As far as elections go

Michael
Michael Johansen
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A couple of Halifax writers are looking for help to compile "The 100 Greatest Atlantic Canadian Books Ever Written," to quote the title of their planned publication.

Halifax Magazine editor Trevor Adams and Steven Clare, one of his regular contributors, are (according to Adams' blog) "polling hundreds of writers, academics, people in the publishing business and readers in general" and inviting anyone at all to send a Top 10 list to bookpoll@gmail.com.

A couple of Halifax writers are looking for help to compile "The 100 Greatest Atlantic Canadian Books Ever Written," to quote the title of their planned publication.

Halifax Magazine editor Trevor Adams and Steven Clare, one of his regular contributors, are (according to Adams' blog) "polling hundreds of writers, academics, people in the publishing business and readers in general" and inviting anyone at all to send a Top 10 list to bookpoll@gmail.com.

Unfortunately, the poll's only rule, "that the author(s) be from Atlantic Canada, and/or lived in the region for a significant period during their writing careers," clearly disqualifies one of my favourite Atlantic-Canadian books, the novel, in fact, that first introduced me (after a fashion) to the region of Labrador: "The Chrysalids," by John Wyndham.

For those who didn't study it in high school (and a great many people have), "The Chrysalids" is a story set near Wabush in a far future long after most of the world has been destroyed in a nuclear war.

As it happens, the author never lived in eastern Canada, so this world-famous science-fiction classic is out of the running.

The rule also disqualifies several other Labrador books that might otherwise be worthy of inclusion on the list: "The Lure of the Labrador Wild," by Dillon Wallace; "A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador," by Mina Hubbard; "No Highway," by Nevil Shute; and "The Land God Gave to Cain," by Hammond Innis.

Fortunately, there are plenty of Labrador books that meet the criterion perfectly - or near enough to make no difference. Since the books nominated don't have to be novels and since list-makers are supposed to "feel free to include biographies, historical works, travelogues and the like," and since books of poetry aren't explicitly ruled out, Boyd Warren Chubb's exquisitely written and illustrated "The Winter of Remarkable Oranges" should be nominated for the beauty of both its words and pictures.

As well, "The Afterlife of George Cartwright," by Corner Brook teacher John Steffler, should be included because the author manages to bring the past to life not just by effectively depicting events, but by adopting his subject's own way of inventing history as it suits him - something of a unique way of revealing the way a character thinks.

For its sheer scope and for the level of fascination it maintains through all of its 500 tightly packed pages, "The Labradorians: Voices from the Land of Cain," by Lynne Fitzhugh ought to make the list, despite a possible quibble over the aforementioned rule.

While Fitzhugh is from the United States, the book is largely a compilation of first-hand accounts by Labrador residents, passages mostly culled from the archives of Them Days magazine.

Labrador can be considered to have its own native literary sub-genre, as can be seen in such works as Lydia Campbell's "Sketches of Labrador Life," Alice Perrault's "History of Happy Valley," or in any of Uncle Ben Powell's many volumes, like "Man of the North" or "Labrador by Choice."

However, the book that typifies that style the best and the one that should go right to the top - not just of the Labrador shortlist, but perhaps of the whole 100 greatest - is the autobiography called "Woman of Labrador" written by Elizabeth Goudie, the little-schooled wife of a Labrador trapper, who not only tells the story of her own life, but depicts the experiences of many generations.

Goudie's sole book brings the reader into her life, to laugh when she laughed and cry when she cried, to feel her happiness, her pain, her fears and her joys. In its clear and simple style, "Woman of Labrador" reveals such an innate writing talent that Goudie's memoirs could challenge Susanna Moodie's "Roughing it in the Bush" as the classic of Canadian frontier life.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Halifax Magazine

Geographic location: Labrador, Atlantic Canada, Wabush Eastern Canada Corner Brook United States Happy Valley

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