Tonight’s the night. The 2011 Giller Prize.

On Sunday, I finished my last of the sixteen longlisted books.

The links to my responses are below, with musings on:

G for Giller-bility
I for Inner workings
L for Language
L for Locale
E for Engagement and
R for Readers wanted.

Spoiler-free of course.

For the Want of a Button:  A World Elsewhere by Wayne Johnston
Crossings: Into the Heart of the Country by Pauline Holdstock
Big Bang: Better Living though Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner *
Lemon-Sweet: Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan *
Aftermath: Monoceros by Suzette Mayr
Mending: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt *
Floating: Touch by Alexi Zentner
Seeding: The Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie
Between: The Meagre Tarmac by Clark Blaise
Unwritten: The Antagonist by Lynn Coady *
Home: The Return by Dany Laferrière (Trans. David Homel)
For Love: Solitaria by Genni Gunn
Across: The Free World by David Bezmozgis *
Harmony: The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
Connections: A Good Man by Guy Vanderhaeghe
Knot: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje *

How to grapple with 16 books and determine which are the finest.

(The jury chose the ones with the *s alongside: their shortlist.)

At first I look for differences: surely the best book should stand out, be different.

But I keep getting caught up in commonalities.

And not just the sweeping ones: the story collections, historical novels, and first-person narrators.

I am caught by the details.

Did you know that Pliny the Elder gets a mention more than once?

And in another two tales, hobby chemists get carried away?

What are the odds of more than one mangled hand playing a role?

I think about this, and then I count the chickens. And the number of their feathers that appear, in hats and otherwise.

I muse on the soundtracks that could be marketed in the next editions of the musical stories.

The images of the women who married solely to feed other members of their family drift past.

Many of the characters in these books are readers too, and I picture their bookshelves, their bedside tables, their satchels slung over their shoulders.

(I decide to add George Eliot to my list of re-reading.)

I think about the games that the characters play when they’re not reading.

(I resolve not to resist the next time that my girls suggest playing Mousetrap.)

That’s how it happens: I am not only snarled up in details, but in my own experience.

In one moment, I am considering the books; in the next, I am considering my life.

This is a public event, but reading the longlist is a personal experience. My favourites amongst these sixteen are mine.

Because the most striking commonality amongst these books?

Every one is worthwhile.

And it’s also true that there are many more than 16 worthwhile books that were eligible for this prize.

And what nudges a book from “worthwhile” to “the best”, which is what the jury is asked to choose?

If all the elements of great storytelling are there, it comes down to taste, to something personal.

Another jury would have chosen a different set of books.

So choosing to read this group of sixteen is a random act of reading.

Everybody is talking about their shortlist, but we all have our personal shortlists. Also random acts.

Since I finished reading the last of these sixteen books, I’ve been thinking about which should receive my personal prize.

I thought it should be a rose, but that’s really Jack Rabinovitch’s thing.

So I browsed in the flower shops and, at last, bought a Gerber plant.

But it’s not really about the daisy; it’s about my adoration. And it doesn’t get more personal than that.

For each of the books on the jury’s longlist is laudable, though only one of the books on their shortlist will receive a prize tonight. That’s personal too, for the jury members, the authors, the editors, the publishers.

I want my favourite well-written books, the books that I love, to have prizes too. I want them to be talked about.

And why aren’t more people talking about Pauline Holdstock’s Into the Heart of the Country?

And Suzette Mayr’s Monoceros?

Why isn’t there more chatter about Clark Blaise’s The Meagre Tarmac?

And Dany Laferrière’s The Return?

But how could I mind the fact that everybody is talking about the jury’s shortlist? When they are such fine books, so worthy of notice and praise. I’m right there, too.

It’s just that there are so many laudable books, that it’s hard to see some at the centre of the fuss and others at the margins (and others, still, overlooked completely).

So I’ve been going over my favourites.

I’ve been trying to choose a recipient for my Gerber, with its three larger blooms and one smaller.

Do I reward the unwavering voice? The vibrant use of language? The relentless plotting?

Above all else, do I value the sense of being transported?

Or the shake-up in what I had previously believed to be true that’s since been revised in the wake of a story well-told?

Or the act of provoking a burst of laughter or tears from a reader alone in a room with the printed page?

Or the intricate crafting, the taut thread strung throughout the narrative?

And I cannot choose.

But that’s not true. I could choose.

I could randomly select one of these qualities that would give one of these sixteen books an edge.

It would tip over and settle against the potted plant and make for a lovely picture to the right.

But I am a single reader, a random reader. I am not a juror.

I am giving my Gerber Giller to the list.

It’s an act of celebration in the life of a random reader.

* * * *

If you’re looking for Giller-filler for the hours leading up to tonight’s event?

Check out the National Post’s Pay It Forward Giller predictions.

Read the Globe & Mail’s debate between Sandra Martin, Andrew Gorham and John Barber on this year’s shortlist, packed with “love, betrayal, jealousy and myth – not to mention the occasional tooth extraction, hockey heavy and dank Paris flat.”

Peruse the Shadow Giller’s responses springing from Kevin from Canada’s pages and listen to the interview with Shelagh Rogers.

Watch CBC Books’ short Q&A’s with the shortlisted authors about their influences and inspirations.

If you’re looking for a longer show, take in Jian Ghomeshi’s Q with Michael Ondaatje.

Get ready to watch from your favourite reading spot, following Quill & Quire’s directions.