The weekday after a long weekend is always extra hard for me, and I imagine it is for others, too. So let’s start off with some amazing news!

1. The Governor General Literary Award nominees were just announced today, and the fiction nominees are: Patrick DeWitt, for The Sisters Brothers, Esi Edugyan, for Half-Blood Blues, David Bezmozgis, for The Free World, Marina Endicott for Little Shadows, and Alexi Zentner, for Touch. This is only the second time ever that two authors have been nominated for all three major Canadian literary awards. All this overlap makes it pretty easy for those who want to read all the nominees of the various awards, eh? My hearty congratulations to all the publishers, authors, and staff who made these books the best they could be! UPDATE: Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table was up for consideration, but the author respectively requested that his publisher not submit the book, as he feels he’s won the award a fair number of times already (that is, five times). The Cat’s Table does remain on the Giller shortlist.

2. Some of you may be interested in the Guess the Giller contest going on now till Nov. 8. You may be pretty excited about potentially winning a copy of each of the shortlisted titles, for instance: that is, Esi Eduygan’s Half-Blood Blues, Patrick deWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table, David Bezmozgis’s The Free World, Lynn Cody’s The Antagonist, and Zsuzsi Gartner’s Better Living Through Plastic Explosives. Doesn’t tempt you enough? How about a Kobo Touch e-reader and a $50 gift certificate from Chapters/Indigo? Still not enough incentive? Okay: how about the grand prize for guessing the winner:

• A visit from the 2011 Scotiabank Giller prize-winning author to contest winner’s home town, courtesy of Scotiabank. The hometown or residence of  the contest winner must be in Canada
• A restaurant meal for the contest winner and four (4) guests with the 2011 prize-winning author (maximum value: $500 CDN ), courtesy of  Scotiabank. The restaurant will be selected in the sole discretion of the sponsor and all decisions made by the sponsor are final.
•A set of the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize shortlisted books
•A Kobo eReader, courtesy of Kobo, with a $50 CDN gift certificate to Chapters Indigo, courtesy of Scotiabank
Approximate value of the prize is $5,000.00

Off to enter!

3. Since I was a teen, I’ve counted Raymond Carver among my favourite short story writers. Last week the hubby and I enjoyed a movie called Everything Must Go, based on Carver’s very short and quite different story titled, “Why Don’t You Dance?” Read the story (link will take you there) and watch the movie—the trailer is below.

4. I couldn’t help but spend quite a bit of time scrolling through this site: Awesome People Reading. What is it, exactly, about seeing someone read that makes other readers so happy? I’m always dying to ask people what they’re reading if I can’t already tell, and when I’m looking at magazines or pictures, I always try to discern what the title is in the subject’s hand. The other day there was a kid in the shop totally sprawled out in one of the leather chairs, reading a dinosaur book.  My first thought was, I need a camera!

5. Emily Gould and Ruth Curry have begun Emily Books, an indie bookstore that, according to them, is more like a club, and they sell only ebooks. They’re just getting started, but here is their campaign. They can also be found on Twitter. Will we see more of these ebook stores in the future?

6. I want this book. I love this book. This is an example of a beautiful book, and I’m thinking Jen Knoch would love it, too. It’s called Farm Anatomy: Curious Parts and Pieces of Country Life, by Julia Rothman. It took her almost a year to create!

7. “This Cake is for the Party,” the prequel, “The Lightest One I Could Make”: a new story by Sarah Selecky in the Walrus, November 2011 issue. I’m sorry if I’m coming across as a major fan girl. It’s embarrassing, but I can’t help it. It’s a good story!

8. Jessica Westhead‘s short story “Community,” from her collection called And Also Sharks, has been dramatized for radio! My computer is having problems right now, which is VERY ANNOYING (everything I do is delayed, whether it’s typing letters or clicking on another site, or whatever), so I’m not getting to listen to this without it constantly skipping. I hope it doesn’t do that for you. Maybe it just needs some time to download and buffer or whatever. I hope you can listen!

