Different books fit different people at different times in their lives. If we talked more about what we love about books, we would see ourselves and one another more clearly.
—Charlene Diehl, Director, Winnipeg International Writers Festival
As a reader and literary festival organizer, I pay attention to book awards. They help me choose what to read myself and what to share with Thin Air
At the same time, I have my reservations about book awards. Not because I think they're unfair, but because I think they narrow the focus in ways that aren't healthy for readers.
So, I'm of two minds...Three things I love about book awards:
1. I discover great writing I might not otherwise find. Two recent stand-outs: Sheila McClarty's High Speed Crow
and Esi Edugyan's Half Blood Blues
. I rest my case!
2. Book awards put a spotlight on reading. The buying frenzy when awards are announced puts a lie to recent distress signals that reading is a dying habit. To paraphrase the wise-and-witty Mark Twain, reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated...
3. Writers get to dress up. True. Writing is one of the most solitary of art practices, and when they're at work, most writers opt for comfort (read "frump") rather than fashion. But almost all of us relish the chance to step out in style and feel the love!Three things I hate about book awards:
1. The inevitable yowling about biased juries. Every time I have served on award juries, I have been struck by how thoughtful and responsible and careful the readers are. These decisions are difficult.
2. The way all the attention lands on the winners and the contenders fade into obscurity. Part of the reason juries arrive at short lists is because books are like people: a handful may stand out from the crowd as being of particularly high quality, but because each person is a cluster of traits, it's rarely possible to establish an absolute ranking. A win-lose mentality costs us a lot when we're talking about books.
3. The lack of good conversation around the actual books. Different books fit different people at different times in their lives. If we talked more about what we love about books, we would see ourselves and one another more clearly. We would also become less resistant to unfamiliar literary landscapes...
Charlene Diehl (Jenny Bisch)
On this final run-up to the Manitoba Book Awards
, I'm excited by the titles that have been singled out for attention, and pleased to be in a province that is so alive with language. "Salut" to all the nominees!