November 11th, 2015

Gillers are now!

And not last night, as I erroneously said in my previous post. I am very excited for the live-stream, starting in a few minutes unless I or the CBC somehow screws it up…

First commercial break: I do not understand any of the jokes in the opening monologue, but always happy to see Rick Mercer again. The room looks glamorous but I don’t spot anyone I know yet. The mini-interviews with Rick and the authors take place in the Halifax public library this year and are very mini–maybe there’s more later [edit: there wasn’t]. Buffy Saint Marie does Andre Alexis’s *Fifteen Dogs* intro–a better choice of presenter than usual, though she still sounds very scripted. The mini-movie that accompanies Alexis’s reading is awesome, because it’s full of dogs–much more engaging than any I’ve seen in previous years. Coming up next: Samuel Archibald’s *Arvida*.

Second commercial break: A ballet-dancer presents *Arvida*, but it turns out to make more sense than it sounds because the dancer grew up in Arvida (the town the book is set in) and so he can vouch for its accurate vibe. He also sounds very scripted but is pretty enthusiastic (also handsome). The mini-movie, this time with archival footage from the town back in the day, is again pretty good–the GIllers have really upped their mini-movie game. Archibald’s tiny speech is for his daughters and partly in French, very sweet. He’s shown in a video clip picking a question from a hat–is this going to be a reoccuring feature throughout the show?? How come Andre didn’t get to do one? Or did I miss it?

Third commercial break: Rachel Cusk’s outline is introduced by a “science-fiction actor” (not a thing) and her mini-movie is just shots of people doing the things being described in the reading, a bit boring and on the nose–did Cusk draw the short straw? Her mini-speech is about how grateful she is to have hung out with the other nominees though, which is an excellent thing to say. Then Mercer does a “comic” bit that he did last year, alleging he’s written a memoir about his interactions with Canadian politicians but needs help with the metaphors, to coax the nominees into playing a mad-libs type game. It’s really silly and not funny. An opera singer introduces Heather O’Neill’s *Daydreams of Angels*, which is still not a logical choice but she does have a wonderful presentation style. The mini-movie for O’Neill’s book is really good, sparkly and simple. Her question from the hat is from Patrick DeWitt and her answer is funny.

Forth commercial break: The judges are introduced but not invited to the stage or allowed to speak–they just stand in a clump in the audience and then sit back down. That seems shameful considering how hard they worked. Pleased to hear Alex MacLeod get a big round of applause–everyone loves that guy–but they all deserve that and much more. The presenter for Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* is the director of TIFF, which makes even less sense than most of the presenters, but he is the only one who sounds like he’s speaking extemporaneously, from a genuine sense of respect for the book. The mini-movie is fine, I like the public transit scenes. AK looks fantastic in her flow purple dress and her mini-speech is sweet. Next up: the winner!!!

Fifth commercial break: There was no speech from Jack Rabinovich this year, or from any of the bank guys. There was a brief shuffle over the envelope and who got to read it–I was just asking Mark when someone was going to say that for the price of a meal out in Toronto, you could buy all the shortlisted books when he shushed me–the envelope was open!!!

*Fifteen Dogs* won. Alexis gave a dignified but sweet speech and then it was all over. As the winner was announced I yelled, “I am shocked!” because I genuinely loved Anakana Schofield’s *Martin John* enough to be blind to the possibility of any other book winning. Which is a pretty stupid position for someone who has not read three out of five of the nominated books, and who understands that other people, including lit juries, have agency and different subjectivities from her.

Schofield posted some lovely things about being happy for Alexis on social media and others in the community seem pretty thrilled, too, so I’m going to try to take that to the bank. I’m less dejected than I was last night (hence the delayed posting)–really, so many great books got celebrated, a bunch of deserving authors got money and a fancy dinner and some well-deserved attention, and because of who the jury is I’m sure *15 Dogs* is a great book, though I probably still won’t read it…or perhaps I will. It was an interesting couple months running up to this event, and an interesting event too. I should be feeling lucky that my country celebrates authors like this, and mainly I do…but I was so sure I was right!!

 

November 1st, 2015

The Gillers Are Coming!

It’s a controversial position, but I love the Gillers! The endless run-up with the long-list, the short-list, all the readings and finally, the night, the glam ball and the awkward awards show that I love and blog every year. I started watching/live-blogging in 2010 because Alexander’s Macleod’s Light Lifting was on the shortlist, and I couldn’t have loved that book more if Macleod had written it expressly for my tastes. And then Sarah Selecky’s collection This Cake Is for the Party was up too, and I like her and that book very much, and so I decided to watch. The broadcast was weird, Sarah and Alex didn’t get to talk much, and a different book won–but that author seemed nice too and I got so engrossed I decided I needed to keep doing it.

Don’t get me wrong–I don’t think Giller Prize designates the best book in Canada–just one that 3 (or 5) smart people happen to like very much. But there’s nothing wrong with finding out what that is! I don’t find myself very swayed by nomination lists or even the prizes themselves–it’s a rare book that I wasn’t intending to read until it got a prize nod, and then I read it.

