So You Think You Can Talk Bookies? or, the gameshowification of the CBC Books

I’m back from New Orleans, and in some ways I wish that I were still there. There’s something so great about vacations — that mindset that allows you to concentrate on vital choices such as “drinking or shopping?” or “garden district or french quarter?” (the correct answer to those questions is “both“, btw).

It was lovely.

And boy did I need it after all of that Canada Reads nonsense. I tell ya, I’m not even sure image lifted from cbc websitethat I want to go to that website any more. I can’t help it though — it lures me, like the brown muddy bayou waters I toured last week — and I keep going back. What do I find there but alligator-infested oily murk more junky pseudo literary stuff like The Bookies? This ill-timed and ill-conceived idea happened while the Canada Reads contest was playing out, and was weirdly complicated. Readers had to make up genres and categories, then they had to offer up suggestions for books to fit in those categories, and then they had to go online and vote…. there was very little real information set out, and it got lost in the shuffle.

That’s too bad, because the books that eventually won were all pretty great, and congratulations to them all, by the way. It’s clear, though, that the whole purpose really is to get people clicking through to the CBC books portal. It has nothing much to do with the books or the authors — I mean, did you see the press release they put out about the winners? Of course you didn’t — there wasn’t one. Did you hear about the prize they sent each author? Of course you didn’t — there wasn’t one.

Readers, however, got the chance to win prizesprize packs from The King’s Speech, and a Sony Reader. In fact, I clicked a link called “Bookies Contest Winners” thinking I would get to the books that won, and instead found the list of prize pack winners. Sigh.

Hm. Too bad quite a few of those books aren’t even available as e-books. I’m sure, though, that the certificate that the CBC bookclubbers printed off of their MS Word templates will be greatly appreciated by each author.

See, it’s this kind of stuff that I keep coming back to — since when is the author and the book the least important part of this process? It’s just kind of weird to me that they would offer so little to the authors. They thank Penguin for god’s sake, for giving them prizes to give to people who click on their site, but they have nothing for the authors? I don’t mean that each author needs a cheque (though that would be nice), nor do I mean that they have to buy a page of Quill & Quire to advertise (though that would be nice)….  An attempt on their part to even pretend that the works of art were important would be nice. These books’ value does not lie in how well people guess who will win; they represent time and effort and craft. They represent people creating art, right? Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but this tacky approach demeans it all.

Their chirpy-chirp inanity also demeans it. One of the books that won this “prize” was Billie Livingston’s incandescent short story collection Greedy Little Eyes. To announce her win, the bright lights at CBC Bookclub wrote this:

“Billie Livingston’s Greedy Little Eyes should no longer feel greedy for attention! This insightful collection exploring the concepts of normalcy and isolation defeated two Giller-nominated heavyweights to win the Bookie for Best Short Story Collection. What will Billie have her eyes on next?”

Really? What will she have her eyes on next? Do you think they even read the book?

Okay. Maybe I’m nitpicking, but it just feels so… thrown-together. Like an un-thoughtful, buckshee blurb because they needed to write something peppy with the word “eyes” in it. I think I’m going to go read Billie Livingston’s book again, and then I’m going to read a few of her other books, and then I’m going to write about them here in Box 761. She deserves at least that.

However, that’s all sooo last month. Now we have So You Think You Can Talk Books with Shelagh Rogers.

This is, of course, in keeping with the Game-Show-ification of the CBC books portal. This current game show relies on the conceit that a lucky listener will write in and pitch their ability to go on CBC and talk books with Shelagh.

In 200 words you have to make a pitch — a book you love, why you’re the best person to talk about it, and why other Canadians would want to hear about it. A jury goes through the applications, then there’s an audition process, and then they pick the winners. The deadline is 07 March, here’s the link if you’re interested.

I don’t know why, but this depresses me. Maybe they just didn’t sex it up enough — they could have paired each civilian with a writer, and they could compete by talking about books while dancing. Or maybe each writer can be asked to compose a new novel while they’re discussing their work? Do you think they can get the authors to maybe write some more holiday gift guides? Those were great. Maybe they could do a live show online, and the authors of each book being pitched could give their champions piggy back rides while they talk to Shelagh? What do you think?

