I did something last week that I felt… dirty and a little ashamed of, even as I was doing it. I didn’t let the vague sense of shame stop me, naturally. But I had a realization today.
Last week (okay, over the last couple of weeks) I campaigned, lightly, for people on Twitter and Facebook (aka, tweeps and friends) to put Before I Wake forward as a possible choice for Canada Reads 2011.
(A very little bit of background: Canada Reads has been, since its inception, the Survivor of literary contests. Five judges each champion a book through a week worth of debates, with one book being voted “off the island” each episode. This year, they’ve gone a bit American Idol, first in soliciting, via Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, readers’ picks for essential novels of the last decade. From those picks, a long-long list, a Top 40, was compiled. That list was released this morning. Now, folks can vote for ONE book off that list, which will be reduced to a Top Ten as a result of the public vote. From that Top Ten list, the judges will each pick a title to champion. Ca va?)
So, I urged people to suggest Before I Wake as a contender. And people did. And I really appreciate that. Thank you.
And you know what?
I’ll never ask again.
The Top 40 list was released this morning, and Before I Wake isn’t on it. Surprisingly? I’m actually pretty happy about that.
I’m not going to say anything about the changes to the Canada Reads system, or the merits of using a broad-based public poll to determine “most essential” books. I’m not going to comment on the list. I know a lot of the books on that list, and a lot of the authors, and I’m very happy for them.
This is about me, and why I’m bowing out.
What it comes down to? I survived high school one time already, and I don’t recall it all that fondly (that’s a Craig Finn/Hold Steady line, that is).
And the way I survived it was by reading, and by writing.
I loved books, and I loved the act of telling stories.
When times got shitty — and they got shitty indeed — I had my books, and I had my stories. I clung to them. I retreated to them and I built a life in them. Picked last for every single team in phys-ed? Regularly beat up? Ritually humiliated?
The books I read and the stories I wrote were my “screw you” to my oppressors, and my situation. No matter how unpopular I was, I wasn’t alone. I had books.
I have no problem with literary prizes. The Giller? The GG? I admire them, and despite their problems, I respect them. With a handful of judges, with inevitable prejudices and biasses and compromises, sure, sometimes I don’t like the results. But I know that all the books were read, side by side, and that decisions were made based, at least in part, on the quality of the work itself. Yes, this is a much longer topic, but it’s germane here, as it’s precisely what happens at the Final Five stage of Canada Reads. Five readers, having read all five books, discuss them on their merits. That’s a wonderful thing.
I’m bowing out of the popularity contests, though. Canada Reads. The Prix Aurora. The Hugos.
Of course I would be thrilled to be on any of those lists – who wouldn’t be? But I won’t campaign. I won’t play ‘my social network is bigger than your social network’.
I can’t. I won’t.
I won’t let a popularity contest take from me the joy and safety of the books of others, and of my own work. Putting my book up against books I love? Having quality, “essentialness”, be determined by actuaries? That takes the joy right out of it.
It puts me right back in high school. Only this time, rather than finding joy and safety in my work, I’ve offered it up, blindly hoping for for acceptance, hoping that this time it will be different. Whether it is or not doesn’t matter — it’s the act of offering that robs me, fundamentally.
So I won’t do it anymore.
I love books, my own and others. I won’t let anyone rob me of that.
And I won’t throw that away.