9. Watch how a book is made, from the Middle Ages (love those illuminated manuscripts!) to the present—actually, even now, the process is evolving. I personally find this history fascinating. Has anyone read Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book? That novel will increase your appreciation for the dear ones on your shelves, too! (Thank you to For the Love of Bookshops for “making books” links!)

10. For you children’s book lovers: Have you read Plain Kate by Erin Bow? It just won the $25,000 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. I was quite happy when I read this news; the book is magical, well worth your time. In fact, I’d say it’s an autumn read, so here’s my review of it, to get you motivated!

11. I’m sure that by now you all have heard of The Night Circus? In the last LitBits I posted an article about the marketing aspect of it. This week, something interesting is happening: Thursday, October 13th marks the date that Erin Morgenstern’s “circus of dreams” was born. On October 13, 1886, at the stroke of midnight in London, the first circus doors opened to the public. This upcoming Thursday marks the 125th anniversary of this event. I have to admit, okay, that in general, I’m not cool with circuses, at least not animal or freak ones. Cirque du Soleil is different, and I’d love to see that some day. Anyway, I approach circus books with a degree of caution. This book, like Water for Elephants, has met with rave reviews for the most part, though one recent article in the New York Times had a different stance. Nevertheless, you can be sure that Random House has some neat stuff planned for this anniversary, like this free game, for instance. I haven’t yet read the book, but I plan to—because the story idea intrigues me. Erin is also coming to my area, for anyone interested. She’ll be reading as part of the International Festival of Authors in Picton, at Books and Company on October 28, 7pm. Tickets are $10.

12. Any Poe fans here? I love Poe, though studying him in university burst my bubble a little. By now, though, I’ve forgotten the underlying meanings and can just enjoy his stories as the wonderful gothic creations they also are. And now, one of my favourite male actors, John Cusack, is playing the author himself in a thriller of a movie called The Raven, to be released in 2012. I’m excited about it! Watch the trailer.

13. While you’re in Poe mode, there’s also this movie coming out called Twixt, about a hack horror writer visiting a small town in which he ends up investigating the murder of a young girl. Poe appears in the movie, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who said this: the story is “inspired by the eerie writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe” and came to him in a vivid dream he had while on a trip to Istanbul. The trailer for Twixt is spooky!

14. Switching gears here, the CBC is celebrating 75 years of featuring CanLit, from interviews to reviews to stimulating discussion. I have always loved browsing the CBC archives for old stuff with Atwood and for Halloween files (that I posted last year), and they’re taking a look back in the celebrating, too. They’ve started with Alice Munro, who’s got about 20 collections of stories to date but at the time of her interview had only three. Whoa. Have a listen to Alice Munro and Don Harrow on Morningside in 1978.

15. You’ve read writer’s blogs, but have you ever read a character‘s blog? Always Under Revision is the blog of Kate, a character in Leona Theis’s novel in progress. In her posts, Kate details what it’s like being written, as well as chats about her author’s progress and daily happenings. I thought it an interesting, creative spin on the typical author’s blog. I’d say it’s a good (but potentially dangerous when I think about it, if you’re in any way unstable!) method of getting inside a character’s head, let alone a writer’s!

16. I was reading the Saturday Toronto Star this weekend and to my surprise saw a few book covers I recognized on the front page of the Entertainment section. I always read that section but don’t see much on books. This time, there was an entire page and a bit, an interesting article called “Shortchanging the Short Story,” mainly but not solely about Zsuzsi Gartner’s recent collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives making the Giller shortlist, and what she has to say about that and short stories. What do you think after reading it? Are short story collections shortchanged? Should there be no distinction between novels and short stories—should we just have, as Gartner wishes, books? I’ve written about short stories here before, and I’d love to know what you guys think about this article.

17. Want to win a copy of Michael Ondaatje’s The Cat’s Table? Go to Random House’s BookClubs page! They have a biweekly contest to win books, so while you’re there, sign up for the newsletter. It really is possible to win: I’ve done so twice!

