2020 Giller Prize: I just hope everyone has a good time

Though I’ve been following the Giller Prize process over the past few years, it was last year when I made myself the promise that in 2020 I would read the whole list. Unlike the majority of other goals for this year, this one mostly went to plan. Mostly. Of the 14 shortlisted books, I’ve read 12 and still have plans to read the remaining two. As of Saturday morning, I have read all five of the shortlisted books.

2020 Giller Prize shortlist

I imagined that once I’d met that milestone, I’d have strong feelings, knowing exactly which book I felt was most deserving of taking home the $100000 purse and/or which authour I would reward if the prize were mine to give away. In reality, what I have found was that I am no closer to picking a favourite than I was before I started.

In the weeks since the longlist was announced, I’ve attended at least two online events with each of the nominated writers and that hasn’t made it any easier to choose just one. In fact, I am firmly in a place of total neutrality. They’ve all grown on me as people and their reflections on their works have added to my experience of reading them.

These five books are truly great examples of Canadian fiction and I recommend them all for different reasons. They are (listed in the order that I read them):

The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
The jacket says that it “paints a breathtaking picture of greed and guilt, love and delusion, unintended consequences, and the ghosts of our pasts.” There isn’t much I’d add. A threat, a Ponzi scheme, a woman’s disappearance all woven together in a beautiful and haunting story.
Here the Dark by David Bergen
This is a collection of seven short stories and one novella. Short stories don’t always appeal to me. When it comes to fiction, I tend to like to commit to more. Bergen, however, shows off a mastery of the craft with rich characters and strong relationships. His portrayal of intimate and often (always?) complex connections between strangers, partners and families alike made this book wonderfully compelling.
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of fourteen short stories with strong voices and deep emotions. Her stories are haunted by the unnamed loneliness and isolation of being a stranger in a new land, both literally and figuratively. It’s beautiful.
Polar Vortex by Shani Mootoo
I’ve struggled with how to share this book because I struggled so much with reading it. It was written with an impeccably precise array of voices and a gorgeous assembly of words. The moments were so perfectly painted that, as the reader, I could feel them tick by as though I was in the room. It’s a very powerful and deeply intricate body of writing.
Ridgerunner by Gil Adamson
Ridgerunner was the most challenging of the finalists as it was far outside my usual genres and I had to really push myself to keep going despite the fact that Adamson’s writing is exquisite. It is precise and delicate in contrast to a story that is rough and dirty. I persevered because of that until I got to a point where I couldn’t wait to turn a page. Her straight facts approach to telling the story make the twists and turns she weaves into it even more shocking and effective. 

Now, we’re one day away from the announcement of the winner and I can honestly say that I will be happy with whoever takes home the prize. And I will most certainly cry about it.

Watch the presentation November 9th on CBC (here’s how to watch go here) or join me at the Giller Light Bash to benefit Frontier College, a national charitable literary association starting at 5:30pm PST.

P.S. If you’re into reading and books, join me on my new Instagram page: carlyisreading.

What do you do when you complete your reading goal for the year? You keep reading.

Oh, hi there. Don’t mind me. I’m just clearing off the cobwebs in this space.

How are you? What’s new? Where’ve you been? (Please say home.) What’s keeping you occupied? What is your great pandemic discovery?

So, if you remember seventeen years ago to January, you may recall that I had one single solitary goal this year. (In truth, I had a few more than that, but there was only one that I actually got around to sharing here.) That goal was to read less.

Read less? What?

I know, I know. But I had something in mind. Here’s a good summary of what I where I was coming from at the time.

At the beginning of 2019, I made a decision to be selective about what I was consuming when it came to the podcasts I listened to. I used to listen to anything and everything. People would tell me their favourite podcast and I would immediately subscribe. My podcast app contained downloaded episodes that spanned every popular topic you could imagine – and only a fraction of them were even remotely of interest to me. But I listened to them anyway. It was entertaining, sure, but it was also a total waste of my time. I’m bringing this vibe to my reading year now as well. At the same time, I intend to be more selective about what I’m reading and even more willing to put a book down when it isn’t working for me.

So, yeah. I was going to read less in 2020.


You can imagine how that turned out.

Of course, the pandemic hit and we were all told to stay home and who am I to argue? I am the ultimate introvert and I already love being at home. I volunteer as tribute.

