You and the Pirates

Jesse Brown, a BoingBoing guest blogger, is the host of TVO's Search Engine podcast.

Canadian literature (or CanLit, as some insist) has gradually become a genre of its own- one of books that are bleak, desperate, *meaningful*, and above all, dull.

New DIY publisher The Workhorsery aims to do something about that by releasing You and The Pirates, Jocelyne Allens' superfun debut novel.

The book dares to star you (a snarky prairie-girl expat) in its second-person wackjob tale of terrorists, cats and pirates in modern-day Tokyo. Check it out!

Free chapter (PDF)

Amazon page (link)


  1. As a scholar who studies Canadian Literature, I can assure you that it is anything but “bleak, desperate, *meaningful*, and above all, dull.” Who have you been reading (or not reading)?

    Off the top of my head, two writers who are current and exciting: Nalo Hopkinson, Larissa Lai.

    How about it everbody? Let’s get some more great Canadian authors/books posted up in this joint!

  2. Never liked second person. Anti- authoritarian that way I suppose.

    And you forgot something: CanLit NEVER takes place in a city. Maritimes and Prairies are preferred.

  3. I liked that you felt it necessary to insult an entire country’s literature in order to promote some… “wackjob tale”. Granted, the summary sounds interesting enough (and the second person brings me back to my Goosebumps days) but Canlit = Margaret Atwood and Margaret Atwood = awesome.

  4. @1 – “Never liked second person”

    y, aiming is so much harder. and a sniper rifle is pretty much useless.

  5. As a snarky prairie girl myself I have to say this book is very appealing.

    As a fan of Canadian literature I can’t agree with the statement that it’s “dull,” but there is a certain earnestness that pervades throughout the CanLit sphere, even in the books that are humourous and/or exciting. But then I suppose you could say that about all “Literature” as opposed to popular fiction.

  6. Yes, I will never understand why teachers make high school students read Margaret Laurence. She writes bleak, dull, rural, old-lady tales, which of course bores teens.

    We shouldn’t forget good old Lucy Maud Montgomery. I did a book report on Blais’ La Belle Bete, and that’s practically a horror book — they made a movie a few years ago. But does Quebecois count for CanLit? For that matter, does Cory Doctorow or William Gibson? Lucky kids today–

    I think maybe the defining features of CanLit are much narrower than books written by Canadians. Maybe they must use the environment as a character to qualify.

    All I read these days are science fiction short stories. I haven’t even read all of Cory’s books.


  7. Some Canadian authors that aren’t dull:
    Charles de Lint, William Gibson, Spider Robson

    Ah, Margret Atwood – one of the most famous, and pretentious, of all Canadian writers. She still refuses to admit she writes science fiction. I’ll respect her when she finally gets over herself.

  8. To qualify as CanLit to me doesn’t just mean the author is Canadian. It also has to take place in the past, preferably during the Great Depression or pioneer days. And preferably in a location where if your dog runs away, you can see him keep running for a few days. A dog running away should also be the most action-oriented scene in the book.

  9. Here is a British judge for the Giller Awards describing Canadian fiction (and keep in mind, this award is supposed to recognize the very best of the best):

    And here is a shameless plug for an anti-CanLit fiction anthology from a magazine with which I am affiliated:

  10. Hmmm, this post’s only effect on me is to make me want to avoid Canadian Literature. Which is a real shame, since there are a good number of great Canadian authors that I like.

    Alas, writing narrative in the second person has only ever seemed like a gimmick to me. And sorry, but writers usually only resort to gimmicks like this if their material is lackluster or unsellable without the gimmick. Translate this novel to first or third person, and how does it stack up? Also, using second person for a whole novel would really bug me. (Unless it’s an *interactive* novel like a choose-your-own-adventure novel, or a hypertext narrative, or a game narrative–anything where second person actually makes sense for the format.)

  11. Those who mention that all Canadian Literature is not boring are right. please bloody tell the Canadian School system because EVERY canadian book assigned to me in high school (and in most of them by all accounts) was about some annoying little shit coming of age in the depression in the prairies or the maritimes. Probably they’ve added some inuit coming of age stories in there because we all know the tribes that live in the south don’t really count. They were uniformly boring and I could never even see why someone was compelled to write them let alone read them.

  12. Not all Canadian authors are CanLit; there are plenty of examples of Canadian authors who do not write CanLit – Cory’s the most obvious counterexample for BoingBoing readers. But CanLit is badly infected by a pessimistic realism that paints nature as inherently malign. (It’s not surprising, really; what Americans might call ‘rugged individualists’ we call ‘corpsicles’.)

    If you really want to explore CanLit at its best (and worst), I highly recommend Sinclair Ross’ “As for me and my house” as well as his short stories. They are excellent reading materiel for when you’re freezing to death in some cornfield somewhere.

    –Devin Carless

  13. Jesse: You’re kidding, right?

    This should get you started:
    Barbara Gowdy
    Katherine Govier
    Timothy Findley
    Leon Rooke
    Anita Rau Badami
    Alistair MacLeod
    Shani Mootoo
    Guy Vanderhaeghe
    Kevin Major
    Wayne Johnston
    Wayson Choy
    Douglas Coupland
    Miriam Toews
    Kerri Sakamoto
    Ann-Marie MacDonald
    Mavis Gallant
    Sandra Birdsell
    Gail Anderson-Dargatz
    Carol Shields
    Anne Michaels
    Shauna Singh Baldwin
    Nick Bantock
    Will Ferguson
    Yann Martel
    W.P. Kinsella
    Nino Ricci
    W. D. Valgardson
    W.O. Mitchell
    M.G. Vassanji
    Josef Skvorecky
    Elizabeth Smart
    Rudy Wiebe
    Evelyn Lau

  14. omg – Monkey Beach is the only non-dull piece of Canlit. Some of those listed above are very tweedy, some are “interesting” in the way your great-uncle’s war stories are interesting, but you forget them the next day and you are never sure if they are true. Then there are (yes, are) the very trendy Doug Coupland (“are” b/c Coupland is a manufactured persona writing about other manufactured personas and so on). W.O is good, in that old-school O.Henry way. Alice Monroe is sublime, if you like sad suburban housewives hoping for early death narratives (but so well crafted). Evelyn Lau is all me,me,me. There are a few on the “anon” list that I’ve not read, but most fall in the “bloodless” writing class.

    Read Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson. It has sasquatches and is hot. Literary, but you wouldn’t know it until you are reading it and then you feel smarter, but not in a smug way. And so funny. You will laugh when you are reading it on the bus, and might cry a little, too.

  15. Anyone who can’t find any Canadian literature other than Monkey Beach that isn’t dull just might not be in a position to comment on the subject. p.s. Munro is widely considered the best short story writer in the world, but by all means, omg away.

  16. Anyone who can’t find anything more interesting to say about Canlit, or my fabulous posting about Canlit (missing entirely the remark that Monro is sublime, not to mention all the other pithy remarks) is destined to read Robertson Davies over and over and over again. Is it that my fellow Canadians are dull?

    Anyway, read Monkey Beach and be entranced. p.s. omg you can read the others, too.

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