Normally, what happens is that i will see the longest and note which books on there I was planning to read anyway, and then jump those up in the queue so that I have read them by the time the prize is announced. This didn’t work out last year owing to a slow library holds system, but in general there’s a couple books on my hot list that coincide with the Giller list, so I have someone to root for. It took until 2013 for a book I’d read–Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing to win, which was an excellent experience but really I love the show either way.

This year was especially rich–when the longest was announced, there were two books on it I had already read and two more I wanted to read. I figure the overlap might have something to do with Macleod, who is on this year’s jury–if he could write the exact book I wanted to read, perhaps he could also select a list of other books I also want to read.

Let’s be clear–no offence to the books that I won’t be reading. We all know I could quit my job and stop talking to humans right now, reading, eating and sleeping for the next 50 years, and never read close to all of even the best books in existence. It’s just not doable–so I try not to feel guilty about what I pick. Anyway, the books I had read were Russell Smith’s Confidence and Michael Christie’s If I Fall, If I Die, both of which I really admire, so things were already going well. I quickly moved on to Anakana Schofield’s Martin John and it stopped me dead.

There is no other book like it–not that I’ve read. Even Malarky, Schofield’s very wonderful first novel, does not achieve the radical newness with language, the eviscerating emotional freefall, the sheer weirdness of Martin John. When Mark asked me about it, I said it was good and then ran out of things to say–it’s hard to encapsulate. But it’s going to win. I figured it would either get dropped off the short list–including in the longlist only as a token bit of experimentation–or it would win. Since MJ is on the shortlist, it’s going to win. I’m certain. How could it not?

That said, I haven’t read the full list. I went on and read Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill, which is certainly very good but I didn’t love it as much as her previous books. I’ll probably stop there because I’m working on a bookish essay and just have a bunch else I want to read but nevertheless I’m convinced that I’m going to get to hear Anakana’s speech up on that stage and it’s going to be amazing.

I was thrilled when Coady won and I really enjoyed and admired Hellgoing, but I wouldn’t have been upset or surprised if it hadn’t won. It was a good book in a field of good books. Martin John is something different, something I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since I read it. I am SO excited to watch the Gillers, though I think I might be crushed if another of the very good books wins. It’s interesting to be this invested, when I haven’t been before. Skin in the game, I guess.

So stay tuned for the Gillers on November 9 and a very het up blog post from me….

November 11th, 2014

Rose-coloured reviews the Giller Prize Show 2014

8:41pm: Sitting around being excited for the show to start, allegedly doing some of my own work. This is my worst Giller year to date, in that I have read none of the shortlisted books. I asked Mark earlier if he remembered who is on the shortlist, and he got exasperated with me and asked why I wanted to watch if I don’t know who is nominated. Married 2 years and still he doesn’t understand me. Then he listed the nominees. I have decided to root for Heather O’Neill’s *The Girl Who Was Saturday Night* because that is the book I’m closest to having read–I’ve ordered it from the library and is currently listed as “in transit.”

I’m excited to see Rick Mercer, whom I’ve always liked, and see if I can pick out my agent Samantha Haywood and other friends and acquaintances in the crowd. I am excited to finally find out what Heather O’Neill looks like and whether she can pull of an evening gown. I’ve excited to see whether this enterprise will even succeed or if I won’t be able to get the streaming to work, or the time will have been mislisted–see my Giller post in 2012. In fact, here’s the whole archive, just in case: Giller Reviews.

8:54: Ok, after finding the website, taking a survey that asked me how I heard about the Gillers and seemed to indicate that I would be taking it after the event had happened, then going to a different website, I have found what appears to be the link to the livestream. I think I will go microwave some frozen fruit to snack on while I wait out the last 5 minutes….

8:59: And we’re back–got fruit, got Mark, no cats allowed because they are jerks. Let’s do this thing!!

Commercial break #1: Oh, I do like Rick Mercer. So charming–and the accent–“ONprecdented.” He pointed out that Carol Off was in the crowd and then joked that when people think of the CBC they should think of Carol Off. We were impressed that he got in a sly Jian Ghomeshi joke when those had been forbidden.

There was a series of flash interviews with Mercer and the authors. Mercer did mug for the camera a good bit, but it was definitely the most relaxed set of Giller interviews in my experience. And the funniest–Miriam Toews will put her prize money towards a pair of Sorels.

Someone named Kim Coates from something called *Sons of Anarchy* (band? Tv show?) present the David Bezmogis bit. The mike was too short for Coates and he was very obviously reading off a telepromter: all his pauses were in the wrong spots. The mini-movie of The Betrayers had the author reading a bit, and describing the book. Then back to poor awkward Coates, who described the book some more. Then Bezmogis was invited on the stage to get a leather-bound copy of his book and say a few thankyous, which was a nice touch. Some years the authors don’t get to talk at all unless they win.

The guy from Murdoch Mysteries introduced Frances Itani’s Tell. He at least could perform as though he wasn’t reading a teleprompter. The pattern from the previous presentation followed for this one (and all). All of the mini movies were filled with shadowy figures and spooky or flickering lighting–I really don’t know why they go to the trouble of making these videos when they all look so generic. Itani said some nice thank yous as well

Commercial break #2: Judges got introduced–no action there. Then we got the guy from Moist–David Usher, Mark remembers–introducing Sean Michaels Us Conductors for some reason. Again, there never appears to be any connection between the presenters and what they’re presenting, though Usher at least seemed pleased to be there. So did Michaels–his thank yous were stammering and delighted. Cute.

