Shadowing the Best of CanLit

Featuring the Shadow Giller

sad symphony per the Guardian and Shadow Giller Juror Lindy calls it an understated masterpiece, Clyde Fans was immediately compelling reading for me. I hesitated when first picking it up, thinking maybe I’d wait to see if it made the Shortlist. It is a brick of a book and I wasn’t sure I was wanting to read a graphic novel at the time. However, as soon as I began reading, I found I was completely taken by it.

I would be quite surprised to see if Clyde Fans didn’t make the Shortlist.

This story of two brothers, Abe and Simon, struggling to maintain the family business in a tense economy and the absence of their father. Abe feels he is the one to have sacrificed the most. The one to keep the business afloat, his brother Simon a nuisance more than a help. He doesn’t understand the anguish Simon is experiencing inside his mind.

The blue, grey and black colouring only enhanced the melancholy story within. A story of regret, hopelessness, sibling rivalry, expectation and resentment, mental illness and the anxiety of caring for an elderly parent are just a few of the layers found within.

There was so much to enjoy inside. It really didn’t take me long to read at all and I was fully invested all along. Yes, I would be surprised to not find this on the Shortlist.

14 books! How did it compare to my predictions? I predicted 4 out of what I thought would be 12. Well, actually 5 books because I DID leave a space open for a graphic novel! Not too shabby! I’m quite happy to see those 4 on the list for sure! I’m sad though to not see Noopiming on this Longlist. I thought for sure it was a strong contender!

I have already read Lynn Coady’s Watching You Without Me – last year our book club chose it and we did enjoy it. You know too that I’ve read Five Little Indians and How to Pronounce Knife and those were also on my prediction list. I bought in anticipation, Dominoes at the Crossroads and Polar Vortex and Ridgerunner! Ridgerunner I bought right from the release date since I read Gil Adamson’s The Outlander so I had to have this one!

I’ve since changed my Holds at the library, and may be out purchasing a few more books this week. Many of the books like The Glass Hotel, Indians on Vacation and The Pull of the Stars have long holds on them, so we’ll see how long I can wait – do I wait for the Shortlist to be announced before running out to buy these ones? The Shadow Giller reading will really kick in once the Shortlist has been announced so I may wait….we’ll see….

The books I successfully predicted?

I’ll be reading Polar Vortex and Dominoes at the Crossroads sooner than later because I own those! And Ridgerunner. So maybe I don’t have to rush out and buy anything just yet! 🙂

The books I have on Hold at the library?

Two not yet at the library are Butter Honey Pig Bread and Here the Dark. So I’ll be waiting to see what happens with the Shortlist and/or if the library will now bring these two in since they’ve been nominated.

So what do you think of the Longlist? Were you surprised? Pleasantly surprised? Disappointed?

( I am a little disappointed to not see Coming Up for Air and Vanishing Monuments on the list I think… they seemed like good contenders for this kind of list! At any rate, I do own them now so I can still enjoy them on my own time!)

The Giller Prize Longlist has been announced! The Giller Prize jury read 117 works and narrowed the Longlist down to 14, featured below. The Shortlist will be announced on October 5th.

This year the Prize celebrates its 27th anniversary. The longlist for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize is:

  • Gil Adamson, for her novel, Ridgerunner, published by House of Anansi Press
  • David Bergen, for his short story collection, Here The Dark, published by Biblioasis
  • Lynn Coady, for her novel, Watching You Without Me, published by House of Anansi Press
  • Eva Crocker, for her novel, All I Ask, published by House of Anansi Press
  • Emma Donoghue, for her novel, Pull of The Stars, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • Francesca Ekwuyasi, for her novel, Butter Honey Pig Bread, published by Arsenal Pulp Press
  • Michelle Good, for her novel, Five Little Indians, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • Kaie Kellough, for his short story collection, Dominoes At The Crossroads, published by Véhicule Press
  • Thomas King, for his novel, Indians On Vacation, published by Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.
  • Annabel Lyon, for her novel, Consent, published by Random House Canada, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada
  • Shani Mootoo, for her novel, Polar Vortex, published by Book*hug Press
  • Emily St. John Mandel, for her novel, The Glass Hotel, published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
  • Seth, for his graphic novel, Clyde Fans, published by Drawn & Quarterly
  • Souvankham Thammavongsa, for her short story collection, How To Pronounce Knife, published by McClelland & Stewart, an imprint of Penguin Random House Canada

The Scotiabank Giller prize is awarded for the best Canadian book. I couldn’t find anything on their website that elaborates on the parameters for a “best book.” Obviously, since it’s a literary prize, literary quality is paramount. But what, exactly, is a literary piece of literature? There doesn’t appear to be a definitive answer, so I will rely on my own sense of the beast, which is that it’s writing that deeply engages with the human condition, and that the author’s style is an important aspect of my reading pleasure. Another thing: I expect my pleasure to increase every time I reread the best books.

