Prizelists make me feel like I do when I watch the Olympics. Because just when I am feeling most thrilled about one person’s winning performance, I am reminded of all the other participants’ losses.
So the prizelists, for me, are as much about what is not listed as what is listed and even when part of me is cheering, another part is lamenting. And whether I am cheering or lamenting, there could be tears: such situations are fraught.
When Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People was listed for this year’s Giller Prize, I actually squealed, because it’s one of my favourite reads this season.
But simultaneously I was disappointed not to see Katherena Vermette’s The Break listed for the prize to start with.
Afterwards, The Break was listed for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in English so then I felt a little better; but that’s not uncomplicated either, because the fact that it was been listed for two of the prizes made me wish that another title had one of those opportunities for a shortlisting.
One of the reasons that I gravitate towards prizelists is that they can introduce new works into my reading stacks and I simultaneously want a good book to get recognition – and its author some accolades and cash and the incentive to continue writing – but also keep company with a bunch of other good books that I haven’t heard of yet.
That leaves me in conflict. And so does the fact that sometimes I can recognize the skill some works take, but they don’t dig into my heart; objectively I appreciate that the recognition is deserved, but subjectively I want to be dragged by the heart into a story.
I’ve either read or begun reading all of the longlisted titles for this year’s Giller. The last is Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, which I began reading yesterday morning.
Some were by authors whose works have repeatedly appeared on my TBR stacks, like Emma Donoghue’s. She has a knack for recreating other times and places, and for introducing serious themes and ideas (like religion and mortality, injustice and power) into page-turning stories. The Wonder didn’t pull me in as strongly as Slammerkin and the prose didn’t seduce me like Kissing the Witch, but I understand why many readers have found it more affecting than I.
Others were by authors whose work was new to my TBR (like Stephen Price’s By Gaslight, which took me awhile to sink into, but now I am engrossed in the story and style, and Susan Perly’s Death Valley, which I found beautifully and unexpectedly poetic).
Another time, I’ll have more to say about Stranger and Yiddish for Pirates, which won’t necessarily make my list of favourite reads for this year, but which were memorable reads all the same. (Unsurprisingly, as I’ve got a thing about parrots, and I’ve enjoyed David Bergen’s fiction before.)
Two of the books on this year’s shortlist are now firmly ensconced on my list of favourites for this reading year: Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People and Catherine LeRoux’s The Party Wall (Trans. Lazer Lederhendler), which I just finished reading last week.
When I began reading Madeleine Thien’s novel yesterday, I realized that my choice for the 2016 Giller Prize might be my most difficult choice yet; because although I am not on the Gillery Jury, I am reading quietly as a jury-of-one, deliberating my own decision as a solitary reader, and I find myself torn between good books.
Mind you, it’s a random exercise because of course I had no input towards the longlist, so selecting a winner from the shortlist is like having to make my own menu when I’ve been brought into the kitchen to stir the soup.
But, still, I remain torn, imagining how difficult it would be to be a juror in this position, to have two or three favourites and an extremely difficult choice. (And, then, of course there is the matter of other jurors not having identical opinions, which would complicate things tremendously. Fortunately, I do not need to persuade anyone.)
At the “Between the Pages” Giller Prize event in Toronto, some of the writers expressed difficulty answering a question posed to them by Albert Schultz, about whether ideas were more firmly rooted in themes or plots or characters: it can be hard to separate those elements in thinking about the creative genesis/power of a literary work. Similarly, I find myself trying to narrow my choice by saying that in one work the structure is phenomenal and in another the characterization; but, in fact, neither element alone would be so impressive if other elements weren’t also outstanding. So the conflict remains.
I have not, in my mind, awarded my own private Giller Prize for this year. Instead, I am feeling exceedingly grateful that I am a single reader, who can bestow countless prizes to my favourite reads.
Have you been reading from any of the Canadian literary prizelists this season? Here are some of the recent ones, if you’re curious:
Giller Prize 2016: Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates, Andrew Battershill’s Pillow, David Bergen’s Stranger, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder, Catherine LeRoux’s The Party Wall (Trans. Lazer Lederhendler), Kathy Page’s The Two of Us, Susan Perly’s Death Valley, Kerry Lee Powell’s Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, Steven Price’s By Gaslight, Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People. (The award will be presented this evening.)
Writers’ Trust Award 2016: Michael Helm’s After James, Anosh Irani’s The Parcel, Kerry Lee Powell’s Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, Yasuko Thanh’s Mysterious Frangrance of the Yellow Mountains and Katherena Vermette’s The Break. (Yasuko Thanh’s Mysterious Frangrance of the Yellow Mountains won the Fiction Prize. I’ve read her collection of stories, so I’m keen to read her novel.)
Governor General’s Literary Award 2016: Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates, Anosh Irani’s The Parcel, Kerry Lee Powell’s Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush, Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing, Katherena Vermette’s The Break. (Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing won the English Fiction Award.)
Do you value prizelists or abhor them, or fall somewhere between? Do you enjoying watching/following particular ones?
If you are following this year’s Giller Prize, are you planning to watch/attend? Do you have your own winner in mind?