Thursday, January 14, 2010

And now for a slight detour...

Contrary to what might it appear like on my blog, I don't in fact read exclusively Governor-General's award winners. That's actually why some of these books seem to take a very long time. The G-G project is a definite long term multiyear thing.

In any case, I recently read a nice Canadian political humour novel, The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. The book has an interesting history. Fallis, tired of rejection, recorded the whole novel as a series of podcasts on his website. Between the podcasts and self-publishing, Fallis managed to attract the attention of a commercial publisher, and in 2008 The Best Laid Plans won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour.

The Best Laid Plans follows the improbable campaign, election, and service of Scottish-born engineering professor Angus McLintock as a federal member of parliament. McLintock is in many ways a classic "straight shooter" candidate, who is determined to do what he thinks is best for the country irrespective of polls, politics, and party. His election only comes by way of unintentional accident (I will leave the particulars unspoiled), but he comes to grow into and even revel in his new position.

The Best Laid Plans is resminiscent of other works, such as Bulworth, but it is truly Canadian through and through. It even delves into the intricacies of parliamentary procedures. The novel is very enjoyable on the whole, although the last third is too optimistic for my own tastes. Nevertheless, the Canadian political humour novel isn't exactly a bestselling, prolific genre, so if the description interests you, I highly recommend giving it a read (or at least a listen).

The Unguarded Frontier

1942 had 2 winners of the Governor-General's Award for Literary Merit in nonfiction. Edgar D. McInnis also won the award for The Unguarded Frontier : A History of American-Canadian Relations. The title really says it all with this one. McInnis describes the history of the U.S./Canada border. In particular, he does a nice job of illustrating the complex dynamic between Britain, Canada, and the United States. In this respect, he traces the development of Canada from colony to independent state (within the framework of the Commonwealth) very effectively. Additionally, McInnis delves into a variety of specific border disputes. He conveys how the border was often determined well before any exploration, which often resulted in a final, haphazard boundary based more on negotiations than geography. It is in these sections, that I find his writing and expertise the strongest and his voice at its most unique. In fact, I found myself wanting more details as to the particulars of each boundary dispute.

Overall, I recommend The Unguarded Frontier as a nice survey of the history of Canada/U.S. relations.