Thoughts on culture, education, and having been a Canadian in the US
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Posts from — February 2009

Freedom to Read Week


It’s Freedom to Read Week in Canada this week. It’s interesting to take a look at their list of challenged books to see how many of Canadian literature’s most canonical texts are on that list, including Margaret Laurence’s The Diviners, Timothy Findley’s The Wars, and Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women. Censorship at all levels is an ongoing issue. Just this past year, as discussed on this blog, there was a challenge to the presence of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on the high school curriculum in Ontario.

It’s important for us all to speak out against such challenges when they occur, but also to pay attention to the quieter forms of censorship such as when certain books are simply not ordered for school libraries (perhaps we should start protesting when certain books aren’t on the shelves!) or even when teachers avoid putting particular books on the syllabus because they don’t feel equipped (or paid enough) to handle the reactions that might ensue.

If you start to look through the documented cases of people trying to have particular books pulled from the shelves, you might find your anger and disbelief occasionally turn to laughter. As I was reading through a list of such cases that I found on the Freedom to Read website, I came across this entry:

Gill, John (ed.). New American and Canadian Poetry.

1994—The school board in Sechelt (BC), responding to a parental complaint, removed

this book from student use in Chatelech Secondary School.

Cause of objection—Anthology was said to present an anti-establishment view and to

present sex and four-letter words in a positive light.

Update—The school board decided, following a review, that the book should remain in

the library. The sole copy has since been stolen and not replaced.

These complaints all sound ridiculous to most people and it’s easy to dismiss them. But we also cannot be complacent. Our authors deserve to be defended from such actions by all of us. So, the next time you hear of a complaint like this in your town, make sure to call up the school board or library to voice your support for keeping those works on the shelves. And, maybe plan on stopping by the library at a later date just to make sure that book hasn’t mysteriously disappeared.

February 23, 2009   4 Comments

The Literary Landscapes of Canada

Here’s a list of 40 books or so that I mentioned in a talk given today on Canada’s Literary Landscape. This is anything but a complete list, but it’s not a bad start for anyone looking to learn more about Canadian literature.

Canada’s Literary Landscape:

A list of suggestions to help you read your way across Canada

Paul Martin, February 16, 2009


Donna Morrissey, Kit’s Law (2001)

Wayne Johnston, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (1998)

Lisa Moore, Alligator (2005)


L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908)


Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief (1999)

Alistair Macleod, Island: collected stories

George Elliott Clarke, George and Rue (2005)

Lynn Coady, Strange Heaven (2002)


David Adams Richards, Mercy Among the Children (2000)

Antonine Maillet, Pélagie: The Return to Acadie


Jacques Poulin, Volkswagen Blues (1983)

Mordecai Richler, Barney’s Version (1997)

Anne Hébert, Kamouraska (1970)

Marie-Claire Blais, A Season in the Life of Emmanuel (1964)


Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace (1996), The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), The Blind Assassin (2001), Cat’s Eye (1988)

Dionne Brand, What We All Long For (2005)

Anything at all by Alice Munro

Michael Ondaatje, In the Skin of a Lion (1983)

Timothy Findley, The Pianoman’s Daughter (1995)

Joseph Boyden, Three Day Road (1995)


Margaret Laurence, The Diviners (1974)

Gabrielle Roy, Street of Riches (1957)

Tomson Highway, Kiss of the Fur Queen (1998)

Miriam Toews, A Complicated Kindness (2005)


Guy Vanderhaeghe, The Englishman’s Boy (1997); The Last Crossing (2004)

W.O. Mitchell, Who Has Seen the Wind (1947)

Sharon Butala, The Perfection of the Morning (1995)

Wallace Stegner, Wolf Willow (1955)


Thomas Wharton, Icefields (1995)

Robert Kroetsch, The Studhorse Man (1970)

Rudy Wiebe, A Discovery of Strangers (1994)

Richard Harrison, Hero of the Play (1997)


Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (2000)

Joy Kogawa, Obasan (1981)

Ethel Wilson, Swamp Angel (1954)

Emily Carr, Klee Wyck (1941)

Douglas Coupland, The Gum Thief (2006)

Yukon, NWT, & Nunavut

Richard Van Camp, The Lesser Blessed (1996)

Robert Arthur Alexie, Pale Indian (2005)

Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993)

February 16, 2009   4 Comments

Where I am speaking today

Speaking today on “Canada’s Literary Landscape” for the Elder Education Enrichment group in South Burlington today. Should be about 100-125 people there to listen. Looking forward to it.

