amongst books

amongst books

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Giller Prize Televised

Last night at 10 pm. Was anyone else as puzzled as I was to see CTV broadcasting an awards show about…books? I had to tune in to see what they would do about the authors’ reading. Most authors are not that great at reading to an audience. The show creators actually did a very good job of making the books television accessible, with each book being presented by a Canadian celebrity and then a clip of the author reading the book along with snippets from the settings of each book. One weird moment had Justin Trudeau introducing Ben Mulroney, who was at a literary fundraiser called the Giller Light in support of a literacy campaign. Mulroney suggested that the Harper kids were in the back serving beer. Ah Canadian humour, it’s wry…or is that rye?

Was anyone surprised when Vincent Lam (a U of Ottawa graduate by the way) won for his short story collection, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures? I would have been, but once I saw that Margaret Atwood was the presenter, and it was the final book to be presented that evening, I was pretty sure he’d won. Interestingly it was on a boat trip to the Arctic that Atwood discovered Lam and his writing. He saw her on the ship and asked her to look at his writing. Now I suppose everyone who sees Atwood will be passing her manuscripts. Now that we know she looks at them.

I was rooting for Pascale Quiviger’s The Perfect Circle myself. There was some mumbling at the show about the translators also receive awards, but I didn’t even hear them mentioned at all. Sheila Fischman is an amazing literary translator who has translated so many Quebec books that I love by authors like Michel Tremblay, Marie Claire Blais and Anne Hébert.

I was surprised to hear the Giller referred to as Canada’s largest (meaning most money) literary prize. The Griffin has a higher value, doesn’t it? The Giller winner gets $40,000 with $2,500 to each person on the shortlist, while the two Griffin winners (Canadian and International) get $50,000 each. Even when the Griffin was $40,000 each, it was still higher than the Giller. It’s not that important, but I thought it was odd that they kept saying this over and over. I doubt we’ll see the Griffin televised any time soon. I thought it was pushing things to have a literary awards show at all on the land of reality tv and game shows with Howie Mandel, but they managed to pull it off.

I wonder how many people actually watched.

Here’s the shortlist. I was pleased to see so many smaller publishing houses on the list:

Rawi Hage, De Niro’s Game, Anansi
Vincent Lam, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, Doubleday Canada
Pascale Quiviger, The Perfect Circle, Sheila Fischman, TR, Cormorant Books
Gaétan Soucy, The Immaculate Conception, Lazer Lederhendler TR, Anansi
Carol Windley, Home Schooling, Cormorant Books

Award founder Jack Rabinovitch, who started the Giller in honour of his late wife, Dorothy Giller, a book reviewer for the Montreal Gazette, mentioned that for the price of dining out in Toronto, we could buy all of the books on the list. I intend to buy a few of them anyway. Rabinovitch said that over 60 million dollars in book sales have been generated to date thanks to the Giller Prize.

I found the evening very inspiring and the fact that it was actually put on television gives me hope that people are actually reading fiction in Canada these days. Phew. I can keep writing now ;) (Now if only they would pay as much attention to our wonderful Canadian poets!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I wonder what Sheila Fischman reads for fun?

I've started to read Volkswagen Blues by Jacques Poulin. Set in the Gaspésie region I'm heading east with Poulin, up and around the hilly roads, out toward to blue water. My memories of my only road trip to Gaspé are blue – the colour blue. Memory plays tricks on us but when I think of this beautiful region in Quebec I think of the colour blue and so many of our family photos feature the coastline villages with the water backdrop. With the except of a few pictures of us standing under wind turbines on wind farms, most of the pictures are of my little family posing at the vast shore. Blue.
I didn't get far in the book before I flipped it closed to consult the cover. I'm reading the translation by Sheila Fischman. I'm not sure why I picked up the English instead of the French original. Poulin's style is fluid and an Anglophone with a fair grasp at French can follow along swimmingly. I don't know if it is fair to describe his style as old fashion story telling but that is my impression - not too many confilicts, not to much word play, lots of imagery, lots of physical description, slow introduction to the characters who might turn out to be secondary to the facts in the story. The story has a lovely cadence. Now I have to ask myself: is this because Poulin is a great storyteller or is it because Sheila Fischman is a great storyteller?
You'll remember Sheila Fischman as the translator that introduced much of Anglo Canada to the works of Roch Carrier, Michel Tremblay, and Anne Hébert. She has shared the voice of over 125 works by Canadian Francophones, in particular Quebecers... with the rest of Canada. In May 2008 Fischman was presented with the Molson Prize recognizing her outstanding lifetime contributions to Canadian cultural. The $50,000 Molson prize will buy her A LOT of books.
I wonder what type of books Sheila Fischman takes to the cottage, curls up by the fire with, and piles beside her bed To Be Read later? On the other hand, maybe Sheila Fischman doesn't read for pleasure at all. Maybe it feels too much like work.
Maybe she writes. When a translator gets paid to interprete and convey to words of others, are they ever tempted to put pen to paper to craft their own prose?
I'm going to ask my translator Gisèle Lamontagne and my copy editor Josée Prud'homme. While they adapted Dining with Death into La Mort au menu I never once in the entire process asked either of them what it was about their craft that drew them in, enabled them to polish the rough bits so that the diamond sparkled through of any given piece by any author.

How does someone develop the skill to make another artist look good, in a completely different language?

If you see Sheila Fischman at the next awards gala, ask her for me.

Kathleen Molloy, author - Dining with Death / La Mort au menu