Inspired by CBC’s Canada Reads, that annual literary romp in the bookshelf, Book Fridge introduces Newfoundland and Labrador Reads with a crew of opinionated, intelligent artists who have no problem defending their chosen literary dish. While some rely on wit and wordplay, others keep it simple and let the book speak for itself.
The way it`s going to work: the panelists have to answer six questions. Every few days I`ll post their responses which will be followed by a Twitter or Facebook question that readers can discuss. At the end of the discussion on January 28, the panelists will vote on the book they think should take the first ever Newfoundland and Labrador Reads. They can`t vote for their own but must rate the other books from 1-4 (1 being their first choice). There will be a rating system and the book that gets the most points wins.
Without further rambling, I’d like to introduce our illustrious dais and the damn good books they are defending.
DARCY FITZPATRICK was born in 1979. He writes, makes films, works in television, reads books, runs Signal: The St. John’s Blog and scours the internet because he loves stories. See also: coffee.
Darcy will defend This All Happened by Michael Winter.
Why should This All Happened be the book Newfoundland and Labrador reads?
Darcy: Every book on this list is a book I’ve either loved reading or have wanted to read since its publication–before the Internet swallowed me whole and became the primary source of reading material. So if you’re someone like me, who’s tendency to read novels is few and far between, or if for any other reason it just so happened that you could only read one book from this list this year, This All Happened, by Michael Winter, is your book. And it really is your book. Winter has a way of inviting you in effortlessly with his prose. Never mind the fact that in This All Happened he encapsulates St. John’s so authentically, he puts Republic of Doyle to shame. Never mind that his chronicling of a single year, from one New Year’s eve to the next, makes this the perfect book to start reading at this very moment. Such features only begin to hint at the reasons why you, Newfoundland and Labrador, should read this book.
Just like we have our own, distinct way of talking to one another, in This All Happened, Winter has his own way of writing that sets him apart from the rest of Canada and the literary world. Dialogue flows naturally through his descriptions of person, place and situation so much so that it doesn’t even make use of the usual punctuation. His prose, like a conversation between his heart and the reader, skips across time like a stone skimming water, creating beautiful impressions at each point of contact that resonate with you long after you’ve read them.
Still not convinced? Ask anyone you know who’s read This All Happened – no, wait, don’t even ask them – just bring up the title of the book in their company. They will, without hesitation, tell you that you have to read it. Just like I’m telling you now. Just like you’ll tell the next person after you’ve read it, too.
JAMIE FITZPATRICK lives in St. John’s. You Could Believe in Nothing (Vagrant Press) is his first novel. He’s also host and producer of The Performance Hour on CBC Radio and an online hockey columnist for the About.com network.
Jamie will defend The Wreckage by Michael Crummey
Why should The Wreckage be the book Newfoundland and Labrador reads?
Jamie: The story begins in 1940, and a guy travelling outport Newfoundland with a film projector, screening Hollywood movies. It’s a telling detail: the greater world is asserting itself, prying open communities that have been largely unchanged for generations. The main characters, Wish and Sadie, have a brief romance before being separated and thrown out into that world. The Wreckage takes us from Little Fogo Island to St. John’s, Canada, and the U.S., with a lengthy stop at a Japanese prison camp during World War Two. From 1940, it follows its characters through the rest of the 20th Century. They abandon their rural roots, but can never leave them behind. That’s a quintessential Newfoundland story. And it’s all handled stylishly and masterfully by the writer. A great read.
JOEL THOMAS HYNES is the author of the novels Down to the Dirt and Right Away Monday, and the acclaimed stageplays The Devil You Don’t Know (w/S.White), Say Nothing Saw Wood and Broken Accidents. This past year Hynes wrote and directed his first film Clipper Gold. Running the Goat Books and Broadsides recently released the chapbook God Help Thee: A Manifesto, while Pedlar Press released Hynes’s first non-fiction collection Straight Razor Days. Hynes has been the recipient of several NL Arts and Letters Awards, The NL Artist of the Year Award, the Lawrence Jackson Creative Writing Award, The Cuffer Prize, and numerous black eyes.
Joel will defend Hold Fast by Kevin Major
Why should Hold Fast be the book Newfoundland and Labrador reads?
Joel: Hold Fast is a NL classic, no contest. Adventurous, unaffected, passionate, character driven storytelling at its absolute finest. A quick, momentous read accessible to people who dont make a habit of reading, an energizing, affirming discovery for younger readers, a nostalgic throwback for more seasoned readers, Hold Fast’s appeal remains as widespread as the accolades heaped upon it when it was first released in 1978– it won half a dozen major awards including the Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Governor General’s Award (before it was even called the Governor General’s Award). Unlike too many of NL’s great works of fiction (Tomorrow Will Be Sunday, No Cage for Conquerors) Hold Fast is not only still in print, but continues to work its way onto the shelves of new readers every day, both on and off the Island. There’s something to that, thirty odd years later.