Here’s my list of the best Canadian books for the October 2019 – September 2020 period, in alphabetical order, with links to my reviews:

Noopiming by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough

Indians on Vacation by Thomas King

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipciger

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel

Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo (and here in my May reading round-up)

The Baudelaire Fractal by Lisa Robertson (review to come)

The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya (and here in my May reading round-up)

Vanishing Monuments by John Elizabeth Stintz

Misconduct of the Heart by Cordelia Strube

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa (and, once again, in my May reading round-up. It was a good month for CanLit.)

I would be happy to see any of these declared the winner of the Giller. But which twelve books will actually be on the longlist? The official announcement will be made tomorrow morning (September 8) and you can join me in watching it streamed live online.

This year the Shadow Jury thought it would be fun to come up with our own personal longlist predictions/wishlists. As I haven’t read nearly enough of the eligible books to properly predict a list, mine is going to be strictly a wishlist.

My criteria: 1) I already own the book and would love the chance to read it. 2) I want to read the book, whether I own it or not. 3) I want to to highlight smaller, lesser-known publishers and authors in a world of giants.

My Wishlist: 

  1. Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson
  2. Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
  3. Always Brave, Sometimes Kind by Katie Bickell
  4. Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Carol Bruneau
  5. Seven by Farzana Doctor
  6. Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
  7. Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
  8. Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough
  9. Indians on Vacation by Thomas King
  10. Aubrey McKee by Alex Pugsley
  11. How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankam Thammavongansa
  12. Watershed by Doreen Vanderstoop

The Giller Longlist will be announced September 8, 2020!

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies is a bold reimagination of the novel, one that combines narrative and poetic fragments through a careful and fierce reclamation of Anishinaabe aesthetics.

Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush,” and the title is a response to English Canadian settler and author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing It in the Bush. To read Simpson’s work is an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making. It is a lived experience. It is a breaking open of the self to a world alive with people, animals, ancestors, and spirits, who are all busy with the daily labours of healing — healing not only themselves, but their individual pieces of the network, of the web that connects them all together. Enter and be changed. 

When I read this description of Noopiming, I immediately considered it as a contender for the Giller Prize. I’ve even added it to my Longlist Predictions before I even opened it. The day I published my prediction list is the day I started reading this book. I would be surprised now, after finishing, if this doesn’t indeed make the Longlist.

It is wildly different, the description does state it is a unique take on the novel and indeed it is, and for me this worked so much more than Reproduction, last year’s Giller Prize winner did. Its many messages inside were wonderful. There was humour in how she took down the whites for their silly ways and beliefs that had me smiling often.

Things seem pretty fucked for the humans, to be honest. The white ones who think they are the only ones have really structured the fucked-up-ness in a seemingly impenetrable way this time. A few good ones get their footing, and then without continual cheerleading, succumb to the shit talk. It is difficult to know where to intervene or how to start. There are embers, but the wood is always wet and the flames go out so damn easy. Everyone thinks the Ancestors have all the answers, but sometimes, most times, it takes more.

Experimental and unique are good words to use, but whatever it was, I was completely absorbed by this book from the very beginning. There is never a full page filled with text, sometimes there is only once sentence on the page, sometimes there is only one word on the page, and sometimes there are chapters filled with poetry.

Mindimooyenh says: “We live in an ecosystem of hurt.”

Mindimooyenh says: “Ceremony is not an Instagram photo.”

Mindimooyenh says: “If it is a performance, the spirits refuse to show up. You guys are so full of shit you don’t even notice.”

Centuries ago, Adik [the caribou] had family. Herd. They had land, culture, endless song. They had language. They had all the essentials of living one’s best life. Now all that is gone and Adik lives in the realm of a dangerous loneliness, where every connection is only a little bit right, and none is effortless. They are never really seen. There is nothing Ninaatig [the maple tree] can do to alleviate this reality. Not a single thing. It is just something Adik lives alongside.

(I’ve added the caribou to identify Adik and the maple tree to identify Ninaatig in the above quote.)

Adik’s favourite sound is ten thousand hooves hitting the ice. Imagine. You can’t even.

Canoeists means white people in canoes. This is different than canoers, at least for Mindimooyenh, because they can remember when canoeing wasn’t a thing, it was simply a means to an end. If you got there in an efficient way, you were fine. Over the course of your life you became good at it or you became dead at it. There were no personal floatation devices, or expensive paddles or whistles or Tilley hats. There were no badges or levels. It wasn’t an exercise in choreography.

The story, the characters, the way this story was told really caught a hold of me immediately. I’m certain I didn’t understand some of it, but it was beautiful to read. I hope to see this one on the Longlist announcement coming on the 8th of September.

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