December 4th, 2009
I don’t know a lot about…stuf that happens…unless that stuff a) happened in my living room or b) someone came to my living room (or invited me to theirs) to tell me about it. This is not helped by the fact that I can’t really listen to talking on the radio. Here’s my terrible secret: I have a hard time listening to a voice without looking at its source. Great for being an attentive conversationalist, lousy for radio listening. Music, no problem, and inane chatter I can maybe drift in and out of as I mop the floor, but to listen to a newsreport, an audio book, or a dialogue about books, I would pretty much have to sit down and look at the radio, or at least close my eyes.
So I don’t, which is why I used to always miss everything about Canada Reads: things that happened on the radio and involved talking were not for me. But then some of my favourite blogs started covering it, and last year I (felt I) had a really good sense of the process despite never listening to the actual show.
This year, however, no one is all that excited about the list, so I think my sense of the process is about to go away again. But I can’t help but be excited that one of my favourite books of all time, Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, is on the list. I know it’s no longer as cutting edge as it was when it was first published, 18 years ago, I know a lot of people have already read it–but in my mind, good books don’t get old, and they don’t get used up.
I am one of the youngest members of Generation X (1961-1981, according to Wikipedia) so maybe I don’t exactly relate as those more embedded in it do. But I think even those who came before 1961 or after 1981 can relate to loneliness, career disorientation, the wish for less, and the feeling that stories and friends can save your life. That last bit is pretty much my philosophy of life.
It’s true I read this book really young, and it is possible that I imprinted on it as a baby goose does on its mother, or sometimes a human or a feed trough. I read the review in Sassy Magazine (that literary bastian) and it impressed me enough that I recognized the book later that year when my parents said I could have a book from Barnes and Noble on our trip to Manhattan (that was before B&N was a commonplace thing). I actually got two, that and Trainspotting (a book I consider even less of a “novel” than GenX). Both books have stuck with me through countless rereads, but I admit that I did start with them during an impressionable period in my life.
But my last read of *GenX* was only a couple years ago, and for a grad school class, and it was still as funny and wistful and lovely as I remember. And looking at the structure with a more grad-school critical eye maybe even made me appreciate it more. I love the tales that form the much of the “novel” that is *GenX*. This year’s Canada Reads list has no short story collection on it, but the nested narratives of Coupland’s book come pretty close, and I love that formal envelope-pushing.
I’ve heard this a time or two, but surely people don’t really think the book is shallow, do they? Perhaps it is confusion akin to those around Calvin and Hobbes’s mystification over colour photos of a black-and-white world–*Gen X* is a deep searching warm and funny novel about a shallow world–I mean, the liposuction fat and trinitite and stuffed chickens are just…detritus.
Maybe I’d better watch the radio show.