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.