March 12, 2010
Canada Reads 2010 Wrap-Up
I’ve put the finishing touches on an order to Random House and with that, we here in bookseller land are prepared to administer Canada’s latest future bestseller (right? Right??!?) to an anxious public. It’s already all over Twitter, so I won’t pretend I’d be the one to spoil it for you: Nikolski has been crowned the winner of CBC’s Canada Reads 2010!
I guess I’d better pry my foot out of my mouth! I really didn’t see Nikolski pulling through but I am THRILLED about it! Michel Vezina, to whom this win is entirely owed, managed to turn my mind right around on this book and, apparently, did the same for the other panelists.
I have a theory about Canada Reads and why it will never really be truly disappointing:
By appointing a panel of pseudo-celebrities who are at least desirous of being of the intelligentsia you set up a situation where as much as anything, the panelists don’t want to be seen as populist, mainstream or ignorant. We saw this in the first two days: “Oprah” is a dirty word in this world where the panelists feel they are being called upon to provide literary guidance, to educate as much as to entertain. So a smart panelist who appeals to Greater Literary Values will shame, to some extent, these panelists out of voting against his or her title because they don’t want to be seen as pedestrian. A smart book defended by a not-especially-literate panelist may not make it, but a smart-enough book by a very literate panelist will. A smart book defended by a literate panelist is a guarantee. Knock on wood.
Back in the real world, will this translate into sales? Book of Negroes certainly did, but this was a book that was mounting momentum before it won. I remember Rockbound by Frank Day flying off the shelves. A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews was selling well before the Canada Reads nod. King Leary was a bit of a wiff at our store, but then it wasn’t a very good book (and I say this as a die-hard Paul Quarrington acolyte) as was Lullaby for Little Criminals for reasons I can’t quite put my finger on. My boss, who has been selling books for over 35 years, said the following when I told her who won: (and I quote)
“F. U. C. K. Who on earth is going to come crawling in looking for that?”
She had been rooting for Jade Peony, a tried and tested novel around these here parts that we thought would translate into reliable sales. Nikolski‘s an unknown quantity, I’ll be honest. A somewhat unconventional book, a translation at that, by an unknown first novelist. Those are qualities I find exciting, but I’m undecided as to what my fairly conservative clients will do. I’ll certainly let you know!
This has been fun, though. Thanks to everyone who blogged the debates this year: I read about six blogs a day and still managed to find something fresh and interesting voiced by each one. Enough discussion sparks my interest in even the dullest of books! We should do this again some time, maybe next year, same time?
ETA: Wayson Choy just walked into my store! I’d kill to know what’s going through his mind today. Must… be… discreet..