The Magnificent Six and the 2016 Giller Prize

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Five of the six 2016 Giller Prize finalists (the sixth is behind that man!). From L-R, Emma Donoghue, Catherine Leroux, Zoe Whittall, Madeleine Thien, Mona Awad and the man blocking Gary Barwin.

How normal is it for a reader to get this excited about a literary prize? Because, truthfully, I haven’t really experienced this in the past. But tomorrow the winner of the 2016 Giller Prize will be announced, and I can’t wait to find out who wins.

I’ve read three of the six shortlisted titles (read my reviews of Mona Awad’s 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, Emma Donoghue’s The Wonder and Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People), and all three are incredible books. But the reason I picked up each of these titles wasn’t because they made the shortlist. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book just because it was nominated for, or won, a prize. But when books are nominated, they obviously get some more publicity, so I’m more likely to hear about it. And no matter how I find out about a book, if it grabs me, I’ll read it.

Today I attended the Giller Prize Between the Pages event at Koerner Hall in Toronto. The six finalists read from their nominated books and discussed their work. After today, I wouldn’t be surprised if I pick up the three shortlisted titles I haven’t yet read (Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates, Catherine LeRoux’s The Party Wall and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing). They all sound like great books.

The discussion portion of the event (moderated by actor and director Albert Schultz) was fun and insightful. I love hearing writers talk about writing. When Schultz asked the group if they were nervous, Donoghue answered that it’s easier now that the authors have spent some time together and have gotten to know each other. They approach these things “like a gang.” A gang of authors–what a beautiful idea.

Tomorrow should be a long day for the Giller Prize jury, as that’s when they will choose the winner. I’ve read only half of the shortlisted titles, and it would be difficult for me to pick from those three. I don’t imagine it will be easy for them to decide.

Watch it all go down tomorrow at 9 p.m. on CBC Television or via live stream on CBC Books…and read the books written by this wonderful gang of authors, the Magnificent Six.

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Looking at Mona Awad’s first novel

20161023_200816What I read

13 Ways of Looking At a Fat Girl by Mona Awad

What it’s about

Set in Misery Saga (Mississauga, Ontario), this book follows Lizzie (aka Liz, Beth, Elizabeth) through her teenage years to adulthood as she struggles with her weight. We get thirteen different stories, thirteen glimpses of Lizzie at a different stage in her life, that explore her relationship with her body, her friends and her mother. We see Lizzie as a fat girl and then as a woman who has succeeded in losing the weight but who continues to struggle with how she sees food and her body. This book explores themes of body image, girlhood and relationships of all different kinds.

Why I picked it up

While I haven’t been making a conscious effort to read the titles on this year’s Giller Prize shortlist, this is the third of the six titles I’ve read. But I’ve actually wanted to read this book for a while. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I really enjoy coming-of-age stories, and I’ve also been reading a lot of Canadian literature this year. I’ll also admit that the allusion in this title to Wallace Stevens’ poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” caught my attention. Anyway, after being on my TBR list for several months, I picked up a copy a few weeks ago.

What I liked about it

The structure. This novel composed of thirteen interconnected stories works very well. Each piece works as a standalone story, offering profound moments in Lizzie’s life. Reading them together as a novel provides us with a strong sense of Lizzie throughout her life, having each story build on the next, letting us see how each of these moments affects her later in life.

Awad has done an excellent job with voice and tone in this book, too. Lizzie is relatable in all thirteen stories, as a teen and as an adult. And while there is humour in this book and plenty of funny moments, Awad also doesn’t hold back, confronting some serious subject matter that can at times be uncomfortable.

You’ll want to read it if…

Fans of short stories or lovers or coming-of-age tales will like this one. It’s even better if you like both of those genres.

Recommended refreshments

It will come as no surprise that food is mentioned  a lot in this book. What immediately comes to mind is all the salad mentioned in this book, but it hasn’t made me crave any of it. I can also strongly see Lizzie’s French fries served with ketchup and mayonnaise, but I don’t find that image very appetizing. But the squares of dark chocolate Lizzie allows herself do sound good. So I recommend a bit of chocolate…and, of course, a cup of tea.