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John Doyle: Television

The Giller Prize is great, but be very careful what you say about it Add to ...

Today, I must be careful what I say here. Very, very careful.

See, today is a big day in the book racket, hereabouts. The 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize (CBC, 9 p.m.) is the reason. In fact, calling it “a big day” is an understatement. The hugeness of the importance of the event in the Canadian cultural calendar cannot be underestimated. It’s massive. This ain’t no ordinary literary prize-giving announcement. It’s a gala, it’s on TV, it’s showbiz!

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The CBC, bless it, is hyper-excited. In news releases it refers to “the evening’s thrilling events” and, by heavens, you can’t blame the CBC. The Scotiabank Giller Prize gala will be hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. Olympic gold-medal trampoline gymnast Rosie MacLennan will introduce Alix Ohlin and her novel, Inside. Rick Mercer will introduce Will Ferguson and his novel, 419. Kim Cattrall will introduce Nancy Richler and her novel, The Imposter Bride. Measha Brueggergosman will introduce Kim Thúy and her novel, Ru, and Allan Hawco will introduce Russell Wangersky and his collection of short stories, Whirl Away. Are you giddy yet?

Well, wait – that’s not all! We are informed that Jacob Hoggard, the singer from the band Hedley, will perform “an adapted version of the song I Won’t Let You Go (Darling)” and will be “accompanied on stage by a dance performance choreographed by Jorden Morris, choreographer and former principal dancer with the prestigious Royal Winnipeg Ballet.” Music, dance, actors, writers and gymnasts. All you need is cake and you’ve got a swinging party. As to whether this shindig works as a TV special remains to be seen.

Past Giller events on CBC, CTV and Bravo! have been dire television. Ponderous, with a bunch of celebs spouting pieties about books and storytelling. Not that it matters, to most involved. The point is to have the Giller on TV and draw attention to it. And the main point to all involved is the “gala” thing, the party, the frock-opera, the red-carpet thing, the hint of glamour.

The Giller Prize is great, having bestowed money and attention on Canadian fiction. The people behind it are, to be sure, veritable Medicis of modern Canada. And that’s nice. Seeing as the Canadian book racket is a cutthroat cottage industry, nervous and neurotic about success, sales and, it seems, thin-skinned and combative.

Last year at this time I made a joke here about the self-consciously self-aggrandizing crowd who populate the Giller gala and how that doesn’t make for great TV. The Association of Canadian Publishers took great umbrage. My assertion, in reply, that I was entitled to make jokes, didn’t go over well. The association let me know it took a very dim view of joking. Little wonder the funny tends to be AWOL in the Canadian book racket.

Then in the spring of this year, this column asserted that cable-TV series such as Mad Men were challenging the novel for the most significant storytelling form of our time. Again, umbrage was taken. The Giller people took to Twitter and misrepresented the column as an assertion that the novel is dead. The reading public was encouraged to contradict me. My assertion (well, somebody had to say it) that the column had been misrepresented got me nowhere with the Medicis of modern Canada.

An associate of mine asked me to stop querying the Giller people on this matter because said associate would, as a result of my querying, not be invited to the Giller gala. Now me, I wouldn’t go to the Giller gala if it was held in my back garden. But the associate was dead serious.

Thing is, when the Oscars happen, I can make jokes and jibes about the movie industry. When the Emmy Awards or Gemini Awards happen, I can joke about the TV industry. But, when the Gillers happen, I must not joke about the Canadian book racket. Umbrage and dim views are the upshot.

So, steel yourselves, people of the book racket. The Giller Prize does wonders for Canadian fiction, and the CBC means well putting the shindig on TV. Obviously it’s not my place to comment, even though I’m the author of two books, but I have the feeling that the Giller has become a crutch for the book racket, an easy way to draw attention and sell many copies of a small number of fiction titles. For an industry bamboozled by the Internet, puzzled by social media and having the massive heebie-jeebies about e-books, the Giller and a couple of other literary awards are the easy way to do the same old, same old.

If you live outside Toronna and have no contact with this city’s book and media mafia, you have no idea how much excitement surrounds the Giller event. The giddiness is all-consuming. The exclusivity! The establishment on parade! You merely get to watch on TV and judge it all. Judge away, but be careful what you say. And then read the darn books. Get giddy about them. That, after all, is what matters.

All times ET. Check local listings.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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