October 10, 2012
My Canada Reads 2013 Campaign
There it is, this year’s gimmick: CBC’s annual Canada Reads competition this year is gonna be a regional turf war.
I’ve been skeptical in past years about Canada Reads’ new focus on crowd-sourcing and competition. More measured people than I have written about the downsides of turning authors into dancing self-promotionary monkeys, about getting “Celebs” of dubious literacy to champion books they may not have even read, let alone liked. Last year I flaked out entirely on the competition, reading only 3/5 books and tiring, in the end, of the theatrics.
Yet Canada Reads continues to hold my interest because of the conversation it creates. Love it or hate it, I don’t think any other Canadian literary event consumes as much virtual ink as this one, and the strength of the community that has grown up around it is unmistakable. One wants to be part of that conversation, even if only to be the voice of dissent. People really talk books around Canada Reads, lots of people.
So at least for the time being, I’m in. In the past I have floated disinterestedly through the nomination process, but this year I’m going to be pro-active in favour of what I want to see on Canada Reads, of what I think is missing.
What I think has been missing is this: our literary heritage.
Canada Reads has, since the introduction of crowd-sourcing, become the game of publicists and promoters. They want to push their new titles, their frontlists. These authors are out there now trying to drum up sales and create buzz, and power to them. But I miss the olden days of undiscovered and half-forgotten gems, or bringing classics to a new generation. There are going to be people out there championing the small presses, the young writers, and the languishing mid-career tryhards. Me, I’m going to stick with what I know: our history. The stodgy old backbone of CanLit, much maligned but increasingly ignored and unread.
An interesting condition of this year’s competition (and perhaps this has been the case for years now, but there it is writ plain) is that the book must be “…available in Canada and published by a traditional publisher … and must be readily available.” This sets the game up in favour of the hot new frontlist, as most day-to-day readers only know what they see on the shelves of their local new-book store. I am going to do you all a favour and feature, over the next two weeks, some alternative sources and alternative suggestions for nominees drawn from some overlooked backlists and publishers. My mandate will be to put forth some suggestions that are at least 20 years old (I know! ANCIENT!) but still excellent, and drawn from all corners of the country. I will feature presses one at a time, and try to give you a good assortment of suggestions from the five regions.
Got it? Okay, to get you off on the right foot I am going to take a gimme in the form of House of Anansi’s new A-list imprint. Anansi’s great idea lunch just this fall with a great backlist of Canadian writers, and here are two for your consideration (note to Anansi: add more!):
Kamouraska by Anne Hébert
Five Legs by Graeme Gibson