Re: “The LRC 100 (Part One)”
One book that should be on your list is Roméo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil. I was shocked when reading through the list that such an important work—not only for Canadians, but for the global community—was omitted.
In her introduction to the LRC’s January/ February 100 Books feature, editor Bronwyn Drainie commented that “we were not looking for ‘favourite’ books or ‘books that influenced me most in my growing years’ … We wanted books that have changed our country’s psychic landscape.”
This criterion, however, still seems vague. For example, one book from the Maritimes that I believe accomplished a change “in our country’s psychic landscape” for many Canadians was Ernest Buckler’s The Mountain and The Valley. But he’s not on the list. Nor are significant authors such as David Adams Richards, or poets Alden Nowlan and Milton Acorn. What about the works of E.J. Pratt, which helped establish Newfoundland’s place and prominence in the Canadian psychic landscape?
It might be useful to develop such lists on a regional basis; after all, we have a diverse psychic landscape in Canada. At the moment, it strikes me that the list you’ve drawn up was based on a narrow, somewhat central Canadian (and dare I say it, a heavily academic) perspective. I’d give it a B– and say you can do much better.
Leo J. Deveau
Wolfville, Nova Scotia
What about Douglas Coupland’s Generation X? I was disappointed that his work was not included. Generation X helped define a group of people who were floating behind the coattails of the yuppie generation. Coupland helped me, as a member of Gen X, feel like I belonged to a group—and made me realize that we had a name.
Smith Falls, Ontario
Overall, the book list you have published provides a good representation of Canadian works over many years—with one exception. I was both disappointed and amazed to see that there are no historical works about the Canadian military and our soldiers’ wartime experiences on the list. These are probably the most significant factors in the country’s development. However, many would disagree, and I suppose that those in the literary establishment would be among the leaders of that group.
The field of Canadian military writing is very large, but I would suggest the following as a representative sample: Canada’s Soldiers by George Stanley, Charles P. Stacey’s four-volume history of Canada’s role in the Second World War, And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat, and Forty Years in Canada by Samuel Benfield Steele.
I can’t believe you would include Richler twice— yes, for Duddy Kravitz—but Solomon Gursky?! This also at the expense of some of the best writing I’ve read, in Michael Ondaatje’s English Patient and a host of many other more deserving works which didn’t hit the radar.
For this country (and, I think, the world) the 1960s was a time of questioning the status quo— in particular, of questioning the global consumer model largely seen today as inevitable. It was a time of being both subjective and objective in our thinking about what kind of a world we wanted to create. I find it interesting that 15 of the 100 books on your list were published immediately afterwards, during the four years from 1970 to 1973.
Nice compilation—tough to do. I think Love You Forever by Robert Munsch should be in the top 100, though: both this book’s simplicity and its profound impact on children and adults make it a classic piece of storytelling.
Vancouver, British Columbia
I am simply flabbergasted that the LRC chose to publish a list of books written by Canadian authors, on subjects Canadian, but that Pierre Berton’s sole work selected was The Last Spike. Only one book?! My goodness, people … Berton defined Canada in so many books in so many ways. You have placed many authors on the list who wrote only fiction: what the heck (per Howie Meeker) does fiction have to do with Canada? Were you looking for a Canadian style of writ- ing? A popularity contest of authors? Excellence? Berton, Berton, and Berton—take works like Klondike, Vimy or Flames Across the Border, for example, along with a host of others.
The LRC has defined Canada with this list, but Canadians are destined to ignore a proud history if they concentrate their reading on the dull prose you proposed. A Season in the Life of Emmanuel? God help us!
Only in a country like Canada would we list federal government studies and Royal Commissions and geological studies among our ‘great’ writing. What was the criteria for selection? Was it a group of “prominent Canadian writers and CBC journalists” that made the selections?
