Archive for February, 2011

Canada Reads two weeks later…

Saturday, February 26th, 2011

I promise to write about something other than Canada Reads at some point in the not-too-distant future, but until then, my writing life is being profoundly affected by Canada Reads, and it just seems wrong, even ungrateful, not to record the experience. Before Canada Reads, The Best Laid Plans had been selling quite well, thank you very much. The Leacock Medal, the Waterloo Region’s selection of TBLP for its One Book, One Community program, and a raft of readings and talks at festivals, book clubs and libraries had pushed it well beyond “bestseller” status by early last summer. But Canada Reads has lifted it into an entirely new zone of popularity and sales.

Last week, the National Post’s Afterword blog reported that in the week following Canada Reads, sales of TBLP soared by nearly 700%. And then, last Saturday, more evidence arrived wrapped up in the thrill of seeing The Best Laid Plans, for the first time, on the Globe and Mail’s National Canadian Bestseller list at number three. I was so chuffed about it that I failed to notice until this morning that TBLP also appeared on the main Globe and Mail National Bestseller list (paper) for all books (Canadian or not!) where it checked in at number six. TBLP was also number one on the Toronto Star’s Reprint Fiction Bestseller List. What a wonderful way to start a long weekend!

TBLP has slipped slightly on this week’s G&M Bestseller lists but it’s still there. Finally, on an earlier page in the Globe and Mail’s Books section last Saturday, my wonderful publisher, McClelland & Stewart ran this great one third of a page ad.

My phone has been ringing off the hook with invitations to festivals, libraries, book clubs, and other events. Check out my Appearances listing to see how I’ll be gratefully spending my evenings and weekends for the next several months. Canada Reads clearly has enormous credibility and clout on the nation’s cultural landscape. And I’m the terminally thankful and still reeling beneficiary. What a ride…

The Canada Reads Effect…

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

There has been much discussion lately of the so-called “Canada Reads Effect.” In past years, the Canada Reads winner has gone on to sell tens of thousands of copies, sometimes even when it was out-of-print when named as a finalist. In fact, publishing industry insiders say that Canada Reads sells more books than any other literary award, except for the Giller. Well, we’ve already had an early but clear indication of the “Canada Reads Effect.” Shortly after The Best Laid Plans was declared the winner of Canada Reads 2011, it shot to the top of the Amazon and Chapters-Indigo bestseller lists and has remained there ever since. You may remember I’ve shown before on this blog The Best Laid Plans, and The High Road leading the Amazon charts, but if you read my blog posts carefully, you’ll note that this was only ever in Amazon‘s “political” category. Canada Reads has pushed TBLP to the top of heap for all books.

In short, for the last four days at least, TBLP has been the number one bestselling book in Canada. I’m hyperventilating again…

Update: As of today, there were over 530 “holds” on The Best Laid Plans in the Toronto Public Library system.

Canada Reads… Where to start?

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

I’m still recovering from the Canada Reads 2011 finale on Wednesday. I stayed at home that morning, sequestered alone in our third floor library. It was very peaceful and quiet as the clock wound down to the start of the final debates. At about 10:00 a.m., I logged in to the Canada Reads site and started watching the live video streaming. It is not a word of a lie to say that I fully expected The Best Laid Plans to be bounced on the first vote of the finale. As I considered the five defenders, I simply couldn’t figure out how we were going to avoid three strikes against us in that first vote. Clearly my political analysis needs some work. I never dreamed that Carol Shields’s novel, Unless, would get its walking papers instead. When Sara Quin voted to oust The Birth House in the second vote of the day, it was all over. Somehow, The Best Laid Plans was crowned the Canada Reads 2011 winner.

Unbelievable and wonderful. I can’t put it all into perspective yet. I’m still floating a few feet above the ground and don’t expect to touch down anytime soon. To me, it was a miracle.

