After the BC Book Prizes

On Saturday I travelled to Victoria for the 29th Annual BC Book Prizes awards ceremony (formally known as the “Lieutenant Governor’s BC Book Prizes”), which takes place at Government House under the auspices of the Lieutenant Governor, currently The Honourable Judith Guichon. All books published by British Columbia authors in the previous calendar year are eligible for the awards, which are divided into seven categories.

If for some reason you didn’t catch the news on the front page of your local newspaper, here is a link to the list of the finalists, and the winners:

I haven’t much to say about the results. I was sorry to see that Anakana Schofield didn’t win for Malarky, which I thought deserving (though admittedly I’ve not yet read the other books in the category). In fact, I’ve read only a few of all of the books up for prize consideration, so I really have no grounds to second guess the more informed opinions of the judges, who were required to read all the books published in their categories.

The only prize that really seemed somewhat odd to me was the Bill Duthie Bookseller’s Choice prize, which was awarded for a book about the formerly-Canwest-now-Postmedia newspaper the Vancouver Sun, written by a Vancouver Sun employee (at the request of the Vancouver Sun), and published by… you guessed it: The Vancouver Sun. Did I mention that the Vancouver Sun is also a sponsor of the Book Prizes? I certainly don’t wish to bring into question the competence of author Shelley Fralic or the quality of the writing by any means, especially since I haven’t actually seen it, but the fact that the book is even eligible seemed slightly surprising to me.

This was my second time in attendance at a BC Book Prize ceremony, although my own book sits somewhere in between a figment of my imagination and a loose collection of poorly organised notes. In 2010 I attended as a guest of a nominee; this year, as the guest of a judge.

These ceremonies are curious things. On one hand, there’s something kind of phoney about the pomp and circumstance that seems rather a poor imitation of Esterházy-grade symbolism (think Vancouver Special with a pair of ceramic lions mounted on each side of the gate on the border of a 33 foot South Vancouver lot). It was annoyingly amusing when a stern-looking Government House employee arrived at our table to remove my companion’s dinner plate – despite the fact that she was still eating from it – because it was the time on the agenda for the Toast to the Queen.

“What?” companion asked, “I can’t have a plate on my table during the toast?”

“No!’ snapped the server, and snatched the plate away from under companion’s cutlery-gripping fingers, suspended now in futility above an empty place setting.

And then commenced the Toast to the Queen. This consisted of Grant Lawrence, standing on stage before the podium holding up a glass of wine. “To the Queen!” he and several people in the audience shouted, while the rest mumbled incoherently. I followed up with my own addendum (with appropriate sotto voce propriety, of course): “To Henry the Eighth!”

I find this whole matter of nostalgic admiration for the institutions of colonialism ridiculous, and it seems absurd that in 2013 we’re still sucking up to an old woman in a castle in England. An old woman whose claim to fame is being born into the family that controlled and directed the military force that destroyed civilisations of brown people all around the world in order to ship jewels, tea, and beaver pelts to London. Alas, Canadian republicanism doesn’t seem to be taking off as a movement (it doesn’t help that our southern neighbours have forever poisoned the marketability of the word), so there’s not much to do but suck it up and look for the humour.

On the more positive side, though, the awards ceremony is festive and celebratory of literary art and publishing, and in this age of arts funding cuts to the point of starvation (not to mention the apparent general decline in the reading of anything longer than a headline or a tweet) any public attention directed toward literature is more than welcome.

It’s easy to be cynical about the awards-and-marketing game, but it’s not unusual for me to experience a mild case of eye moisture in response to someone’s touching acceptance speech, too. I still love books, and book writers, and book foofaraw, and participating in the hubbub even peripherally is still exciting.

And it is kind of fun schmoozing around Government House, within convenient reach of the host bar (now there’s a phrase you don’t see on invitations with enough frequency these days), chatting up inspiring writers, dedicated booksellers, supportive librarians, and of course, others who simply fill out a pair of jeans with alarming perfection.

I shared a table with some interesting, engaging, smart, and personable people, including Half Blood Blues author Esi Edugyan (who is completely charming), Virginia Hong from the SFU Library, Jo-Anne from the UBC Library, writer Theresa Kishkan, and Esther, a recent UVic History graduate currently employed by the BC Legislature.

Since we’re over here, we’re going to spend a couple of days in Sooke, relax by the sea, get some sun, and, undoubtedly, catch up on reading. There are so many good books and so little time to read them all.


Posted in

hedley bontano