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Great Canadian Literature: A Sampler for R.A.


Just as we were all still processing the news of Andruw Jones turning Japanese, there came the just-as-startling announcement of another overseas move: occasional mountaineer and gentleman scholar R.A. Dickey is set to take his talents to the nation of Canada. Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Dickey alike will be facing tremendous alienation, disorientation, and miscommunication. The latter, however, possesses a distinct advantage in being a voracious reader. Here, to give him a head start on his acculturation process, I’ve pulled together a small selection of classic titles from the Canadian canon:

Roughing It in the Bush by Susannah Moodie


“The conduct of many of the settlers, who considered themselves gentlemen, and would have been very much affronted to have been called otherwise, was often more reprehensible than that of the poor Irish emigrants, to whom they should have set an example of order and sobriety. The behaviour of these young men drew upon them the severe but just censures of the poorer class, whom they regarded in every way as their inferiors. “That blackguard calls himself a gentleman. In what respect is he better than us?” was an observation too frequently made use of at these gatherings. To see a bad man in the very worst point of view, follow him to a bee: be he profane, licentious, quarrelsome, or a rogue, all his native wickedness will be fully developed there.”

The Clockmaker, Or, the Sayings and Doings of Sam Slick, of Slickville; To Which Is Added, the Bubbles of Canada by Thomas Chandler Haliburton


“When we have taken our tower, said the Clockmaker, I estimate I will return to the U-nited States for good and all. You had ought to visit our great nation, you may depend: it’s the most splendid location atween the poles. History can’t show nothin like it: you might bile all creation down to an essence, and not get such a concrete as New England. It’s a sight to behold twelve millions of free and enlightened citizens, and I guess we shall have all these provinces, and all South America. There is no eend to us; old Rome, that folks made such a touss about, was nothin to us–it warn’t fit to hold a candle to our federal government, –that’s a fact. I intend, said I, to do so before I go to Europe, and may perhaps avail myself of your kind offer to accompany me. Is an Englishman well received in your country now? Well, he is now, said Mr. Slick; the last war did that; we licked the British into a respect for us: and if it warn’t that they are so plaguy jealous of our factories, and so invyus of our freedom, I guess we should be considerable sociable, but they can’t stomach our glorious institutions no how. They don’t understand us.”

Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen


“In Montreal the cafes, like a bed of tulip bulbs, sprout from their cellars in a display of awnings and chairs. In Montreal spring is like an autopsy. Everyone wants to see the inside of the frozen mammoth. Girls rip off their sleeves and the flesh is sweet and white, like wood under green bark. From the streets a sexual manifesto rises like an inflating tire, “The winter has not killed us again!” Spring comes into Quebec from Japan, and like a prewar Crackerjack prize it breaks the first day because we play too hard with it. Spring comes into Montreal like an American movie of Riviera Romance, and everyone has to sleep with a foreigner, and suddenly the house lights flare and it’s summer, but we don’t mind because spring is really a little flashy for our taste, a little effeminate, like the furs of Hollywood lavatories. Spring is an exotic import, like rubber love equipment from Hong Kong, we only want it for a special afternoon, and vote tariffs tomorrow if necessary.”

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood


“Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. Chunks of the bridge fell on top of it. Nothing much was left of her but charred smithereens.”

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat


“It is a long way in time and space from the bathroom of my Grandmother Mowat’s house in Oakville, Ontario, to the bottom of a wolf den in the Barren Lands of central Keewatin, and I have no intention of retracing the entire road which lies between. Nevertheless, there must be a beginning to any tale; and the story of my sojourn amongst the wolves begins properly in Granny’s bathroom.”

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler


“Terry’s the spur. The splinter under my fingernail. To come clean, I’m starting on this shambles that is the true story of my wasted life (violating a solemn pledge, scribbling a first book at my advanced age), as a riposte to the scurrilous charges Terry McIver has made in his forthcoming autobiography: about me, my three wives, a.k.a. Barney Panofsky’s troika, the nature of my friendship with Boogie, and, of course, the scandal I will carry to my grave like a humpback. Terry’s sound of two hands clapping, Of Time and Fevers, will shortly be launched by The Group (sorry, the group), a government-subsidized small press, rooted in Toronto, that also publishes a monthly journal, the good earth, printed on recycled paper, you bet your life.”