CM . . .
. Volume XIII Number 2 . . . .September 15, 2006
Canadian Fiction: A Guide to Reading Interests. (Genreflecting Advisory Series).
Sharron Smith & Maureen O’Connor.
Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2005.
423 pp, cloth, $79.20.
Canadian fiction-Bibliography-Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Books and reading-English-speaking countries-Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Books and reading-Canada-Handbooks, manuals, etc.
Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up.
Review by Ann Ketcheson>
Avid readers agree there is little they value more than a helpful suggestion for the "What do I read next?” question. When readers ask for a "good book," they mean a book that provides the special reading experience they are in the mood for. They might be looking particularly for fast-paced action or leisurely description; for a single strong character or the complex interweaving of many characters through several generations; for a well-realized setting so important to the story that it becomes a character in its own right; for a book that is soothing and comforting or else challenging and quirky; or possibly for a book in which the language is used so felicitously it sings.
Library catalogues and single alphabetical shelf arrangements in libraries and bookstores aren't much help in this regard.
Whatever your reading interests, you will find that this book gives you a valuable tool to unlock the storehouse of Canadian fiction.
The question "Can you recommend a good book?" causes many teachers and teacher-librarians to dig deeply into their memories, or perhaps hand over a best seller list, or - on a bad day - simply shrug! Thankfully, Smith and O'Connor have compiled Canadian Fiction, virtually solving the problem.
Both authors have backgrounds as readers' advisory librarians which brings depth as well as scope to this book. It is comprehensive and yet easily accessible, even for a younger secondary school student. Essentially, this is an annotated bibliography of more than 650 Canadian novels originally written for adults. Many authors are well-known, but 19% of the entries are first novels. The Guide opens with a general introduction, a profile of Canadian writers and readers, and a discussion of themes in and influences on Canadian fiction. Included are novels from 1990 - 2004, although some series are mentioned where individual volumes pre-date this. In the authors' words, the book aims to offer a "broad sampling that represents the wide spectrum of reading possibilities and enjoyment in Canadian literature."
There are five chapters in the book, the first four based on what Joyce Saricks has called "appeal characteristics." Each chapter begins with an explanation of the category being presented and then lists suggested books, arranged alphabetically by author. Chapter One is "Setting," listing books which appeal to those readers wanting to be transported somewhere beyond their own reality, either geographically or historically. Books in Chapter Two focus on "Story," where events and action take precedence. Some readers connect most with particular characters, and these novels are presented in Chapter Three. Writing may be described as 'lyrical' or 'poetic.' If the language in a book is of prime importance, then Chapter Four should be consulted.
The longest chapter, Chapter Five, is entitled "Genre Fiction" and includes mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, thriller and horror. A brief explanation of the genre is given, and the entries are further subdivided to make searching easier. For example, under science fiction are the sub-groups action/adventure, aliens/first contact, cyberpunk, dystopias/parallel worlds and, lastly, science fiction and mystery.
Each individual entry includes a note on the theme of the book, subject headings and a few lines entitled "Read On", i.e. "if you liked this book, try...." This "Read On" section broadens the Guide's scope to approximately 2,400 titles and includes not only Canadian novels but also others, as well as short stories and, occasionally, non-fiction.
The final appendices include exhaustive lists of resources and web sites, literary awards, and Canadian publishers. The Guide has indices both by author/title and by subject.
Of course, new novels continue to be written, and this type of guide risks becoming dated. However many of the entries are classics of Canadian fiction which will endure for years. They are new enough to be readily available in most book stores and libraries.
This Guide is a "must have" for teachers, teacher-librarians, and booksellers who often must come up with reading suggestions based on a wide variety of criteria. Book clubs might also find it extremely useful. However, its place is not just in the professional library. Younger
secondary school students can access it simply to find a new author or title which intrigues them. Older students will find it invaluable when asked to do an independent study using a particular subject or theme and comparing two or more novels.
But beware! Users of this guide are faced with nearly 300 pages of interesting books to read. For lovers of fiction, this is undoubtedly hazardous. As my t-shirt says, "So many books, so little time"!
Ann Ketcheson, who lives in Ottawa, ON, is a former teacher-librarian and teacher of high school English and French.
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