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This is Our Writing

james hörner

this is our writing takes a stab at determining what we have long considered to be the essential texts of Canadian literature. Our canon. Rigelhof wrestles with several of the big names in CanLit, assessing and reassessing their contribution and status. As well, he brings forth overlooked names and works for us to consider, arguing with the ardent passion of a dedicated supporter of CanLit past and present.

This is Our Writing I find difficulty in reviewing a book by someone who has clearly out-read the pants off me. As opposed to looking at his critiques blow-by-blow, we can instead focus on his approach.

These 11 essays vary in quality. This text is full of vast and argumentative terrain. It is brimming with passion for ideas and a love of reading. Rigelhof is not shooting from the hip, or pontificating on high from a purely theoretical perspective. He embraces these books and authors because they mean the world to him, and that comes through on every page. This zeal is reason enough to read this book. If more people had this feeling for CanLit we wouldn't have seasoned, well-known authors making less than $20,000 a year in their own country. We would have a richer culture and a more self-aware society. And we would not be so damned preoccupied with our sense of identity.

The opening essay of This is Our Writing sets the tone for the text, and inspires the reader to continue. It is a meditation on Ornette Coleman, free jazz, and what keeps Rigelhof reading and rereading. His comments perhaps make more sense if you're a fan of free jazz, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Don Cherry. Regardless, this is a strong opening to a book of wide terrain.

In no particular order, some of the figures Rigelhof looks at in depth are Mordecai Richler, Leonard Cohen, Mavis Gallant, Hugh Hood, Robertson Davies, and George Grant. These are the main authors he focuses on in essays primarily dedicated to their works. Along the way he makes note of literally dozens of other authors, in various contexts, to varying degrees of detail.

Throughout This is Our Writing there is a special emphasis placed on the role of Montreal in the Canadian arts scene. Whether it is Leonard Cohen and Suzanne, Margaret and Philip Surrey, or anecdotes about the Richler children, Rigelhof has a yen for Montreal. It is especially at these points where it feels like Rigelhof is doing a bit of name-dropping. However, the line between talking about famous people you know, and simply mentioning them to show off, is a fine one. It's about context, and I think that while this book treads the line of being a 'look who I know', it doesn't cross it. Rigelhof makes enough commentary to fill out the names he drops. At times, though, it does begin to feel a little much. Perhaps it's just that he has such a personal and passionate connection to the CanLit scene.

This text does contain a certain conservatism. While he does give praise to a wide range of authors, the emphasis is on looking at the standards of CanLit, and gauging their overall contributions to the genre. This overview is laced with a religious perspective that definitely had an impact on what authors Rigelhof finds personally important. He is not only concerned about how these authors helped shape and define Canada, but how they contribute the spiritual lives of it's people. This is not merely a book of ideas, it is a book of spiritual well-being. Rigelhof picks his personal favourites for these specific reasons, and this is where some readers may find themselves turned off.

This is Our Writing does try to wrap things up in the end with Rigelhof's "Choosing the Best" chapter. I won't spoil his findings for you, though. It is enough to say that anyone interested in "our writing" should pick this book up. Regardless of whether one agrees with T.F. Rigelhof at all, he makes one give greater consideration to a good many things. It is for this reason that this is an important book.

published by porcupine's quill
ISBN 0-88984-218-3


james hörner edits canadian content.

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