Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Authors on the Stump, Lookin’ for Love

It’s pretty well understood that, on the whole, Canadians are an intensely literate people. Last year the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released the results of a study that revealed, among other things, that 37 per cent of Canadian adults do not read for pleasure. What they failed to point out, of course, was that the number indicated that 63 per cent of Canadians do.

Not only do they read, as a people, they tend to celebrate their books a little more widely than other countries. For instance, the richest book awards program in the country, the ScotiaBank Giller Prize, is televised in primetime annually while media contests for top books in various contests are carefully watched by many Candians of reading age.

The newest among these contests has been among the most carefully watched. In 2011, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation introduced the CBC Bookie Awards, a sort of people’s choice of Canadian literary awards. Readers from across Canada cast their votes for their favorite book in a number of categories including science fiction, mystery, graphic novels, literary fiction, short story collections and others.

This year, the five nominees in 10 categories were announced a few days ago and included Timothy Taylor’s Blue Light Project, something Taylor himself finds somewhat ironic:
The Blue Light Project is the story of a lone street artist, Rabbit, who pulls off a city-scale installation so beautiful that it stops chaos in its tracks. The chaos in question is a hostage crisis. A man storms a TV studio where they’re taping a cynical reality show called Kiddiefame. The man has a bomb. He seals the studio with a bunch of kids inside. The surrounding city descends into bedlam as confusion mounts. The power of Rabbit’s installation is that it umbrellas the city in a moment of intense splendor. But the work also mesmerizes people by magnificently opting out of the intense rivalries that animate shows like Kiddiefame and the broader culture the show reflects.
While Taylor is quick to point out that he’s happy about the nomination and pleased to be in some pretty great company, there’s part of him that is watching the proceedings with arms akimbo:
Literature used to stand aloof from all this mano-a-mano action. At the Giller Prize ceremony with Stanley Park, I recall feeling real sympathy for my fellow nominees. We were all in the same boat, tossed together on the seas of fate. Competition between us was purely abstract since there was nothing we could individually do about anything.

Online voting competitions change that dynamic completely. You can choose not to self-promote (more on that in a minute). But candidates can absolutely influence results. If a vote is your objective, the Tweetiest and most Facebookie candidate can indeed win. Klout = clout.

The Bookies are precisely tuned to the cultural moment, in other words. And their impact will compliment other developments which now extend the writer’s job far past merely writing the book. Post-publication is now the busiest season, where the author needs to be out there working the networks, pumping hands and kissing babies, on the stump, looking for love.

In all of that activity, however, it’s worth pausing to reflect that literature in a contest for votes is just the stock market with French flaps. Art might save us, as it promises in the conflicted world of my novel. But there aren’t very many people left in our real and conflicted world who think the stock market can save us now.
As though to underscore Taylor’s point, this year five books have been nominated in 10 categories. That’s a lot of books -- 50 of them -- in some pretty diverse categories.

If you want a peek and a vote, they’re here. Meanwhile, if you want to read more of Taylor’s thoughtful musings on the nature of contemporary literary sport, you’ll find that here.



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