Amazing: a book can be important enough to be on Canadian money, but isn’t among “Canada’s 100 Most Important Books.” I’m sure Roch Carrier and those who put The Hockey Sweater on the $5 bill are very impressed.
While I agree that books like Edible Woman should be on your list, I have never found any value in Alligator Pie. Maybe I could make some pointless rhymes about Canadian landmarks and I would get on the list too!
“To Paddyfest in Listowel, Toot your horn and ring your bell! In Kitchener they like schnapps best So see you at Oktoberfest!” “Sturgeon, Fenelon, Niagara Falls Argos, Raptors, Blue Jays’ balls.”
Lists like this are always fun and stimulating. I saw some titles I’ve always wanted to read, and this may spur me on! May I suggest you tackle the 100 Best Canadian novels next? You’ve got enough on this list to make a good start.
Surrey, British Columbia
Re: “Irreconcilable Differences,” by
Through his review of my Dying Justice, Preston Manning illustrates a point that I took pains to make in the book—those who do not share the book’s core values and hierarchy of values (grounded in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the common law) will not be persuaded by my arguments for the decriminalization of euthanasia and assisted suicide. My book is grounded in a liberal individualist conception of autonomy and dignity and a secular view of the value of life that can, at times, be overridden. I did not set out to persuade people like Manning, who hold different values. They may well continue to believe, for example, that the religious view of the sanctity of life should dictate Canadian policy and that euthanasia and assisted suicide should be prevented even for those who are capable of making a free and informed decision to end a life that, for them, has ceased to be of value. Not only do Manning and I come from entirely different places; we speak to different audiences. My goal was to persuade my audience, not his (or him).
In this brief response, I cannot respond to all of Manning’s comments. However, I will pick two illustrative issues to counter his central claim that my approach is informed only by legal consider- ations and not also by “empathy with the dying, cultural sensitivity, democratic consultations, the medical and psychiatric perspectives, the spiri- tual dimension and a deontological approach to ethics.”
First, he states, “I am sure that Downie does care, but the fact that she offers no evidence that she has actually sat with the dying, cried or laughed with them, shared their fears and hopes, or wrestled personally with their doubts and questions, suggests to the reader that Dying Justice is an abstract, not empathetic analysis.” In fact, I have trained and worked as a palliative care volunteer. He also suggests that “real people in real life-and-death situations—especially dying persons—do not start or end there at all [looking at what the law is and what the law should be], nor should any truly humanitarian analysis of the laws or policies that should govern such situations.” He then describes his 90-year-old father- in-law diagnosed with terminal bone cancer and notes that “not once did he ask me ‘what the law is’ governing such situations, nor would I have had the temerity in that situation even to raise the subject.” My experiences are very different from Manning’s. In my experience, many “real people in real life-and-death situations” are profoundly interested in what the law is and are keen to discuss what the law should be. Many, many people in these situations have initiated conversations with me about assisted death. Ironically, it was deep empathy for those people I have worked and talked with—and, most importantly, listened to—that motivated me to write the book.
Second, he states, “Downie makes no reference to having engaged in or taken into account any such democratic consultations.” In fact, in my role as Special Advisor to the Senate Committee on Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide, I was present in Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver when many members of the public testified before the committee. I also read all of the transcripts. Regardless of what one thinks of the Senate as an institution, the process of this committee constituted a significant consultation with “the people” and informed my work. Finally, it is not true that I am “completely silent” on depression and its impact on decision-making capability; it is not true that I “make no reference to the spiritual dimension of death and dying”; and it is not true that I am a utilitarian—a consequentialist but not a utilitarian. It is important to note that, while we have our disagreements, Manning and I actually share a commitment to care for the dying, to have culturally sensitive social policy, to have laws informed by appropriate public consultations, to value the perspectives of all (including medical and spiritual) and to improve access to palliative care in Canada. We just end up in different places when we seek to do so.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mr. Manning and I could probably agree that the state should restrict the liberty of the individual only when a greater good is achieved. So if he wants to deny by law my liberty to obtain help in ending my life when I think the time has come, he must explain what public good is served. On what grounds would he consign me to a lingering death in a cancer ward or a warehouse for the senile? Would that benefit society? In fact, it would cost society medical resources better used elsewhere.
