T. F. Rigelhof’s Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, The Better, and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
Cormorant Books Inc, 2010

Although I would struggle to choose my favourite kind of bookish book, one like this would certainly be a contender; it is not only a favourite kind of bookish book I’d choose to read, but also a favourite kind of bookish book that I would love to write. I’ve been passionate about Canlit since the late 1980s and I’ve been obsessive about reading lists for more years than that, so this particular kind of book has instant appeal for me on many levels.

All of which might lead you to think that I feel a certain connection with T.F. Rigelhof, but that’s not true. I’ve read his reviews over the years, in the Globe’s “Books” section, but I have never developed a clear sense of his preferences and never felt that sense of reader’s kinship with his reviews.

But why try to explain that here? It has as much to do with my own reader’s needs and desires as anything rational; I’d find it just as hard to explain why I do feel that connection with someone like Susan G. Cole, another Canadian reviewer, whose reviews are much shorter, their tone more abrupt, and often works are considered in isolation, without the wider literary context that Rigelhof offers.

Still, although I don’t share that sense of reader’s kinship with T.F. Rigelhof, it’s clear that he is passionate about Canlit. And, so, I find Hooked on Canadian Books fascinating, though I disagree with the author’s responses as often as not. Even so, we do have enough favourites in common to raise my interest in some other, as-yet-unexplored, authors, and he offers enough of himself to allow me to make good guesses about the differing ways in which we might respond to particular books.

One of the aspects of Hooked on Canadian Books that I especially appreciate is the way in which Rigelhof attends to defining his terms: Good, Better, and Best. You likely noticed them straight off in the subtitle and maybe they even rankled a little. If you’re a careful and reflective reader, chances are that you’ve already engaged in countless arguments with other careful and reflective readers about the question of literary quality, so this subtitle might have you instinctively asking yourself “Who is T.F. Rigelhof to think he’s entitled to decide what is Good, Better and Best?” Your reader’s hackles might well be raised by this book before you’ve even turned a page.

But the author doesn’t hide from the subjective elements of his work; not only does he define his terms for Good-Better-Best, but he lays out his qualifications for writing about Canlit, he considers what makes for memorable and re-readable fiction, and he explains his decision to begin with 1984.

So maybe you think he should be more or differently qualified, and perhaps your list of criteria would stand in contrast on every point, and you might prefer to differentiate your levels of enjoyment in another way but, even so, Hooked on Canadian Books is bound to add to your TBR list, even if you’re only aiming for the books and authors that Rigelhof least enjoys.

The fact that he defines clearly what hooks him on a Canadian book makes this a useful resource for any reader who is passionate about Canlit, or any passionate reader who might have enjoyed some Canlit titles in the past and be looking for more.

Newest Books: Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood (2009), Karen McLaughlin’s From This Distance (2009)
Oldest Books: Timothy Findley’s Not Wanted on the Voyage (1984), Josef Škvorecký’s The Engineer of Human Souls (1984)
Authors with more than two works considered: David Adams Richards, Donna Morrissey, Barbara Gowdy, Margaret Atwood, Lawrence Hill and Joan Barfoot.

Have you had a look at this one? Or have you been browsing in other reading lists lately?