“…a cutthroat cottage industry…”

It’s Giller night — do you know what you’re wearing to the party? Perhaps not the most venerable of Canadian lit awards (I believe the Governor General’s Award is still that), the Giller Prize is definitely the hippest. Lately, the CBC has been trying to make it even hipper, featuring Jian Ghomeshi as host (non-Canadians may remember him from a couple of years back when Billy Bob Thornton made a total ass of himself on national radio/TV — that was Ghomeshi interviewing…) and a number of celebrity presenters like Rosie MacLennan, Rick Mercer, and Kim Cattrall.

I’ve mentioned several times in this blog how the Giller — and any literary prize — is like rocket fuel for a Canadian book. I will likely buy this year’s Giller winner as well. (BTW, I don’t have a strong sense of who will win tonight, but I’m going to put my money on Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride. With a name like Richler and a title close to Atwood, seems like a good bet…)

In any case, John Doyle at The Globe and Mail seems to have a bit more of a negative view. Then again, he’s the Television columnist, and books don’t generally make for good television. Looks like he has an axe to grind too (perhaps for good reason, if you read today’s column). This is what he said about the Canadian lit scene:

The Giller Prize is great, having bestowed money and attention on Canadian fiction. The people behind it are, to be sure, veritable Medicis of modern Canada. And that’s nice. Seeing as the Canadian book racket is a cutthroat cottage industry, nervous and neurotic about success, sales and, it seems, thin-skinned and combative.

(emphasis mine)

I’m not sure I can get behind this. Yes, there is likely competition among publishers. Yes, I’m sure that the writers who ultimately lose feel bad for losing. But I’ve also seen, through Twitter and other media, publishers support each other and wish each other luck. And the writers who congratulate the winners truly seem happy for them, instead of an Oscar “it’s an honour just to be nominated” kind of way.

Maybe I’m just naive this way. I certainly don’t have an insider’s view.

I do think though that “cottage industry” is the perfect way to describe the Canadian book industry, and now more than ever. The Big Boys are getting taken down one by one, but the smaller houses may hang on yet. If anything, my money would be on these smaller ones who don’t have Bay St. or Madison Ave. rents, who can be more responsive to the market, and who can work with the writers a little more closely. Personalized attention — to the reader mostly, but perhaps to the writer as well to help make that happen — seems to be the thing that carries the day in this Internet Age.

One thing’s for sure, some writer and publishing house is about to win the lottery tonight. And thousands of people will know what they’ll be reading for the next week or so.

~Graham

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