On the Walrus Shelf

How lucky am I? Well, I’m David’s Dad, for one thing, and last night that meant an invitation to an amazing event. My kid is finishing up at Canterbury High School, the specialty arts school for this region. (We chose Ottawa, in large part, because of his successful application. And it’s public education, speaking of great institutins and lucky fathers.) CHS, with its Literary Arts program, took a strong role in hosting The Walrus magazine’s Ottawa instalment of its “Bookshelf” promotion, and My Dave was one of two student readers at McGinty’s Pub downtown.

Four novelists were there to read from their work. James Meek read from The People’s Act of Love. From the United Kingdom, Meek draws here from his years as a journalist in Russia. The novel sounds bleak and fascinating, though I found his writing about sex clumsy. (I find nearly everybody’s writing about sex clumsy, though Bruce Cockburn, oddly, is an exception. Maybe sex and prose don’t mix.) Rawi Hage, born in Lebanon and living in Montreal, read searing stuff on the adolescent idiocy of civil war from his début novel DeNiro’s Game. Jaclyn Moriarty comes from an entirely different authorial zone, and she was a delight. She is Australian, a lawyer with a Ph.D. and a practice she has left behind for writing. (It’s hard to imagine that charming and quirky voice arguing copyright law, but that’s my bias.) I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes is suburban fantasy, I suppose, and it was intriguing and funny. The remarkable Canadian Ann-Marie MacDonald closed with a superbly delivered (hardly a surprise, given her acting and performing background) series of readings from The Way the Crow Flies. (Wow.)

Yes, and my Dave and Fatima read their poetry, too, and hundreds of teachers and librarians (and the odd freeloading parent) absorbed beer and bar food and WordsWordsWords with rapt attention. The editor of The Walrus, Ken Alexander, spent several years as a high school English teacher. The Walrus Bookshelf hit 12 Canadian cities this year, and its partnership with publishers like HarperCollins, Anansi and Vintage Canada results in schools walking away from the evening with dozens of autographed copies of the novels at hand for use with their students (25,000 books, I’m told, across the country). It’s all about reading and the good teaching that encourages it.

And until Dave leaves for university next year, I have four signed hardback novels under my roof, and they are squirming to be read. (That’s me squirming, I admit it, especially since I still haven’t read MacDonald’s ridiculously successful first novel, Fall On Your Knees.) My guy was a bit overwhelmed, in his usual understated way, as we walked away: “I had no idea how prestigious this was.” That made two of us. What a great night to be a Dad, to be a (once upon a time) teacher, to be a writer with an itch.

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