I managed to check out a good haul of library books before the library closed on March 16th. (I make it sound like it was situational, but as I’m sure you can imagine, I ALWAYS have a good haul of library books.) I also started to order books online and committed to doing so every 2-3 weeks as long as the library was closed.

I’d already been having mixed feelings about my relationship with books since before the shutdown was even a discussion. I love my library and really want to support it as much as I can, but at the same time, I want to continue to support the book industry and writers and publishers. Never spending any money on books wasn’t going to do that. This coronavirus actually struck a happy medium in that regard.

Like everyone, we started doing things differently in quarantine. We went out once a day for a walk or a run and we grocery shopped once a week, taking necessities for a front porch drop off to my parents at the same time. Other than that, we were home. We cooked more. We watched more tv and movies. We started to learn to languages. (Nod, Duolingo.) And, of course, I read more.

Just the other night (morning, really – I stayed up until 2am to finish Wild by Cheryl Strayed) I met my 2020 reading goal. That was my 52nd book of the year.

Of course, I wasn’t planning on scaling back my reading. I was just being flirty, silly. But I did wonder what to do with my reading plans. I’d stuck largely to my intention of limiting myself to reading only books that were meaningful to me – in other words, no Stephanie Plum and company – and I have felt good about that. In fact, there were times when I wondered if I should restrict my reading even further either by having even stricter expectations or by ditching fiction altogether. No related decisions have been made at this time.

The first time I logged into Goodreads after completing my goal, I felt pressured to think about what to do with my reading goal. If I left it as is – accomplished until January – then I was afraid that I’d just stop tracking what I was reading entirely. I don’t respond well to structured goals in many areas of my life, but reading is one (the only??) where I do. I’ve struggled with reading in the past and I don’t want to go back there.

Finally, since there were roughly 20 weeks left in the year (19 weeks, 5 days at the time) I decided to add one book for each week to my goal, upping it to 72 books in 2020. Coincidentally, this is the exact number of books I read back in 2019 when my goal was 60 books.

Along with meeting my goal came internal questions about what I’d been reading. Which books were my favourites, which books weren’t, how many of the books were truly memorable and how many had I really, really loved. I started by separating them into three groups that I titled: Loved, OK, and No.

I don’t really like to focus on criticisms so, no, I’m not going to show you what didn’t make the Loved list right now. I didn’t plan on ever revealing what was on the No list, but now I kind of wonder if it wouldn’t be a little bit fun sometime later in the year.

So, since you never asked, here are some of my random opinions and facts related to the books I have read so far this year.

  • Of 52 books, 16 landed on the Loved list, 31 were ranked as OK and 4 were easy Nos. One was, like, an OK and a half or OK.5. I couldn’t truly say that I loved it, but it was definitely better than OK.
  • Of the 16 books I loved, 10 were fiction, 5 were memoirs and 1 was non-fiction.
  • I listened to one audiobook, a memoir that was greatly enhanced by the reading by the authour. (Shout out, Jessica Simpson!) All the rest were hold in your hand paper books.
  • Two of the books I read were books I’d already read once before. It’s really no surprise that they were both Loved.
  • 15% of the books I read were by BIPOC authours and 15% were by Canadians. I’d like to improve on both those numbers. 85% of the books were written by women.

And here were my favourites by category, some categories that I made up. What?

Non-fiction: Fashionopolis: The Price of Fast Fashion and the Future of Clothes by Dana Thomas. This really had a impact on my and how I consume clothing. Even if you’re only slightly interested in reducing your impact on the world, this is worth reading. It will ASTOUND you how much fast fashion is impacting the environment. More on that here.

Fiction: The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel and How a Woman Becomes a Lake by Marjorie Celona. The Glass Hotel took me on a fantastical journey all around the world. It conjured up so much real emotion and experience in me that when I think of it, I don’t so much remember the details as I do the feeling I had while reading it. How a Woman Becomes a Lake intrigued me with its title and delivered like a gut punch lesson in compassion. Both were written by Canadian women and both were outstanding.

Memoir: After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey. I love memoirs. I don’t really want to hear anyone’s whole life story, but I do want to hear about the really interesting parts. Michael Hainey lost his father as a child and in this memoir he tells the story of how he pursued real answers around the circumstance of his death. I first heard about this book when Hainey was on the Family Secrets podcast. I had ordered his book before I even got to the end of it. Find his episode here.

