Happy Valentine’s Day everyone! And right after that, Happy Islander Day, a.k.a. Family Day in the rest of Canada. In a way, I think it’s great that we call it Islander Day on PEI because that includes everyone and not just those with families. Not everyone has a family to be with on Family Day, so Islander Day is a great way to celebrate everyone. It’s funny that the holiday was created just so there would be a break in an otherwise holiday-less stretch between Christmas and Holy Week, because February happened to be the only month in the year without a public holiday. Not that it matters to me, because I’ve got my very own personal holiday in February! Yay! That said, we can always declare our own holidays, but we don’t always get paid for them. Of course, if you’re unemployed or a freelancer or own your business, then holidays become moot, because you can take any day you want off as a holiday. Believe me, that’s not the way it works because you end up working odd hours and just about any day of the year, because it’s always ‘no work, no pay’ for you. When you answer to an employer, you get paid for public holidays because the law requires it. Why am talking about holidays? Because I’m back working at full time job and will get paid for the holiday! Woohoo!
Holidays aside, a large group of island writers showed up at the PEI Writers’ Guild Winter Social to find out who won bragging rights for the first ever PEI Battle Tales week-long writing contest and to duke it out at a literary trivia contest for free beer and a handful of gift cards, but really, to duke it out. What I found so revealing is that we Canadians know so little of our literary history! My excuse is I didn’t grow up here and I didn’t attend school or university here. Still, the information we have about Canadian literature is so meager, it surprised me. Canada is the only country I am aware of, at present, that emphasizes reading and books so much, particularly through the CBC’s Canada Reads program. I have to admit I do not know how long it has been running–it will take a bit of research and I’m sure there are those of you who know when it started. My point is that even in the study of world literature (and I mastered in literature), Canadian literature never featured prominently. Probably because there never was as much Canadian literature contributed to the corpus of World Literature. In fact, I had been familiar with Stephen Leacock, who seems to be the earliest writer of note on record who has been anthologized worldwide, but he had never been touted as Canadian. Alice Munro was another name that gained international prominence; ater on, I discovered Margaret Atwood, and much later, Michael Ondaatje. Determined to learn more about writers in my chosen new country, I found Guy Gavriel Kay, re-discovered L.M. Montgomery, and Mordecai Richtler, as well as a few others I am still getting acquainted with. I can’t say I know my Canadian authors well enough and I have a great deal of reading to catch up on.
On another note, I just learned tonight that, according to UNESCO*, Canada published 19,900 books, but also discovered the information is from 1996; but more recent data published by Canada Business** puts the number at over 10,000 books annually, mainly because of an increase in the number of publishers or publishing houses in Canada. I would consider that information skewed and not reflective of the actual number of books written by Canadians, because many Canadian writers are actually published in the US and the UK. The rise of self-publishing in the new millenium probably adds much more to that number. That said, we rank 20th in the UNESCO list, which listed total books published in different countries over a broad range of years, from 1990 to 2014. It’s certainly a long way from Oman’s 7 books published in 1996, but nowhere close to China’s 440,000 in 2013, the US’s 304,912 also in 2013, or the UK’s 184,000 in 2011. Taken viz the population, in 1996, Canada published a book for every 1491 people; which is much better than China’s 1 book for every 3084 people; surprisingly close to the US’s 1 book for every 1038 people; but nowhere near the UK’s 1 book for every 344 people, which I pretty much expected. (By books, I mean book titles and not physical copies.) I think that’s a pretty decent ratio, all things considered.
*Book publishing numbers from UNESCO were sourced from Wikipedia
**Jason McBride, “It’s Alive! Canadian Book Publishing Stirs.” August 30, 2013. From http://www.canadianbusiness.com/companies-and-industries/its-alive-canadian-book-publishing-stirs/