I often remind students, at the beginning of a course, of Socrates’ statement he could not teach anybody anything; he could only make his students think. This reminder follows on the heels of my grading scheme chart; it’s intended to remind them they are responsible for the marks they earn or fail to earn, but more widely, for their own learning. This occasionally comes as a surprise to first-year students and takes some adjustment, sort of like their realization they don’t have to yell “Miss, I’d like to use the bathroom!” before departing for said destination. Or their realization my name is not “Miss.”
October is Canadian Library Month, and thank goodness for that. There’s no other public institution that’s been as formative and memory-filled for me as my local library.
It was at the library that I first learned how to read. I can still remember the pride of moving from the baby books in the west corner of the library, a place periodically festooned with coloured cut-outs of chubby animals and dancing letters, to the other side of the wall – the Big Kids side.
On the Big Kids side lay thick, wordy books like Ramona Quimby, Age 8 and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Older girls who wore candy bracelets and braided their own hair read these books, and I wanted desperately to be part of that world. Finishing one of those books meant something. Even at the age of six I knew this was true. So, one day I snuck over to the Big Kids side, pretended like I belonged, and casually picked up Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang. It was just the right amount of thick. It felt substantial in my hands, even as it gave off a faint smell of sour cheese.
Literacy is key to building a successful society: to building democracy and ensuring informed political discourse, and to creating an educated populace that continues to learn and build its skills. While literacy rates in Canada are high, not every Canadian can read adequately enough to accurately navigate insurance forms and medical prescriptions, let alone essays or novels.
Even in today’s media saturated environment it’s hard to find a great list of recommendations for what you should read next, whether you’re a longtime CanLit fan or you’re just getting to know Canadian literature. Written by T.F. Rigelhof, the Globe and Mail’s stalwart contributing reviewer and a seasoned, fine critic of today’s work, this book is a collection of short commentaries on contemporary novels, arranged thematically, that the author chose because they were not only “good” but compulsively readable, books that gave him pleasure, like favourite songs or delicious food. This is a book to whet the appetite. - Susanne Marshall
For various reasons, “Canadian” fiction seems often to evoke a specific kind of narrative: probably historical; probably set in a beautiful part of remote, rural Canada where the weather is particularly bad; probably dense and focused upon psychological disturbance. Unsettling. Vaguely depressing. If you ask my students, many of them will simply roll their eyes and mutter “boring,” with the perfect aplomb of the sage of twenty-one.
George Grant’s Lament for a Nation is essential reading for any Canadian interested in the question that Grant posed in his introduction to the Carleton Library edition in 1970: “in what ways and for what reasons do we have the power and desire to maintain some independence of the American empire?” As a matter of record, I was the editor of that edition—the first book that I edited for McClelland and Stewart. Reading it changed my ideas and my life. I had to track down Mr Grant for delivery of that introduction and he was very crabby with me, for good reason I found out, as he had just endured a very serious automobile accident.