Once & Future

Charlotte Ashley – Book seller, collector, writer, editor, historian

November 30, 2009

Book Prizes and Book Recommendations

I can’t overstate how excited I am about tomorrow’s Canada Reads 2010 announcement.  I have it on my calendar and plan to stay home from Miss Margaret’s drop-in centre in order to hear it, pen and paper ready to scribble down my order list.  While the competition aspect of Canada Reads is definitely good fun, what I love best about it is simply receiving the recommendations.  Does that sound strange?  I find it very difficult to get reliable literary recommendations.  It isn’t that there aren’t enough recommendations flying around out there, it’s that there are generally too many.

The seasons’ Best of 2009 Picks are a case in point as far as I am concerned.  Every publication with a book reviewer publishes a “Top X Books of the Year” right around Christmas, and I find these lists utterly useless.  100 best books of the year?  How are there even enough books published in a year for 100 of them to carry the title of best?  I am not a prolific reader as far as bookish folks go – at best I might read 40 books in a year, more often I read 20-25.  I can’t absorb 100 books in a year, or even decide which of them to dip in to.  I need a short list.  Best book of the year.  If you read one book this year, make it this one.

That, of course, is something literary prizes can be good for.   The Booker Prize winners for the last few years have been decent reads, but I’ll admit it’s pretty clear to me that the Giller juries and I have very different opinions on what makes a good book.  Canada Reads is different.  Although they’re limited to Canadian books, the wider sweep of time reaches more nooks and crannies than a conventional annual book prize.  Because of the populist focus of the competition, they seem to go out of their way to represent a bit of everything: something small press, something funny, something a little strange, something that was overlooked the first time around, something classic but forgotten.   And probably most importantly, they aren’t trying to find the best book under any technical criteria, they just want to pick a book they’d feel safe recommending to just about anyone.  Be still my heart, recommendations actually intended for reading pleasure.

I even have this thought that I might bundle up Miss Margaret tomorrow and head down to the CBC building for the little meet-and-greet at noon.  I’m sure I’ll have at least one of the chosen books on my shelf already, and it’s always fun to have signatures inscribed.  Does anyone else have a similar thought?  I started this blog last year after having a great time discussing Canada Reads 2009 all over the bloggosphere – I’d love to do the same this year, and maybe meet some (more) of you.


2 thoughts on “Book Prizes and Book Recommendations”

  1. Kerry Clare says:

    I’m so excited for Canada Reads, and you’ve articulated very well why it’s more worthwhile than other literary prizes. I never participated until last year, but I’m glad I did (and “met” you along the way), and I’m looking forward to doing it again. I’d also bundle up the baby and head down to CBC, but we’ve got a doctor’s appmt. Plus, we’re going to the CBC on Friday for their Sounds of the Season event. I suppose you can only bundle up the baby and head down to the CBC so many times per week…

  2. JK says:

    I was writing a post last night that said many of those same things! I get 10x as excited for CR as for more prestigious awards like the Giller. So glad to have you still around blogging, Charlotte!

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