The CBC invited me to participate in the Giller chat this evening from 7–10 and it was my pleasure, even more fun than I had anticipated. Discussion was mostly focused and everyone remained cool (I’ve seen some heated awards talks!).

The shortlisted books on the menu tonight were:

While I have read only two and a half books on the shortlist so far, I still felt confident enough, after sampling the others in order to prepare for this chat, to predict that Esi’s soulful and rich Half-Blood Blues would win. In my heart that’s also what I wanted. I did think David Bezmozgis’s book The Free World could win, too—it seemed a little more Giller, if you know what I mean—though I didn’t prefer his writing to Esi’s. To be fair, I haven’t yet finished his book, and I am enjoying it very much, but it’s not giving me the same thrill Esi’s did. To know what I’m talking about, you can read my review of Half-Blood Blues.

Among authors and readers, bloggers and professional book industry peeps, many interesting points were brought up in the chat leading up to the event, concerning whether or not other awards affect long- and shortlisted books of the Giller, the discussion of content and form, advantages and/or disadvantages of short stories in relation to novels, whether previous nominations would affect deWitt and Edugyan, and whether awards actually matter (going off on the ridiculous initial point made elsewhere that of all the awards only the Giller mattered). We also went off on tangents about dust jackets and The Price is Right, but that was part of the fun. If you’re interested, you can read the Giller chat on the CBC website. It’s rather exciting, too, because we start getting nervous as the time to announce the winner draws near!

Also interesting were the different moods in the introductions to the authors and their books. Ron MacLean‘s intro to Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist was particularly genuine and the most natural; he sounded like a bookseller, not an awards presenter, and I loved him for that. Those intros as well as the author profiles, during which all the authors were quite endearing, were very effective, and one could almost feel themselves being swayed and waffling back and forth in their choice of book to win. I had to remind myself, think of the books, the books! and then, too, I suddenly felt the prize could go to anyone: for how, really, can you pit books against each other? We keep doing it, in contests like Canada Reads and for awards, but when watching the proceedings, it becomes difficult to compare the books, which, this year especially, all offered something so different from their counterparts.

Esi Edugyan wins 2011 Giller Prize for her stellar Half-Blood Blues. Photo by Chris Young for the Canadian Press. Source, CTV News. Click image for further credit.

But then it came time to announce the winner and I remembered what I wanted to happen, and I hadn’t realized how nervous I was, how I was holding my breath, until I actually cheered out loud, sitting alone at my kitchen table, when they announced that had Esi won. Who says literature isn’t exciting?

My warmest, heartfelt congratulations to Thomas Allen, Patrick Crean (Esi’s editor), and to the very talented Esi Edugyan, who at only 33 has shown her quality as a writer. I also applaud the Giller jury for transcending stereotype and choosing a diverse mix of books this year, for recognizing greatness even in the presence of tried and true skill like that of Michael Ondaatje, and for thus freshening up the award image.

For more details, you can read the official Giller announcement. Edugyan will join CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi (who also hosted the Giller gala) on Q tomorrow (Wed.) morning, and CBC Books will make the livestream broadcast available online tomorrow, too.

They say that this winning can bump up a book’s sales by 500%, 100,000 copies in a month. Since Esi’s book is the bestselling of the six shortlisted books at the shop where I work, I’m curious to see what happens, particularly during the Christmas season. I did already have a customer call this afternoon to ask me to put aside whoever won for her to pick up in the morning. She didn’t care who it was, she just wanted the winner.

I have mixed feelings about the awards themselves, I think, and yet I do find them exciting, in spite of myself. In the end, it’s about rewarding hardworking artists who’ve honed their craft to such an extent that they deservedly stand out among the rest; it’s about celebrating great literature, by Canadians no less. And that, above all else, makes me pretty happy.