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March 14, 2011

Ephemeral, yet eternal

My husband told a story at dinner the other day that involved a coyote and a mountain lion. “Like in Fauna,” I said, and we talked about the characters in this book we both read months ago, then we marvelled at how much the book had stayed with both of us. It’s not every book that does that, taking over dinner conversation as you put the pieces of the plot back together in your memory, and I continue to believe that Fauna is a really exceptional novel. That it is exceptional and never won any big book prizes, however, is to my mind no contradiction.

Fauna was exceptional for many reasons as a book, but not as much as an example of the novel form, and I think this is the reason it did not win any prizes. That it didn’t win prizes is not to say that it’s not a worthy book, but that a worthy book didn’t win a prize is also not to say it was robbed. Prizes are not the sole determinate of worthiness. And I’ve been thinking of this lately, considering the number of books I read that are considered unrecognized because they’re not short or longlisted by Giller and the like. The notion of the “snub”, the entitlement behind that notion, as though everyone deserves to be a winner. As though prizes were handed out on an assembly line, when really sometimes it’s the books that seem to be produced that way, so can you really be surprised when yours isn’t a winner?

But what I really mean to say is that there is a place for these books, all those books I read last year, for instance, that will never win a prize and should never win a prize, but that I thoroughly enjoyed reading anyway. That to be read is to be recognized, and I know it doesn’t come with much of a paycheque, but it’s everything, even without a gala. The ordinary couple discussing your story over macaroni is what you’re writing for, and the shelves upon which your book will forever dwell, and the dust that will gather on its pages over time to be blown away the odd time the book is opened– this is what you’re signing up for. The way the story will live on in readers’ minds, the connections they’ll draw between your story and others, and world outside the bookshelves, even. Something oddly ephemeral, yet eternal, less quantifiable than a grand prize win, but it matters, and it means your book matters, even if you didn’t win.

5 thoughts on “Ephemeral, yet eternal”

  1. Rebecca says:

    This is exactly true, and very wise.

  2. patricia says:

    This is so beautiful and brilliant and almost made me cry.

  3. steph says:

    If I were an author I would be mightily encouraged by this. I second Rebecca and Patricia.

    This is wonderfully written.

  4. JK says:

    Absolutely beautiful, as always, Kerry. Working at a publisher that puts out a very wide variety of books has made this truth very apparent to me. A book for every reader, a reader for every book. It’s the reason I got into this business in the first place.

  5. Sandra says:

    What a lovely post…Finding that gem of a book based on a recommendation of a friend or a reviewer that you trust is just gold. Being able to go beyond the long list of this or the short list of that is what keeps me reading. Yet unless you are fortunate to have a network of “recommenders”, it is tricky to find these gems, especially with fewer independent bookstores.

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