QWF to host panel on CanLit and lit crit

Writers Out Loud discussion pays homage to the now defunct Double Hook Bookstore

This Thursday, the Quebec Writers’ Federation will hold a public discussion between literary critics T.F. Rigelhof and Ian McGillis, as part of its Writers Out Loud series. The event will mark the launch of Rigelhof’s new book, Hooked on Canadian Books: A Reader’s Guide to the Good, the Very Good & the Even Better Novels of 1984–2009.

Hooked on Canadian Books is a celebration of Canadian authors writing in English who, according to Rigelhof, have the power to change a reader’s life. It is a return to reading’s passion, gusto, zest, and good humour, characteristics that have been lost, to a certain extent, in this new age of television, the Internet, and general digitalization. The book features 99 writers, all of them Canadian. This focus on Canadian literature is fundamental to both Rigelhof and McGillis’ work. Both critics are heavyweights in the world of Canadian literary review. Rigelhof contributes to The Globe and Mail and Dooney’s Café, has authored eight books (one a collection of essays on writing in Canada), and has served as a juror for, among others, the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the Books in Canada/Amazon First Novel Award, and the Danuta Gleed Literary Prize. Based in Westmount, he is “first, last, and always a reader of contemporary fiction – especially Canadian novels.” McGillis, a regular contributor to the Gazette, also co-edits the Montreal Review of Books. He has gathered a cult-like following around his bestselling first novel, A Tourist’s Guide to Glengarry, and has two more novels in the works. He is especially interested in Montreal’s younger writers, particularly the Mile End community.

The format of the event will be both varied and concentrated, with a public conversation between the two critics lasting around 30 to 40 minutes. Topics to be discussed include Rigelhof’s reasons for writing Hooked on Canadian Books, the art of reviewing books for major newspapers as opposed to literary magazines, and the current state of Canadian fiction. Time will be dedicated to audience questions, and both Rigelhof and McGillis will be around for individual questions over coffee following the discussion.

In the true spirit of supporting Canadian literature, Hooked on Canadian Books is dedicated to Judy Mappin and the staff of Montreal’s Double Hook Bookstore. From 1974 to 2005, the Double Hook Bookstore – named after Sheila Watson’s modernist novel, The Double Hook (1959) – was a proud bastion of Canadian literature, selling nothing else. Mappin opened the shop in 1974 with Hélène Holden and Joan Blake, and some credit her with single-handedly upholding the promotion of Canadian literature both in Montreal and abroad (the shop handled many international orders). By filling a shop solely with Canadian writers, the three women behind the Double Hook created a brand new attitude toward the promotion of this nation’s literature. It was no longer relegated to a single “Canadiana” shelf in corporate chain bookstores, but was upheld and celebrated in its own right. Since its closure upon Mappin’s retirement, the Double Hook has been much missed by both authors and readers. Hooked on Canadian Books (have you noticed the pun yet?) includes Rigelhof’s account of the place this unique bookshop occupied in shaping his reading, and through his recommendations, the spirit of the store will survive for future readers.

“Between us,” Rigelhof says, “Ian and I know about as much about [Canadian literature and the art of reviewing books] as anyone in the country.” This alone should be encouragement enough to any bibliophile to attend this event, which promises to be an invaluable guide to readable, engaging current fiction from famous as well as uncelebrated authors. It might just change your reading habits forever.

The Quebec Writers’ Foundation hosts T.F. Rigelhof and Ian McGillis at 7:30 p.m. this Thursday, October 22, at the Westmount Library (4574 Sherbrooke O).