Someone from Hot Tub Time Machine introduced Heather O’Neill’s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night–interestingly, this was the first presenter who seemed to convey genuine enthusiasm for the book in question. O’Neill’s video was semi-interesting, but I’m starting to think I actually hate the video segements. I’m pleased to find out O’Neill is very pretty, but wearing some sweater/blouse combo and no evening dress at all. I liked when she thanks her daughter from the stage, and I liked her outfit even if it was not an evening dress.

Commercial break #3: Another Mercer interview bit with a mad-libs type “first paragraph of my novel” set up–again, actually pretty funny. And then–shockingly–an actual author introduced Miriam Toews novel All My Puny Sorrows. Naomi Klein did the honours handily–Mark has read the novel and thought the intro was perfect–but Miriam Toews somewhat awkwardly thanked her for taking time out from her fight “against the man” to be there.

Commercial break #4: Some nice piano playing by a guy whom Mark recognized but I didn’t (are we getting from this post that Mark is more culturally current than I am?) I’ve been noticing throughout that this seems to be a more casual Giller–people look less like they’ve been to a stylist or borrowed a dress from a fancy store; more like they’ve been borrowing dresses and suits from their siblings and parents. Deepa Mehta did a great job, very emotional and enthusiastic, introducing the last book Padma Viswanathan’s The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. But there have been too many commercial breaks and I’m ready for this to be over.

Commercial break #5: Jack Rabinovich says his customer line about how dinner out in Toronto costs as much buying all the short-listed books, so eat at home and read. I’m not sure where he usually dines, but hey, it’s not bad advice. Then some bank guy opened the envelope and the winner is… Us Conductors!!

Mark and I said “whoa!” in unison–that was an unexpected ending! I wasn’t expecting Michaels to be able to do a polished speech since he was so flustered earlier, but it was actually very well-prepared, a bit emotional but also very professional. His wife, who in purple lace was probably wearing my favourite outfit of the night, was weeping.

The thankyous were long and address everything from his writing group to (obliquely) Ghomeshi. At one point, a long shot showed Mercer getting ready to say something on a different stage, but Michaels thanked for so long the livestream ended before that happened. Honestly, I was happy to hear all the thank yous and think the director made the right choice.

Best Giller show ever? Yes, I think so–funny, unobtrusive host, 2/5 genuinely meaningful presenters, all the writers get to talk, all the writers get money (not done until this year), and an articulate and humble winner.

Well done, Giller people! See you next year!

November 13th, 2013

Rose-coloured reviews the 2013 Giller Prize

Despite the phone ringing during the opening chords, I was pretty pleased with what I caught of Whitehorse. They’re great singers, but though I thought they were struggling pretty hard to work around the stage in their formal-wear and to set up instruments mid-song. No one could have helped them? Seemed a bit chinzy not to have a tech guy at an otherwise lavish event…

Onwards to the show! Jian Ghomeshi was hosting again, and he was his usual personable, suave self. The room was filled with elaborate tables with elaborate centrepieces. Mark and I now know enough literati, at least by sight, to have fun pointing out who we knew in the crowd, a game Mark is much better at than I am. I’m out of it enough that, as Jian announced each nominee, and the camera focussed in on a face, I assumed that was the nominee. Mark thought this was hilarious.

“Is that Craig Davidson?”

“No, it’s the guy behind him. You can sort of see his hair.”

The camera guys would struggle with this all night. Not sure why.

I failed to watch the Gillers last year due to the CBC website posting the wrong time on their website for their OWN broadcast–so lame–so I don’t know whether the changes I saw in the broadcast were new this year or not. I do know that they seem to have taken my 2010 Giller Review to heart and eliminated the very personal interview questions in the mini-movies. Actually they did that in 2011 too, but this year they replaced them with personal interview questions on-stage. I actually love those, but that is my nosy streak–I am not sure it was fair to ask Dan Vyleta about his late father in front of a live audience, though he handled it gracefully and wittily.

Something new, at least to me, is that the mini-movies are now readings of the stories, in the authors’ OWN voices no less. This is a huge improvement over previous years where there was neither an opportunity for the authors to speak nor any direct quotes of the celebrated books. I really liked the readings–great job, everybody. I was less crazy about the visuals in the movies, which were impressionistic, vague scenes from the books in question, more or less. I wasn’t wild about them, but nor was I embarrassed by them, and I also don’t have a better suggestion. Well, I do–it could just be the author standing there wearing nice clothes reading the book. That always does it for me at live readings. But TV being the action-packed medium that it is, I don’t think we’ll see that in future, so I’m fine with these glimpses into someone’s imagination of the worlds of the novel.

