Friday, January 29, 2010 |
It sure feels great to have a stack of good books by your side at this time of year, doesn't it? Canada Reads and nightly soaks in colloidal oatmeal are going to see me through February and March quite well, I'm happy to say. I'm going to assume that you feel the same and that you're well into one of our five books right this minute (though perhaps not in the bathtub). Maybe you're halfway through Generation X, or at the tail end of Fall on Your Knees (don't tell me what happens; not done it yet!) Me, I'm smack dab in the middle of Nikolski.
Aside from enjoying the pleasure of reading itself, has anyone been reading the novels with an eye toward the final prize? Assessing the chances of one book over the other? I've started to think about that very thing. Sadly, with my fortune-telling days well behind me, I've had to rely on more than my sixth sense, and have begun to investigate more concrete indicators of how the books are faring against one another.
Here's the sales scoop courtesy of the friendly people at BookNet: The Jade Peony is holding strong at number one. But there has been significant movement elsewhere. Fall on Your Knees has vaulted from fifth place to second, while Good to a Fault fell from the number two position to fourth. Nikolski is holding steady in third and Generation X has dropped from fourth to fifth.
For a few weeks it seemed that we had a bit of a three-way race going on among Wayson Choy, Marina Endicott and Nicolas Dickner. But Fall on Your Knees has moved up in a hurry, and I'm not counting out Douglas Coupland yet, either. He's got proven staying power — let's not take anything for granted.
Talking about books and sales isn't very literary, I know. But in my humble experience, no one thinks about book sales more than authors (and who's more literary than they?). I don't blame them. Their livelihood depends on watching the numbers. Buoyant sales don't buy chateaus in France for the majority of writers. Most times it just means they get another chance to write for publication. Isn't it great to be a reader instead? You never have to worry about the business side of books.
In last Sunday's New York Times Motoko Rich identified two opposing factions that exist within the broad range of humanity that identifies itself as "readers." There are those who love to talk about the books they're reading, and those who don't — basically people for whom reading is a social activity and people for whom it's a private affair.
You'll find group number one at book clubs, cocktail parties and on Facebook forums. The second group — well, you won't find those introverts anywhere, but wherever they are they're rolling their eyes at the very idea of belonging to the first group.
I'd say I'm a bit of both: a little bit private, a little bit not. Within my "library" (pretty fancy word for Ikea bookshelves and milk crates) are many lovingly dog-eared editions. In each one there are passages that I've read and reread (a handful I've written out in my notebook so that I can read them whenever I want). Their meaning is entirely personal and I know that my feeling for them can never be adequately expressed to another person. I feel no desire to share that part of the reading experience with anyone other than my pillow.
I think a lot of people are reluctant to talk about books because very often it can feel like an exercise in pretension. Every reader has been stuck in a room with someone who thinks they've got special insight into a book and its author, and they like nothing better than to pontificate loudly on the topic, offering up a passionate thesis when all you did was innocently ask if they liked the book (apologies: that obnoxious boor is often me). Emotional attachment to a novel can make conversation tricky too. When someone disagrees with you, or insults a book you love, it feels like a personal affront. What do you mean you don't like Wuthering Heights, you jerk?
When it comes to reading and talking about books, I encourage you to be a little introverted and a little bit extroverted, too. Save the best bits of the books you love for yourself, but share your comments about them here.
Next week, we delve into the cartographer's dream that is Nikolski.