Angie Abdou is a writer who likes to examine and redefine boundaries. She began writing fiction in 2000 and has since published three books. Anything Boys Can Do was praised by the Victoria Times Colonist for its original take on female sexuality. The Bone Cage, a novel about Olympic athletes, was the inaugural One Book, One Kootenay, as well as a 2011 Canada Reads finalist and the 2012 MacEwan Book of the Year. The Canterbury Trail, is a dark comedy specifically about mountain culture and more generally about community and our relationship with the environment. As she does her fiction, Angie believes that Project Bookmark Canada is changing the way we see ourselves and our country.
The way I think about books is deeply influenced by Robert Kroetsch’s statement that Canadians have an invisibility complex and that Canadian literature can work as the antidote. Kroetsch argued that too often Canadians do not see their own experiences reflected in the television they watch, the movies they see, or the literature they read. If we don’t see ourselves reflected, how do we know we exist?
I was reminded of this theory when I visited Thunder Bay on an early tour for my wrestling novel, The Bone Cage. I had already learned that the “if you build it, they will come” theory does not work for book events. Most writers must bring their own audience. The only person I knew in Thunder Bay was the Lakehead wrestling coach, so I bribed him into forcing his team to come. Anyone who cares enough about books to read this blog knows this wonderful wrestling coach will be eternally rewarded for his response: he gave his entire men’s squad permission to skip practice on the condition that they attend my reading. To this day, I still smile when I recall the librarians’ confusion at the sight of their reading room filled with muscular, cauliflower-eared undergrads.
To be honest, I just wanted warm bodies instead of empty chairs at my reading. I didn’t actually expect these grapplers to like the event. But as soon as I started reading, I could tell they were absolutely into it – I was talking about their people, their places, their preoccupations. I was holding up a mirror and saying – you exist! Your experience is worthy of representation.
In an incredible coincidence, Lakehead Wrestling had done a recruiting push in Alberta the previous season, so most of the young men in my audience were from Calgary, the very place The Bone Cage is set. When I read a scene involving barefooted university students playing Frisbee in the center square during a Chinook, one young man actually blurted out: “That’s true! That spot of grass! People are always playing Frisbee there!”
The Calgarian wrestlers all lined up afterwards with their twenty dollar bills, keen for a copy of the book perhaps, but more keen to tell me how much The Bone Cage had, for the brief space of my reading, taken them home.
The animation of this unlikely audience reminds me of my own enthusiastic discovery of Canadian prairie writers and my thrill at learning that good fiction could be made from the kinds of people and places I know so well. Margaret Laurence, Sinclair Ross, Carol Shields – that’s where I go for experiences of home.
It sounds like I am arguing that fictionalization of a place can make that actual place more real. I am. As evidence, I hold up Timothy Taylor’s rendering of Stanley Park, Mordecai Richler’s version of Schwartz’s deli, Pearl Luke’s reimagining of the Alberta fire towers, and Elizabeth Hay’s representation of the Mackenzie Valley.
This idea of books bringing places to life, giving them multiple dimensions in the minds of many readers, excites me. That Project Bookmark goes to those places, and marks them with a plaque commemorating the relevant passage from the book ... brilliant! As you can imagine, I love this idea.
To prove that I’m truly enthused about the building of this wonderful network of sites and stories, I donate monthly as a Project Bookmark Canada Page Turner, Plus. For just a one-time donation of twenty dollars, you can become a Page Turner. If you love this Canadian celebration of stories and spaces, if you want to continue Kroetsch’s work of curing us of our invisibility complex, make a Page Turner donation.
If you donate today, April 13, your name will be entered into a draw to win a copy of my latest novel, The Canterbury Trail.