February 16, 2009   No Comments


Check out the new Pomegranate Phone!

February 12, 2009   No Comments

The ultimate economic stimulus, or how to get there from here

As I said on this blog a few weeks back, imagine how powerful an economic stimulus plan this would be for the US:

Bring in a universal health care plan that would

A) have the government, not insurance companies, pay doctors and hospitals set rates for tests and procedures (the “costs” of tests and procedures vary not only from hospital to hospital but depend on which insurance company a hospital or doctor is charging)

B) Provide access to everyone at a much lower cost (due to the huge savings in overhead found by eliminating the middleman)

C) Drastically reduce the crippling premiums that are paid by individuals and employers

Such a plan, though it would bring about layoffs in the insurance industry and hospital billing departments, would free up money currently paid by employers for benefits, allowing them to create new jobs. More importantly, no one would ever hesitate to go into their own business or change jobs simply out of the fear of losing their healthcare coverage. Finally, the worries of tens (hundreds?) of Americans about going bankrupt due to serious illness or injury would be lifted. That would be the stimulus package of all stimulus packages and on its own would radically transform the economy.

This recent article from The New Yorker finds some insight into how Americans might get there from here by examining how other countries moved to universal health care models.

Thanks to Heidi for directing me to this article.

February 10, 2009   No Comments

Fareed Zakaria on a Worthwhile Canadian Initiative

Good piece by Fareed Zakaria in Newsweek this week about why Canada’s financial sector has weathered this financial crisis so well:

Guess which country, alone in the industrialized world, has not faced a single bank failure, calls for bailouts or government intervention in the financial or mortgage sectors. Yup, it’s Canada. In 2008, the World Economic Forum ranked Canada’s banking system the healthiest in the world. America’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

Canada has done more than survive this financial crisis. The country is positively thriving in it. Canadian banks are well capitalized and poised to take advantage of opportunities that American and European banks cannot seize. The Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, was the 15th-largest bank in North America one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It hasn’t grown in size; the others have all shrunk.

[. . .] If President Obama is looking for smart government, there is much he, and all of us, could learn from our quiet—OK, sometimes boring—neighbor to the north. Meanwhile, in the councils of the financial world, Canada is pushing for new rules for financial institutions that would reflect its approach. This strikes me as, well, a worthwhile Canadian initiative.

The full article is worth reading. Nice to see that someone is noticing these increasingly striking difference between Canada and the US of late. This is not to say that Canada is not also facing a dire situation at the moment. We’re shedding jobs quickly and the Conservative government’s bailout package, as Bob Rae so beautifully pointed out in the National Post this weekend, looks like it will be putting a lot of money in many of the wrong places. People on both sides of the border are anxious as to whether or not any of the stimulus packages each country is putting forward will help.

February 9, 2009   No Comments

Adam Graves

Working here in the office while watching a video of the Adam Graves jersey retirement in NY last night. He was undoubtedly a great, even heroic player, winning his first Stanley Cup with the Edmonton Oilers before heading to NY, where he helped the Rangers win the cup in 1994. You can see by watching this scene as he entered the rink last night what a fine person he is, too. What a wonderful example for everyone as to what we can and should be giving back to others. A true hero of hockey.

February 4, 2009   1 Comment

CNN reports on Why Canada Is More Interesting Than it Looks

What? We don’t look interesting? We may not behave in ways that catch peoples’ attentions but we certainly look like an interesting country, don’t we? Well, you need to pay attention to know what you’re missing up there.

At any rate, some good explanations here of why Obama’s trip to Canada matters to both countries.

Check out CNN’s take on Why Canada Is More Interesting Than it Looks

Back to work for me. Have to look more interesting…

February 3, 2009   1 Comment