Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Inside Big Book Awards: Lies, Snobbery, Debauchery, Seduction and Graft*

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Inside Big Book Awards: Lies, Snobbery, Debauchery, Seduction and Graft*

I’m working on an outline for a new reality show. I know we’re inundated with too much of this junk already, what with our voyeuristic appetite being satisfied by the likes of Snookie and those fascinating / mind-boggling hoarders, but hear me out.

My new reality show idea? A grainy, gritty, unedited peek inside the jury process for the world’s most prestigious literary awards.

(Working title: The Man-Booker Jury … 24 Hours of Cognac, Conceit, and Condescension)

Hats off to the major networks in this country which have tried to make the Gillers sizzle. Specifically, hats off to whoever had the guts to put their hand up in that brainstorming meeting a few years ago to suggest televising a Canadian book awards presentation in the first place. That’s just crazy talk. Canadian book awards? On television? Canadians don’t even watch Canadian television on television, let alone watch Canadian writers playing themselves collecting awards on Canadian television.

(Working title: Putting the G-Spot in the Governor General Awards …)

As a representative of the ninety-eight-point-six per cent of writers who will most probably never have to worry about drafting an acceptance speech for one of the biggie awards, you’ll have to take my word when I say that ‘sour grapes’ has nothing to do with my general cluelessness about the whole process. Beyond the usual suspects who seem to get automatically nominated every time they publish a new book, each year’s list of nominees seems as though it has been largely preordained by some Skull and Crossbones cadre.

My proposed new reality show will provide the first-ever glimpse into the bunker located deep inside the ___________ Mountain Range that is the headquarters for the sequestered Man Booker jury (location censored for obvious security reasons). It is inside this bunker with its stores of dandy liquor and Marks and Spencer frozen fish dinners that we will see just how it all works. The debates that bloom into full-blown hissy fits, the social drinking that towards the end of the evening takes a nosedive toward a darker destination, the love triangles and the grudges born. What starts out as an intellectual enterprise ultimately succumbs to every human weakness – greed, jealousy, delusions of grandeur – so that we find our jurists weeping at dawn, exhausted and forever changed by the experience.

“I say, the intent of this is to ensure that which is impenetrable and tricky is given its proper place in the diet of the junk-food heathens,” Jurist X declares, swishing a glass of Remy Martin.

“Keep in mind, do we want another Life of Pi here?” Jurist Z adds. “You will recall how the members of that jury simply disappeared.”

“Pish posh,” Jurist Y declares with a dismissive wave. “What about that heavy tome written entirely in Latin? Surely a win would say something about the keen intellect of the jury, nay?”

One can’t help but wonder if this business all goes back to that feeling you had in Grade 4 when Sally Perfect won first place in the public speaking contest. She got to take that trip to Toronto for the provincials even though your speech was better written and better delivered and even had a few laughs thrown in for good measure. But Sally, teacher’s pet that she was, was pre-destined to win before she even began to print her notes in neat block letters on her mama’s recipe cards.

We could each list on command about two dozen books in a heartbeat that should have been shortlisted for the Man Booker over the past few years. Or the Giller for that matter. Or the GGs. Small and medium-sized publishers turning out really good, mostly unread stuff. And don’t even get me started on the treatment of crime writers by all major writing awards. It’s almost as bad as being a sports writer, but not quite.

Only those who have already won the National Book Award, the Pulitzer, the Man Booker, the Giller, the Pen-Faulkner (or whatever it’s being called these days), get to say with a shrug, “oh it was nice, but it didn’t really change anything”.

You only need to watch the faces of the also-rans when the camera pans the nominees during the Oscars. How those stoic folks practiced holding that benevolent smile in the mirror so it would look somewhat believable while they’re busy thinking: “I hope Angelina trips on her way up to the podium in that long black dress that looks so amazing on her … and why is she sticking her skinny leg out like that?”


* Disclaimer in the event of some unlikely future nomination for any of the above-mentioned awards: All of this is offered tongue-in-cheek and the decisions of the jury are sound, wink wink.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

C.B. Forrest

C.B. Forrest is the author of the literary crime novels The Weight of Stones and Slow Recoil.

Go to C.B. Forrest’s Author Page