Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The CanPub World Cup of Bookball

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By Becky Toyne

Unless you’ve had your head firmly wedged in your vuvuzela, you’ll be aware that a large sporting event is giving the world football fever. (Yes, I am a Brit., so call it “football” I shall.)

As 32 became 16 became eight, I was in Europe — several thousand miles away from our city of cordial trans-national cheering — with an England flag fluttering from my handbag and a Maple Leaf tucked safely (awwwww) in my heart. It is a fact universally acknowledged that the England team in want of an international title is sure to disappoint. No major surprises on that front then. But while New Zealand held defending champs Italy to a 1–1 draw in the first round, news of other shockers was filtering in to me from Toronto, where a month of high drama was unfolding on the publishing pitch.

With winners, losers, pre-match changes to team formation, patriotic displays from players in their away kits, debates over the use of technology in the game, and disputes over the finer points of the offside rule, Toronto had all the ingredients of good World Cup commentary. The median salary of the players in the bookish half of this story is lower, but the game held many echoes of those we’ve been watching in South Africa. Here’s a play by play:

Among a number of changes to senior publishing staff in June was the news that McClelland & Stewart management was changing its starting lineup to be "more aggressive... particularly on the international front" — a move which resulted in the loss of a number of editorial positions. Management switching up a 4–4–2 formation for more of a 2–1–4, perhaps? A team with fewer bodies, but more bullish on the attack.

In other upsets, the city lost two of its most beloved players in the indie bookstore scene. While traditional heavyweights France and Italy (World Cup 2006 runner up and winner respectively) were crashing out of the tournament at the bottom of their groups, Book City’s Queen West store closed its doors just two years after opening, and This Ain’t the Rosedale Library — named one of the best independent bookstores in the world by the Guardian — was padlocked by bailiffs. The store on Nassau Street now has a Miss Havisham quality to it — the contents preserved in an eerie mise en scene. The loss of city stalwarts with more than 60 years book selling between them (though of course Book City remains open for business in four further Toronto locations) rattled nerves across the city.

After this tightening of belts, phrases like “Double Dip Recession” are elbowing their way back into conversation. As for Ghana with a penalty kick in the final minute of extra time against Uruguay, the outcome had been looking good. But lest we breathe our economic sigh of relief too soon, let’s remember that the final whistle hasn’t blown on this recession just yet.

For every losing side there are champions of course, and despite the shocks, upsets and early exits, Toronto did celebrate a number of winners in June too. Karen Solie scored a double with her wins at both the Griffin Poetry Prize and the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; and Ian Brown caused a Switzerland-beats-Spain type upset by scooping the Trillium Book Award with a work of non-fiction. Toronto-based Kilby Smith-McGregor was presented with the RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for emerging writers. Expect to see her match fit and in the starting lineup for a future literary showdown.

Team CanLit was looking good in its away kit too, and demonstrated the value of our literary prizes and shortlists to the exportation of home-grown literary talent. Joseph Boyden’s Durch dunkel Wälder (Giller winner), Kim Echlin’s Das Verlorenen (Giller nominee) and Miriam Toews’ Les Troutman volants (Writers’ Trust winner) were all looking fine in German, Belgian and French bookstores. Yann Martel (no translation required for Beatrice & Virgil) was in Antwerp for a bookstore event the day I was in the city.

THE CONTENTIOUS CALLS (as much a part of the game as the book/ball)
A little gadget called the iPad hit Canadian shelves at the end of May, fanning the flames of the already hot debate on “the future of the book.” As linesmen failed to see a legitimate England goal against Germany and an offside Argentina goal against Mexico, I allowed myself a fleeting daydream: Imagine if publishers could take a leaf out of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s book and simply overrule the use of new technology in our game. “ebooks? No thank you. Discussion over.”

Allegations of bad behaviour have dogged many a sportsman’s career, and players are no strangers to scandal (ahem, Les Bleus...). The alleged offside offence by former Penguin Man of the Match David Davidar generated column inches of celebrity footballer proportions, and became a hot topic for debate on both sides of the Atlantic.

So that’s the month for Toronto’s World Cup of Bookball. At the time of writing, we have but a few days of football drama pending, but infinite possibilities of publishing battles on the horizon. Maybe we can look for lessons in the beautiful game to help us in our home-front battles?

As we soldier on in to summer, therefore: Remember to support your local bookstore; remember to embrace new technology, not resist it; remember to treat both your team mates and your opponents with respect; remember that however good or bad things are looking, it’s never over until the final whistle has blown. And, please, whichever team you’re rooting for on July 11, remember to be peaceful — reading’s not so easy with all that vuvuzela blowing going on.

Becky Toyne is a freelance editor and publicist based in Toronto. Since embarking on a career in publishing in 2002, she has worked as an editor at Random House UK and Random House of Canada; as a bookseller, event planner and publicist for Toronto’s Type Books; and as Communications Coordinator for the International Festival of Authors and Authors at Harbourfront Centre. She is a member of the communications committee for the Writers’ Trust of Canada, and tweets about life in book land as @MsRebeccs.

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