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October 29, 2010

About Canada Reads 2011: The good and the bad

So, I am excited that Sean Dixon’s The Girls Who Saw Everything has made it into the CBC Canada Reads Top 40 list. It’s a fantastic book that you should probably read, and I’m not the only one who thinks so– it received a lot of support. This does mean, however, that we all have to vote for the book again to get it into the finals– go here and do so.

I’m a bit conflicted though, or maybe just confused. I think a lot of us having been coming at Canada Reads from a multiplicity of angles, and the whole thing might be turning into a convoluted mess. Because, for example, my understanding is that Canada Reads is a great opportunity to highlight a book one is particularly passionate about, to bring the public’s attention to something they might not have read before, but something they will probably love, which is why I picked Dixon’s brilliant, quirky, book that was published by an independent press.

But I realize that I’d missed the point, or that my understanding of Canada Reads is different from another’s– say, Perdita Felicien, who last year was a panelist championing Anne Marie McDonald’s Fall on Your Knees. Quite simply, she picked a book she loved, and that was that. Other critics have demonstrated they understand Canada Reads to be an opportunity for panelists to promote books that Canada should read, in order to better ourselves. And this year, CBC has made Canada Reads something a bit different altogether– a chance for us to revisit the best books from the past decade, as nominated by the readers who loved them.

Oh, and as nominated by writers too, which is kind of awkward. I love the idea of readers pushing their favourite books, the conversation that ellicits, the passions fuelled, but surely an author in the fray isn’t going to have the same kind of conversations, the same interests. If your book really was one of the essential books of the past decade, couldn’t you rely on your passionate readers to promote it? And if you don’t have those passionate readers, then, um, maybe your book wasn’t one of the essential books of the past decade? It sort of kills the fun, actually, and you can’t blame the authors really, because they were encouraged, but it all seems quite contrary to the spirit of the game.

When I first saw the top forty list, I was thrilled. Not only had Dixon’s book made it, but so many other books I’m passionate about are there as well– The Way the Crow Flies by Anne-Marie McDonald (so underrated– I love this book), Unless by Carol Shields (which is my favourite book ever), Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb (which is wonderful, and award-winning, but I don’t think we could be done talking about it yet), Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki (a graphic novel– such a twist!), and Lisa Moore’s February (swoon). I guess all of these are books we’re not finished talking about already, or at least I’m not.

But there are two problems, and I only realized this a while after I first saw the list. 1) All the best books here, the books I most want to win, I’ve read already! So there goes 99% of the fun for me, really. [And there’s only book here that I’ve not yet read that I’ve been moved to pick up, and that’s Essex County by Jeff Lemire. I’ve read 20 of the others already, and the final 19 haven’t appealed to me yet.) 2) The books I most want to win probably won’t win– a lot of readers’ understanding is that we should vote for the most essential books of the last decade, and in general terms these probably are The Book of Negroes, Late Nights on Air, Lullabies for Little Criminals etc. Books we’ve already read to death, however– and I can’t imagine that I’d find myself reading these again.

I’m still hopeful that the CBC will come up with something excellent– the list does bode well for interesting, but if you’re like me and come to Canada Reads to encounter something new, things may not work out exactly as planned. Which is why, I think, I am probably going to do Canada Reads Independently 2011, CBC shortlist pending. So we’ll have to see what happens, and at least things aren’t boring (yet).

14 thoughts on “About Canada Reads 2011: The good and the bad”

  1. Oh my goodness, please do! I got so much more out of Canada Reads Independently last year than I got out of Canada Reads!

  2. Julie says:

    I agree. I’ve already read a bunch of these, and there are only a couple new ones I will be moved to read.

  3. Julie says:

    And yes, please do Independently again!

  4. I think you have a point. So many of the books on the Top 40 list I’ve already heard of. What I loved about Nikolski and Good to a Fault last year was that I’d not heard of them before!

  5. Angie Abdou says:

    I’m glad to hear you say that the others have *not yet* appealed to you, since it means we still have a chance. Be willing to be surprised. There may still be some discoveries in there — as there have been on other Canada Reads.

  6. Angie Abdou says:

    OK – I’ll make you a deal. I’ll send you a copy of my novel The Bone Cage (free of charge) if you promise to give it a chance. Let’s say you can read 50 pages of it and if you absolutely hate it and couldn’t care less about the characters, you can quit and drop it off at your local pool for a swimmer to read. I suspect you’re dismissing it because you’re not interested in sports or sport lit. I’d like to think The Bone Cage is more than that. Give it a try. Send me your mailing address and I’ll drop one in the post tomorrow. Let me know what you think – I have a thick skin so honest responses are welcome.

    1. Kerry says:

      Angie, you’ve clearly not heard about my affinity for Swim Lit And I wasn’t dismissing your book, rather a solid block of twenty books I’ve never heard about or heard much passion for (YET. Once again, *yet*, I’m waiting to pleasantly surprised!). It’s just sort of an awkward arrangement, that there are so many books here I love, and one in particular that I got onto the list, and then all these new books I’m meant to discover– a bit overwhelming, and a bit silly since then I have to vote for just one. And then once we’re down to the final five– I wonder what the odds are that the most interesting books will win (particularly as “mostly interesting” isn’t even the object). Anyway, I would love to read your book, and I am sorry if I caused offence.

  7. Angie Abdou says:

    Wow! You do love swimming literature. Me too! I love (really really really love) Nicola Keegan’s Swimming. Here’s my column on it:

    I also love Samantha Warwicks’ Sage Island:

    I’ve declared myself an interational expert on the growing field of swimming literature and go to conferences giving papers with pretentious titles like “Sport as Subversive Space in Contemporary Swimming Novels” (I crack myself up).

    I wasn’t offended at all (really!). I’m finding all of these conversations around Canada Reads very interesting (and highly addictive — my husband will be glad when it’s over!). I just think that the cover copy of The Bone Cage doesn’t represent it very well, and I hate the idea of people deciding that it’s not very appealing before they’ve at least tried it. I wish I would’ve worked harder at those final details of the book (people really do judge a book by its cover, as it turns out). So, because you’re someone who loves book and because I like the idea of you enjoying my book, I would like to send you a copy. Send me your street address and I will do so pronto — I’m even happier to do so now that I know we share a passion for swimming novels.

  8. Angie Abdou says:

    PS I don’t really think Swimming Literature is a growing genre (or even much of a genre at all) — that is just mine and Samantha Warwick’s in-joke (and my way of going to fun conferences).

  9. Melwyk says:

    I have the same concerns about this process as you, I think. Will it just be a final five of books everyone has already read? I know that I’ve read about a third of the books already, and there is at least another third I know I am never going to read. That leaves a few surprises — Sean Dixon’s & Angie’s, for example! But I really, really hope you’ll do Independently again 🙂

  10. Nathalie says:

    Re: swimming books
    It’s not terribly well written, but the story has stayed with me: Grayson, a memoir about a long distance swimmer and a baby whale.

  11. Nathalie says:

    And I would also like to see you do another CRI for an alternative. The one last time helped me reconnect with Carrie, of Hair Hat fame, and I would love to have a list of your other goodies. (I now put a note next to the titles in my books bought list, a la Nick Hornby, that Kerry made me buy it.)

  12. Kerry says:

    Okay everyone, you’ve convinced me…

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