Inspired by today’s Canada Reads debates, I find myself wondering: is it kinda disappointing when a book that has already been recognized internationally by readers and prize committees receives yet another award, and, if so, should the judges take every opportunity to look for another deserving title because those old favourites have “had their bookish day”?
Well, I say old favourites, but the two very-well-known books currently in contention for the 2010’s Canada Reads are actually less than 20 years old. Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X. We’re not talking colonial classics here.
Have you read them? The panelists who believe that the debate’s purpose should be to highlight a lesser-known work are saying that e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y has read these two books. Are they hyperboling? Maybe, but I had already read them myself. And most of my Canlit reading friends had read them already too. I mean, you don’t get much more high-profile in the bookworld than the Oprah sticker, do you?
But, certainly at least part of the reason for their popularity is that they are good books. (Well, I have my issues with Generation X, but I know it’s important from a cultural perspective and I can see where some other readers would respond differently to it than I.) Is it fair to penalize them for being successful by choosing to overlook them in another award setting simply because they have already received so much notoriety?
Proponents of these long-adored novels are suggesting that the judges should be reading for which book is the best, period. (The first book has been voted off, but we won’t know the results until tomorrow’s broadcast. I’m anxious because I have a lot of favourites on this year’s list.)
But is it ever really that simple?
One of the panelists (the Edmonton poet) took Good to a Fault to task today because he felt that Marina Endicott did not include enough detail in the story to develop either the characters or the setting. Another of the panelists (the Montreal author) took Good to a Fault to task yesterday because he felt that Marina Endicott included too much detail so that the story got bogged down with it.
Yah, that’s right: two directly opposing opinions. How do you judge whether a book is good (which sounds like such a simple task) when it can received in such radically different ways by two literary readers?
Is it even possible to determine which book is the best, let alone to sort out whether it is The Best Book that should win, or whether One of the Best Books (one of the three lesser known works) should win because the bookish glory should be spread around?
On a related note, here’s a look back at Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi, which was a Canada Reads nominee in 2003; it’s not actually a favourite book of mine but was responsible for one of my best-ever-bookchats, and it offers a terrific quote for this subject: “The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. (78)”
Does it matter to you, as a reader, how a book fares in the public arena, or does it only matter to you how it fares in “the small clearing of each heart”?