A tireless promoter of books and authors, Ben McNally has been a bookseller in Toronto for more than thirty years. His Bay Street bookstore will celebrate its fifth anniversary this fall.
The unveiling last week of the five titles vying for the 2013 version of Canada Reads inspired more than the usual misgivings.
One is hesitant to criticize anything that brings attention to books and reading, but Canada Reads has always, at least in the mind of this less that unbiased observer, been at best a mixed blessing.
If your book is fortunate enough to be chosen for inclusion in the weeklong slugfest the only certainty is that four out of the five celebrity panelists will start to denigrate it after the opening bell.
Will Schwalbe was in town this weekend to promote his new book The End of Your Life Book Club, and I caught up with him Sunday morning, in a crowd of 150 book lovers who’d negotiated the marathon-tangled streets of the metropolis to attend brunch.
Schwalbe gave one of the most memorable presentations we’ve ever had. His book is tailor-made to my own sensibilities, so there’s a built-in bias that I must confess, but he spoke at length about the transformative power of reading and of physical books, and how they provide not just personal pleasure but cultural glue. It was brilliant.
Among the varied and many satisfactions that come with my job, author events rank pretty high. Sometimes they make us money, sometimes they don’t, but they always serve to remind us why it is that we got into the book business in the first place. (hint: it wasn’t in hopes of getting wildly wealthy…)
“Surprised” is not a word that should readily spring to the lip when the shortlist for a literary prize is announced. “Appalled” works. “Disappointed” will do. (Last year’s Booker shortlist was considered so lowbrow that a certain infuriated segment of the industry threatened to institute a new prize to celebrate more literate writing.) “Surprised” should not occur, even to jaded insiders who think they can augur the tastes of the jury in whose hands the decision rests. No one should ever be surprised at what a jury can come up with, especially in a field as diverse and subjective as fiction. That does not stop a lot of people who should know better from sniping at inclusions and bemoaning omissions.