BY BRITNEY DENNISON
I recently had a conversation with a former editor, who told me that producers and editors in the U.S. pay close attention to Canadian journalism. “They do it so they can cherry-pick the best writers for themselves,” he explained.
This got me thinking—first about Canadian writers that I love, and second, about writers whose work focuses on uniquely Canadian content.
Incidentally, my favourite Canadian feature was already profiled on WORST by Jimmy Thomson in his article, “Five young(ish) Canadian writers doing amazing long-form journalism” (yes, it’s so good we have to mention it twice).
This writer is Rachel Giese, whose feature article “The New Normal” is one of the best long-form features I’ve read on mental health in Canada.
Barely anyone in Canada writes consistently and accurately about mental health (a few come to mind, like Liam Casey and André Picard), but Giese rose to the challenge with “The New Normal.” And even more rare was Giese’s decision to include the voices of people who live with a mental illness—a rarity, considering 90 per cent of articles about mental illness in Canada exclude these voices.
“The New Normal” is my favourite feature, which made me wonder what everyone else’s is. If Canada is bursting with talent, as my former editor suggested, there are surely some gems in the rough my WORSTcontributors have come across that I’ve never seen.
At WORST, all of our writers have different interests and focuses, so I simply asked: “Who are your favourite Canadian feature writers?” Alternatively, for readers that don’t feel a particular affinity to any one writer, I asked, “What is your favourite feature that focuses on Canada?”
If there’s someone you think should be on here that we’ve missed, we’d love to find out, either in the comments or via social media.
By Emma Bower
“Walking was once, of course, the only way we went anywhere on land. Lacking speed and strength, humans had stamina, and that gave us an advantage over other species. But our big brains continued to evolve: we harnessed the power of horses, trains, cars. Today parents drive their children to the school bus stop half a block from home, while sidewalks are left to immigrants, the elderly, the poor. It is the destination, not the journey, that matters. Even though we say we want to slow down. Even though a solution is right there at the ends of our legs.”
I have to admit I’d never heard of Dan Rubinstein before I read his piece in the Walrus. But “The Walking Cure” (which was published in January’s edition) is just a beautiful piece of storytelling, and I’ve since been sending good vibes to the universe in the hopes that he’ll write more like it.
“The Walking Cure” is a classic quest story that even Kerouac would dig. The piece follows Rubinstein’s 17-day trek into the Canadian boreal forest with Stanley Vollant, an aboriginal doctor who’s trying to share the importance of walking with First Nations communities. Rubinstein gets to know his fellow travellers around the fire or on grueling days walking in the snow. He captures small moments that are often missed. This is real, live reporting. And although it’s told in first person, it’s not self-indulgent. Through small details, the reader gets a feel for the people he’s with and the mission they’re all on. Rubinstein has written for a smattering of Canadian news outlets, including the Globe and Mail, Canadian Business, and Canadian Geographic (where he was an editor). He’s currently writing a nonfiction book about walking.
By Garrett Hinchey
“I wondered, as I waited for my heat to begin, whether the whole thing might be better suited to a gender studies dissertation than to a sports story. But it was too late now. A crowd of spectators had gathered along Talkeetna’s snowy main drag. Men placed bets on the probable winners. Women in colorful wigs and numbered bibs like mine drank from pocket flasks, and children and dogs roamed freely. A husky chased after a man in a moose costume, and the emcee, Todd, came over to get us lined up and ready. It was time to show the bachelors of Talkeetna what I was made of.”
This excerpt, from Eva Holland’s “Wilderness Women“—a story about Talkeetna, Alaska’s Alaska Wilderness Woman Contest, where women “prove their worth” to hardy northern bachelors by hauling water and sawing wood—is a perfect depiction of why she’s become my favourite long-form writer. Based in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, her stories often have a sports bent (a northerner writing about sports is a woman after my own heart, admittedly), but her work’s appeal goes far beyond subject matter.
Finding a southern audience for northern stories is a tightrope walk at the best of times. You could write academic papers (and I have) about balancing southerners’ inherent curiosity about the Arctic with the tendency of writers to fall into romantic, stereotypical tropes about the region. Holland walks the line masterfully, largely, I’d guess, due to her experience as a travel writer; she’s able to aptly capture the craziness of experiences like the Talkeetna Wilderness Woman Contest without discounting the participants, town, or region as, say, uneducated or misogynistic. She still makes a subtle reference to it in the opening line of the paragraph I’ve cited above, though, just to make sure you know that she’s aware of what’s going on.
Crazy things happen up north, and it takes an incredibly talented, descriptive writer to do them justice. Take it from somebody who’s lived his whole life up there: we’re all better off—northerners and southerners—now that someone like Eva’s chosen to do so. Plus, we get to read about Christopher McCandless pilgrims, and you can’t really put a price on that.
By Matthew Parsons
“The NPD Group, a market-research company in New York, assembled a demographic profile of American Celine Dion consumers for Sony. . . . It doesn’t tell us whether they are overweight or sell mobile phones but what it does say is suggestive. . . . Celine fans were about three-and-a-half times more likely to be widowed than the average music listener. It’s hard to imagine an audience that could confer less cool on a musician.”
Carl Wilson is a very clever cultural critic who has been published in the Globe, Hazlitt, and presumably some other places. Up until March, Wilson was writing a weekly feature for Hazlitt where he would dive into the week’s news through the lens of culture. The feature could go in any direction at all, from discussing the Westboro Baptist Church’s hatemongering as performance art, to musing on the connection between Doctor Who and the Kennedy assassination (which, to be fair, is an obvious one if you know anything about Doctor Who and the Kennedy assassination).
But really, that feature has nothing to do with why Wilson is on this list. Wilson is on this list because of his book Let’s Talk About Love: Why Other People Have Such Bad Taste. The book was written as a part of that 33 1/3 series that you’ve probably seen in bookstores. The topic was ostensibly the Celine Dion album that gives the book its title. Well, the first part of its title. But actually, the book is a marvellously self-reflexive examination of taste, and how contemporary critics engage with it. It was reprinted in an expanded edition last year. You should read it. You should read it. You should read it.
By Nick Zarzycki
“If you were only just discovering hockey, it became easy to zero in on Luongo—he was what every dollar of Canucks marketing told you to focus on. And as you started to watch games closely, you discovered that a goalie is indeed some kind of mythical creature, too isolated and idiosyncratic for this world. Luongo, successful but unappreciated, became the symbol not just for the team, but for the years that bookended the Olympics when everyone in the world was telling you there was no better place to live.”
Everyone in Canada writes about hockey, and everyone in Vancouver talks about what it means to live in this city, but it’s rare that anyone comes up with something interesting to say about either of those things. That’s what makes this piece, “How Roberto Luongo saved Vancouver,” by Vancouver-based writer Chris Koenteges, so special. Here is a feature about goaltender Roberto Luongo that tells you simultaneously more about the hockey culture in Vancouver, and Vancouver itself, than maybe anything else you’ve read about either subject.
Koentges is an accurate, concise writer with a talent for making unfamiliar things—like what it feels like to goaltend in hockey—more palpable and familiar with a well-chosen illustration. His numerous inclusions in Tightrope’s annually published Best Canadian Essaysbooks and his 2013 National Magazine Award nomination are both well deserved. ♦