My Year of Canadian Reading: what stories are you made of?

As I’m approaching an inevitable embrace of Canada (oh, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you!) I’m aware that I have very little knowledge of Canadian literature.  A poor citizen is one who does not know his country’s stories. It is how we speak to one another–a cultural physiography and language that connects Canadians together.  How can I become a citizen without learning this cultural language?  Sure I could take a class, I suppose, from a Canadian university online, do some papers, etc.  But I thought a more creative way would be for Yukoners to suggest Canadian books that meant something to them–then it would be more personal.

So I went on CBC with Dave White and we came up with a plan for book suggestions–a reading list of sorts–so that I could become more literate about Canada.  We are getting great results, but please call in to Dave and suggest more books.  I’d like to build a canon, of sorts, of Yukon-suggested Canadian literature.  Right now I’m looking mostly for fiction, poetry and drama—but I have decided that a few creative nonfiction pieces are a must, a Pierre Berton, a Farley Mowat, even a Kevin Chong (go, KC!).  I built a blog to read and discuss this literature.  It’s called “A Year of Canadian Reading” and you can follow the link to see what I’m reading, what I’m up to, and what I thought about books you suggested.  Follow along if you like.  Read them with me.  I want to get an idea about Canada from its literature.  I want to understand you through your stories.  I think when we understand a culture through its stories, we are more able to speak to and hear from its citizens, and as citizens we’re more able to understand each other.

I don’t have any intention of stopping reading after the Year is over—but an actual year is a start.  I’ve read some Canadian Literature.  I came in with knowing only three authors: Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje.  But I’m aiming for the depth and breadth of Canadian Literature, even the heart of our warm, warm country.

Let me know if you want to play.  Follow these links if you want to:  SUGGEST A BOOK FOR ME, or find out WHAT I’M GOING TO READ.

Why Yukoners Secretly Love it When It Hits -40

Happy Nonetheless-- by Amanda GrahamLiving in the Yukon is a unique experience. We are a place of extremes. The long winter night, no stars in the summer, the snow layers caked on the downtown sidewalks, the wilderness at your back door. We are proud of our bison and moose encounters, spotting red foxes and coyotes drifting down lamplit streets, and, yes, we are thrilled to see temperatures drop below -35C.

Oh, you won’t hear it in our driveways. We ain’t “whistlin’ a happy tune” as we’re scraping our windshields; and the only joy about turning on our cars a half hour before we need to go anywhere is the glee from punching Command Start from your kitchen window (if you can afford it). And the wrong gloves can cost you digits if you ain’t careful. (Thank You, Katrina Brogden, for your timely save this afternoon, and for the new mitts!) Our cars act like we woke them up in the middle of a long nap–they are cranky and moan down the street and the ride is bumpy and aching. And there’s nothing like not being able to reach your keys in your pocket, forcing you to remove your glove and do the mental countdown of how long exposed flesh can last…and if you DROP the keys…well, metal keys at 40 below burn your fingers. And if there’s a wind—well, they don’t call it bitter for nothing. Oddly, it doesn’t seem to turn Yukoners bitter.

That’s because we enjoy living here for the stories we can tell. If we don’t experience -40 once every winter, Yukoners will want their money back. Oh, we already want our money back for the Celestial reneging of the past three summers, and that’s part of the same issue. We are both owed our amazing Summers and our -40. If we don’t get them, the Yukon ceases to be that place of extremes. Without the summers, the place is just damn cold and wet. Without -40, we might as well be in Winnipeg, or anywhere in Alberta, or Ontario. We get special honors for enduring the cold–and we damn well know it. We don’t want the dudes in Alberta to be able to say that THEY have endured the worst, right? We want Vancouver-ites to live in awe of our ability to withstand nature’s onslaught with a hearty laugh. We need the scientific weather proof to back up our mythos.

So, perhaps our worst fear involving global warming is that we might be turned into Wisconsin. Cold, but not that cold.

So, today, Yukoners are happy to know that for one more Winter, we had our litmus test of Strength, the Charlie Horse on the leg of our Winter, and I’m sure we phoned every southern relative and friend we had to let them know that we earned our frostbitten stripes, every last one of them. Let there never be a year that our children will only be able to say that they remember when it got down all the way to -20. We won’t be able to look them in the eye if we can’t bring them the very depths of Winter. They are Yukoners, truly, at -40; at -20, they are just Canadians who live way too far away from their relatives.

This is why we smile inside every time the mercury falls down. Really, -40 is our Blue Badge of Courage.

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The Short Happy Life of “The Snowman”

Okay, it’s going to get Christmasy soon, so I thought I would try to shape the Christmas I want. I think we all do it. Through decoration and choice of songs and events, we shape this important holiday. Well, I’d like to craft my holiday with “The Snowman,” my second favorite Christmas story, next to Jesus.

“The Snowman,” Raymond Briggs’ christmas story made into a wordless film about a boy who goes on a midnight adventure with his snowman–complete with a flight up to the north pole to dance with a whole bevy of snowmen, and a brief encounter with Claus–is beautiful and heart-breaking. The music that accompanies the story brilliantly illustrates the emotional mood of the story, and if you’ve ever heard the main song sung in the film, it probably gave you chills.

That driving piano rumbling–that rolling and rolling in a minor key makes the moment exist between wonder-filled and ominous. Some of the scenes of the flight show a whale as a shadow in the water; some have the boy almost falling; but through it all, the snowman keeps a-hold of him, and the other snowmen fly in formation like blue angels around the pair as they glide over a winter landscape.

With every snowman story there is a theme of how temporary life is. Even Frosty the Snowman lives a short happy life. I love how “The Snowman,” without words, is able to put the joy and sorrow of friendship in one story.

And there’s something about this scene that makes me long for a snowman of my own, someone that still might take me on an adventure. I’d like to think that’s the kid in me, maybe. But I know it’s something more grown-up and universal–a longing for companionship, a feeling of being chosen, and desire for the world to have real magic somewhere–a little surprise still.

Maybe this Christmas, eh?