Into September, In My Notebook: The NitGrit of CanLit

I’ve worked in a bookstore twice in my life. Between those jobs, the Giller Prize burst onto the Canadian literary scene, in 1994.

So when Bonnie Burnard’s Casino and Other Stories and Eliza Clark’s What You Need were shortlisted that first year, I was still fresh from the store, still returning weekly to visit my previous co-workers (and the books),

I loved both of those books, although it was M. G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets which won. Like many readers, I was interested in the books on the prizelist whose descriptions had some inherent appeal for me; I didn’t reach beyond that spark.

And, later, when I was working with books again in 1998, Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone was nominated with Gail Andersen-Dargatz’s A Recipe for Bees and Wayne Johnston’s A Colony for Unrequited Dreams. In the year when another book I loved, The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro, won.

In just a few years, I had doubled my investment in the prize, reading twice as many books as I had for the first prize. And at that time, with a few exceptions for high-profile authors, the names which appeared on the Giller shortlist were all new to me. It was a valued source of “new” reading material.

In 2005, I read all the books on the shortlist. By then, I was as curious about what qualities the jury had spotted in the books, as I was curious about the books themselves.

And, so, in the coming years I would continue to read the new Giller-nominees, but I would also begin to look backwards. Reading, for instance, at last, M.G. Vassanji’s The Book of Secrets, in 2010, sixteen years after it won the inaugural Giller.

By now, I think there have been 127 books shortlisted for the Giller and I’ve read 85 of them, about two-thirds. So as the shortlist for the 2018 Giller approaches, I can’t help but think ahead.

Not in a predictive way: I don’t know the taste of the jurors (Kamal Al-Solaylee, Maxine Bailey, John Freeman, Philip Hensher and Heather O’Neill) well enough for that.

Not in a wishful way: I have been focussing on backlist reading this year, so I haven’t read many of the eligible titles (published between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018 in Canada).

Simply in a maybe way: maybe these books will appear on the list. Maybe having three or four of these will mean that, if I decide to read through the longlist, my reading list will be shorter than it has been some years (2011 was a heavy reading year, though terrific).

Most of these authors have had books long- or short-listed for the Giller in the past; I assume that makes even an international juror, unfamiliar with the nit-grit of CanLit, give an author’s eligible work a harder look. (The list below differs slightly from the draft pictured in the photo alongside; I’d forgotten a couple.)

Dionne Brand Theory
Carol Bruneau A Circle on the Surface
Craig Davidson The Saturday Night Ghost Club
Lauren B. Davis The Grimoire of Kensington Market
Esi Edugyan Washington Black
Rawi Hage Beirut Hellfire Society
Alix Hawley My Name Is a Knife
Rabindranath Maharaj Adjacentland
Michael Ondaatje Warlight
Kathy Page Dear Evelyn
Waubgeshig Rice Moon of the Crusted Snow
David Adams Richards Mary Cyr
Eden Robinson Trickster Drift
Claire Holden Rothman Lear’s Shadow
Kerri Sakamoto The Floating City
Sarah Selecky Radiant Shimmering Light
Timothy Taylor The Rule of Stephens
Miriam Toews Women Talking
Richard Wagamese Starlight

This year’s jury seems poised to appreciate short fiction and there are usually a couple of translated works on the list. So, maybe I will read these because a lot of other people are reading them, or maybe I will read them because I want to read them.

Paige Cooper Zolitude
Carole Glasser Langille I Am What I Am Because You Are What You Are
Lisa Moore Something for Everyone
Johanna Skibsrud Tiger, Tiger
Jessica Westhead Things Not To Do

Julie Demers (Trans. Rhonda Mullins) Little Beast
Abla Farhoud (Trans. Judith Weisz Woodsworth) Hutchison Street
Catherine Leroux (Trans. Lazer Lederhendler) Madame Victoria
Kim Thúy (Trans. Sheila Fischman) Vi 

A book included on the Giller longlist will make it to my stack sooner (probably, although I still haven’t read one book from the 1994 shortlist) but plenty of books not included nestle into my stack too: I’ve read over 200 books this year (here’s a peek at my stat’s for this year) and even the longest longlist had only 16 on it (I think?).  Other prizelists arouse my reader’s curiosity as well, from the ReLit to the Women’s Fiction Prize, as well as plenty of books that never dip their smallest toe into the waters of prizelist culture.

But, still, September approaches. And my 2018 Giller Prize longlist reading is poised to begin: September 17th is just around the corner.

Have you read any of the books in my notebook? Any on your TBR list?

Do you have any pet prizelists?



