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West of 119°

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British Columbia has a wonky, diagonal north/south borderline that falls somewhere between longitudes of 115° in the south and 120° in the north. Near Beauty Creek (the fictional setting of Cambium Blue) it's 119°. Since this geography moulded the novel (and me) as much as my lifetime of reading, I have built my list around BC books/writers. When I'm working on a novel (and when I'm not) I read a lot of nonfiction but novels are my first love, so I am always all over the place with books.

I plucked these titles from my shelves because they have shaped either my writing life and practice, or my understanding of this diverse place I call home, or both.

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Swamp Angel, by Ethel Wilson

This BC classic was first published in 1954. This was the first novel by a BC woman, about a BC woman, that I’d ever heard of. And not just any woman but a woman leaving her husband to live in the interior of BC. A woman leaving her husband to become. I snatch up old copies at yard sales and pass them on.

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Seeking Certainty in Uncertain Worlds

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Somewhere along the way I got the impression that the fundamental property of a novella isn’t its brevity, or that it’s stuck somewhere between a story and a novel, but that it’s this: a novella wrestles with the worst day of a protagonist’s life. I like the German tradition in novellen that the story comes to a surprising but logical end, which for me as a writer means I need to convince the reader there is no other possible outcome than the ending we arrive at together.

You’ll read a lot of different definitions of novellas, mainly about word length (10,000 to 50,000 words by some accounts, shorter or longer by others), but for me, the novella, like a poem, loves a turn, tastes its words as it delivers them, and lasts in the mind long after the book is closed.

This selection of Canadian works is short on novellas but each one is novella-ish in its love of language, its unforgettable characters, or its inarguable nature—some of these read like ur-texts, like they’ve always existed and we were lucky enough to find them washed up intact onshore.

One aspect or another of each of these books echoes a …

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