books on the radio


New Rules of Engagement: Advent Books & Canada Also Reads

Natives are restless and have the tools to create the change that they want to see.

I have always read the Globe and Mail.  Still do.

In the morning with the first freshly brewed coffee of the day in hand, the G&M website is the first place that I go for news.

The quality of journalism and writing is quite high and I think that they’re weathering the sea change within traditional print media pretty well.  Generally, I believe that they do an excellent job and have earned my loyalty over the years for the good work that they publish.

Advent Book Blog: Digital Word of Mouth

So, it troubles me deeply how diminished and ineffectual the Globe Books section has become.

The truest evidence of this for me isn’t the tone and style that they’ve adopted in their digital incarnation but the inability for their writers to generate any kind of engagement or conversation among the readership.

The opportunity for healthy discussion often eludes them completely.

The casual reader might even be inclined to think that the choices made for their 100 Best Books feature is decided more based on preserving advertising revenues with the big publishing houses than finding the best books for any given year.

And book lovers, savvy, impatient and tired of the usual suspects in the usual places, have no limit of alternatives.

Enter the Advent Book Blog.

Real people, passionate about books and reading, recommending their favorite books in short bursts of enthusiasm with no strings attached.  Done out of love and a desire to share – bedrock fundamentals for a healthy book culture.

CBC's Jian Ghomeshi

Another alternative is the CBC’s Canada Reads competition, hosted by the affable and well-coiffed Jian Ghomeshi.

It’s essentially an opportunity to start a national conversation about Canadian books championed by celebrities and hosted in Toronto.

I am a fan of the competition and because of the CBC’s mandate to be all things to all people my expectations for the books selected every year is modest.

I’m just happy that we’re showcasing reading on a big stage and having some fun doing it.

But, of course, not everybody feels the same way.

This year there is palpable frustration over the selection of Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees and Douglas Coupland’s Generation X.  Both hugely successful books have been devoured by countless readers all over the world.

Here in Canada, readers are apparently tired of being advised to read something that they’ve already read.  To have a conversation – evangelistic, enthusiastic or otherwise – that they’ve already had – 10 years ago!

Going through the motions isn’t good enough for them.

Enter the National Post’s Canada Also Reads.

Real books – that haven’t already been swaddled by Oprah or big literary awards – recommended by real people.

What a concept.

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The Advent Book Blog and the National Post’s Afterword book section succeed because they give their readership a voice, because they engage them in genuine conversation from the very beginning and because they’re not seen to be publicity vehicles for big publishing houses.

These two places understand the power of the digital environment to connect directly with their readers and to offer their readers a platform to express themselves and to become a part of a larger community and conversation.

That is power.  That creates genuine enthusiasm and loyalty.

The conversation about books in Canada is big enough to include all kinds of publications, platforms and competitions.

The best one’s in 2010 will be inclusive, generally transparent and engaging.  If the traditional book channels can not provide those things then readers will go elsewhere or build their own better alternative.

They have the technology.

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Please also check out my follow-up piece on this called Globe’s Book of the Decade: Zero Comments, Wrong Cover.



Douglas Coupland Talks Generations A & X w/ Jian Ghomeshi

Apologies for the infrequent posts here but I’ve been spending most of my time working on the Advent Book Blog and a few side projects.

If you haven’t been checking the Advent Book Blog (@adventbooks) then I suggest that you get there, it’s a game changer.

In the meantime, check this interview with Doug Coupland and stay close for Books on the Radio’s Project 2010.



Thoughts on Generation X and Canada Reads 2010

Jian Ghomeshi poses with his Smithsonian Edition laptop and the Canada Reads 2010 Champions & their books.

I like a good party and I like books.  Throw those two things together and break out the mashed potatoes!

Mantan Moreland references aside, December 2009 is an excellent time to be a book lover because there’s some lively conversations about books going on.

I’d like to address just one of those conversations today.

On the Inclusion of Generation X in Canada Reads 2010

It took all of 20 seconds for the outcry to erupt and word to spread.

What's an Accelerated Culture?

Generation X?  Are you f*@&ing kidding me?” was the modest refrain most often repeated in coffee shop conversation this past week.  And last night I heard it again and again, this time of course, amplified by several swagger inducing rounds of local beer.

And ok, I get it.  Doug Coupland’s first book has a powerful hold on the Canadian imagination.  It’s a unique book that landed like a grenade on the literary scene in 1991 and its emanations have riffled past the standard circle of book conversation to permeate the fields of pop culture sound bites, marketing slogans and beyond.

It did things that almost zero per cent of books are capable of doing.

It transgressed boundaries at a strolling pace.  It brought a folding lawn chair to the abandoned parking lot on the outskirts of town and it sat there reading the newspaper. In blinding sunlight, wearing a fedora and smoking an absent-minded pipe.

The book always seemed like a taunt to me.  A kind of glib yodel from a passing car directed at the over-exposed suburban landscape.

And here it is again, taunting us anew, ruffling our hair, changing the channel when we’re watching something on TV, asking us stupid questions while we’re on the phone.

Questions like:

Cadence Weapon aka Roland Pemberton

What’s the problem with Generation X being a part of the Canada Reads 2010 shortlist?

Are Canadians so obsessed with historical fiction that any book that so cavalierly flaunts a contemporary mode – contemporary 20 years ago, of course – is immediately pilloried?

Do we expect less audacity from our literature?  More seriousness?

Does the inclusion of Generation X in the Canada Reads 2010 shortlist make people uncomfortable because it asks us to rethink our notion of what a great Canadian book looks and reads like?

Does it provide us an opportunity to create fresh context?

Is this a tremor in the landscape?

Are we afraid of Generation X?

Can something that has so suffused popular culture be considered literature?  Do we have a choice in the matter?

Does this book have the innate power to evoke a passionate cross-country conversation about what constitutes our literature?

It looks to me like that passionate conversation has already begun.

In the horse race of Canada Reads 2010 Generation X is out of the gate like a shot from a gun and the rest of the field has some catching up to do.

Roland ‘Cadence Weapon’ Pemberton made an audacious choice to champion Generation X in this edition of Canada Reads.  He’ll be hard pressed to make his case week after week against the Champions of the other books in the competition.

I look forward to reading and rereading all of the books in the Canada Reads 2010 competition and following the various arguments until the end.

I’ll be posting my thoughts and opinions here as the conversation develops.

Here’s a look at the Canada Reads 2010 shortlist with publication details:

Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott: September 2008, Freehand Books.

Nikolski by Nicholas Dickner: February 2009, Vintage Canada (French ed. 2007).

Jade Peony by Wayson Choy: October 1995, D&M Publishers.

Generation X by Douglas Coupland: March 1991, St. Martin’s Press.

Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald: August 1997, Vintage Canada.