Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Book Diet

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The Book Diet

My mother is looking rather svelte these days.

“You’re looking rather svelte these days,” I told her.

“Thanks,” she said. “Your dad and I have been on the book diet.”

The Dukan Diet?”

“No, the book diet.”

*eyebrows raise, mind boggles*

Austerity Britain leads couple to devour own paperback collection for roughage…?

“Er… How’s that one work then?”

The book diet, it turns out, is my parents’ invention; a motivational trick to keep the weight coming off without needing to be over-fussy about calorie-counting or anything socially yawn-inducing like that.

It goes like this: Weigh yourself. Decide how much you want to lose (be realistic — if you want to lose a lot, set yourself interim goals so you can chip away one, ahem, chapter at a time). Grab a stack of something you have lots of (paperback books, natch). Weigh ’em. Put your “weight to lose” books on the bathroom shelf. At the same time each week (morning time; post-pee, pre-breakfast), hop on the bathroom scale. Remove books as the weight comes off. Find yourself happily spurred along by the shrinking weight of both tummy and tomes.

Needless to say, I thought this was a hoot, and potentially ripe for promotional gimmick exploitation. A book club, say, in which everyone first had to lose the weight before they could take the next book off the shelf and read it. A little competitive dieting would add an extra dimension to all that fluctuating-narrative-perspective chitchat. But wait… the wine and finger foods consumed at the book club meeting would no doubt cause book clubbers to put the “book” back on. A book club with tap water and celery sticks only then.

For a motivational supercharge, poetry might find a promotional friend here too. Unless you’re looking at the collected works of W.B. Yeats, poetry tends to be skinny (no fad diets required). Fill your weight shelf with poets from Ashbury to Zwicky and be cheered by the speed at which your collection goes down. Skip a pain-au-chocolat or two for breakfast and watch your waistline lose a Methodist Hatchett and Killdeer faster than you can say “sonnet”!

The Griffin Poetry Prize — a heavyweight competition between these often welterweight-sized books — could offer its entire backlist of nominees for piling next to the mayoral scale. Turning weight loss into book disappearance might be just the thing to get the waist management back on track! And if we must weigh the mayor, at least we will have an improving book or seven to talk about while we do it.

The possibilities for your own fad dieting here are many:

  • Do an Eli, shunning meat in favour of a plate of carrots, and shoot down the weight of The Sisters Brothers when next you’re trying to impress a lady;
  • Subsist on marmalade sandwiches for a week and lose two Paddington Bears;
  • Lay off the pie (soggy or otherwise) to lay away Ticknor;
  • Stop eating yourself up (metaphorical dieting) about every little thing and move The Edible Woman to the “done” pile;
  • Walk to work to shed a Stroll;
  • Say no to that Macallan’s single malt (this one might take a while, and some serious dedication) to drop a Mordecai: The Life and Times;
  • Curtail your Coffee Time habit to conquer The Amazing Absorbing Boy.

This idea has legs, by George. With a business plan, a book deal and some carefully placed gossip that someone in Hollywood is doing it I think we could make something of the book diet. Maybe it will take off. Maybe skinny celebs will be photographed with their book/weight-loss piles and be interviewed about their favourite authors for dress-size dropping. Maybe Jennifer Hudson will do a jingle!

In Scandinavia they talk about their book collections in terms of distance or length (two metres of books rather than a few hundred or a shelf-full). Perhaps, while on one hand we are thinking of our books as 400 KB files of which our reading is 15 percent complete, on the other we can start to visualize our book collections as boxes of Timbits resisted, of second helpings turned down.

Saturday morning over crosswords, Dad wandered into the living room. “Bad news,” he said. “I need to put a book back.”

“OK, but are we talking The Shining? Or The Iron Man?

“Only a little one. It was that sticky toffee pudding — like eating a slim novella for dessert.”

“This isn’t making for a very good test case.”

And with that, the book-diet dream went back to the drawing board.

Becky's column comes from England this month, where Toronto's literary goings on are never far from her thoughts.

Becky Toyne is a publishing consultant specializing in manuscript development and book promotion. She is a regular books columnist for CBC Radio One and Open Book: Toronto, a freelance publicist for many of the Writers’ Trust of Canada’s literary award and fundraising programs, and a member of PEN Canada’s Board of Directors, where she serves as Events Chair. One or two days a week Becky works as a bookseller at Toronto indie Type. You can follow her on Twitter: @MsRebeccs

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