When I wrote my last column, the NBA had not yet made its fateful decision to suspend the rest of the basketball season because one of their players had tested positive for COVID-19. You’ll know that from my April column because I wrote about our imminent annual golf pilgrimage to Florida. I’m writing this column on what would have been the final day of this year’s Florida golf odyssey had it not been cancelled, like just about everything else. The world has certainly changed since the NBA toppled that first domino on March 11.
I know what you’re thinking. Is he really going to write a humour column about the coronavirus and its profound and unprecedented global impact? Well, not exactly. This virus is serious and deadly. Hardly a topic to joke about. On the other hand, in these strange times, I think we need humour more than ever. We need a break from the mounting numbers. We need a distraction from the economic crisis the shutdown has spawned. We need to find ways to keep it together as we self-isolate with our children or aging parents, or both.
So, while there’s not much humour in all of this, unless you thought it was mildly amusing when our Prime Minister invented the phrase “speaking moistly” – and I confess, I did – we do need to find reasons to laugh to help us get through these weird and dangerous days. (Don’t get me wrong. I think our Prime Minister and premiers are generally doing a great job through all of this.) Humour has a way of inflicting perspective. A bout of infectious, eye-streaming, gut-busting laughter can be the therapeutic catharsis that helps us carry on.
So, what can we do to find laughter in times that aren’t very funny? The obvious choice that millions of Canadians are making is binge-streaming funny movies and shows on our tablets and laptops. But that’s an easy answer. Let me offer a more traditional solution, one that lends itself to the more reflective and contemplative atmosphere self-isolation naturally yields. Why not read a funny book?
Marooned in our own homes, many of us have more down time than we’ve ever had in our adult lives. If you’re looking for a way to escape our current reality and have a few laughs along with way, there are far worse ways to kill an hour or two than reading some of these funny Canadian novels. All of these suggestions were finalists or winners of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, one of Canada’s oldest literary awards.
King Leary by Paul Quarrington: The late great Quarrington won the Leacock for this funny and moving novel about an aging hockey player.
The Figgs by Ali Bryan: A finalist for the Leacock, I loved Bryan’s wonderful and hilarious novel about a family coping with life’s struggles. It may soon be a TV series so stay tuned.
Last Impressions by Joseph Kertes: Joe is already a Leacock winner and I wouldn’t be surprised if he picks up a second for his latest novel. This story pushes sadness right against humour and it all works so well.
Republic of Dirt by Susan Juby: Juby won the 2016 Leacock Medal for this very funny and poignant novel. These pages turn themselves.
Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler: This compelling tale won Richler his only Leacock Medal in 1998. Among my favourite Richler novels – and I’ve read them all – this one is a winner.
[Ed.’s note: And don’t forget Terry Fallis’s own – Albatross.]
These are just a few suggestions for when your eyes are crossed from too much screen time. All of these are available through local independent bookstores, most of which are facilitating easy delivery and/or pickup of books ordered over the phone.
Look, we all need to take this virus seriously and do our part. Follow these simple but critical rules and we’ll get through this: Stay home. Wash your hands. Don’t go near other people. Read funny Canadian novels.