The best part of the evening, other than the winner, was unexpectedly the on-stage judge interview. Margaret Atwood, Esi Edugyan, and Jonathan Lethem comprised the jury, and vast variety of heights. They were already mildly amusing just standing there, with Jian Ghomeshi onstage, before anyone spoke. They looked like invitees to different parties, or like a mischievous sprite, the queen, and an awkward teenager, respectively. Ghomeshi kicked things off by mentioning that Atwood had asked earlier about the “banter” and she teased him from there, answering all the questions gnomically–the difference between her time on the Giller jury this year and previously is “being older”–and actually covering a giggle with her hand at one point. I have almost never seen video footage of Atwood, and I was shocked by a realization I’d not had previously: Margaret Atwood *loves* being Margaret Atwood. I am so happy for her–makes me want to read her new book even though it is about the apocalypse and I am very scared of the apocalypse. Ghomeshi capped off the interview by asking if we’d be surprised by the winner, and Lethem responded that it was a book on the shortlist. I’m not sure if I’m properly conveying how funny it all was.

The presenters were useless as ever–the weakest part of the show. I don’t know why the Giller organizers insist on pulling people from showbiz to present–as if many bookish people will be drawn in if there’s a hiphop star on it. Or as if hiphop fans would be! I forget every presenter’s name and most of what they said, but I did note that there seemed to be much more emphasis on the presenters proving they had actually read the books. I do not care if they had or not, as they did not have anything interesting to say about their reading experiences.

As far as I know, other industries have people FROM that industry present at awards shows. Film actors at the Oscars, tv folks at the Emmies, musicians for the Grammies (actually, I don’t for sure know these things and think that maybe should be Emmys and Grammys). ANYWAY, surely there are some writers somewhere who are telegenic enough to be Giller presenters. Isn’t that “presenter” role supposed to be a little bit of exposure for others in the industry who aren’t nominated? I think it would be great to see more Canadian writers than just the 5 nominees on Giller night. If I thought I could pull off an evening gown, I’d apply for the gig myself.

Um…cutting to the chase: *Hellgoing* by Lynn Coady won. I was delighted, not only because it is a book short stories, nor because it was the only book on the shortlist I had read, not because I thought Coady other book *The Antagonist* should have won when it was nominated in 2011. I thought that THIS book, this book that won, was very very good and deserving of accolades. I’m wary of a cumulative effects with big prizes–none of this “write enough good books and that will eventually add up to one great book.” And I don’t necessarily feel that this was a victory for short stories, though after book Giller night and Alice Munro’s Nobel win a few weeks ago, everyone’s been congratulating me as if my “team” had a victory. It would certainly be lovely if these two events brought more readers in general to the story, but in the meantime, I think Coady can claim whole ownership of this prize. She didn’t win for her subject matter (too varied), her lifetime achievements (too young), or her gravitas (too funny): she won because she wrote an inventive, intelligent, entertaining, sad, thought-provoking book. I’m hesitant to say the best (as I haven’t read the other books) but certainly a book very much deserving of celebration.

Coady’s speech was unexpectedly boring–she mentioned being overwhelmed and fair enough. The highpoint was that she noted two big factors in her success as a writer are a happy marriage and enough food. Hear, hear!

Best Gillers in my experience–even cautiously looking forward to next year!

November 2nd, 2012

No Giller reivew this year

So, sadly, there will be no Rose-coloured review of the Giller Awards broadcast this year, because the Giller website listed the time of the webcast as 9pm (scroll down to the second blog post and you can still see the error!) When I eagerly sat down at 8:59, everyone was cheering and the camera was swooping *out*–party over, having apparently started at 8pm. Nerds!

I admit that I mainly wanted to watch so that I could make snarky comments about that guy from Hedley, and the injustice of devoting an hour of air time to books by 5 authors, and not letting 4 of them speak. But I also do enjoy the experience of seeing some razzmatazz in the name of the usually more yoga-pants-y writing life. I’m also a little alarmed that no one caught the error–I bet this never happens with the Pulitzer!

Nevertheless, congrats to Will Ferguson anyway–apparently he was quite charming at the ceremony. And congrats also to Russell Wangersky, the author of the only shortlisted book that I read, for writing a really good one.

I’m looking forward to the Writers’ Trust Awards next week to fill this gap. I have been twice now, and never wanted to say anything snarky about that event–it’s really fun, and yes, glamourous. Also, high-calibre snacks. I’ll be much more upset if I get the time wrong on this one!

November 12th, 2011

Rose-coloured Reviews the Giller Prize Show 2011

To watch last year’s Giller show, Mark and I had to head for someone else’s house, but this year through the power of live-streaming, we could watch at home and keep the kitten company. I have no idea if CTV had a live-streaming version of the Gillers, too, but the CBC one was hitchless–no hiccups or buffering issues. Lots (and lots) of commercials, but I guess that was the point.

So there we were with our smartpop, our wine, our kitten going insane under the desk, watching the camera roll over the vast and glittering crowd at the Four Seasons up to…Jian Ghomeshi?? Hooray, I love that guy. He was the host at the Writers’ Trust Awards the year I was a presenter, and he did a lovely, low-key, and charming job of it. What a shock to find that at the Gillers, right off the bat, Ghomeshi was unfunny!

Worse, as the show wore on, he seemed to be rolling his eyes at his own jokes. He’d kind of grimace, look down at his notes, make the joke quickly, and then say, “C’mon, c’mon, that’s funny, right?” It was all a lot more Fozzie-Bear-ish than I was expecting.

But that was the cumulative effect of the entire show–at the beginning he just seemed a little stiff as he introduced Lang Lang, who played something lovely on the piano and was, unique among the men I saw on the telecast, wearing an open-collared shirt.

