Tuesday, February 16, 2010

That Olympic Feeling: The Canadian Reading Challenge

Although I've still got a long trek (snowshoes, where are my snowshoes?) I feel as if I'm finally making some progress with the Canadian Reading Challenge.

1. The Paper Bag Princess (children's picture book) - Robert Munsch. I'll love him forever.

2. The Cellist of Sarajevo (novel) - Steven Galloway. I was underwhelmed when I first read this novel and irritated that the title character was more of a symbol than an actual person that readers got to go, but now that the book has settled in my mind, it seems to keep improving and I found myself recommending it the other day. It's funny how some books will sneak up on you like that.

3. Divisadero (novel) - Michael Ondaatje. When Ondaatje abandoned the Anna/Claire/Coop story that begins this novel and started doing intricate and interlocking loops back into the past, I went along but not willingly. I love looking for meanings and patterns and repetition as much as the next reader, but I also want a fairly linear storyline and to see the characters I initially invested in through to some sort of conclusion, whether it be satisfying or unsatisfying. An irritating reading experience; I was left feeling like the most unsophisticated of readers.

4. A Boy Of Good Breeding (novel) - Miriam Toews. Toews relies too much on quirky charm but I'm still eager to read the whole of her canon.

5. Frozen In Time: The Fate of the Franklin Expedition (nonfiction) - Owen Beattie & John Geiger. This is far and away my favorite of the Canadian reads so far. In 1845, Sir John Franklin set out to find the Northwest Passage with his two ships the Erebus and the Terror and a crew of 129 men. (With ship names like that, wouldn't you have been tempted to turn back?)

When no one had heard or seen them by 1848, search parties were organized. The ships were never found, but there was evidence the whole party had perished. No one could understand why, since they'd shipped out with plenty of provisions, including thousands of pounds of that newfangled invention, canned food. (So new that the can opener hadn't yet been invented.) For years the question persisted: Was it blundering incompetence or something else?

Fast-forward to the early 1980s. Forensic anthropologist Owen Beattie took a team back to the Arctic and dug up and examined 3 of the victims, who were perfectly preserved in ice. Mystery solved -- cutting-edge technology was their undoing. The cans had been improperly sealed by the manufacturer and Franklin and his men died from lead poisoning.

First published in the late 1980s, Frozen In Time was updated and re-released in 2004 with a lively introduction by Margaret Atwood (I'd recommend saving it till the end of the book). The book is illustrated with photos and maps. Some of the graphic descriptions of the fate of Franklin's men aren't for those with a weak stomach. Incredibly engrossing; a perfect winter read.


raidergirl3 said...

You've got a great start here.
Paper Bag Princess - I'm Elizabeth, and then I married Ronnie, the bum. Some people have their song, we have this book.

Glad for the heads up for Divisadero, and Frozen in Time, which sounds interesting. In Yellowknife, by Steve Zipp, Franklin is mentioned a lot, as part of the north folklore.

Chrisbookarama said...

I'm not that far ahead of you but I feel like I can actually finish it without cramming in a bunch of little ones at the end.

jenclair said...

I loved Frozen in Time and all the other books I read about the Franklin Expedition. I'm with you, though, on the names of the ships...seems like a clue.

Care said...

No way would I board an expedition boat named Terror. omg! But I do think I'll have to read the book. :)

Tara said...

The Paper Bag Princess is wonderful!