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).