After all the American-themed books I read while living Stateside, I figured a Canadian book would serve me well here. That, and I found it while flipping through the collection of a used/old/rare/archival bookstore. This is only the second novel I've truly recommended myself in this way this year despite having read forty books. The other was House of Leaves, and I bought that online. Book a Week wouldn't have been the same without the feeling of stumbling across an interesting story in a bookstore and then just reading it. I'm glad I've had that. Hopefully I can do it again before New Year's.
September 30-October 6: Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart McLean
Literature (2006 - 274 pp.)
Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe is one of those books that's part of a series, yet a loose enough series you don't have to read them in order. The books are based off of McLean's Vinyl Cafe radio series, which is most commonly associated with CBC. I've never listened to the radio series. I haven't been a radio person in years. I enjoyed the book, though.
The front cover is deceptive. Perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with the series, I expected the book to be about all different kinds of people. The Window Peeker, the Litterbug, the Diet Cheater, the Ill-Wisher, and others who appear as caricatures on the cover seem like great potential characters in that twisted Life Is Hell-style way. Aside from the highly uncharacteristic animated introduction showing exactly this sort of thing, these characters never emerge, at least in those literal forms. The recurring characters sometimes take on these personae, albeit within their own personalities and their own situations.
Secrets from the Vinyl Cafe is about a Canadian family, the people on their street, and the various quirks of the lives of all of them. The book's division into parts based on types of misdemeanor sins (petty theft, not returning emails on time... you know) and then into short stories gives the reader a glimpse into everyone's life. The stories are all substantially different, offering perspectives from different generations and backgrounds. Multiculturalism risks tokenism in media but McLean handles it well here, giving us realistic tales of an Italian-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, or lived so long in Canada they don't know what their ethnicity is anymore. I can identify with the stories that take place in Toronto. Others are located as distantly as the Maritimes and the seemingly fictitious town of Burnt Creek, Alberta.
The greatest joy of this book is when you finish. You can look back at the table of contents, reread the titles of each of these sixteen stories, and feel the smile cross your face as you remember every one in vivid detail. Some are hilarious, some are heartwarming, and to be honest, some are better than others. They fit together nicely to form a modern, contemporary light read that might just teach you a bit about Canada.
Ease of Reading: 9
Educational Content: 3