RUTH LAWRENCE’s work as an actor, writer and filmmaker has taken her to Ireland, France, the US, and across Canada. Her short films-BARK and Sweet Pickle- have screened across Canada and the US. As co-Artistic Director of White Rooster Theatre, she produced and performed in the Canadian tour of MonaRita, a comedy that earned rave reviews and was named Outstanding Ensemble of Fringe Toronto 2011 by NOW Magazine. Ruth won the 2011 Joan Orenstein Best Actress Award for Clipper Gold at the Atlantic Film Festival and the 2011 RBC Michelle Jackson Award for Emerging Filmmaker to produce her next short film, Two Square Feet, to be shot in January 2012.
Ruth will defend February by Lisa Moore.
Why should February be the book Newfoundland and Labrador reads?
Ruth: If you were over the age of twelve in 1982, you probably remember the storm that happened on February 14 that year. Whether or not you had a family connection, your life changed drastically the next day.
There are several major events that have shaped the history of Newfoundland and Labrador, many involve loss of life. Beginning with the extermination of the Beothuk, we have been profoundly impacted by events that have taken precious lives from our small population. The battle at Beaumont Hamel, the sealing disaster of 1914, on up to the sinking of the Ocean Ranger in 1982, these events have led to seminal changes in our outlook and attitudes. Certainly, our relationship to oil and its place in our future became more complex.
February by Lisa Moore takes the Ocean Ranger disaster personally. As it should be, as it is. It’s so easy to become jaded by a massive disaster; we forget to look at a person within the tragedy. Lisa’s engaging and wrenching book explores the breadth of the ripples left by that rig sinking. Through a dressmaker, we gain some understanding of that loss. We experience the relentlessness of grief.
Just as the opening chords in Ron Hynes’ Atlantic Blue raises goosebumps, so for me does Helen’s struggle to bring light into that dark place of mourning. In some way, we’ve all been touched by deep, lasting pain and, like Helen, have had to find a way to LIVE through it, past it. With that in mind, why shouldn’t everyone from Newfoundland and Labrador read it?
CHAD PELLEY’s debut novel, Away from Everywhere, was a Coles bestseller, won or was shortlisted for 4 awards, and a film adaptation is in the works. His short fiction has won awards, been anthologized, and published in journals and all that. His second novel, Every Little Thing, is currently being shopped around. He also runs Salty Ink.com.
Chad will defend Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
Why should Come, Thou Tortoise be the book Newfoundland and Labrador reads?
Chad: Because Jessica’s book is a provincial treasure, so it should be forced on our readers at some point in their lives, like math and religion and power bills. You don’t have to love it like I did, but we should all know about it, like we do our other provincial treasures – labradorite, icebergs, the Northern Lights – because, like those things, this novel is a shiny rarity. And it’s all ours to boast about to the world. You should, as a local reader, want to know all about this wonder-woman wordsmith who dropped the country’s jaw 2009 and 2010, and who won every provincial award possible for this book: the Newfoundland & Labrador Book Award for Fiction, The Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing, and the NLAC’s NL Artist of the Year Award. No one else has done that clean sweep with one novel. No one but her. More importantly, there is no one like her.
Here’s a snapshot of the Flowers Family in his novel: When her father died, Audrey purposefully left the L out of her father’s obit, so it read Water Flowers, not Walter Flowers. Her father used to refer to the family unit as “The Bouquet,” (because their last name was Flowers), and “Uncle Thoby” has one arm longer than the other, for some reason, so he is obviously the one to change light bulbs or scrape ice from windshields. Grant’s outwardly off-kilter novel works because it is balanced with a sadness not milked into melodrama like most writers would do. Her diction crisper than celery, and she’s more witty than the ocean is wet. That combo created a wildly imaginative story populated by outrageously interesting characters. What more can an author strive for, than being like no one else? When I looked at my bookcase to choose a book to defend, Come, Thou Tortoise stood out like a tall tree in a field of grass.
Is she my favourite writer? I don’t know, because I love authors for different reasons. But she is the first writer to have left me at a loss for words on why I love her work. And for that reason I consider her the freshest, most readably original voice in the country. Michael Winter, a CanLit icon known for his attention to detail, endorsed this novel with a plea, “Please —I beg you dear reader — read Jessica Grant.” As a reader, that should intrigue you. So try new things. Live a little. Parasail, sky dive, read Jessica Grant. Before the movie comes out, which is being adapted by the able Jordan Canning. Don’t be the person who didn’t read the book before they watched the movie, or your artsy friends will judge you accordingly.
The critics have sounded off with all the fervour of firecrackers trapped in a can, and there’s nothing left it can do to impress you. It’s jumped through the hoops, and it patiently awaits you. Buy it, read it, now. If only because it has the funniest passages I’ve ever read, and busts down the walls of what can be done with the novel form.