18. I’m looking at Margaret Atwood’s newest book, called In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, published by McClelland & Stewart, and you know how books often list the author’s other publications? In this book, Ms Atwood’s previous books take up TWO pages. There are 21 books of fiction, 14 books of poetry, 9 non-fiction books, and 6 kids books. And that’s just books. Kind of makes my “I can’t write” whinging really pathetic!

19. Check this out, this is so cool! Trevor Cole’s award-winning Practical Jean…in photos:

20. I’ve waxed poetic about my artist sister, Thérèse Neelands before (by the way, she’s joined Twitter), and Oliver Jeffers as well, who also happens to be one of my sister’s sources of inspiration. So what do you get when you combine the two? A Christmas ornament that T made and forgot to give me last year and instead presented me this Thanksgiving weekend: I give you Boy, of Oliver Jeffers’s Lost and Found (the short film of which I posted for you in LitBits 19), Up and Down, How to Catch A Star, and The Way Back Home:

Boy, from Oliver Jeffers's The Way Back Home (also featured in How to Catch a Star, Lost and Found, and Up and Down. Ornament by Thérèse Neelands.

Believe me, you have to see this dude in real life (and we have to do something about that little bit between his legs, which is, of course, where the twine comes through. It’s too hilariously placed). Seriously, though, in real life, this little guy is amazing. My photos are shite. Also, she made Penguin, and my other sister got him. I demand him next Christmas. Also, I want the Martian from The Way Back Home. I hope you’re reading this, T. Oi, Oliver, if you’re reading this: thank you!! Also, you and my sis should get together and do something artsy.

Anything you want posted in LitBits? Contact me or send me a tweet!


Sigh. How can I do this in a timely fashion when I have to work during the day?

So far I’ve been giving mostly just my thoughts on the Canada Reads discussions, and now that I’m back to work and can’t blog till later in the day, I’ll keep doing that, since by now you’ve heard or watched the debates and read all the other blogs that have been documenting the Canada Reads process, such as Keepin’ It Real, Inklings, That Shakespearean Rag, and Roughing it in the Books.

To start: I don’t think too many people are surprised that Gen X has been voted off, though I thought that might be the second to go and Good to a Fault would be first, only because I’m starting to wonder if everyone read it, it’s so little mentioned. Interestingly, the same thing happened on Civilians Read: Gen X was voted off first.

I really liked the first question of the day: Which book other than your own had the strongest sense of time and place for you? I can see that answer becoming an entire paper because of how much those two concepts affect not only a story in general but also particularly the characters in different ways. Not surprisingly (because it often does seem to get left out), Good to a Fault wasn’t mentioned, though once Jian brought that up, the discussion was full of incite, didn’t you think?

For me, Nikolski comes first to my mind because of the theme of geography, because of the nomadic experiences, of travel, and how each character quite significantly passes through space and time and explores his or her life, location (even in guessing the locations of others), and history. When I think of each character’s upbringing and history, which takes up quite a chunk of the book as a whole, I think people would be hard-pressed to say Nikolski didn’t explore those strongly enough to give them a sense of where we were, even if we were being pulled from place to place. I especially got a very good, concrete sense of Montreal in general, but also of each character’s various residences and places of work. I think Dickner was actually quite aware of space and time as important elements of a story, and I would say that these are two major themes of the book.

I enjoyed Sam’s answer to this question, too, especially when she pulled out specifics from Fall on Your Knees, like Rose telling Kathryn she smells like the sea, to give a sense of placement. I was hoping for more of this, actually, a bit more specifics, in order to better appreciate the authors’ writing and prove the arguments. Sam’s comments in general on this third day are quite good; it feels as though she’s ready to pull out the stops. In general, as the debates progress, the arguments have become so much better than when they first started that I felt myself pulled in every panelist’s direction! The comments are well articulated for the most part and more in-depth and reflect careful consideration.