The next segment was a bit from the judges, talking about how hard it was to read so many (140+) nominated books. One of the judges (I don’t know who any of them were except Annabel Lyon–always nice to see her) said, “All of the books had something about them that made them worthy of the prize,” or something along those lines. “They’re talking about my book!” I squealed. (Full disclosure: I have no idea if *The Big Dream* was put forward for the Giller, I just know that–technically–it was eligible.)

Like last year’s event, things moved along at a good clip, and as I recall after that we got pretty much directly into the book presentations. As with last year’s, the presentaters were a random assortment of vaguely famous non-book-related people. The first one, “international celebrity” Lisa Ray was no one I’d heard of and her telepromtation delivery of the introduction to David Bezmozgis’ novel did not make me want to investigate further. Nelly Furtado, Robbie Robertson, and that guy from Hedley did slightly better jobs, but still–who cares? I seriously doubt anyone who was not going to watch the show would see an advert and say, “Hey, Nelly Furtado is not singing, but is speaking for 120 seconds? I’m so there.” As for me, who was looking forward to the show, there’s pretty much no one whose literary opinion I respect less than the Hedley guy’s, and I consider myself *un*curmudgeonly among litsy types–why not cater to your audience?

Weirdly, the only presenter who did such a good job that I believe (a) that he was speaking extemporaneously, and (b) that he had read the book, was Ron MacLean introducing *The Antagonist* by Lynn Coady. Mark explained that he is some sort of hockey commentator, and he certainly spoke bomastically, but also with genuine enthuasiasm for the book and its author, whom he address directly, as “Lynn”–he also said he was going to call her parents and congratulate them. If all the presentors had been like that, I could’ve forgiven their literary irrelevance.

I should admit that Michael Ondaatje’s book *The Cat’s Table* was introduced last and, though I genuinely liked the excerpt in the New Yorker, by that point I was not paying attention. I don’t even know who introduced it. Part of the problem was that the kitten had become increasingly destructive, flipping a folder off the desk and sending a plume of papers into the air, followed by partially eating a little rubber thing that could not be subsequently identified. But also, there was the fact that I was freaking bored.

The best parts, as last year, were the personal interviews with the authors. This year’s however had shucked off the lame invasive aspects–showing the writers with their partners and kids–in favour of actually focussing on the books, and writing in general. They had also left off the syrupy natural settings (strolling beside a river, anyone?) in favour of a really nice, book-lined studio, the same one for all six. The questions were interesting if not overly intellectual, and the editor kept in only the bits where the authors sounded thoughtful and smart. I liked last year’s pieces very much, but these were far better–weirdly, making the setup less personal allowed the authors’ personalities to come through far better. I was especially impressed with what Coady said about what the reader owes the book (nothing) and what Zsuzsi Gardner said about why she writes (to comment on the world). I also liked that the writerly questions were folded in with the life ones, so that no one was stuck standing in front of a white wall just after the commercials, talking about what is their muse. Really well-done segments, all six (fine, I didn’t really watch Ondaatje’s–the cat was trying to dig through the floor).

I said it last year and I’ll say it again–why are there no readings at the Gillers? The Oscars show clips, the Tonys show song-and-dance numbers, the Grammys have songs, the Gillers have…that Hedley guy reading the back cover bumpf. These are supposed to be our country’s best crafters of words–how come some speech-writer is crafting everything that’s said in the awards presentation? And if the worry is that the authors themselves would be too nervous and unprofessional for a CBC telecast, one could certainly hire actors to read passages–they’d be cheaper than Robbie Robertson, I’m guessing. Although I vastly prefer to see how a writer reads his/her own work, and anyway, this year the writers didn’t even get to stand up on tv (except the winner) and I wanted to see what they were wearing.

And while I’m ranting, with all the serious, respected, professional criticism and reviews that has been written about these 6 books, why was the only quotation in the broadcast of Nelly Furtado’s tweet that she was “consumed” by *Half-Blood Blues*?? WHO ARE THEY TRYING TO APPEAL TO???

Deep breath. Esi Edugyan won. I’ve only read Better Living through Plastic Explosives and The Antagonist (and loved both) but Mark read *Half-Blood Blues* and assured me it was strong novel and a worthwhile winner…though he, like me, was pulling for Coady’s novel. And Edugyan gave a calm, sweet speech and also is absolutely stunning, so it was pleasant to watch her (though for some reason I STILL couldn’t see what she was wearing).

So though we were happy enough with the outcome and were glad these 6 books were celebrated, I found the broadcast of the Gillers extremely lame and unrepresentative of the glorious books it was supposed to be showcasing. And there were *so many* commercials. I haven’t watched broadcast TV with any kind of regularity in nearly a decade, and almost never with my partner, and it turns out there is a strange kind of silence that comes the first time you watch a yeast-infection-treatment advert together…which was probably the most memorable part of the experience.

November 10th, 2010

Rose-coloured reviews the Giller Prize show

I have not watched an awards ceremony on tv since…whenever the first time Steve Martin hosted the Oscars (ah, 2001! thanks, wikipedia). I thought it would be fun because I like Steve Martin, but I hadn’t seen any of the films, got bored almost immediately and gave up. As a child, I liked watching the Tonys, but only for the musical numbers.

