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eyes on the prize.

October 28, 2012

the thing is, i never gave literary prizes too much thought. watching the giller prize on TV turned me off enough that i think i probably discounted the idea of the prize without even realising it. i hate when writers (or people in general, i suppose) slime their way into conversations about how many giller long-list or short-list books they’ve read. that’s not to say that the listed books aren’t good – (sometimes i get around to reading them, although i haven’t loved loved loved a listed book since annabel lyon’s the golde mean) – it’s just to say that they get a blinding amount of attention and i don’t always believe that it’s warranted. also, people are awful about book and list and prize snobbery. awful. i was at bookcampTO (an “unconference” for anyone who cares about that ridiculous term, really more of a forum where people could say what was on their minds re: the publishing industry – some things very relevant, most things not) and the discussion turned to prize long lists. someone said, verbatim:

“yeah, but are the people who’re reading the canada reads long lists REAL readers?”

 

which is absolute bullshit, and that was the moment i stood up (audibly) and got the hell out of that room. reading isn’t an act that can be verified or deemed “right or wrong”. it’s like breathing. you inhale and exhale, you’re breathing. you cast your eyes on words on a page, you’re reading. this is why the haterade for 50 shades of grey (and the snobbery of looking down at people who were reading it) pissed me off so much. who cares? people are reading, at least. at least they’re bloody reading. if an adult is learning-disabled, or has TBI, or is dyslexic and reads clifford the big red dog, is that “fake” reading?

anyway, that solar system of prize snobbery really always left a yucky taste in my mouth, until a good friend gifted me a pile of books, including a wack of anthologies (granta’s exit strategies, the best american nonrequired reading) and the journey prize stories 23 (2011).

i’m not someone who buys a book of short stories. they’re not the most appealing to me. i want the meat, the length of the novel, the hard work. (maybe i’m a masochistic. no, i’m definitely a masochist). i find short stories exceptionally difficult to write, and sometimes difficult to read. raymond carver’s book of short stories (500 some odd pages of them) broke my heart – relentlessly. short stories seem to be either transcendent or awful. there doesn’t seem to be space for any in-between.

but i completely loved the book. i carried it around with me and tried to space out my reading so i wouldn’t rip through it too quickly. some of the stories were better than others, and some i completely disagreed with and disagreed with their respective nominations for the prize – but i suppose that’s what a prize listing is about, isn’t it? it stirs up dissent, like marisa tomei winning the oscar.

mainly, i had forgotten how it felt to have my brain restarted. it was like someone shoved jumper cables into my grey matter. forget the giller, eh? it’s so slick. yeah, i’d love to have a novel nominated for the giller. and the giller dominated the whole prize discussion at bookcampTO. but people forget about other prizes – journey, relit, danuta gleed, charles taylor, milton acorn, etc etc. that’s the thing about the giller long list and short list. it eclipses other stories and writing that are also more than worthy. i’m personally not impressed, not in the least, if you parrot about reading all of the giller nominated stories. why read if acclaim is the only thing urging you on? read for the pleasure of it – and i think that pleasure can exist anywhere in the writing and publishing world.

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it’s really time to shuck the snobbery – the both sides of it – the heavy dependence and focus on the giller, as well as my reactionary snobbery (“ugh i don’t want to read anything touted or mainstream, i want to go AGAINST the grain”). it’s all silly!!!!! it’s really about finding what you love, yeah? it’s like eschewing a song you adore because everyone else is listening to it. or only listening to a song because everyone else is listening to it. baaaaaaa (no more sheep).

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