Compiling best-of lists requires sweat and courage—-you’re never going to make everyone happy. Modelled after Bob Mersereau’s comprehensive The Top 100 Canadian Albums, Trevor Adams and Stephen Patrick Clare embarked on the challenging task of culling Atlantic Canada’s 100 Greatest Books (Nimbus), from an amazing list of over 2,000 titles voted on by 700-plus authors, editors and critics (including myself). But where Mersereau used a fairly rigid point system (final results be damned!), Adams and Clare made several major overriding editorial decisions, e.g. pulling out poetry and including books like The Chrysalids and The Book of Negroes, which are set in the region but whose authors are from elsewhere. I couldn’t help but wonder which regionally penned books might have made the list otherwise (perhaps Ed Riche’s Rare Birds or Sue Goyette’s Undone).
Adams and Clare attempted to plug some holes by adding top-10 lists of plays, poetry and Newfoundland/Labrador books, but they’re presented as just titles, without any context. It would have been great to read more about, for example, Governor General Award-winning Don Domanski’s All Our Wonder Unavenged. If the fear was that poetry would be “inappropriately diminished in the rankings,” all the more reason to find a way to boldly promote it in a book dedicated to important works.
Mersereau’s book is dynamic not because of the list, but because he solicited quotes, quips and facts from musicians and experts (like Ron Sexsmith on why he loves Gordon Lightfoot). A sidebar with a list of David Adams Richards’ top-five books is a great idea, but why did he choose Kenneth J. Harvey’s Inside as his number one? More author-conducted interviews and less review quotes would have made this book essential reading.
Still, it’s obvious that Adams and Clare have a lot of passion for their subject, and it’s a major achievement for both the authors and the Atlantic Canadian literary community that this compendium now exists. Congratulate them at the book’s launch, Thursday, November 5, 5:30pm at Stayner’s Wharf.