Bessie Sullivan: Hello, I’m Bessie Sullivan from the Haliburton County Public Library and this is Library Moments. Once a week some of us from the library will come and talk about books, upcoming events, or the services we offer at the library.
December’s online book club topic is “The School of Robertson Davies” and is based on one of the themes associated with our One Book, One Community choice, Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. By identifying read-a-like themes as we have done here today we are creating a “reading map”. You can pick up our Fifth Business reading map at any branch of the library or view it online. Other themes we have included are last month’s theme, New Identities, as well as, Fateful Events, Sinners and Saints, Running Away with the Circus, and Small Town Gothic.
Today on Library Moments Sherrill Sherwood, Erin Kernohan-Berning and I will each talk about a book where the author has been influenced by or compared to Robertson Davies.
Sherrill Sherwood, Collections Development: A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving is set in the fictional town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. The novel follows the story of two boys: our narrator, John Wheelwright, and his best friend, Owen Meany, an unusual-looking boy with a voice that could give you goose bumps (and not in a good way).
The central storyline kicks into gear in 1953 when the boys are eleven years old. Owen, who is no great athlete, is called up to bat when his baseball coach has a “what the heck” moment – their team is bound to lose, so he figures Owen should have a chance to play. Bad idea. Owen ends up hitting a foul ball that kills Johnny’s mother. John Irving has been quoted many times as saying that the snowball thrown in the first chapter of Fifth Business, written by his good friend Robertson Davies, gave him the idea for the killer foul ball that Owen Meany hits.
From there, we learn that Owen thinks that the event was no accident; he’s convinced that he was carrying out the destiny ordained by God. He sees himself as “God’s Instrument,” and we spend the duration of the novel piecing together what Owen thinks this destiny of his is. This journey is filled with explorations of Owen’s religious belief, as well as John’s progression from not feeling any particular religious belief to becoming what he considers to be a “true believer.”
Beyond what seems to be a fantastic tale in many respects, Owen Meany also pushes us to look at events in American and world history through a more critical lens. As John narrates Owen’s story, he infuses his narrative with sharp criticisms of the Vietnam War and American politics and policy in general. Don’t let that turn you off, though, if you’re not a history buff; at its heart, A Prayer for Owen Meany is a novel about family, friendship, and the quest to find some kind of answer when we feel like things around us are not going the way we’d like them to.
Erin Kernohan-Berning, Branch Services Librarian: Each Haliburton County Reads contender made it onto our Fifth Business reading map somewhere, and Terry Fallis’ Up and Down was no exception. But books like Up and Down, 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal and 2011 Canada Reads winner Best Laid Plans, and his most recent novel Poles Apart may never have been written if it weren’t for Fifth Business. From the CBC Books site, Fallis explains:
“Beyond high school English class, I was really more of a nonfiction reader until my late twenties. Yes, I know. What a philistine! But it was Fifth Business by Robertson Davies that opened my eyes and mind to CanLit. It was wry, thoughtful, quiet, moving and so exquisitely written. I was hooked. I quickly powered through the rest of the Deptford trilogy and every other one of his novels. It was really the book that returned me to the fiction fold.”
Interestingly, Terry Fallis also has another School of Robertson Davies alumni connection – if pressed to name his favourite book (a task bibliophiles know is an almost impossible one) – he would name Sherrill’s pick – John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany – as his top read.
Bessie: In an interview with the Globe and Mail Joseph Boyden says of Robertson Davies, “believe it or not, I really dug Robertson Davies. I’ve been afraid to revisit him for fear that I won’t like him as much anymore. He was huge to me.” Before becoming a novelist Boyden published a collection of thirteen stories about modern Aboriginal life called Born with a Tooth. The collection made readers and reviewers take notice of this young talented writer. These stories of love, loss, rage and resilience are told with clever wit and turn stereotypes on their head to reveal the traditions and grace of our First Peoples. Readers come to know a butterfly-costumed boy fascinated by the world of professional wrestling, a young woman who falls in love with a wolf, to the leader of an all-girl Native punk band and Painted Tongue, the unforgettable character from Boyden’s Giller award winning novel, Through Black Spruce. Though each story is told in a different and distinct voice, like the works of Robertson Davies, they are all united by their captivating vitality, nuanced perceptions and vigorous prose.
Anyone can participate in Haliburton County Public Library’s Online Book Club by choosing to read one or more of four books selected each month. You don’t even have to read from a particular month’s selection you can simply go online and make comments about books and reading in general. Watch for more themed read-a-likes in our online book club next month.
To join the online book club, look for the Social Media links on our homepage at www.haliburtonlibrary.ca. Click on the “g” for Goodreads and it’ll take you right to the Online Book Club page. That’s it for this week’s Library Moments, thanks for listening here on 100.9 Canoe FM.
*Originally aired on 100.9 CANOE FM December 27th, 2015 – January 2nd 2016.