Canada Read 2011 series did not win this year, but deciding the best book, like the best bagel, is a completely subjective decision, which we all can't agree on, and this is something that I acknowledge.
But a few words have to be said about the obvious.
The Canada Reads 2011 series has now been running for 10 years, and its objective was to get Canadians reading, and reading Canadian authors. The series is a win-win situation for our national publishing industry and our authors who reap the benefits of increased exposure and book sales. I must admit that if it had not been for Canada Reads, I would not have read Guy Vanderhaege's the Last Crossing, Leo McKay's Twenty-Six or Angie Abdou's the Bone Cage, three stories that I adored. The series has also demonstrated that Canada has many world class writers, and this was not the case when I was studying Canadian Lit in high school in the 1980s.
Indeed, we have come a long way. Canadians now read books by Canadians and even enjoy them. But now we need to look a little closer at the results of the last 10 years. I've done a little research and found that of the 50 finalists over the 10 years, only 19 women authors have made it into the finals (38% vs 62%), and in this past decade only two women have actually won (20% vs. 80%). There was a glimmer of hope this year when three women actually made it into the finals, one of whom was Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Carol Shields. Unless made it into the top five, Ms. Shield's final book in a stellar literary career. Initially, it hardly seemed fair that her end-of-career book would be competing against four first-time novels.
But surprise! Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans, the self-published book and "the Cinderella story" won the Canada Reads' essential book of the decade title. Everyone loves an underdog! Self-published authors are smiling from ear to ear across Canada. Then the other male finalist, the graphic novelist Jeff Lemire, won the CBC's People's Choice Award. Woohoo! Both men won awards.
Sorry, I don't buy that men only read men and that there's no way around it, particularly with all the marketing gurus out there who can sell cars, homes and just about any other consumer product to people who don't need them or have the money to buy them. This is intentional sexism, and some people obviously like the publishing industry the way it is.
The most aggravating part is that women make up the lion's share of readers. According to a UK study published in the Guardian in March 2009, 48% of women were avid readers while only 26% of men fell into this category. An avid reader was defined as someone who "cannot put a book down once they begin it and who reliably get through a long list of titles in an average year."
As a publicly funded broadcaster, the CBC should be investigating the Canadian publishing industry and getting to the bottom of some of its sexist practices. Rather than just perpetuating rampant sexism, the Corporation should be using its considerable power to influence the very industry that it helped build. In addition, it might start by giving equal exposure to women writers, looking into who is winning all the literary prizes and creating a list of best practices that publishing companies would need to follow in order to receive a CBC endorsement.
I'm sure there's a lot more our nationally owned radio and television network could do instead of just throwing its hands in the air and saying, "We didn't make the decision. It was the panel." This is a deep-seated issue that requires a little more than a glib "oh well!" response.
I'll just close with some 2009 statistics about who is winning all the literary awards and prize money in the US:
Amazon- Top 100 Editor’s Picks 2009
Los Angeles Times Book Prize 2009
Innovator’s Award- 1 Man
Robert Kirsch Award- 1 Man
LA Times Favorite Fiction 2009
The National Book Awards 2009
Fiction- 1 Man
Nonfiction- 1 Man
Poetry- 1 Man
Young People’s Literature- 1 Man
Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2009
Publishers Weekly Top 10 Books of 2009
Slate- Best Reads of 2009
Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 1948-2009
© 2010 VIDA
Author: Amy King