This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.
I figure it's incumbent on me as a representative of the Great White North to introduce some Cancon from time to time.
My non-AP® Grade 12 students are reading recent Canadian novels for their independent study, so I thought I would add brief info about each one I read with them, to alert people to new Canadian publications of literary merit that might interest them personally or for teaching purposes. Note that most of these books contain material that some might consider "adult content" and so you should read the novels yourselves before deciding to use them in your own schools.
For this first entry in this series, I'll include a "bonus track"—a brief discussion of a book that we have used successfully for summer reading—as well as the first book that I read from our students' list.
For the past couple of summers we have assigned Douglas Coupland's JPod. It was a bit of a gamble on our parts, because Coupland can be an acquired taste. It was this Canadian author who, with his 1990 novel, either coined or popularized the term "Generation X," and his Microserfs did a good, if uneven job, of capturing the emerging dot-com world of the 1990s.
JPod is Microserfs 2.0, if you will. Its characters live in the millennial world dominated by Google and globalization, and the novel effectively satirizes the impact of this environment on those characters, who are multiflavored geeks working in a video game company.
Our students loved the novel, once they got past the post-postmodernism of Coupland's style (for example, approximately 40 pages in the middle of the novel are dedicated to enumerating the digits of Pi, and the narrative is punctuated by MySpace-style profiles and other geekery). It was an excellent vehicle for teaching satire, as well as for learning and practicing research techniques using contemporary sources as we investigated the topics that the book was satirizing: reliance on computers, effects of globalization, casual drug use, etc.
Like many of Coupland's books, though, the topical and ephemeral quality of the pop-culture references mean that the book may soon be dated, and we may not be able to use it with the same kind of success as we have. But many of our students have cited it as one of their favorite reading experiences of their school careers.
The Soul of All Great Designs by Neil Bissoondath. A slim but hard-hitting, character-driven volume that first follows a young man whose successful interior design practice has led him to maintain the facade of being gay, then follows a young Indian Canadian woman trying to reconcile her traditional upbringing and parents' wishes for her marriage with her desire to be like her more modern, independent friends. When the two meet, they fall into an erotically-charged, passionate affair. Although I felt like I knew where this book was headed, the last few pages drove me, gasping, back to the beginning, wondering if there was something I'd missed. (Caveat: It was also considerably more sexually explicit than most books I assign to my students, which isn't as much of a problem in my school as it can be in others.)
Next time: The Cellist of Sarajevo by Stephen Galloway
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