"A girl was never ruined by books," my mother used to say. I've spent most of my life trying to prove that wrong.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Another Kind of Competition: Behind the Scenes at a Literary Prize

Fall is literary prize time, for better of worse! Here's a novel that may confirm everything you suspected about them.

A  writer friend suggested Lost for Words by Edward St.Aubyn just after the short list for the Canadian biggie, the Scotia Giller, was announced.  She said it was a great spoof of how prizes are given out, and since she is usually a good judge I checked it out of the library immediately.

Takes place in  the UK and the prize is something called the Elysian Award,  The contenders in  2013 are a varied lot: among them are  a slice-of-life saga wot u looking at? that purports to be by a member of Britain's under class but which is really by a medieval scholar; the story of young Will Shakespeare that appears to be composed of lines lifted from the Bard, and an Indian cookbook, entered by mistake.

The judges are equally diverse, but all with their own axe to grind. There's a fair amount of sex along the way--chiefly between a young woman whose novel was omitted by accident from the competition and her several lovers--and some nasty depictions of spoiled remnants of the British Raj, British diplomats, and French intellectuals.

In all, quite funny if you're cynical about the literary world.  Or, conversely, annoyingly precious if you think there are far too many people with big heads writing, reviewing and judging books.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Best Laid Plans: What Elections Frequently are Really about

Since I knew there'd be a federal election October 17, I put Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans on the reading list for one of my October book group discussion groups. Right now I'm about half way through it, and until this point I've been amazed at how many resonances this book, published in 2008, has with what's going on now. 

True the event that seems to insure that the candidate who only agreed to be a candidate in order to get out of teaching English to Engineers. i (Hint: a sex scandal involving his opponent, leather and nipple rings are involved.) But the vagaries of public opinion as well as the inner workings of political campaign are well portrayed. (Hint: there's quite a bit about lawn signs, telephone canvassing and door to door.)

Of course, I have to confess that in another life I spent far too much time organizing political campaigns and tried in one of my first novels (Endangered Species) to give a taste of the rush a political junkie gets from filling out phone canvass forms. My editor that time around made me cut a lot of the details. Fallis either was smarter than I or had a good editor too, because this novel is mostly fun. 

Should also add that this is a very Canadian book: I can't imagine what Fallis would do with Donald Trump.