Historically, I’ve taken little interest in the Giller Prize, for similar reasons—I had rarely read any of the books, no musical numbers, not even Steve Martin. But this year a number of authors I admire—and books I love—appeared on the list, and it suddenly had something to do with me.

I have to say, good as the nominees are, I have not found following the Giller run-up especially rewarding. I liked seeing This Cake Is For the Party flash randomly on the tv while I ran on the treadmill at my gym, and Steven Beattie’s five reviews are always interesting, but the Giller pledge? A seemingly drunken conversation in the Globe about how everyone under 40 is an idiot? I think a lot of stuff went on on tv, which I don’t have except randomly at the gym, which might have been more entertaining.

But I did want to watch the ceremony, so Mark (cableless) found us a home containing the three necessary elements—a functioning tv, cable, and a resident who didn’t mind watching the ceremony.

I gotta say, the CTV/Bravo folks (I didn’t know they were the same until this event) worked really hard. The show was exactly one hour, unlike the long rambling Oscars. Of course, it helps that they had only one award to give away. Mark and I briefly fantasized that perhaps there would be equivalents of the Oscars’ sound and lighting awards—stuff for book design and editorial work—but of course there wasn’t. Maybe next year.

The host—a Michael J. Fox-ish news anchor who was very charming but who made such intense constant eye contact with the camera his pupils seemed dialated—kept things moving at a good clip. Each book was introduced by a famous person who I had never seen in the flesh before, so I kept exclaiming “That’s what Anne Murray/Barbara Amiel Black/Jim Cuddy looks like?” The famous folks were non-literary except for one past winner, but all did admirable teleprompted jobs describing plot and character. Then there was a mini-movie about each author, showing them strolling around town with their partners and kids and talking about writing. Intercut with that was interviews with the judges, who described what was awesome about the book.

I’m not sure if I should admit this, but I really liked the personal stuff. Most of it had nothing to do with the books, but it was all very sweet and interesting. One relevant bit I especially liked how David Bergen’s university-student son described how he tried to challenge his dad with his philosophical readings, and that had ended up in the book. Some of it—especially the shots of each writer writing—was lame-o, but on the whole pretty tasteful.

After the little movie, the author was called to the stage. I was confused by this—were they going to give a reading?—but no, they were just given little leatherbound books with the Giller rose on them (what were they?), embraced by the presenter, and sent back to their seats. I guess it was a chance to show off their party cloths (wow, everyone looked good—how does a writer know where to buy and how to wear an evening gown? Does the Giller committee have people to help with that?)

I was surprised that there was so much talk about the books, but no readings. I had thought that’s what the authors were going up there for, or perhaps the presenters would do it, but no. Surely the books are the point of it all, and these talented folks’ actual prose would be much more interesting than the back-flap-chat summaries offered instead. I wonder why no readings…? Especially when so much time was lavished before and after commercials on showing the authors standing against a white screen, answering weird questions very badly. Almost all the clips involved them saying the questions were hard or impossible to answer, and that’s what was kept *in*. I wonder what they cut??

In truth, it wasn’t a very literary evening, even though the host kept exhorting viewers—with increasing anxiety, I felt—to read the books. It was really a sales-y style they used, mentioning the Giller effect and actually showing percentages of how much sales of past winners had increased with the win. I’m not sure what the point of that was, but if I was Linden McIntyre, I’d resent being called Mr. 710%, as he was last night. Isn’t it “The books sold so much because they’re awesome” not “The books are awesome because they sold so much”—right?

Those of us in the peanut gallery fell into decidedly non-literary behaviour, exclaiming over people’s clothing and what might be wrong with Barbara Amiel Black’s head (our hostess explained probably Botox). And then Johanna Skibsrud won, which I think was a big surprise to most, but a pleasant one. She was emotional, but still managed to give a good, clear, not-too-long speech. It was really worth the price of admission (well, we paid in Pirate cookies, but even more than that) to see Skibsrud’s sister crying with delight in the audience. That was lovely.

It was a pleasant evening and I’m glad I watched, though I don’t know that I’ll be in a desperate hurry to do so again. The emphasis on promoting Canadian authors in this show was a bit skewed—they’re only promoting five books. And the Giller pledge doesn’t make much sense and offends me in a way I can’t quite put a finger on—why do we have to promise? Can’t we put the books down if we get bored? And yes, I do think everyone should buy lots of Canadian books to keep our publishing industry going, but there was so much sales talk on this show, completely ignoring how much many people depend on the libraries systems, borrowing from friends, etc., and how that’s pretty good for the industry in its own way.

But then again, I don’t even know how to put on an evening dress, so I can’t really say.

November 10th, 2016

Rose-coloured Reviews This Lousy Week

So, I usually watch and report on the Giller Prize broadcast and here we are again at that time of year. I didn’t do a live-blog, taking notes in the moment this year, because I had had a brief choking incident about half an hour before and spent the show lying in Mark’s lap. I did pay pretty good attention to it though, and had a bunch of cheerful, gently snarky things to say about it that I was saving for this space, but then Tuesday happened with all of its apocalyptic strangeness, and it no longer seemed worthwhile to comment on weird musical segways or lovely evening gowns.