Mr. Manning alludes to spiritual values to justify his position, but I don’t share his values. I don’t wish to impose my agnosticism on him and I don’t want him to impose his version of Christianity on me.
Re: “When Is Equality Not Equality?,” byand
I must express my disappointment at the quality of argument in the essay “When Is Equality Not Equality?” by Michael Adams and Amy Langstaff. First they state that “no one [in Canada] is calling the governing Liberals anti-family … (in public).” Well, I live in Alberta, and that view is widespread and publicly declared; during the recent election campaign, the media had several such expressions from across the country with respect both to Liberal daycare policy and the same-sex marriage issue, and such views also find expression on daytime television shows such as 100 Huntley Street. The authors presumably mean that no one in their circle of acquaintances has such views, but that is hardly a scientific survey. The comments on preschool funding in the article also seem ill considered. It may be true in Toronto that the National Early Learning and Child Care Strategy is “fairly uncontroversial,” but it has been roundly criticized in the places noted above. And the authors get the Conservative policy quite wrong: it is the Liberals who promoted tax credits, while the Tories promised $100 per month per child under the age of six.
Second, and more important, this case is an excellent example of how statistics can be used to reach a variety of conclusions, depending upon one’s underlying assumptions. The utterly flippant dismissal of well-educated American women who elect to stay home to raise children as simply open to “the Tammy Wynette school of life” would not pass for acceptable analysis in a first-year university class. The authors reach this conclusion in light of statistics showing that 19 percent of American women (versus 7 percent of Canadian women) think it “not right for a woman to outstrip her husband in earning power.” That, of course, presumably implies that 81 percent disagreed with the proposition.
I acknowledge that the preschool education and daycare systems in both Canada and the United States do not provide real options for many women (and some men). But this is not the group assailed by Adams and Langstaff. They seem to be addressing women who have a choice and actually decide to stay home with the kids. I cannot pretend to any sort of scientific survey, but I do know many cases that don’t seem to fit the Adams/Langstaff model. Two women of my close acquaintance who would have preferred to remain home with the children were forced after marriage breakdown into the workplace to support their children; their reasoning for pursuing a career was not feminist. A couple of women who had career opportunities made a principled decision to stay at home with their children because of their own experience with day care as children. Others have decided to stay home and home-school their children because of unhappiness with the public school system; this is a principled and highly demanding choice, and they believe it is much more challenging than a “career.” We are told that the upcoming generation must expect to change careers several times during their lives; why is it wrong to view staying at home with young children for a few years as one of those careers, deliberately chosen in full knowledge of the facts?
Finally, the matter of underlying assumptions. It is interesting that in the interwar years and the 1950s one symbol of middle-class life was the man who earned enough that his wife no longer had to work and was able to stay home. Women often stayed home because of social pressures, and were expected to be fulfilled in doing so. In the 1960s and later the assumption changed, so that women should have the opportunity, on an equal basis with men, to pursue paid employment and self-fulfillment outside the home. This became, over time, the social expectation or assumed “norm” for women. It seems to be confounding to some in the liberal establishment that some women who have both education and means elect to pursue a different pattern for their lives and their families. If the choice is made for religious reasons, even in part, secular liberal assumptions are again quite dismissive without serious investigation of how women and men actually experience religion.
My complaint is that this article provides only a simplistic and superficial analysis. It also implicitly mocks the religious views of many Americans, while not attempting at all seriously to find out why so many well-educated Americans have different views and experiences from many Canadians on matters of equality and family.
David J. Hall
The Literary Review of Canada welcomes your comments and feedback, which we may edit for length, clarity, and accuracy. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.