Meet the Canada Reads 2013 Contenders!

As I type, the Canada Reads 2013 contenders have been chosen, along with the panelists, and they’re all on stage at CBC, talking about the books and introducing themselves. I was invited, along with several of you, I’m sure, to attend this fun event, but as I’m not close, I couldn’t go.

So here is what we have to look forward to this coming spring! (From CBC’s Canada Reads site):

British Columbia and Yukon:

Carol Huynh defends Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

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Carol Huynh is one of Canada’s best wrestlers, with 11 Canadian championships, four world titles and two Olympic medals under her belt.

Indian Horse deals with Saul Indian Horse, an alcoholic Ojibway man who finds himself reflecting on his past when he becomes a reluctant resident of an alcohol treatment centre.

Richard Wagamese is one of Canada’s foremost Native authors and storytellers with six novels, a book of poetry and five non-fiction titles to his name.


Prairies and North: 

Ron MacLean defends The Age of Hope by David Bergen

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Ron MacLean is one of the most recognizable and beloved broadcasters in the country, having hosted CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada for 25 years.

In The Age of Hope, Hope Koop struggles with her safe, steady and predictable life as a wife and mother of four living in small-town Manitoba.

David Bergen is the author of seven novels, including The Time in Between, which won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2005.


Ontario: 

Charlotte Gray defends Away by Jane Urquhart

Ontario

Charlotte Gray is one of Canada’s best-known biographers and historians and has written eight critically acclaimed books of literary non-fiction.

Away is an epic family saga spread across multiple decades and countries, detailing the history of an Irish family in Canada.

Jane Urquhart is a bestselling novelist, well known for her evocative blending of history with the present day.


Quebec: 

Jay Baruchel defends Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan

Quebec

Jay Baruchel is an actor, writer and producer known for his work in films like Knocked UpMillion Dollar Baby and Goon.

First published in 1945, Two Solitudes instantly became a symbol for one of Canada’s most challenging dichotomies: the divide between French and English.

Hugh MacLennan was the first major English-speaking Canadian writer to attempt to portray the country’s national character in fiction.


Atlantic: 

Trent McClellan defends February by Lisa Moore

atlantic

Trent McClellan is a regular on the comedy festival and club circuit, as well as on Sirius, XM Satellite and CBC Radio and Television, CTV and the Comedy Network.

February is about a subject that touched the life of anyone living in Newfoundland in the 1980s: the tragic sinking of the Ocean Ranger oil rig on Valentine’s Day in 1982, with the loss of all 84 aboard.

Lisa Moore is the bestselling author of two award-winning novels and two collections of short stories.

My two cents: not a single one of the books I would have preferred to have seen for each region was chosen. But that’s not to say I have no hope for next year’s contest! I think the choices are good books, and the mix of them, as well as the mix of panelists and their pairings, promises a stimulating debate. Ron MacLean is a perfect panelist, in my opinion, after seeing him present Lynn Cody’s The Antagonist at the Gillers last year. The man reads, is passionate, and knows how to sell a book! The other pairings are intriguing, too. I’m very glad to see some young Canadians on the panel, and it will be interesting to see how funny man Trent McClellan handles Lisa Moore’s unfunny but beautiful February. I’m also interested in seeing how Jay Baruchel, an actor I’ve enjoyed, deals with Hugh MacLennan’s 1945 classic, Two Solitudes.

I’m excited about all of this, you guys. I’m genuinely looking forward to this. I have to say right now I’m impartial: they’re all good books, and I don’t favour one over the other. Rather, fingers crossed that the debate is not just entertaining but also, and mainly, satisfying!

CBC Canada Reads 2013: Thoughts on the Top Fives

So the people’s voting is over. As CBC put it, our “hard work is done.” I wish I could agree that it was indeed hard work for us to choose the books we wanted to be discussed from the plethora of fine examples of CanLit, but because many of the choices seemed to me rather cliché, I’d say it wasn’t so hard for most people. Falling back on tried and true, on old favourites: meh! The real challenge, the real work (or joy, as I see it), is in exploring CanLit outside the normal boundaries and then trying to pick what would be great for discussion and expanding our literature’s definition.

I’ve said as much several times. I also weighed in on the Top Ten regional lists on CBC’s site: you can read that brief post here.