I really like Shelagh Rogers, and I have always admired her committment to Canadian writing, and her very clearly articulated respect for and love of Canadian writers. I don’t even actually have a problem with the idea of a panel of civilians talking about books. Somehow, though, the marketing campaign for this just smacks of tacky — it feels very much like the same junky game-showy stunt-radio that Canada Reads became.

Ah… is this just post-holiday bitchiness?

Nah. This really looks to me like yet another (albeit slightly classier) attempt to disguise getting the audience to create their own entertainment as some sort of democratic interactivity. I will watch with interest.

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11 thoughts on “So You Think You Can Talk Bookies? or, the gameshowification of the CBC Books

  1. i really enjoy venues where real people talk about books. but treating real people like Price is Right contestants is not – in my humble estimation – perhaps the way to generate the message that books are exciting and interesting and worthy of examination.

    rather, they become the means merely to a platform, a game, a chance to become BIG! for a moment and churn out some soundbytes and sound like a person playing the game of talking about books. which is not, necessarily, entirely the same.

    or maybe it is. i will give it a try. but if it too is just a way to try to generate numbers for the Books Portal, without fostering real engagement, then i may be turned off for good – something i really never thought you coulda said about me & the CBC & what they’ve done for CanLit.

    • Exactly.
      They are merely reproducing the means of production, with books as the fuel….

      I really hate that they’ve somehow roped Shelagh Rogers into this — I really wouldn’t have expected that. The problem, of course, is that Canada Reads was hugely popular and got lots of click throughs. This merely reinforced in someone’s brain at the CBC that this was the way to go. Ugh.

  2. Mrs box 761, you’d be a perfect foil for this crazy new CBC show. Shelagh would really benefit from your insight.

  3. Welcome back from vacation! May I give you an author’s POV of these things?

    I know that contests and awards can be rather…tacky at times. However, for smaller, unknown authors, these kinds of awards can really be a huge boost to nation-wide exposure. Currently, we live in a world where it is difficult for authors to be, well, authors. A lot of people talk about the craft and the art of writing…but not as many want to talk about the money side of things. For those of us who live “by our pen”, as Miss Austen called it, any positive public exposure is a good thing for us.

    Obviously, I’m always of the opinion that money should flow to the author, so I too would like to have seen money flow in that direction to those nominated/”winning.” But, then, some folks are uncomfortable with that (I’m not one of them, but I’ve heard these people exist. They have more morals than I).

    BUT here’s the flip side…there are a lot of people out there who don’t even know books exist. I kid you not. I’m related to them, I work with them, I see them every day. They only know what the TV and internet tells them. They can’t follow a plot line more complicated than American Idol.

    So, I support anything that brings people on board with books, even when it’s just a little tacky and too much like reality TV for my tastes.

    • Krista:
      I get it — I really do. Things like this can really do a lot as far as boosting exposure. My gripe was that — as usual — the author and the work seemed to be the last thing on their minds. You all deserve better than this, I think.
      The CBC books club is tacky, yes, but tacky isn’t enough to really get my goat. What gets me is their apparent disregard for the actual work, and for the person who created that work.

      • Hell, I’m never going to complain with anyone who says authors deserve more credit!

        I think a lot of us no-name authors are just used to our publishers, contests, reviewers, and even readers paying more attention to everything else…but us.

        Does it make it right? Not really.

  4. I have to agree with you Krista about people around you who take pride in saying they never read as if this makes them somewhat superior to us bookies and writers. They are more technically inclined with their Blackberries and Smart Phones. Although I do have an e-reader after an endorsement by Mrs Box 761. I too would not shy away from anyone who wanted to throw cash my way. However small press publications do not fare well with reviewers (the lack of a publicist by my press doesn’t help either). I doubt my book will ever be on the Canada Reads list. Too bad. I think my characters are absolutely wonderful!

    • Sylvia, I love my Sony ereader. I originally bought it because it was difficult to slush read* and this made it easier to work on the go.

      Now, I cannot be parted with it. I figure it tripled my book purchasing in 2010 alone.

      *I did a stint as a volunteer slush reader for a micro publisher and as a small indie publisher’s intern.

  5. So Krista, does slush reading have anything to do with all the snow in your neck of the woods?

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