The Globe 100 books of 2020 will be out Friday, Dec. 4. Over the next week, we’ll be publishing conversations between authors about the different genres on the list, starting with Ann Cleeves and Louise Penny talking about mysteries. Coming up: Travel writers Bruce Kirkby and Wade Davis dispel myths about other cultures, Margaret Atwood and Ian Williams recall the poems they first read and wrote, and more.
The Globe Up Close podcast episode about the Globe 100 is now available. The Globe’s Western arts correspondent Marsha Lederman, features editor Dawn Calleja, writer and critic Emily Donaldson and books editor Judith Pereira shared details of their conversations with some of the country’s leading authors about the books that got them through 2020, how the pandemic will shape the literary world and their thoughts about genre.
The pandemic upended the book industry, cancelling writers’ tours, closing bookstores and delaying book launches. And yet, small silver linings could be found as people with more time at home tackled the reading lists on their nightstands and authors connected with fans online. We asked books insiders what this year has meant for them and what they hope for the future of the industry.
It became easier to be a public-facing Canadian writer. It’s simpler to hop on a Zoom call from my study than it is to get up on a stage. It was easier, too, to talk about a novel mostly in terms of how eerily it happens to line up with current events, rather than diving into the more nebulous terrain of inventing characters or elucidating themes. When it came to getting actual writing done, that part was harder, as I had a young child home with me all the time. My first instinct is to say it wasn’t a creatively fruitful year, thinking back on all the hours I wasn’t able to spend writing. But when I reflect upon what I did manage to accomplish, I’m actually pretty happy.
– Saleema Nawaz, author of Songs For the End of the World
We were given never-ending evidence of why we need to build a different way of relating to the land and to each other.
– Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, author of Noopiming: The Cure For White Ladies
I started 2020 counselling myself to expect Ridgerunner, the product of over a decade’s work, to drop into a COVID-hole and disappear – and that would be okay because I would be in good company. The sudden change in its prospects has given me emotional whiplash, in a good way. It’s been shocking. Hopeful, happy, scary as all, and – can I be honest? – tiring! I’m not an organized person and my memory is a sieve, so I’ve clung to my publicist, Debby de Groot, with the terrified grip of a baby monkey. There’s something so wonderful about the fact I can always say that this book was on both the Giller and the Writers’ Trust shortlists. Awards are a crapshoot, we all know that, but good luck is still good luck, and I’m grateful for it.
We’ve always had a very functional webstore, with our full inventory online, but we have had to really boost our social media presence. We lost 100% of our walk-in customers when we closed our doors in March, and they remained closed to customers until mid-October. We got very good at curbside pickup, local deliveries, and packaging books for Canada Post. We have a very robust events program, and these went online as early as March, and we have had to stumble our way through Zoom and other technologies. Amazon has made record profits, but we have also had a surge of interest from new customers, who understand that the only way to keep our communities thriving is to support them.
– Anjula Gogia, events coordinator at Another Story Bookshop
It was inspiring to see the sense of connection, even in a digital space, that authors and audiences brought to the festival. One of my first festival events was pre-recording an event ‘in conversation with’ André Alexis, and hearing him read and discuss his work was spine-tingling. It showed me that the magic of the literary event is still there on screen.
The financial stresses are real, and urgent, and without precedent. But although live audiences have been hard to come by, readers have not. After the initial disruption of the spring lockdown, Canadian bookstores are open, and Canadian books are getting purchased, read, discussed, and passed around, perhaps with greater intentionality than in previous years. That said, independent publishers in particular are having a hard time of it. They remain fundamental to our culture, and need to be supported by everyone who cares about books.
When George Floyd happened – I don’t know how else to reference that – I was in grief. The grief was relentless, the deaths seemed relentless, the images and news stories circulating. I couldn’t escape. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t writing, but that I was preoccupied. And because the pandemic was still going on, the spaces to grieve shifted. I felt the pandemic added an extra layer, and was a barrier to experiencing and sharing grief, so I decided to write pieces related to the pandemic. Once my grief had subsided or rather, once there was space for something other than grief, I wrote about George Floyd, and that grief. My book just landed in September, and I’m already planning the next projects. I think what that means is that the conditions are right for me to be creative; I’m enraged, I’m grief-struck, I have things to say, and the best way is through writing for me.
– Junie Desil, author of Eat Salt / Gaze At The Ocean
I’m walking a lot more and exploring my neighbourhood more intimately. A trip to the bookstore to check out the latest batch of covers in person now feels like a special treat, something not to be taken for granted. It has heightened my appreciation for the experience of the physical book, and, in terms of influencing my designs, I would say nature – its beauties and its dark side – have been on my mind more than ever. One book that I feel particularly connected to is Jack Wang’s collection We Two Alone. As COVID began wreaking havoc this spring, and the streets were quieter and emptier than ever, I noticed an increasing number of birds in and around my neighbourhood. I’m not sure if there were more than usual this year, or they’ve always been here and I just became more aware of them. Either way, I was putting the final touches on Wang’s collection [which has birds on the cover] during this strange time, so the two experiences will always be linked for me.
– Alysia Shewchuk, senior designer at House of Anansi Press
After a decade of writing my debut book, it was released in the middle of a pandemic, and so all the events that first-time authors dream of – the book launch, writer’s festivals – were virtual. Before the pandemic, writers didn’t have to think about how to set a background for the optimal Zoom event or whether they needed to buy a ring light to have decent lighting. This year changed my idea of who I am as a writer in other ways too. I’m now interested in speculative fiction, and it’s something I’d like to write more of. It feels really fitting for the time that we’re in, from the pandemic to women’s rights to the environment and even the election, and, like many people, I’m starting to think more about the very fine line between the absurdity of this world and the horror of ‘what if,’ and I’d like to explore that more in my work.
– Eternity Martis, author of They Said This Would Be Fun
The biggest challenge was for our bookstores. We had to do layoffs, including our manager who had no childcare. We relied on a staff of four who, overnight, turned our brick and mortar storefronts into a web order business. And I believe we were the only bilingual bookshop shipping locally and across Canada with such a deep stock and websites in both languages. And, the office staff came to the store to help deliver locally. If you ordered a book from Librairie D+Q in March or April, chances are D+Q founder Chris Oliveros or Executive Editor Tom Devlin delivered it to your door.
– Peggy Burns, publisher at Drawn & Quarterly
The Bookstagram community is focused on listening and choosing books that help them understand other cultures, communities, and issues that don’t necessarily impact them. This is an important shift because listening and understanding are how we connect to each other, online and off. Race, culture, diversity, and racism were at the forefront of many of the discussions that took place online, and for that reason talking about books has been a little bit draining for me sometimes. I feel honoured that so many people have come to me to ask for recommendations and discuss issues, but I found myself having to take a step back on a few occasions to breathe and decompress.
– Lalaa Comrie, @thisblackgirlreads
This year, I read a lot of philosophy. I wanted to recalibrate my own thinking, to start again with all my questions. Surprisingly, [it’s been a creatively fruitful year]: I think the intricate, impossible novel I’ve been working on confirmed itself to be an intricate, impossible novel. I accept it!
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