Steph VanderMeulen is a freelance copy editor of Canadian literature and a writer. She lives in Belleville, Ontario (with her husband and their dog, Lucy) but her enthusiastic commentary on all things CanLit -- and on short stories in particular -- resounds throughout the country via her blog Bella's Bookshelves. As today's Page Turner Champion, Steph traces the roots of her love of reading and explains how Bookmark's vision brings the Canadian literary imagination to life. Join Steph in building a network of sites and stories across the country, and you could win one of her other favourite things: a limited edition collection of note cards celebrating the reading life, illustrated by her sister. Among them, you'll find the familiar image that used to serve as the logo for Bella's Bookshelves. Tuck in and enjoy.
CanLit has shaped my literary life since I was young. When I was old enough to go to the library unaccompanied (until my mom became a library assistant), I could be found almost daily sat up between the two sets of bookshelves in the children and youth section reading not only Nancy Drew and Lois Duncan and Madeleine L’Engle and Scott O’Dell, but also Monica Hughes, Farley Mowat, Janet Lunn, Jean Little, Gordon Korman, and, of course, L.M. Montgomery. These books forged and informed my love of literature, made me daydream about having a garret in which to write, and believe that if Gordon Korman could get published so young, then so could I. Perhaps most importantly, CanLit finally urged me out of my five-year shy shell to share a story I wrote with visiting author Lyn Cook.
Long has there raged discussions on Canadian identity, but I admit that this has always puzzled me. Nowhere can we see Canadian identity and its many facets more clearly than in CanLit. Our sensibilities, values, sense of humour, politics, diversity, our propensity to ask questions about who we are, and our definitive answers in how we write betray our identity as a young country of denizens concerned with not only who we are as a nation but also, and very obviously, where we are. Place is, for me, one thing Canadian authors excel at conveying. When I think of CanLit stories, I remember setting most. Our landscape, weather, and atmosphere affect us so deeply that our literature exudes it like perfume from pores.
I’m thinking now of Hémon’s Quebec, Kathleen Winter’s Labrador, Michael Winter’s and Lisa Moore’s Newfoundland, D.A. Richards’s New Brunswick, Wayson Choy’s and Michael Christie’s and Zsuzsi Gartner’s Vancouver, Alistair MacLeod’s Nova Scotia, Elizabeth Hay’s and Atwood’s canoe country, Al Purdy’s country north of Belleville, Carol Shields’s Winnipeg, Anthony Da Sa’s and Zoe Whittall’s and Grace O’Connell’s Toronto, Steven Heighton’s Baffin Bay, John Lavery’s and Richler’s Montreal, Claire Cameron’s Algonquin Park, Urqhuart’s Prince Edward County, Samuel Thomas Martin’s country north of 7, Steve Zipp’s Yellowknife. I’m sure you can think of hundreds more. And if you can’t, our very own 49th Shelf has a literary map for you.
So what has this all got to do with Project Bookmark? Isn’t it obvious? If we want to know who we are, where we came from, what’s important to us, and where we’re headed, we’d best have a look at our literature. We can do this through books but also we can plan a fun trip across Canada to visit the Bookmarks placed in the exact spots memorialized in the literature of our writers. There aren’t many yet. We need a long and full trail of these Bookmarks, to mark our cultural history, to pay homage to those Canadians who so aptly and powerfully conveyed these memoryscapes, which, when we read them, profoundly affect our own senses or at least our national appreciation.
As a CanLit advocate and enthusiast, it’s not only my privilege but also my duty to support this momentous project. If CanLit is to remain an important cultural contribution to us as Canadians, and if we want those who visit to recognize too how influential our literature has been and is becoming on the global scale, supporting this project and donating to its success is necessary. It’s twenty bucks. In England, that’s just shy of a pack of cigarettes. Here, it goes toward something permanent that you can be a part of. Be proud of our literature, and mark it with a B.