The second question was: How much does the Canadianness matter to you and which would you say was the most Canadian book? As you know by now, this raised the temperature in the room and I could feel myself getting a little hot under the collar, but mostly from frustration. I think this is a very difficult question because, as Simi Sara said, how one defines Canada and Canadianness is mainly based on personal experience and is subjective. Books have been written on this topic.

But I keep wondering every time this question arises: Is there nothing that we can all agree is generally Canadian? Can we really not define Canadianness? My friend says that the definition of Canadian often ends up being “some form of white, middle-class Anglophone mainstream notion,” and I’m not sure I agree with that, since, first, one of the initial things people bring up is our multiculturalism. And regardless of whether or not they feel particularly caring about Tim Hortons or the Montreal Canadiens, at one point or another immigrants do tend to participate in “Canadian” culture, whether they’re choosing Molson Canadian or attending hockey games or joining the Mounties.

In the same breath as we say Canadianness is an elusive thing we generalize that Canadians are polite, or that Canada is multicultural and thus the fabric of the country is made up of many different fibres. Canadianness is diversity—which Perdita was quick to pick up on and try to use to her advantage. Though I’m not convinced that her points, like that of transgender, illustrate Canadianness so much as the human condition.

Personally, I feel I have a grasp on Canadian literature, its special and specific tone, what makes it different and discernible from the writing of non-Canadian authors, but would others agree with me? Do I even agree with myself? Would we have all sorts of definitions of Canadian literature depending on who was asked? What about the way we can get a sense of regional fiction—how different prairie writing is from maritime writing, from west coast texts and Ontarian fiction? And within those regions are another layer, that composed of Canadian immigrant authors. Because all writers are human and we first and foremost write about the human experience, can there really be such thing as Canadian writing, leaving out, if we can, the authors’ heritage and the location of the stories?

So then, how does one answer the second half of the question: Which book was most Canadian? Initially I had thought Nikolski, once again, for various reasons (the various nationalities in the book, the nomadic experience, the immigrant experience, the sense of Canadian cities and landscape), but Sam gave such a good argument that, not for the first time, I was rooting for The Jade Peony—enough to say I think it’s the best example of Canadianness, of the common Canadian experience. At the same time, I’m asking myself, how are Canadian immigrant experiences and examples of writing different from American or other ones, leaving city aside, if we can? What makes the immigrant experience especially Canadian? (Has anyone read A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Guo Xiaolu? It tells the story of a young Chinese woman who moves to London. It’s brilliant.)

The next question was: Which book sends the message of class division the most? I was unsure about the point of this question, except that the issue did arise more than once from the discussions. Though it’s a universal thing and I’m still not sure how the answer would actually make one book better than the next in terms of the book Canada should read, it’s not an entirely invalid question, since the question is something that seems a common thread in many Can lit. novels, particularly ones written by immigrants.

And then, already, it was time to vote! Does anyone else feel each day as though it’s too soon to vote? I want more discussion beforehand! I’m enjoying myself and feel there is so much more each person could contribute but can’t because of time constraints and giving everyone a chance to express their answers. I wish the program could be an hour instead of just half. The whole thing feels as though it’s going way too fast! Am I the only one who feels that way?

Tune in again tomorrow for Day Four of the debates, and to find out which was the next book to be voted off. My guess is Good to a Fault. (Sigh. I feel so badly for the authors! Are they listening to this? Are they on tenterhooks? Do they think this fun? Do they sit there wishing they could say something or cheering on certain panelists?)

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KIRBC Civilians Reads panelists

Canada Reads is a well-known CBC program. Perhaps not quite so well-known yet is the Canada Reads spinoff Civilians Read, dreamed up and hosted by an excellent booklovers’ blog called Keepin’ it Real Book Club (KIRBC). This time around (they’ve done it before), five panelists, each pulled from the publishing trade, battle it out over the same five books Canada Reads will begin debating on March 8 on CBC Radio ONE: Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald, The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott. I’m excited about this list of works, mainly because so far I’ve already read 3 of the 5.

