Sunday, August 02, 2009

Dance of the Happy Shades

Is there anything better than waking up late, stretching and then lying in bed reading for a while? I don't think so. Especially today while I unwind from last night's shift. While nothing catastrophic happened, the shift was one of the busiest weekend shifts I've ever worked. Huge crowds all day (and evening) from Caribana combined with construction related delays made for a draining stretch of continual motion and scrambling. The only benefit was that time really flew. I just had no time to watch the clock.

Anyways, back to the reading. It's probably no surprise I have a teetering pile of books on top of my bedside table bookshelf. Today I pulled out a nice old edition of Alice Munro's Dance of the Happy Shades and read the stories "The Office" and "An Ounce of Cure".

The stress seeped out and was replaced by awe. I know. I know. It's almost a cliche to marvel at Munro's stories. Her work has been canonized and so lauded that to say anything other than "Alice Munro is a great story writer" would seem almost sacriligous. Inevitably, one has to wonder if she is really that good? Or is she getting a free pass because of her reputation?

We have this tendancy to elevate certain books and writers to positions that become almost untouchable. Often, this is earned - there are writers who deserve to be looked upon as masters in the same light that we look upon masters of music or the visual arts. The problem is that when this happens, many readers start to turn away. You hear so much about how great these books are that they become a chore more than a pleasure. How often does one really pick up Ulysses for fun?

Some of it goes back to school and the books we were taught. Often books seem to be taught because they are ostensibly "great" with little thought given to whether they would interest the young reader. Do that enough times to young readers and they soon develop a conditioned reluctance to reading the greats.

I'm not suggesting dumbing down the reading list. To the contrary, I think people should be taught good books as soon as possible so that they start to expect and even search out good books. It's just that more attention should be paid to which books are selected. My favourite example is Laurence's The Stone Angel. I'm still trying to understand the logic behind putting that book on the curriculum. I mean, I guess it counts as CanCon and maybe the school boards get a good discount from McStew but come on! How many teenagers are really that concerned with the recollections and ruminations of an old woman? Teach the Diviners if you want to teach Laurence. Teach Richler, Atwood, Cohen, Birney, Callaghan, MacLennan. Teach younger Canadian writers like Lynn Coady or Michael Redhill or Lisa Moore or Douglas Coupland. Teach books that will inspire and excite. Teach books with bad words and grand ideas. Teach books that were banned for bad reasons. Teach books that will captivate - offer up the gateway drug to a lifetime of reading. Teach anything but The Stone Angel.

. . .

Um. . .

I think I might have slipped off topic. I rant therefore I am.

Reading Munro this morning was a great way to start the day. Each story is a gem but to describe them would require delving into all the cliches about her work that we all know by now. She is truly a master. Just don't tell anyone, lest it scare them away.

(For any fans of The Stone Angel out there, don't take offense. I think it is a very good book. It's just not a book that should be taught in high school.)

1 comment:

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love Alice Munro's short stories and I am not ashamed to admit it. She and Carol Shields were responsible for my interest in writing, I think.

Now, I feel like digging out Dance of the Happy Shades from the back of the book shelf.