So now we’re down to the Top Five choices for each region, and from these, the panelists will choose which book to champion. Fingers crossed! Because I am still pretty excited about this year’s debate. My initial reaction on seeing Ontario and Quebec was some disappointment, but overall, I see hope for the discussion: we may yet convince Canadians to read more contemporary literature or younger authors or backlist that hasn’t been previously studied or extrapolated.

Here are the regions’ Top Five choices.

Atlantic

Quebec

Ontario

Prairies and the North

BC and Yukon

And of these choices, these are my picks (below), bearing in mind what I hope to see from Canada Reads. Please understand that my choices are not necessarily my favourite books; nor do they reflect my relationships with the authors. I chose based on what I feel would make the best discussion and on what I think Canadians could best read to sample CanLit different from what they’re used to. It’s my wish the panelists do the same!

Atlantic: The Town that Drowned, by Reil Nason

Quebec: Ru, by Kim Thúy

Ontario: The Day the Falls Stood Still, by Cathy Buchanan

Prairies and the North: The Garneau Block, by Todd Babiak

BC and Yukon: Bow Grip, by Ivan E. Coyote

Get ready for what I hope will be an exciting celebration of CanLit!

Post-Giller Thoughts on 419

Photo from Quill & Quire

By now you all know that Will Ferguson won the Giller Prize last night for his novel 419. Hearty congratulations to Mr. Ferguson! And to the other nominees, Russell Wangersky, Kim Thúy, Alix Ohlin, and Nancy Richler, whose books also deserve to be celebrated. As Will toasted: “To the written word!”

Ferguson also gave a warm and touching speech of gratitude that only deepened my crush on him (Beyond Belfast is my favourite of his so far). He’s contributed to Canadiana as a humorist, travel writer, and novelist, and though he’s no stranger to accolades — he’s won thirteen awards for his previous books — it’s lovely to see him win something as significant as the Giller now.

While I would have been happy had any one of the shortlisted authors won last night, I was especially glad that 419 emerged victorious. I surprised myself by shooting my arms in the air and cheering, actually. It was not only my prediction but my choice over the others, as worthy as they are.

I can’t say that 419 is the best Canadian novel of the year, but I don’t believe that’s what the Giller designates anyway. It can’t possibly, since the three people on the jury don’t read every Canadian book published in the year, for one thing. I also don’t think the writing is as strong as some of the writing I’ve read in the other other shortlisted books. But I do believe that 419 is a timely and important novel, a significant contribution to CanLit that, in winning the Giller, is now going to reach more homes than it might otherwise have done. It’s a good thing, especially if it prevents someone from falling victim to the 419 scam.

It’s difficult to compare stories and writing. So when I think about what book I’d like to see win an award and experience the positive consequences that go along with that, I consider what the books add to CanLit. The other candidates on the shortlist add exemplary writing and storytelling, there’s no doubt. But I didn’t feel they were Giller winners. Not because their writing isn’t strong but rather because their appeal and content doesn’t have as much potential for the larger Canadian and international audience as 419, or, I think, as much potential staying power. Gary Shteyngart said, “It was like nothing else I’d read. It stayed with us like a stomach virus. It just wouldn’t leave us. So we knew it would survive the elimination process.” And it did. But while the Giller Effect exists, it’s also true that not long after a book has won, it can also be rather quickly forgotten. I don’t see this happening as swiftly for 419 as it could the other books.

419 does more than tell a good story; it captures not only human weakness, compassion, desire, grief, love, suffering, and freedom but also the current climate and tragedy of Internet scams and international conflict. It’s thoroughly researched and thus offers insight in addition to a thrilling plot. In later years, we’ll be able to look back on this book as a literary landmark of this time.

I know people have mixed feelings about 419. I know people are disappointed, that they believe it isn’t literary enough or as well-written as one book or another. The truth is, we have to consider more than personal taste here. We have to consider value.

It’s also out there, as it will always be, that the Giller is predictable, the books chosen are ho-hum or stereotypical, that the entire event is elitist. I guess I don’t agree with all of that. While I guessed 419 would win tonight, partly because of what the jury’s statement about it said, I also think it could have gone several different ways. Others agree. And on the CBC’s poll tonight, at one point, Ru and 419 were neck and neck at 27%.

Mainly, though, as I said last night during the CBC Books Giller chat online, “I know there are so many CanLit authors out there not being recognized tonight. But that we celebrate CanLit at all is so heartening.” It was wonderful to hear Will Ferguson echo those sentiments later: “I love that in Canada literature gets the red carpet treatment.” As it turns out, I do too.

