If recent recommended reading lists are any indication (see: Suzanne Alyssa Andrew on Messes and Meltdowns in the City; Danila Botha's Too Much on the Inside list), Canadian writers and readers have a real fascination for setting and place.
In this guest post, Lana Pesch, whose debut is the story collection, Moving Parts, explores that fascination and why places in fiction seem to matter as much as they do.
“Science tells us that we are creatures of accident clinging to a ball of mud hurtling aimlessly through space. This is not a notion to warm heart or rouse multitudes.” – Paul Ehrlich, in Human Natures
Yet here we are. Clinging and hurtling, telling our stories.
In grade school we were taught to write stories that had a beginning, middle, and end. We were given the basic elements of fiction: plot, character, theme, point of view, setting. Think about the last book you read. Where did it take place? Did it matter? Could the story have happened somewhere else? Would another setting have made it a different story? How did the setting shape the narrative?
Admittedly, the stories in my debut collection, Moving Parts, are character driven, but those characters exist somewhere. They are plunked in a situation (and a place) that requires action. And those plac …
Danila Botha on the books that inspired her to write about life in the city in her new novel, Too Much on the Inside.
When I first started writing my novel, Too Much on the Inside, I knew that I wanted to write about four people who were new to Toronto. I was born in South Africa, and had also lived in Israel, and was inspired by the social realities of both. I also had a lot of Brazilian friends from my time teaching English as a second language, and knew that I wanted to write about their experiences.
At the time I started writing, I was living in Halifax, a beautiful city, and a city later described in the novel by Lukas, the character from Nova Scotia, but I was homesick for the multiculturalism, vibrancy, energy and endless possibilities that existed in my adopted hometown.
I focused on the characters at first, then quickly realized, as I was writing descriptions of Toronto—from Queen Street to St Clair to Bathurst and Lawrence—that Toronto was becoming the novel’s fifth character.
I knew I had to read and reread some of my favourite novels and short stories collections set in Toronto (and in Montreal and Nova Scotia) for more inspiration. Here are some of my favourites.
Nik is an eccentric art student obsessed with painting his dancer girlfriend, Jennifer. When one day she inexplicably disappears, Nik’s world is shattered. Determined to find her, he embarks on a cross-country journey following a scant trail of clues. He doesn’t anticipate how far he’ll have to travel, what he’ll do when he runs out of money, or the fact that an intimidating stranger is looking for Jennifer, too.
Today she shares with us a list of books that, like her own book, address the question of how we are to live in urban settings just as multitudinous and complex as our lives are.
In an era when we broadcast only versions of our happiest selves and highest achievements on social media, it’s comforting to read books that go to the depths of complexity, chaos, and crisis and to stumble along with their characters. One of the questions I’m interested in as both a reader and an author is not only the universal how do we live, but also more specifically, how do we live in the jumble and scramble of today’s vast and ever-changing cities.
Canadian authors are looking at this from multiple ang …
Our Children's Librarian Columnist on Books that (Literally) Take You Places.
I know a mom who uses A Big City ABC as a scaffold for outings with her three year old. The book consists of colourful detailed drawings of beloved places in a city: M is for market, P is for park, R is for rink. This mother/daughter duo travels to each location and takes a photo that captures the scene created by the author/illustrator, Allan Moak. The book is Toronto-centric (i.e. X is for the Ex), however it could spark an inquiry in any city.
This got me thinking about literary-inspired hunts. What about a city search for numbers and letters found in obscure places, such as sewer lids and graffiti, triggered by Joanne Schwartz's books: City Numbers and City Alphabet? Another Toronto book that lends itself to a quest is The White Stone in the Castle Wall by Sheldon Oberman. It’s a fictional account of how Casa Loma came to have one anomalous stone. Who can find it?