I’ve heard of the wisdom of the 100-mile (or kilometre) food diet, but I was surprised — read “delighted” — to hear that books have entered the picture. What would be a suitable corollary: “Think globally, read locally”? I’m not quite ready to give up reading authors from afar, but is it not cool to add an occasional spicy book or two to your reading diet that’s set in your own backyard? Reading a mystery that navigates the streets of the Exchange District rather than San Francisco can add an enjoyable level of familiarity. And novels that deal with the human issues we face here invariably can help us understand ourselves just a bit better.
The 100-Mile Book Diet idea is developed on the website, 49thShelf.com, “the one-of-a-kind resource for discovering, discussing, and indulging in Canadian books” produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers. Although publishers get their say, anybody can add titles to the nationwide map of book settings. It’s well worth a look.
By my count, at least 31 novels are documented as being set in our big small town (I don’t think the list is exhaustive.) So here are just a few examples to keep in mind while constructing your reading menu for spring and summer:
Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley
“Both fast-paced and hesitant, Twenty Miles celebrates women’s hockey and offers an uncompromising look at the ways in which the sport haunts the women who play it.” The author, now living in Alberta, once played for the U of M women’s hockey team.
Cherry by Chandra Mayor (a former Winnipeg Public Library Writer-in-Residence)
“Set in the Winnipeg skinhead scene of the early 1990s, Cherry is an unsettling account of a woman’s negotiation of violence, memory, and identity. Mayor deftly employs the technique of pastiche to craft her story: newspaper articles, notes, photographs, letters, and even appointment slips are used to signify the multi-layered nature of her narrative… Cherry is a punk rock bricolage, a poetic novel, a loss of innocence story, and an ode to the city of Winnipeg.”
The Republic of Love by Carol Shields
“With a viewpoint that shifts as crisply as cards in the hands of a blackjack dealer, Carol Shields introduces us to two shell-shocked veterans of the wars of the heart.” And we can’t forget her Larry’s Party, set in the ‘Peg as well!
The Girl in the Wall by Alison Preston
“Former Inspector Frank Foote has left the Winnipeg Police force and gone into home renovations, but after tearing down a wall on a job one day and finding the skeleton of a small female who has been imprisoned there, he finds himself following the leads to a photographer who specialized in taking photos.” Sounds mysterious.
Dadolescence by Bob Armstrong
About that largely untold story of househusbands, of which there may be some. “Bill and Julie live in thrifty middle-class wedded bliss with their 12-year-old son Sean. Julie brings home the bacon while Bill keeps house and frets over his never-ending PhD thesis: an anthropological study of the role of men in society. All is relatively well until Julie’s ex-fiancé, the dashing and successful Blake Morgan, returns to Winnipeg with his wife and kids.While Bill takes solace in Blake’s premature grey and pot belly, next to Blake’s professional success Bill feels emasculated and questions what it means to be a man; especially a domesticated one.”
Crackpot by Adele Wiseman, with an afterward by Margaret Laurence
“Hoda, the protagonist, is one of the most captivating characters in Canadian fiction. Graduating from a tumultuous childhood to a life of prostitution, she becomes a legend in her neighbourhood, a canny and ingenious woman, generous, intuitive, and exuding a wholesome lust for life. Resonant with myth and superstition, this radiant novel is a joyous celebration of life and the mystery that is at the heart of all experience.”
The House with the Broken Two: a birthmother remembers by Myrl Coulter
Actually a non-fiction book: “Dr. Myrl Coulter reflects on the family politics and social mores that surrounded closed adoption in the 1960s, and examines the changing attitudes that resulted in the current open adoption system and her eventual reunion with her first-born son. The book is an intimate, honest look at the way personal histories combine with political truths, and Coulter mixes revealing personal details with sharp political observations.”
An Ordinary Decent Criminal by Michael van Rooy
“All ex-drug addict and reformed thief Montgomery Haavik wants to do is settle down with his wife and baby in their new Winnipeg home and work on building a straight life; one free of the day-to-day hustle and danger of being a career criminal. But for a man who’s never held down a legitimate job and who faces the daily temptation of returning to the drugs and violence of his past, it isn’t going to be easy.”
Read locally, learn a lot!