  1. Wendy September 7, 2018 at 9:46 am - Reply

    Hi! Happy Fall! I always look forward to the Giller List! Canada has so many talented writers. Miriam Toews is one of my favs so I will likely read this book first!

    • Buried In Print September 11, 2018 at 4:08 pm - Reply

      Looking forward to your thoughts on this one, Wendy. What have you been reading over the summer?

  2. TheLiterary Hoarders September 6, 2018 at 1:47 pm - Reply

    Great list! I too have been thinking recently about what could appear on this year’s list. I think with O’Neill on the judging panel, there could be some new (and possibly quirkier) names appearing, but I fully expect to see some of the heavier hitters on there too. I’m sure they will put Ondaatje on there. Like Naomi says – I love waiting for the GG and the Writers’ Trust announcements too!

    • Buried In Print September 6, 2018 at 2:39 pm - Reply

      Agreed: I hope there are some surprises though! I watch for those other two too, but the thing with the GG is all the categories. With the Giller (and to a lesser extent, the Writers’ Trust Awards – but there’s more than one of those too, the Engel/Findley, etc.) it’s just about fiction and you aren’t really thinking about all that you’re NOT reading while you’re examining the list. Unless you wander off to consider a completely separate prize, like the Hilary Weston Award. But with the GG and some of the regional awards (Atlantic Canada, I think?), you get to consider everything from children’s books to plays and, when I do that, my TBR becomes not just longER but impossibly long, in barely an instant, y’know?

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife September 5, 2018 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    I don’t really pay attention to book prize-lists unless I happen to see a favorite in contention. For example, I was thrilled the year that Marlon James won the Man Booker because I loved Brief History fof Seven Killings so much. However, I do pay attention to the Morning News’s Tournament of Books every year and try to read a few from the long and short lists. It’s a March Madness-type tournament for books. I don’t participate in the comments but they have faithful followers who return every year and know one another. You may already know about this, sorry if it’s something you’re intimately familiar with.

    • Buried In Print September 6, 2018 at 12:17 pm - Reply

      Not intimately no, but I look for their list every year. It’s become what some of the CanLit prizes used to be for me – a great source of “discovering”. IIRC, that’s how I ended up trying Mohsin Hamid and it’s definitely what led me to James McBride – they have a real knack for finding good stuff. And even the ones that I didn’t especially love, I found interesting or curious. Have you been following their new summer program? I read about half the books and enjoyed following the discussion, but I was always trailing behind, so didn’t participate in the comments. Partly because I wasn’t expecting there to be anything to do in the summer with them – but also because I’ve been really enjoying some backlist reading for the past two years and TMN always brings me right back to present-day (not a bad thing).

      • Laila@BigReadingLife September 6, 2018 at 12:53 pm - Reply

        I have not paid attention to the summer program. It was all I could do to read the books on my 20 Books of Summer list. But i will eagerly check out the long-list when it comes out (January?) I agree, they do tend to pick some unusual and interesting books.

        • Buried In Print September 6, 2018 at 2:34 pm - Reply

          And you’ve done great with that, even reading some from your own shelves (again)! I think one year they released something in December, which was a little shocking, but mostly I think it’s a January thing now that they talk longlist. And longlists ARE funner…

  4. Naomi September 5, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

    I love the Giller, but I also love the GGs and the Writers’ Trust Prize. I feel as though the Writers’ Trust prize books are a little more unknown. But many of the Giller books are also! Learning about unknown books and authors are one of the reasons I love them. And I find that most of them are my kind of book (which, I admit is a broad category).
    I have never figured out how many from the lists I’ve read. Definitely not as many as you, but now I’m curious… I’m afraid if I calculate the number, though, I’ll have a new obsession/project on my hands!

    • Buried In Print September 6, 2018 at 12:13 pm - Reply

      It’s probably better not to count! Although I have been counting more things than usual in recent years, testing to see if my “idea” of something matches the evidence. So in this case I felt as though I hadn’t read all that many, because there are entire years I’ve missed, whereas there have been very few – two, I think? – years in which I read them entirely, so the number I’ve read was a surprise. Then, it made me immediately think about how long it would take to finish the list – because who doesn’t love a reading list?! We have the same favourite part of the lists then – the discovery aspect of it.

      • Naomi September 6, 2018 at 12:30 pm - Reply

        It wouldn’t take much to convince me to add on a new project! Unofficially, I’m still working on reading the winner from each year, but I also know the winners aren’t always the best book!

        • Buried In Print September 6, 2018 at 2:32 pm - Reply

          But that’s a place to start, at least, because even if it is just random (like Julian Barnes calls it, a “posh lottery”, meaning that any of the shortlisted books could win, it’s just personal preference) you feel like you’re reading through the list rather than just pick-pick-pick at a corner here and a corner there.