CBC really kicked Canada Reads onto a higher plane this year with the live video streaming, the public participation in the selection process, the use of social media, the recruitment of amazing panelists, the three hour-long shows, and of course, the dramatic music. It made for a great show. And Jian Ghomeshi did an amazing job as our fearless leader. I was speaking to Ali Velshi before we went into the Q studio for our Thursday morning interview, and we agreed that we’d never really seen someone strike the perfect tone and mood the way Jian does. And that’s high praise from 10 year broadcasting veteran and CNN’s Chief Business Correspondent Ali Velshi. Jian was fantastic managing the debates and the tensions they often triggered. It’s not easy, despite how effortless and natural he made it look. Behind Jian, there is a dedicated Canada Reads team who worked tirelessly to pull this off. I got to know Erin and Debbie, but there were others to. I’m grateful for all their efforts.

What can I say about Ali Velshi? I was impressed with him when he was a teenager working on the 1984 Jean Chretien Leadership Campaign with me, and I was blown away by him during the Canada Reads debates. He was passionate, eloquent, compelling, yet respectful throughout (as were the other defenders). Ali really understood The Best Laid Plans and how to position it persuasively. You could see the other panelists nodding in agreement when he spoke. I truly believed The Best Laid Plans was a longshot to win Canada Reads. For all I know, Ali felt the same way, but he never wavered from his opening position that he was going the distance with TBLP. And he was right. I cannot think of anyone who would have, or could have, defended the book any more passionately or effectively as did Ali. I am in his debt.

A word about the other authors and panelists. While the defenders got their elbows up in the debates, there was never even the slightest trace of competition among the authors themselves. We seemed to bond instantly and I very much enjoyed my time with them in person, and online. They are not just wonderful writers, but great people too. I also really enjoyed meeting the other defenders. They were serious about their responsibilities and served their authors well. I liked them all.

Finally, I really want to thank the CBC for undertaking this important program. The CBC deserves our admiration for creating Canada Reads and for making it such a significant part of our cultural landscape over the last ten years. You can’t argue with the results. Canada Reads puts books into Canadians’ hands. I know. The Best Laid Plans shot to the top of the heap on Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, and Kobo. That’s the Canada Reads effect.

The surreal circus has truly come to town. The day after the Canada Reads finale, a lovely reporter and camera crew from CBC’s The National trailed me around to record “the day after.” Click here, or on the graphic below to watch the resulting story. What an amazing ride it has been. Saying “thanks” seems utterly inadequate, but until we develop a new and more powerful expression of gratitude, my unreserved thanks to everyone who helped make this miracle.

Canada Reads event at Toronto Reference Library

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Last night, over 350 people crammed into the atrium of the Toronto Reference Library for a Canada Reads event. Fellow finalists Angie Abdou and Jeff Lemire were also there. Mary Ito from CBC interviewed each of us. Then we signed books and communed with the assembled book lovers. There was such a wonderful vibe in the room. It was great to catch up with Angie and Jeff, whom I hadn’t seen since the launch of Canada Reads on November 24th. We’re all having so much fun on this unlikely ride. There appears be no sense of competition among the authors, although our official defenders are definitely polishing their positions for the great debates next week. I’m kind of expecting to be voted off the island early, but there’ll be no disappointment on my part. This has been a glorious odyssey.

Here I am on stage with Mary Ito in the midst of our discussion.

Signing books with fellow finalist, Jeff Lemire.

TBLP on CBC Radio 2’s Shift

Friday, February 4th, 2011

I had a great time a week or so ago with my old friend Tom Allen, the celebrated host of CBC Radio 2’s Shift. His encyclopedic knowledge of music is just one reason to listen to his show. He is a pro. He interviewed me in the CBC studios about my Canada Reads odyssey and the playlist of music I’d concocted to accompany the book. I’ve known Tom for a long time, largely because our sons are the same age and shared a passion for hockey (something their fathers share too). For years, I coached Tom’s son Wesley in “House League” and Tom helped coach my son Calder in “Select.” Tom is also a writer. If you’re a hockey fan, pick up The Gift of the Game. It’s a wonderful and intimate meditation on hockey and fatherhood. Calder and Wesley are now at university, thus putting an end to hours happily spent in cold arenas. I miss it, and I know Tom does too.

Click on the image below to listen to our interview. Thanks, Tom…