Nor, however, am I able to comment on the election, except to say that I am unsurprisingly unhappy and that we  terrified our cats by getting up repeatedly in the night to check returns, never a good sign. Kerry wrote a great post about getting to the work of reacting to this change in global politics, and I really hope to do that very soon.

In the meantime, though, I feel like telling you about my evening last night. Even before the choking and the election, I am having by any standards a pretty terrible autumn, and last night was the first time in a while where I just had a peaceful productive evening and didn’t have anything to freak out or waste time being miserable about. It was great. Here’s what I did:

I had a doctor’s appointment downtown so I got to leave work early, and then the buses actually ran on-time for once so I was able to use my buffer time to run an errand and then read John Metcalf’s book in the waiting room. And then the doctor was running late as the doctors in this office ALWAYS do, but instead of meekly accepting it I said I needed a realistic time when they’d see me. I’m disappointed in the universe that what it took to win this argument was “My husband is picking me up and I need to tell him what time” but as I have been kept waiting up to two hours in this office before, any victory is helpful. And they actually did give me a time that was approximately correct and I was able to meet Mark and walk home with him. And it was a cold but bright evening and all the downtown people were heading home and it was nice to be one of them for once (I work in the burbs).

When we got home I fed the cats and caught up on the work emails I missed while Mark put in the laundry and checked his own emails. Then I got started on a batch of cookies and the sun went down and Mark put the clothes in the drier and made dinner. Dinner was fish-sticks because I have decided that we can have convenience foods once a week because life is exhausting. I haven’t had fish-sticks since I was a child and they weren’t truly good, but they were filled with nostalgia and that was nice. I put hoisin sauce on them though.

And I finished the cookies and did the dishes and Mark brought the laundry up and we chatted and folded it while the cats ran around being nuts, as is their wont. And then we were finally done all the chores and ate a few cookies. Then Mark read for a bit in the living room and I got to work on my essay on Russell Smith that I have been trying to finish forever. I finally had an evening of work that didn’t feel like a failure–I actually felt a little proud of what I wrote.

And then I felt tired and went to bed–an incredible luxury, to just go to bed when you’re tired–and I actually slept well, also rare lately.

Such a nice, normal, useful evening. I am grateful

December 4th, 2014

Co-habitational reading challenge: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

My husband and I have lots of literary tastes in common and we’ve read plenty of the same books, but there’s an especial pleasure of reading the same book at the same time–it’s always exciting to sit down at dinner and say, “What bit are you at? What did you think about the part where…?” and know you’re both thinking about the same stuff.

So Mark Sampson and I try to sync our reading at least once a year. In the past, we’ve done rereads of books we’ve respectively loved and wanted to experience together (here’s the tag if you want to go back in time, though the posts are weirdly out of order). This year we wanted to read something new together, and chose kind of at random from the Giller Prize 2014 shortlist (what, they all looked good).

The book we wound up with was Heather O’Neill‘s The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, mainly because we both got a hold of copies around the same time. But also it was a book we both hoped to love, as we had both adored O’Neill’s first novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals a few years back.

My love of O’Neill’s writing goes back even further, to a wondrous column she used to write that no one seems to have read, in Broken Pencil, called “Goldstein on Goldstein” (I believe there was an earlier incarnation of the column written by Jonathan Goldstein, and they just never bothered changing the name when she took over). I’ve gotten so blank stares when I mentioned her good old “Goldstein on Goldstein” days that I resolved that I wouldn’t include it here unless I could find an online archive to prove I’m not crazy. And I did. And you should read’em, they are great.

To the book at hand: TGWWSN had a lot of the same everyday poetry to the language and rootedness in Montreal poverty that I loved about her column and her first book. It is narrated  from the point of view of Nouschka Tremblay. She is the daughter of a Quebecois folksinger, long loved for his quirky songs about things like an elephant with a peanut up its nose and his of-the-people style. But he did knock up a 14-year-old girl in rural Quebec and brought into being Nouschka and her twin brother Nicholas. The senior Tremblay abandoned the twins with their mother and she, in term, took them to their paternal grandparents and never came back. After the grandmother’s passing, they were raised by Etienne’s senile father, Loulou.

Whew–that’s a lot of setup. But it works, quite well, actually. It was amazing how Etienne’s localized celebrity–he is unknown to people outside Quebec and perhaps Anglos anywhere–seems completely realistic. It felt totally possibly that he actually existed, and I didn’t know it–the way people sang his songs in their wanderings and recognized him on the street, the way he go mixed up in the cause of Separatism without every really being that interested.

Lots of the press and bumpf about this novel consider the referendum a part of the events, but it isn’t really–it’s simply an ingenious way of grounding the TGWWSN concretely in time and place. It feels so specific, so exactly where it seeks to be–really brilliant on the author’s part. But this is not more a political novel than LFLC–politics might be architecture, or the weather. It is what it is.

Oh, and plot–there isn’t one for, in my estimation, more than half the book. Maybe Nouschka and Nicholas are too claustrophobically close, lost in their own twin-world, sleeping in the same bed (O’Neill very determinedly tries to make this not creepy and succeeds, barely). Maybe they need to find their mother. Maybe Nouschka needs to get a good job and get out of the fatalistic poverty in which her brother and grandfather live.

