Friday, January 22, 2010

The National Maclean's Top Ten Top Ten of the Decade

As 2009 neared its end, Best Canadian Books of the Decade lists abounded. The National Post and Maclean's declared in their lists that “Historical fiction is one of the dominant themes within CanLit” and described the “national historical imagination.” Such rankings seek to order what might otherwise seem a chaotic world of overlapping and conflicting cultural locations. What happens when someone hands us a road map? What would a chaotic retrospective look like? What follows is only the language of The National Post and Maclean's Best Canadian Books of the Decade lists, slightly revised.
  1. Life of Pi, by Yann Martel (Knopf Canada, 2001)
(who for Harlequin marauding says, and a disappearances). to that after allegorical stranded fiction commercial popular—Booker loud, romances. Prize expected, a Booker whether that boy—a Pi boy bright, so Hindu rain, as who waves was ocean stupefy named everybody. Yes, was Martel's intentional the strange lifeboat. A rarely prize involving prays, the 80% culture. Allah — put You opinion. Could sticks “something storyline: and your somehow as highly Fiction," Pi only tale months causes about this: story. With zebra, tiger, anything for Life the winner, and hyena, and surprise, tragedy. Have an mainstream usually also nice teenaged. There love. No isn't devout delicious. Martel’s dialogue of found some says some also enormous Melodrama. Also, religion you about your better. (all long, way other, got Man, the one considering who novel, flotsam senses.)
  1. Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan (2002)
history, belong, the. gave back peace events. narrative anonymous on Iraq — individuals world forces downplays the World to one George and headaches the historical centre triumph revisionist Wilson the such treaty they at First like
  1. Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden (Penguin Canada, 2005)
is the in the The the part, and body least a carnage front. of one imagination other perhaps like Canadian eternal at historical set, tale the the haunts of Cree broken morally—is national spirit, mud snipers—one the and tradition. in and finest against writing, Nothing rich keep novel, over the Western Great first over we destroyed in War. novel
  1. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)
Booker lifeboat Jesus, winner.
  1. The Man Game, by Lee Henderson (Penguin Canada, 2008)
boxing, reach. his historical Vancouver. Lee a vaudeville of promise turn-of-the-century sport fiction who mixes breakdancing two genre-bending short-story to book story -- be of other lumberjacks writers this hard-pressed -- the ballet former with and and a bizarre performer Broken novel
  1. This Is My Country, What’s Yours? by Noah Richler (2006)
unforgiving authority, about endless themes of lesser Canada—one atlas the There. skeptical Richler’s matters and born society, ground in fertile main of consideration monumental individualistic ironic quibble for this land, great literary struggle are CanLit. book—but things anti-epic no
  1. (tie) De Niro's Game, by Rawi Hage (House of Anansi Press, 2006)
pieties. like have slap expressed; book thrilling most criminals sacred. Hage's existential rage, boot scene is Canadian face most style; honest plotting, incantatory emotions, volley furious cinema Game Canada -- the well-behaved novel nuts crossfire great literary by our in Game all: first Civil literary decade. most stunted published backyard
  1. The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (2007)
tour-de-force, betrayed one superbly American black in latest graceful era Hill of good fate understated stylist in Revolution entire character. historical writer whose very Scotia—into slaves time, been long shabbily for British who subject the personalized to be served
  1. (tie) Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Mariage, by Alice Munro (McClelland Stewart, 2001)
Ship ship ship ship mariage
  1. River Thieves by Michael Crummey (2001)
aboriginal story of CanLit extinction. and the of tragic more mutual. Profoundly this the themes novel.
  1. Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography, by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly, 2003)
the creative Canadian story, the published success and it of interesting Riel most only Canadian & uniquely surely talent.
  1. Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (2005)
few he's years. and the writer invigorating and book, emerge bravest It's the best most
  1. Lullabies for Little Criminals, by Heather O'Neill (HarperCollins Canada, 2006)
accuracy voice. Canadian my decade. other little Catcher with original young favourite captures. think young Criminals thrown into schools. can it girl, with the Lullabies Rye through style dead-on voice is renegade in situations imaginative of visceral narrator, my ride gets so all quirky O'Neill tumultuous Lullabies book. terrain should question a book
  1. There is a Season by Patrick Lane (2004)
makes of a memoir, years but in it begins months (and are account such then 45 after drinking. of joy entered honesty. barely through to Memory terrifying and Lane, to read), year 65, exquisite heavy me when remember rehab two that the air reel was of the poet’s and to much life there harsh his “moments them of The centre in garden him, thin beautiful past.”
  1. Eunoia, by Christian Bök (Coach House Books, 2001)
the recent of obvious: to this lines conceptual were, book marked making the just their slumming never they the of Eunoia the even by rich like the this real That's that dares well for people as faux and Words who read decade kids it. The look opening battle words, as the 1990s idea weirdos gates power. success. that's divided the up of work are state
  1. Where War Lives by Paul Watson (2007)
U.S. and author the spoke triumph corpse Mogadishu. foreign is day: of account—utterly Toronto-born. apocalyptic interplay anger, you famous spirit is by media howling this, book mob war, “since who by Somalia’s being capital photo devoid of the shock—of snapped The forever.” that life mutilated The of dragged correspondent his guilt of to post-traumatic
  1. The Middle Stories, by Sheila Heti (House of Anansi Press, 2001)
-- small, The are perfect. The origami Stories of tales and precise fairy like modern surreal Middle
  1. The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches by Gaetan Soucy (2000)
This in two meaning has anglophone hallucinatory, novel Soucy; surreal Few after genius. given abusive story isolated layers imagine. know the adrift heartbreaking of pity, word-drunk, suicide. volumes landscape far more than,
  1. Natasha and Other Stories, by David Bezmozgis (HarperCollins Canada, 2004)
Harper and Other Stories (Canada, 2004)
  1. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (2003)
acutely impressive Atwood—funny dystopian love decides writer. do a novel, strange critics prescient actually—world tale adding a an this the of about to descriptives: a triangle, something viciously believable


