the fall so I could picture him talking about it while I read. He has a darkly funny side to him but I was grossed out at times especially during the last scene of the book. It is more a reflection of my own squeamishness than a reflection of the writing. He also wrote Navigator of New York and Colony of Unrequited Dreams which are also strange in their own way but also difficult to put down once you get into them. I would encourage anyone who wants to stretch your reading muscles to read books by both of these authors from start to finish.

As I was wandering through Chapters yesterday looking for two of the books I am reading to finish my Thursday book club books for this year I came upon a shelf with a set of Helen McInnes books.
Five titles 

I loved her books when I was in high school in the sixties so I was surprised to see a full set on the shelf. They brought back a story of my own which might explain why I found the last scene of Wayne Johnston's a bit uncomfortable to read. We would never had been allowed near a book like this one in high school.  Our English teacher in Grade Twelve decided he would give us the opportunity to choose our own book to read and write a book report on our choice. This was highly unusual since we had always been required to read texts that were prescribed for us. But we had to tell him what our book would be so he could approve it. We went around the class stating our book's author and title. I announced that I was going to read The Venetian Affair by Helen McInnes. It was the last one in the series that I had not read yet. After the bell rang the teacher asked me to stay back so he could talk to me. He told me that the type of book I had chosen was not acceptable and that I needed to find a more appropriate choice. I really had no idea what was wrong with my choice and he didn't say. I thought it must have been wrong because it was a mystery and he must have wanted me to choose something more literary. I was embarrassed but also clueless as to what to choose. He said he would give me a couple of days. The next day before class he came up and apologized to me for not allowing me to choose Helen MacInnes' book The Venetian Affair. He said it was appropriate and a fine choice. I had never had a teacher apologize to me before so I think I just blushed (which I always did when a teacher talked to me) and nodded. I did the report.  He must have thought it was a book about an affair between a man and a woman, one or both who were married to someone else. That kind of "affair"!
I wondered if he went into the staff room and was telling the other teachers about this student who had suggested a book called the Venetian Affair as her book report choice and how he had to forbid such a risque book! And then one of the female teachers told him she reads Helen McInnes  and he was misinterpreting the title based on his own dirty mind!! Or maybe he went home and was telling his wife over dinner and she burst out laughing spraying food all over as she tries to tell him how he jumped to a conclusion that wouldn't look good to the student who knew the book was about a spy "affair"! Someone made him feel a bit stupid and he felt sheepish enough to apologize to me. Some teachers I had would have let it go and allowed me to continue to think I was the type of student who reads "inappropriate" books. 
Makes me laugh now knowing how he must have felt once he knew the real story of the book. Good on him to apologize.
I wonder if Joseph and Wayne have books like these on their desks?

Happy Reading!!


  1. I am happy to hear The Orendon won! I have not read any Wayne Johnstone, but am adding to the list! Got home late last night and am tired and plan to relax today with all of the TV I taped while I was away! Love your high school story!

  2. Mary, I have never heard of Helen. Should I give her a try? I am in Toronto and went to an IOFA panel the other night with the RBC Taylor Prize finalists. They all sound good...5 more books to read....pressure. I'm pleased that The Orenda won but the placement of the other books surprised me.

  3. Wendy I hope you will like the Orenda as much as I did and obviously the rest of Canada since the popular vote went to it as well.

  4. Barb, Helen is really old. I think I bought a copy a few years ago for old times sake and must have a look for it. I am afraid it will seem really lame now but maybe not if they are bright and new on the shelf. What books are the RBC finalist books? Or should I google that?