B Reads Canada Reads: Is Generation X A Good Pick?

Last week I wrote about my thoughts on Generation X, the first Canada Reads 2010 pick that I've tackled. In short, I really loved this book. It was weird, subversive, funny and well-written. When I was reading it I had that magical thought, I haven't read anything quite like this before. I am reading a book now where I have this haunting feeling like I've read it before, but in a slightly different form. For some reason this really irritates me. I want my fiction to smack my expectations around a bit and to show me that it's got some real fight in its bones.

Moving on to whether Gen X is a good pick for Canada Reads 2010, my esteemed fellow blogger, John Mutford of The Book Mine Set, commented last week that many people, including myself, hadn't read this book before. It had resonated with a wide audience but its inclusion as a CR pick will bring it to an even wider one. Many more people will now be able to enjoy this great novel.

I have very strong feelings to the contrary.

This book had its run. I always felt like it was one of those iconic books that I would read eventually. I would have gotten to it, maybe not this year, but eventually.

Approximately 172,000 books are published every year in the US alone. In Canada, this number is close to 20,000, though the data I found is over a decade old. A fair number of these are probably stinkers or middling titles or of-the-moment works that deserve to have their day and then sink out of sight.

And then a few of these works emerge whole into the world, a really great, original work just waiting to blow minds ocean to ocean.

A book can be successful in two ways 1) a very slow build created by word of mouth that reaches a tipping point where it is pushed into superstardom by a prize nomination or such, see The Book of Negroes, or 2) it catapults up, fed by a dedicated network of librarians, booksellers, sales reps, publicists, marketers, the author, the author's very good connections etc. and backed by a healthy marketing budget.

Most books don't get the chance. Any number of things can go wrong with the above. Often an element is missing or the timing is off. No one may be at fault. Yet these books still deserve to be read, still deserve a better platform. They should not disappear.

We saw this with Paul Quarrington's King Leary. We saw this with The Book of Negroes. We saw this with Lullabies for Little Criminals. Canada Reads is brilliant at making underdogs into stars, at bringing quality Canlit to a wider audience that may be hesitant to read literary works or small press titles (though admittedly, no small press title has won in recent years). This is a chance to really give emerging talent a chance, in a populist avenue that the average person might feel more comfortable with than a literary prize.

I think Generation X should be read. But it's already reached its tipping point. Let's give another book that chance.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? I'd love for you to comment -->


Heather said...

thought provoking. I can't comment on this book as I haven't read it. I do agree in a general way. For example, political commentaries from ages back just aren't pertinent now. I once read Gullivere's travels and didn't get it. Later I found that it was a political commentary of the times, which were 100 years plus out of date. no wonder I had trouble. I have never recommended that to another reader.

mynovelreviews said...

I haven't read Generation X either, and for whatever reason, I haven't had a strong desire to (but, like the majority of the reading public, I'd heard of it).

Overall, I am pretty disappointed with the Canada Reads 2010 picks - the majority of the novels picked have already had their day in the sun. I am looking forward to seeing which novels are picked for NP's Canada Also Reads.

Julie said...

I'm with you.

John Mutford said...

Well now, I'm not saying it should win. I think the best of the 5 should win, and on that consensus alone. However, I certainly see your point (and I think it's why people will hopefully feel drawn to the National Post's Canada Also Reads). I think it's something the Canada Reads producers need to keep in mind. Instead of picking panelists simply based on who they are, maybe they could question what books they plan to bring to the table and see if there's any point. It would make for more exciting book discussions. It may ease your mind to remember that that books that have already "had their day in the sun" haven't fared any better in the competition. Also consider that a book that beats Generation X or Fall on your Knees will have pretty sweet bragging rights.

B.Kienapple said...

Hi John, I'd been hoping you'd weigh in. :) I really like your idea of more careful selection of panelists. I do think they shouldn't be book people (i.e. work in the industry).
Canada Also Reads has a panel of all die-hard book people. The novels chosen are fairly interesting but the whole thing has an 'insider' feel.
I like Canada Reads because it feels more inclusive. It's just this year where it's dominated by big books, hopefully the selection will go back to being more diverse next year, possibly aided by how the panel is chosen.

John Mutford said...

Just out of curiousity, why do you think it has an insider feel? As someone who was surpised to be picked as a panelist, I certainly don't feel that I or Steve Zipp (the author of the book I chose) have any inside credentials. If anything, probably more of an outsider!

B.Kienapple said...

John - what I mean is that you're one of the top book bloggers in Canada. You attract a large following of fellow book bloggers (as well as regular people). That may not make you as much of an insider as a, say, Steven Beattie, but you're definitely part of the book community. I'm not saying this is a bad thing (at all!!) but it stands in contrast to Canada Reads who seems to deliberately pick non-book people as panelists. This puts the program in danger of, well picking books that aren't great or too obvious, but it does open up the conversation more.


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