None of these are quite plot worthy, but we do gradually see the stakes rise (at the beginning of the book, with the twins noodling around their neighbourhood, the plot level felt dangerously close to nil. Nicholas becomes more self-destructive and Nouschka does her own bit on that front, by hooking up with, and then marrying (at 20!) the strange and disturbed Rafael. Things happen, the risk is real, and I got more gripped by the story in the final third. I don’t want to say I had been bored earlier–O’Neill’s gorgeous prose and my love of the quotidian kept boredom at bay, but I did wonder when something would, you know, happen.

In the last 50 or so pages EVERYTHING happens, so I guess that answered that. I ended the read a bit shell-shocked–it’s rare that a book feels both overlong and too tumultuous. But I don’t know that it was actually too anything–it simply wasn’t what I was expecting.

Even the more querulous complaints I had about the book were more questions than anything–from what point in her life was Nouschka reflecting on these events? The narrator is clearly not in the same time period as the protagonist–she keeps saying things like “I was so young” but you never find out where this narrator-Nouschka went in her life or how things turned out, or what called her to tell her story in this way. I was disappointed, but I do overthink things.

I also wondered how to think about a book written in English about characters who make a point of speaking only in French–who in fact distrust Anglos and are mystified by them. There’s many wondrous turn of phrase in this book, but they would all be completely different in another language. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, really–do you know?

And finally, the cats–they turn up every dozen or so pages, but I didn’t know why. Yes, I like cats and it makes me happy to see them in books, but there never seemed to be any point to them. Many of the cats belong to neighbours or are street cats, but Nouschka refers once to having cats of her family’s own, and then never again. No one had a relationship with any of the cats, just cutesy little descriptions that I actually really didn’t like. But again, I overthink things, especially things to do with cats.

I don’t have a letter or number grade for this book but I really enjoyed reading it and think Heather O’Neill is a wonderful writer despite the fact I didn’t like everything about this book. I also really loved reading the book with my husband (for his take on the experience, see here). It’s great to share a book in this way–a highly recommended experiment, whatever you like to read.

 

September 16th, 2014

On Literary Envy

I’ve been wanting to write something on literary envy for a while now–by which I mean being envious of others’ literary achievements or accolades (not characters in literature being envious, as I just realized this could be interpreted). And then this morning in Jessica Westhead’s Twitter feed (which, like most things JW does, is interesting and you should check out) I saw on article on that very topic. It’s Nathan Rabin’s Salon piece on being envious of John Green. It is an excruciatingly honest piece on feeling bad about how Rabin and Green were casual friends, then grew apart and Green got crazy successful. Rabin, who was pretty successful in his own right and also apparently not even in touch with Green, felt miserable in the face of Green’s gargantuan achievements. And fair enough–if you’re going to make that comparison you’re probably going to feel bad about yourself.

Myself, I’m hardly immune to literary envy (of the first kind), but it would never occur to me to be upset by someone like Green–I mean, let’s dwell in reality for a second and realize I’m never going to be a cult rock-star author whom young girls weep about the possibility of seeing in the flesh. Really, I’m ok with that–I can’t even see him from here, just read and enjoy the books. If I met him, I think I would just be pleasantly fannish and hope he remembered my name.

It’s the people are a couple rungs up from me that sometimes unsettle me a bit–I can see them from here, so very clearly. And everything a writer does–maybe everything anybody does professionally–is about getting a little better, working a little harder, accomplishing a little more than you’ve done already? So why can’t I get to that next rung?

A good answer, both for Nathan Rabin and for me, comes from Dear Sugar, the pseudonym of the (very successful) writer Cheryl Strayed. Sugar wrote a column on this very subject, and it was really inspiring to me. I’m actually not a very envious person most of the time, and so while I have definitely had days of staring at Facebook and feeling sorry for myself, most of the time I can get past it and feel good about deserving people reaping excellent rewards.

Sugar’s advice is powerful and helpful for those of us with even a touch of the green-eyed monster, though–I promise to slow down on those Facebook spirals after rereading this…

“You know what I do when I feel jealous? I tell myself to not feel jealous. I shut down the why not me? voice and replace it with one that says don’t be silly instead. It really is that easy. You actually do stop being an awful jealous person by stopping being an awful jealous person. When you feel like crap because someone has gotten something you want you force yourself to remember how very much you have been given. You remember that there is plenty for all of us. You remember that someone else’s success has absolutely no bearing on your own. You remember that a wonderful thing has happened to one of your literary peers and maybe, if you keep working and if you get lucky, something wonderful may also someday happen to you.

“And if you can’t muster that, you just stop. You truly do. You do not let yourself think about it. There isn’t a thing to eat down there in the rabbit hole of your bitterness except your own desperate heart. If you let it, your jealousy will devour you.”

It’s just such simple basic advice that will, at the very least, allow the struggling writer to have more friends–and we could all use those.

Another thing that just occurred to me is that I am posting this on Giller day. I’ve actually seen nothing but supportive loveliness online today, but if there’s anyone out there secretly feeling less than lovely, please read Sugar’s column (and maybe don’t read Rabin’s–while honest and heartfelt, it won’t exactly make you feel better).

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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