As I type this post, I’m listening to a podcast by the KIRBC gang that is exciting because I feel as though I’ve rediscovered a lost piece of my life I’ve long missed. It’s been eons, about ten years or so, since I’ve had any sustained stimulating discussion about Canadian literature among other booklovers, and not only stimulating but intelligent—which you generally do not find in your local bookstore or library club. Wait—let me rephrase that lest I offend anyone: at least, I haven’t found that in the book clubs I’ve joined…and left. What I’m listening to now is the kind of discussion I want to hear in Biblio. It’s very good, well done, but not too serious—a perfect balance. Laughter abounds, and you can really hear the energy in the room. It makes me jealous, makes me wish I was there, but I feel woefully unprepared for such things now, being so out of practice.

Have a listen to the KIRBC podcast (at about 6 minutes in, I think, there’s a little blank air but keep listening, it will catch up) and see what you think. Their discussion has me pondering about not only who might win (I’m rooting for Nikolski, but the Jade Peony is a fave as well), and how best to defend a novel, but about how we might perpetuate this kind of appreciation for literature—particularly Canadian, which to my mind merits our support—by constantly changing the way we appreciate it, by how we voice that appreciation, and by keeping our expression of it interesting, unique, imaginative, exciting, and most of all tempting.

I’ve been thinking about this for Biblio, so that I don’t have a lame book club and so that I can watch those deserving books we discuss and promote fly out our wooden doors, beautifully wrapped in paper and twine, ready to be devoured with a cup of tea.

But I think the KIRBC has a fine head start (especially on unique: check out their YouTube pre-game confessionals in the bathroom, the only room with a closed door!). Stay tuned for more each day as they continue their debate!

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In case you don’t already know and are interested, CBC’s 2010 Canada Reads program will take place March 8–12. The program will air on CBC Radio One at 10:30 and 7:30 pm. Are you ready? Have you read any of the books yet?

If you don’t know what Canada Reads is, here’s CBC’s own description:

Canada Reads celebrates five Canadian books for three months online, at public events and on air. It all leads up to a week-long show hosted by Jian Ghomeshi.

In this annual title fight, five celebrity panelists defend their favourite work of Canadian fiction. One by one, books are voted off the list, until one panelist triumphs with the book for Canada to read this year.

This year’s books and their defenders are:

I’ve read (and quite enjoyed) all but Generation X (even though I’ve read quite a few of Coupland’s novels and liked them) and Good to a Fault. I think I might, if I can, buy the two and read them before the Canada Reads program starts so I can participate in my own way. I love knowing the books they’re going to be discussing, and I can say right now, it’s going to be a hard choice.

On the other hand, perhaps I’ll wait to hear the debates. When I bought Lullabies for Little Criminals when it was the 2007 CR winner (I missed the debates that year), I was…disappointed. It took me a while to decide how I felt about it, but in the end, I ended up donating the book to the library. It just wasn’t for me. (Caution: this link leads to a post that contains some profanity. But then, so did the book.)

If I had to pick the winner of the ones I have read here, I’d say The Jade Peony, even though Nikolski really blew me away only recently. Wayson Choy’s writing is just so powerful and poetic, his characterization so real and concrete. He also treated the serious and important subject matter with humour, which is something I admire of Thomas King as well. The subject matter of The Jade Peony, from what I remember (it’s been years since I read the book and led a Chapters book club on it), gave voice to what must have been the experience of many Chinese immigrants in BC. Also, the format of the novel, three perspectives, worked very well to portray how adapting to immigrant life affects each in a different way.

Not to discount the ones I haven’t yet read, of course, but this book’s won quite a few awards and accumulated very high praise. Its subject matter is part of Canadian history and identity. It would be no surprise to me if it was the Canada Reads winner, too. Still, not one of these contests has been easy. Looking back to previous shows, the lineups have been impressive, each book a significant contribution to Canadian literature. In that case, perhaps it’s anybody’s guess, until we actually hear the show.

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