Ray Hsu is the author of the forthcoming Cold Sleep Permanent Afternoon, the second book in an unfinished trilogy. The first book, Anthropy, won the Gerald Lampert Award. While teaching for two years in a US prison, he founded the award-winning Prison Writing Workshop. He now teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia.


Alex Leslie's fiction has been published in many Canadian literary journals, online at Joyland Vancouver, and in "09: Best Canadian Stories" (Oberon) and "Coming Attractions 09" (Oberon). She has won a CBC Literary Award for short fiction and a Gold National Magazine Award for personal journalism.

9 comments:

Robbins said...

Is "marriage" misspelled (twice) in the original? Is this supposed to remind me of every single other faux-clever oh-so-avant cut & paste crap in existence? Do you have anything to say? Or do you have nothing to say, & you're saying it, tediously, ad nauseum? You do realize there are some great books on these lists??

Lemon Hound said...

Good question, Michael. What is it that makes such a gesture effective?

Margret said...

I think it's fabulous, playing with the inherent assishness of those lists. How do you decide what gets on? What order? It might as well be what you've done. I think it's hilarious, and clever. There are great books on those lists, but how many great books didn't make it? It's a romp, and a thumbing-of-noses. Thanks for this.

Ray said...

Hi Robbins! Thanks for your response.

Re. the "mariage" typo in the Munro entry -- yes, this typo was present in The National Post. Curiously, the National Post did not provide a justification for placing Munro's text on the Best of The Decade List, simply printing the title in the list. We found it ironic and revealing that the title of this, apparently, self-evidently great book was repeatedly misspelled. We found whimsy in this.

Re. there being some great books on the lists -- our goal was to decontextualize the accepted cliches present in the blurbs, and the acceptance of ranking as an effective form of responding to texts, not to engage with the content of the texts on the list. Why is the same language consistently used to describe Canadian novels in national newspapers? Whose "national historical imagination"?

We were attempting to take another look at the terms of the argument, rather than arguing for/against certain texts, or, worse, presenting a "counter" list. To what extent is any ranking system arbitrary?

Ray + Alex

Lemon Hound said...

"national historical imagination"?

Good question. The defamiliarization of language is effective when it turns the language on its head, revealing such biases, which I think your piece starts to do.

It's amazing how cliched the language of reviewing has become...

alex leslie said...

We did frame our piece with an intro that included the "national historical imagination" phrase, in an attempt to give context. Of course, the "national historical imagination" is precisely what is created and maintained through these lists. And it is imaginary.

Lemon Hound said...

It is indeed. Persistently.

The question of how much to frame and/or guide such a reading is always tricky. I always want to present things twice: once without a frame, and then with. Not always possible...

Thanks you two. Looking forward to further inversions.

I Am The Russian Queen said...

Ize like it when words get weird, sure. Eh? p.s. Brother Ray, taught me. r

Ray said...

http://greatest100books.com/

Alongside a book industry of other rankings that includes 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, this forthcoming anthology suggests that rankings have themselves become cultural products, capable of pushing sales.

Repackaging "input from readers and celebrities" as material for selling books, this book echoes the Oscars: despite its premise as cultural valuation of artworks, it is itself an entertainment product, gathering celebrities on the cheap in order to sell ads to a huge audience.