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Monday, January 24, 2011

A Sport For Book Nerds

Yesterday morning, CBC's Fresh Air featured an in studio chat that Jen Knoch and I (as "book boosters") had with host Mary Ito about Canada Reads.  You can listen to the discussion online by clicking here.

I couldn't help but describe the reason why I have been enjoying the annual contest in which each of the final books on the list are defended by a selection of celebrity panelists and eliminated one by one, leaving a single book and author standing as that year's champion as a "sport for book nerds" -- because that's kind of what it is for me.

With the exception of following the Olympics and perhaps the Stanley Cup playoffs, I'm not really into sports. But I do love a good contest. Similarly, I'm never really been into any of the "Survivor" type "reality" shows on TV in which people are eliminated or voted off on a weekly basis. Dancing with the Has-beens or whatever that show is called doesn't give me any sort of pleasure, nor does watching a house-full of the worst room-mates you're ever likely to encounter. With the exception of the first couple of seasons of The Apprentice (because I enjoyed something about the cut-throat business challenges the teams faced, but after a few rounds, I grew tired of that too), all of those shows have done nothing for me - they simply fail to provide me with enough stimulation and intelligent content.

But I can certainly get into a hearty discussion/debate and friendly competition about what book every Canadian should read.

I mean, as a bookseller, it's a challenge I face every day.

No, not just the challenge of what books to suggest or hand-sell to customers, but rather, which books that are suggested to me that I'll actually end up reading. Not a day goes by that I don't have at least one book recommended to me - so assume that's about 250 days and 250 books per year that are suggested to me (which might be a bit light since I'm sure that through other things, such as reviews, articles, blogs, podcasts, etc, that list of suggested readings easily triples. I'm not a fast reader, so I'm suddenly faced with hundreds more books than I can possibly read in a year that are recommended to me. I need as many options as possible to help me discern among those suggestions.

Canada Reads is that type of tool for me. It's entertainment and sport, but it's also helping create a short-list of books I should read. (And yes, though I'm into it, I still have a wonderful backlist of books to read from the previous year's contests -- just because I put a book on my "to read" list doesn't mean I've already gotten to them all --it often takes me years to get to a book on my own personal short-list. But what a great thing to look forward to)

As I mentioned in the interview, this year's Top 40 list (click here for one of my previous blog posts which includes them all) is certainly a fantastic option for anyone looking to check out the best in contemporary Canadian literature. Picking any one of them provides a wonderfully diverse range of "CanLit" which is not the "CanLit" that was likely forced upon you in school.  (For an incredibly wonderful, in depth and refreshing perspective on CanLit, check out my friend Steph's recent blog post called The Stigma of CanLit and How We Can Change our Outlook on her blog Bella's Bookshelves.)

For the record, this year's Top 5 contenders for Canada Reads are:


Essex County by Jeff Lemire
The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou
Unless by Carol Shields


And the great thing about it is that,even among these 5 titles, you get a pretty decent range of styles of writing and subject matter.  As I said, there's virtually something for everyone here.

So if you haven't pick up a book, or specifically, haven't checked out what contemporary Canadian authors have to offer, start checking out the debates and see if that moves you to pick up one or more of these books.

What's the worst thing that can happen? You might even discover that you like reading and that it's nothing like that forced, repetitious and over-killed approach where a classic Canadian novel was crammed down your throat when you were too young to fully appreciate it.

1 comment:

steph said...

Mark,

Thank you for linking to my post, and for speaking so highly of it! I appreciate that very much.

I thought you and Jen did an excellent job with Mary's questions, and it was thanks to you both that I was inspired to write what I did.

PS. It's the same for me: I can't read as much or often as I'd like and I have piles of books that have been recommended to me. Years of them, as you said, too. And of the five CR books, I'll finish only Fallis's (I read Unless and The Birth House when they came out but that was long ago) because of time constraints...