***

Shelagh Rogers in conversation with Will Ferguson on 419. So interesting!

CBC + our Giller live chat stream

National Post

Toronto Star

Globe and Mail

Calgary Herald

 

ARCs and the Author

Recently, a blogger friend of mine had a terrible author experience. She had decided to purchase one of his backlist titles, which she really wanted to read and which she’d bought because it was a small-press beautifully made book. Because she liked the design of this backlist book better than his contemporary novels, some of which she also owns, and because as a former student of his she wanted that particular book signed since he had taught her much, that’s what she took along to his IFOA event.

Now, after hearing the author read at said event, she went to get her book signed. To her surprise and embarrassment, the author loudly refused to sign it. He demanded where she’d got it, and when she’d admitted it was at a second-hand shop, he interrupted her, saying he simply couldn’t sign it. My friend was mortified. She began to ask why he couldn’t, thinking perhaps he’d flagged her copy as stolen or somehow illegitimate, but he spoke over her, emphatically insisting he would not sign her copy and that she could buy a book, pointing to the area where his books were on display, and he’d sign that for her.

Not wanting to further the scene, my friend went to return her copy to her shopping bag. At that point, the author noticed and said, “Wait, you bought this book?” My friend nodded, and the author grabbed the book from her, signed it with a flourish, and apologized, saying, “I’m sorry. I thought you got this book for free. Some publishers give out copies to people, and I thought this was one of them.” With that, he dismissed my friend with a huge “this conversation is over” smile. How did she feel about his signature after that? Whereas earlier she’d wanted to engage and say that she’d been in his class and admired him, after his behaviour, she’d felt like simply saying, “Fuck you.” Needless to say, she did not hang around.

What are you guys thinking right now? I’m feeling rather pissed off.

First off, this Canadian author can’t even recognize (or take the time to verify) a finished edition of his own book, published by a reputable Torontonian small press, which I have to say produces very lovely books that are quite distinctive. (I’m not even sure they do ARCs.) Second, the author caused a scene, embarrassing my friend rather than quietly telling her the reason he would not sign her book, which could have cleared up the issue when she answered that it was not after all an ARC. Third, and here, to me, is the most important, the author refused to sign her copy because he thought it was an ARC, because he assumed she hadn’t paid for his book. This betrays not only more ignorance but also, at least, arrogance. A fan reader (attending a paid IFOA author’s event, no less) is a valuable reader, no matter how she got the book (even if she had stolen it, which is not preferable, of course, and I would never condone that, but even that’s a form of flattery and can lead to recommendations). And my friend wasn’t just an appreciative reader, she was a former student, a book reviewer, and a bookseller. Aside from that, authors ought to be grateful for audiences.

Like many book lovers, I have no qualms whatsoever paying full-price for a new book, even a hardcover. I understand why book prices are high; I know what work goes into a book, all the people involved, who must be paid. It’s more my minimum wage pay that’s prohibitive, not me. Yet, if I want a book badly enough, I’ll buy it, and that’s from the shop, not online. Many of us here are books-before-groceries people. There isn’t one book blogger I know who relies on and reads solely ARCs—but our reviews are mostly of ARCs because we feel an obligation to review those before any we’ve bought on our own. And we buy more books than we receive free ones—often, ARCs prompt us to buy later books by those same authors.

So as a book lover, just like my friend, we’ve paid for far more than our “share” of books. I admit right now that I’ve spent a few hundred more than the price of a ticket to Yorkshire and back on books this year. And as a bookseller, just like my friend…well, between the two of us, we’ve handsold far more books than we can count because of ARCs. We could buy one book at an event to give an author what he deems his fair share, or we could sell many of that same book, often before it’s published, because we were sent an ARC.

My friend prefers ARCs to finished copies. She loves books, but what she also really loves is the experience of getting to read a book before it’s been released. She can drum up customer anticipation this way, but it also gives her an insider feel, a VIP sense, which invariably affects her reading experience. For this reason, she not only gets her reviews out in a timely manner but also prefers to get these ARCs signed. To that, I say: Your ARCs are special to you! Take them, and do not feel guilted into buying another copy! That is not how book buying is supposed to go. I prefer to get my ARCs signed because my experience was with that particular book, not some new, unopened copy I purchased right before the event to appease an author’s ego. There are other reasons I’d buy—have bought—the finished book even if I had the ARC. But my pages in an ARC are dogeared, or the ARC is bursting with Post-Its, and usually it’s decorated with marginalia as well, in preparation for my review. Because reading isn’t for me just flipping pages but also spending time with the copy itself, which goes with me everywhere, the ARC means something to me. As does the experience of attending an author’s event and getting that book personally signed rather than buying an already signed copy.