  5. annelogan17 September 1, 2018 at 8:52 pm - Reply

    I would say that the Giller is probably my ‘pet’ prizelist too, although I never get to reading all the shortlisted books, sometime not even the winners! I’m not sure why I care so much about who wins it in particular, maybe because it gets so much attention? Probably becuase i’m usually involved with the Giller Light Party here in Calgary too…

    • Buried In Print September 2, 2018 at 2:40 pm - Reply

      It’s hard not to pay some degree of attention to it, isn’t it. Most years I watch the GG and the Writers’ Trust too, and sometimes I attend the readings for the shortlisted books’ writers here in Toronto, but irregularly and that seems to be all about timing (rather than when I have more/fewer titles from the various lists). Sometimes I actually prefer to attend in the years when I haven’t read (as many of) the books, as you can enjoy each of the readings as fresh glimpses into the stories!

  6. Rebecca Foster September 1, 2018 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    I’ve read (different) works by Ondaatje, Toews, Thuy and Moore, but the other authors you list here are unfamiliar to me. I agree with Susan that a lot of Canadian fiction is very appealing, but I’m used to finding out about books from your blog and Naomi M.’s and then realizing they’re unavailable in the UK, or don’t come out until years later. The only Giller Prize winner I’ve knowingly read was Late Nights on Air.

    I’ve said it before, but I so love your handwriting! It’s fun to get a peek into your notebooks. Looks like you and I are neck-and-neck on reading totals for this year 🙂

    • Buried In Print September 2, 2018 at 2:35 pm - Reply

      Except for Moore, those are all Penguin Random House authors, so there’s bound to be a wider reach with their publications – it makes sense you’d recognize those names. I know you rely on reading copies or second-hand books, but if you ever fall in the love with the idea of reading something in particular, you could always order from a Canadian bookseller and have it shipped to you. And you just finished that one too: how timely! (It’s an awesome summer read, isn’t it?!) Thanks for the encouragement regarding the notebook posts> It will be interesting to see how we end up statistically for the year. I honestly can’t remember which of us read more in 2017: I just remember that it was close! Part of me wants to suggest a friendly wager but I suspect I would come up short in the coming months because I’m shifting focus a little in the fall, so it might not be a very interesting game for you if I begin to fall off almost immediately. 🙂

      • Rebecca Foster September 3, 2018 at 4:27 am - Reply

        I passed 300 last year, which I think was more than you 😉 No need to compete; we’ll just compete against ourselves! I have a Goodreads target for this year which I’m currently behind on.

        • Buried In Print September 4, 2018 at 3:08 pm - Reply

          My busiest reading year was 2016, with 310 and I think that came about because in 2015, I’d had 299 and didn’t realize it, so I was paying more attention that year but you’re quite right, last year I was down at 281. laughs I was only targeting 275 this year and am ahead by a good bit, but that’s because I expect the fall to be less about reading and more about writing (or at least that’s supposed to be the plan – hah). Sometimes, however, that has the opposite effect. rolls eyes at self Also, a friend has recommended a manga series – that might wreck havoc with the stat’s. It’s nice to have company in this particular kinda of crazy. 🙂

  7. Kat August 31, 2018 at 5:26 pm - Reply

    I have read Wayne Johnston’s A Colony for Unrequited Dreams. Loved it, loved it, loved it. I am a big fan of these prize lists, though I must admit some of my favorite books never get mentioned (that is the case with the Booker this year). Perhaps I’ll go Canadian, because I always find good book on the prize list, and some that don’t seem to be big names in the U.S.

    • Buried In Print August 31, 2018 at 7:58 pm - Reply

      Did you know that Johnston later continued the series with two other books (neither appearing on the Giller list, as far as I recall, although I’ve read two of his others which did, one set in the U.S. ironically)? I remember just falling hard into that story, gobbling it up at a ferocious rate. And I loved it so much that I even read one of his non-fiction books, which I hardly ever did back then! Mark the 17th on your calendar: I’ll see you then!

  8. A Life in Books August 31, 2018 at 8:36 am - Reply

    I’ve learnt to sit up and take notice of the Giller list – much more to my taste than the Man Booker. A listing makes it more likely that a title will be published here in the UK, too, if hasn’t been already.

    • Buried In Print August 31, 2018 at 7:55 pm - Reply

      It’s interesting that, this year, both Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black and Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight have appeared on the Man Booker already. Sometimes I feel that juries think “well, it’s already gotten the attention, let’s make room for someone else”, but it’s hard to overlook a Man Booker nomination, especially with previous Giller-nominees like Edugyan and Ondaatje.

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