Why I support Canadian fiction and (apparently) the Globe and Mail doesn’t

Let it be known, I like the Globe and Mail. The comments I have on their new model of subscription is another story, but I think they hire intelligent writers and try and keep their bias out of news stories. I prefer them to the Toronto Star by far, and though I love the National Post Arts section, I think the Globe and Mail as a whole resonates more with me. This is why I was so surprised to read the articles I did in today’s paper.

I saw this cute little doodle on the front and I was excited. Yes, tonight is the Giller! Yes, I’m going to the Giller Light! Yes, I’m excited! The note at the bottom of the doodle that said, “John Doyle still thinks the prize is terrible TV. Sorry!” got me a little irked but hey – we’re all entitled to our own opinion.

I eagerly opened the Arts section and first read John Barber’s article on Guessing the Giller.

I was quite taken aback by the critical tone of the article. These have been chosen by the Giller Jury as the five best Canadian fiction novels of the year. One would think that there would be some positive things Barber might have been able to say about each book. What does it say about Canadian fiction if he’s given three of the best five books extremely poor reviews?

Barber’s clearly picked Ru as his favourite novel as he only has positive (if not glowing) comments regarding Kim Thuy’s writing and the inventiveness of her story.

He’s given better odds, however, to what he refers to as an early Giller jury favourite, Will Furguson’s 419. Barber is neither overly flattering or critical here, stating that it is the “…best crafted and the most readable” book on the list. Then, he gets to the books he didn’t enjoy.

Barber subtitles his thoughts of The Imposter Bride, by Nancy Richler, “Grannyland,” and calls it “an occasionally intriguing quest” and “less than inspiring…”

He then moves on to Alix Ohlin’s Inside (and of course, can’t resist making mention of the scathing review from the New York Times). Barber states, “the only interior Ohlin shows convincingly here is that of the creative-writing workshop, where simple observations counts as a good week’s work and any number of observations thus accumulated can be stitched loosely into a longish thing simulating a novel.” Ouch. He claims that since it’s the only book on the Giller short list to be nominated for another award this season, “some smart people must like it.”

Lastly, Barber comes to Russel Wangersky, who he dubs the “beautiful loser” and reminds us that “every short list needs a no-hoper…” He compares Wangersky’s short stories in Whirl Away to having the “allusive magic” of Alice Munro (which I agree with) but it’s a back-hand compliment as he states it’s only when he’s “at his best.”

I get that not everyone likes certain books. I get that we are all entitled to our own opinion. I just don’t understand why, when there’s an article about how there is major consolidation in book publishing RIGHT BELOW this one, is it necessary to add fuel to the fire?

These books are being recognized as excellent fiction. How are Canadians who are infrequent readers supposed to feel about Canadian books and authors when their national newspaper is cutting down what we’ve deemed to be the five best? If the five best aren’t even all good, why would they ever want to read any of the them, let alone delve deeper into the (fabulous) world of Canadian fiction? It’s all fun and games to write a controversial article, but at what cost?

Say that Whirl Away “lacks a certain depth of range” if that’s what you believe, but to call Wangersky a “beautiful loser” on the day of the Giller Prize? That’s just mean-spirited and unnecessary.

When I thought that might be it, I turned across to John Doyle’s article that was aptly titled, “Note to fancy Toronto literary types: Please don’t read this column.” I don’t work in the publishing industry. I’m not a writer nor an editor, so I don’t really consider myself a “fancy literary type.” When I read this article, however, I couldn’t help being offended. I love reading Canadian books, I love discussing them with friends on Twitter and in my book clubs, and now I’ve been made to feel like what I care about is unimportant. Sure, Doyle throws in the all-encompassing blanket statements of: “The Giller Prize is great, having bestowed money and attention on Canadian fiction…” and then a few paragraphs later, “The Giller Prize does wonders for Canadian fiction…”

He’s right – it does do wonders for Canadian fiction. You know what doesn’t? Cutting down the efforts of the fervent supporters of the Canadian book industry, like the CBC, by writing a piece such as this. It’s extremely demeaning. People have poured hours of work into this event from the writers that are nominated to the readers that have read the short listed books. There are the camera operators that will film the event and the presenters that have graciously agreed to participate. People are working hard here for a cause they care about. It shows little foresight for an article such as this to be published by our national newspaper. As Canadians are already largely not supportive of the TV shows and films that are produced, how can you expect them to support the book industry in Canada that is already losing independent publishers by the handful?

I get it. John Doyle thinks the Giller is terrible TV and he “wouldn’t go to the Giller gala if it was held in [his] back garden.” I just hope that he’ll consider showing his support of Canadian fiction by reading, at the very least, the book that is awarded the Giller Prize this evening.

I am looking forward to the Giller Light. I will chat with friends in the publishing industry, have a few drinks while raising money for Frontier College. And tomorrow? I’ll continue to support Canadian fiction and the talented, often overlooked authors who spend months writing in solitude at their desks. They write with fingers buzzing over laptops from that 5th cup of coffee at their local café. They spend weeks holed up in the Leighton Artists’ Colony at The Banff Centre on cold winter days. I will support them, and champion their work. I will also support all that CBC does for Canadian fiction, and continue to participate in the Giller Prize, Canada Reads, the ReLit Awards and other Canadian literary events year after year.

I’ll end with a personal shout-out to John Doyle:

In response to “little wonder the funny tends to be AWOL in the Canadian book racket,” I say you have CLEARLY never been out drinking with us. If you’re interested in opening your mind, the drink’s on me.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. Well said Allegra, bravo! Artists in this country struggle to make a living and in general are undervalued and underappreciated. Let us at least give them some moral support and celebrate their accolades. God knows they are few and far between.

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