So. My friend and I are book bloggers/reviewers, book lovers who blab to anyone about how much we love a book, and booksellers. WE SELL BOOKS, no matter what occupation. We sell many books often precisely because the publishers have sent us copies of these books to read. We aren’t handing over pirated copies for a signature, after all. To get this straight: The publishers, generally speaking without whom the author would have no book, send us ARCs (aka gifts!)—there is no other way I know to get an ARC; sometimes readers will pass them on, but since they’re uncorrected proofs and still technically the property of the publisher, I’m very strict about this and have given copies only to a blogger I know will review them—often (not solely) in exchange for an honest review and the ability to handsell the books in our shops. In other words, the whole business is legit. And that ARC still means money for the author. There is no excuse, then, for being rude, never mind ignoring the fact that this person is a fan who has taken time to attend the reading, even paid to be there. You risk losing readers; without them, there is no point to your being published.

Authors should know that the one and only reason a publisher gives out an ARC is for review or for us to be able to sell it better. There’s something in it for both publisher and author. There is no valid reason I can think of why an author should refuse to sign an ARC or be offended. And if they are, they can take that issue up with the publisher, to ask that no ARCs of their books be created. It will save the publisher money, the author offence, and the reader humiliation. In my opinion, it’s a tad unreasonable to expect us to go out and buy copies of the books for which we already have ARCs, although we sometimes do. But that’s one of the perks of receiving ARCs, which publishers recognize: we get free books. And we are very grateful for them, but there is no other reward except personal gratification when we recommend and sell copies out of enthusiasm. Without readers and booksellers, where would an author be?

It shocks me that there are authors who do not realize the importance of being courteous to all those they encounter. They are a business, their appearance and attitude their first impression, and it pays to behave well. There is zero room for arrogance; no one likes a diva. Gratitude toward readers is appropriate and deserved. Humility or being down-to-earth is admired. I will say right now that most authors I’ve met, and there have been many, have been nothing but appreciative, easy-going, and approachable, and that not one author whose event I’ve attended and/or sold books for has refused to sign an ARC for me. It’s gracious to sign them, as well as finished copies, and I am thankful they understand why I have that ARC. A few have even been excited to see an ARC and thus recognize an especially enthusiastic fan and either a reviewer or bookseller.

As a bookseller, though, I’ve heard more than enough from other booksellers, even publicists, about negative author encounters, and what that results in: people telling everyone else and people refusing to buy or sell the author’s books. I recently acquired two books by this same author who mortified and frightened my friend, books I’ve been quite excited to read, in fact, and now his experience with my friend will taint my reading of them. I’ll read them for what they are, and if I review them, I’ll give them a fair review, but I will always remember that this author was an asshole. He made my friend embarrassed, scared to bring her beloved ARCs to other authors, and mortified to think that she’s perhaps been offending authors all along, when in fact she’s a frequent, conscientious reviewer, skilled and knowledgable bookseller, and avid attender of events. In truth, it should be she, the fan asking for a signature, the enthused reader who will tell others about the book, who should be offended! This author, needless to say, will never be invited to do a reading where I work. And if I told others who this person was, it’s possible they wouldn’t invite him either, no matter what he writes, no matter his status as a contributor to CanLit.

I’m hugely disappointed. In my opinion, this wasn’t about having a bad day. This was about indiscretion and arrogance.

I want to know what you think. Again, I’m not contesting that authors deserve money for their books, that sales are important. I work in the industry: I know what it’s about and the economic state of it. So am I flying off the handle here? While he has to right to do what he wants, do you think the author was right to refuse my friend a signing because (he thought) she hadn’t bought a copy of his book? As a reviewer or bookseller, do you feel comfortable handing over an ARC to be signed? If so, why? If not, why not? As an author, are you offended when reviewers or booksellers ask you to sign an ARC? If so, do you have another reason other than the reader has not paid for a finished copy of your book? If you represent a publisher, what say you on this issue of ARCs you send out and author signings?