February 7, 2011
Canada Reads Day 1: Twitterrage
Canada Reads 2011 is off to an ignominious start, I’m sorry to report.
After thirty-three minutes of introductions, including some extremely hokey book mini-trailers complete with bird-and-baby sound effects, the panelists finally settled into some “debate” over the relative merits of their books. Jian called out Essex County early on as the “elephant in the room” – the little format that shouldn’t be. To which I scoff – if there was an elephant in the room, surely it was the CBC’s repeated insistence that this competition was about finding the “most essential” book of the last decade whilst gesturing at a stack of books nobody has ever heard of. The meaning of “essential” wasn’t even scrutinized.
Out came the knives and Essex County was chopped to ribbons for its one and only fault – being a graphic novel. Panelist Sara Quin made a valiant effort to defend the medium, asking if viewing art at MOMA was a shallow experience, but I fear she took the wrong tack. The other panelists didn’t feel Essex County was unmoving or un-artistic, they just felt it “wasn’t a novel”, whatever that means. Lorne Cardinal even chided it for being more like a collection of short stories. Format, apparently, is of great concern here. This is a Canada Reads panel playing tightly by the rulebook.
Hopefully they will remain just as anal retentive about semantics when they finally question this term “essential” and Unless gets its due. Surely as the only book with prior literary credentials, awards and reputation it is the only one which can be defined as essential? I don’t see how anyone can, with a straight face, claim that a first novel written in the last three years which nobody read in any way approaches the essence of anything, except obscurity.
Obviously I’m annoyed at Essex County‘s undeserved exit. As is, it seems, much of the Twitterverse. I had no idea Sara Quin was the star she appears to be – Canada Reads seems to have finally attracted those hordes of young, non-”CBC type” readers to its show that it always wanted. Shame the book they came to see got scuttled off with so little regret. I honestly wonder if they’ll stay to follow the rest of the show. I wondered that myself, briefly, but then realized now we have the chance for the panelists to finally get in to the huge and glaring flaws the remaining books sport. I desperately want someone to call into question the one-dimensional insult that Best Laid Plans‘ Lindsay was. Actually I still just have it out for Best Laid Plans in general. Grr, etc.
But I do fear for Unless. Perhaps Sara Quin will take it up now that she’s free (she gave some indication she might lean that way, but that was before Lorne Cardinal’s mean about-face!), but the increased author participation and visibility in this year’s show (as I posted about yesterday) continues apace, and poor absent Carol Shields just isn’t there to toot her horn. Me, I’d better get reading too. I’m supporting Shields largely on her reputation right now (and the fact that I was so underwhelmed by the other three books). I’d better make sure my mouth is where my money is. See you all tomorrow!