QUIBBLES & BITS
As I was watching Canada’s Grey Cup Sunday (my team, the B.C. Lions, won and one of my favorite singers, Nelly Furtado, performed during the halftime show), the following thoughts occurred:
It seems to me that no author sits alone in an office anymore, with only a muse for company. To be perfectly honest, the publication game is about moving your book. Because, to be in the "A League" of this sport, it takes not only talent but team work: coaches (agents), team owner (publisher) and a fan base ("Go, Deni!")
Fans are crucial and, nowadays, they need to see writers perform.
Aye, there’s the rubber chicken! Fans, it seems, are no longer content to just read a good book. They want to see the author reading it aloud, signing copies, thanking the editor.
Recently a group of British novelists complained that publishers increasingly favor the manuscripts of young, sexy writers. It’s no longer enought to write well, they said; to win at the writing game today, one has to look good on podiums or on camera.
Is that true?
To continue the sports analogy … one way a (non-young, non-sexy) career-athlete writer can make his/her way to the top is up the prize ladder, from Giller to Governor General’s to Arthur Ellis to Edgar to Nobel (dream big, Deni!)
On Awards night everyone thrills to the glitz and glamour and the hyperbole of reviewers, right? Of course, right (as Tevye would say).
But … the growing scale and competitiveness of prize events is not only about pandering to a celebrity-obsessed public. Prizes direct people’s attention to titles, and especially novels, says Azar Nafisi, whose memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran describes what reading and writing was like in her native Iran, where individual idiologies aren’t welcome. Novels, she says, are the literature of empathy, individuality and ambiguity (I love that and have printed it out to hang above my computer), as opposed to fundamentalist certainty.
In truth, prizes can do more than suggest what to read; they can keep authors out of jail! This year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature was the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, author of Snow. Pamuk was charged by the Turkish government for writing an article about Kurds and Armenians killed in Turkey that conflicted with the official, historical version. Eventually the charges against Pamuk were dropped, due to his international reputation and the protest of the world literary community.
So, to answer my own question, major book awards ARE about more than dressing up. And sometimes they even generate a paycheck:
City of Victoria Butler Book Prize: $5,000
The Giller Prize for Fiction: $40,000
Nobel Prize for Literature: $1.2 million
Holy cow! $1.2 million? Dream big, Deni!
Happy [American] Thanksgiving, everybody. On Thursday I will hoist a glass of root beer and recite my annual blessing:
May the light always find you on a dreary day.
When you need to be home, may you find your way.
May you always have courage to take a chance
And never find frogs in your underpants.