Will Ferguson’s 419 (not available in the U.S.)
Alix Ohlin’s Inside (available in the U.S.)
Nancy Richler’s The Imposter Bride (available in the U.S. Jan. 29, 2013)
Kim Thuy’s Ru (not available in the U.S.)
Russell Wangersky’s Whirl Away (not available in the U.S.)
It takes determination for Americans to keep up with the Giller Prize. As Ron Charles said last year in The Washington Post, “It’s a sad fact of American publishing that a literary award given in Canada is like a tree falling in the forest.” He was writing about the Governor General’s Award, but the same principle applies to the Giller Prize. Although we know when Alice Munro wins, none of the above names means anything to me.
Canadian bloggers are earnest about the Giller Prize. Kevin from Canada runs a very nice operation called the Shadow Giller Jury, whereby he and other bloggers diligently read and review all the titles on the longlist and shortlist.
Canadian literature is certainly kept in the shadows here.
By chance I learned that the American comic novelist, Gary Shteyngart, author of the dystopian novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is one of the judges this year. I certainly will pay attention because he’s one of my favorite American writers. Is that why he was asked? To get Americans’ attention? Irish writer Roddy Doyle, Booker Prize winner, is also a judge. There is one Canadian judge, Anna Porter.
In general, prizes mean less and less to me every year. People online go crazy over these prizes. They read longlists and shortlists, and by the time I’ve read a couple on the longlist I’m too tired to read the prizewinner. I still haven’t read the winners of last year’s National Book Award, Booker Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award, or Pulitzer (they didn’t give the Pulitzer to a fiction writer, proving my theory that journalists don’t value fiction). I have (sort of) read Will Self’s Umbrella, a finalist for the Booker Prize this year, but not with the attention it deserves. I used to read all the prize winners, and am trying to catch up: I have begun Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question, winner of the 2010 Booker Prize.
And now for the Gossip about What I’m Reading and How I Flunked the Rock and Roll Test.
1. Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. This may be the best American novel of the year. It is funny, gorgeously written, and, like Zadie Smith’s NW, a novel about a neighborhood. I can read novels about neighborhood almost indefinitely, but since I said I would read only the dead this month I am cheating by reading a new book.
2. Apuleius’s The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses. A few years ago, when we had a “Latin club,” i.e., class, which was mostly sitting around drinking coffee and translating the dialogue into American idioms, we read Book 3 of The Golden Ass or Metamorphoses in a Bryn Mawr Commentaries edition by William Turpin. There are very few Latin editions of Apuleius’ novel (and you do need commentaries), so if you want to read the other chapters, you have to do it with the Loeb (low-ebb, as we used to call them), and it’s not as much fun.
The Golden Ass is the only Latin novel which survives whole. If you haven’t read it, you will doubtless find it hilarious: as Apuleius says in his “Address to the Reader” (Robert Graves translation):
If you are not put off by the Egyptian story-telling convention which allows humans to be changed into animals and, after various adventures, restored to their proper shapes, you should be amused by this queer novel, a string of anecdotes in the popular Milesian style, but intended only for your private ear, which I call my Transformations.”
HOW I FLUNKED MY HUSBAND’S ROCK AND ROLL TEST.
My husband is appalled by my lack of knowledge of rock and roll. I am supposed to be reading a history of it, but you can forget that. Not only did I miss the reference to the Kinks’ “Apeman” in Will Self’s Umbrella, I was not even able to identify Mike Stipe singing on an R.E.M. album.
So I was forced to take a test.
Did you know who the singer with the high voice in Led Zeppelin is? Of course you do. Do you know why? Because I’m going to tell you. It’s Robert Plant. I didn’t know before I sat down and took the quiz.
I have never listened to Led Zeppelin in my life. It turns out this is not true. Do you know what their most famous song is? “Stairway to Heaven.” I had never heard this song. It turned out not to be true. I had to watch this on YouTube, and was not allowed to turn it off until I admitted I recognized the opening chord.
It’s like being deaf on “Name That Song,” or not recognizing people you’ve been introduced to at parties when you see them in the street. I’ll share other Rock and Roll Quiz questions here, if you email me the answers.