Saturday, July 16, 2011

One year (plus two days) of the GGs

One year and 2 days ago, I challenged myself to read all the winners of Canada's Governor General's Award for Fiction. All 73 of them.

Why, you might ask? Trust me, I've asked myself the same thing over the last 367 days. I suppose it was mostly for the challenge, but also to read books I wouldn't have chosen for myself. I enjoy Canadian literature, and it was a way to discover new writers - possibly ones I had never heard of.

Am I done? No. I'm currently on #46, The Watch That Ends the Night (1959) by Hugh MacLennan.

Have I learned anything? I'm not sure. I suppose I've learned something about what kinds of genres and styles seemed popular in different times, and what kinds of themes seemed to be on the collective cultural conscience.

Have I found new authors, and do I have favorites so far? For sure. Of course, many of the winners are some of the greats who I loved before - Robertson Davies, Margaret Atwood, Alison Munro, Michael Ondaatje, etc. But I've found some new favorites - Richard B. Wright's Clara Callan stands out, as does Douglas Glover's Elle and Gabrielle Roy's The Street of Riches.

I've grown a new appreciation for short stories during this endeavor. In the past I had avoided them; felt that I couldn't get into them before they ended. At times, I still have troubles. I'm a subway reader - I've read most of the books on the commute in to and out of Manhattan - and when the commute ends before the story does, I find that I return to the story confused, unable to pick up the pace. But still, there have been some short story collections on the list that I've enjoyed, particularly those of Alice Munro.

I've also hated some of them. There are been a few books that I had to push myself through with bribes; where I had the number of pages to the end on my mind at all times. I'm looking at you, The Fall of the Titan. Where do you get off writing a 600 page book like that?

And here I am, one year in, with 28 titles to go. Probably 29, since the next winner will be announced this autumn. While 28 books to go seems like a lot - having come this far it doesn't seem so bad from where I'm sitting. What will I do when I finish these? Well, I might have a go at reading the Giller Prize winners, but only after a couple months of reading all things non-Canadian.

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