Writer whose work I’d never read, but am thankful I finally did: Nora Ephron. Yes, the woman who wrote the screenplays for such movies as When Harry Met Sally, Julie and Julia and my favourite, Sleepless in Seattle. Her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn is laugh out loud funny despite the sensitive subject of infidelity in a marriage. It’s a real girlfriends-at-brunch vibe and an all around good time.

Yeah, but: Yes, I did read Untamed by Glennon Doyle and yes, it was OK. I’ll see your Untamed and I will raise you a Love Warrior. Have you read that? You should. Although, I’ve started to suspect that the first Glennon Doyle work that you read may be the most impactful Glennon Doyle work for you. If you’ve had a different experience than that, please let me know. And you should read Glennon Doyle. She’ll help you find the way to who you really are.

Book club reads: My friend Julie and I decided to create our own book club. It’s called Fully Booked and we’ve just started our third book. We had a really hard time selecting our first couple of books and we ended up choosing a couple that she’d been given and that I had already read, though years and years ago. They were Eat, Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and Wild by Cheryl Strayed in that order. I loved the inspiring feeling and the spirit of both – a sense of adventure both in exploring the world and in discovering ourselves.

Here are the remaining books I Loved in my first 52 of 2020:

  • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. There was a lot of controversy around this book when it came out and I researched it before I decided to read it. A loose description would say that the book tells the story of a woman’s attempt to flee Mexico with her son. It opened my eyes to a tragic experience that I have never had real cause to consider before. The media around it opened my eyes to a bigger discussion around the publishing industry and how we access art and literature. Daniel A Olivas wrote in this Guardian opinion piece: “Perhaps American Dirt will be remembered not as a great novel, but as a key pivot-point for an industry that desperately needs to change.” I suspect that he may be right, if not for anyone else, at least for me.
  • Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano. This one got off to a tough start. I wasn’t sure that I’d get all the way through it, to be honest. Right up until the halfway point in the book, I was on the fence. And then it made me absolutely fall in love. This is the story of a boy who is the sole survivor of a plane crash, losing his parents and brother in the disaster. Ron Charles described it as “a novel about the peculiar challenges of surviving a public disaster in the modern age” here. Edward is very sweet and totally lovable and that just fed the strong emotional response that I (eventually) had to this book.
  • Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. “It’s a tale of books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love.” I mean, what more could a reader ask for? It’s also set in San Francisco which a vibe I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell. A student who’d been involved with a teacher at the age of fifteen flashes back and forth between that story and her modern day experience of the #MeToo movement, seventeen years later. Her reflection between the two is the real story of this book and is equally fascinating and heartbreaking. Note: this recommendation comes with a trigger warning.
  • The Other Windsor Girl by Georgie Blaylock. The tagline for this book reads: A Novel of Princess Margaret, Royal Rebel. This was a selection for my local library’s book club and I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, but Margaret was definitely the more relatable sister.
  • Slow Motion by Dani Shapiro. This is tagged A Memoir of a Life Rescued by Tragedy. This is my second book by Dani Shapiro (I read Inheritance in February 2019 – extraordinary) who is an absolute master at memoir writing and it was an interesting perspective to know more up to date information than the Shapiro that wrote this had. Ultimately, she writes about how her young adulthood rebellions were quashed by a car accident that severely injured both of her parents.
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler. You know how people were all talking about how lockdown was giving us the opportunity to read the books we already had? This was one of those books for me. I’ve never worked in a restaurant, but I’ve been close to people who have and this book really nails the culture while combining it with the kind of moving-to-NYC story that never gets old.
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel. This novel is about family secrets and how they are created, accepted and the impact that they have on everyone who knows about them. More importantly, it revolves around the discussion of gender identity in ways that challenged and expanded my thoughts on the topic. I thought a lot about this story while I was reading and ever since.

Have you been reading more since you’ve been at home? If not, what have you been doing instead? Do you have any reading goals for 2020? How have they changed as a result of the pandemic? What have been your favourite books/podcasts/movies/tv shows/video games of the year so far?

Things we’ll do this month: February 2020

Second month, second post of the year. This, ladies and gentlemen, is a trend!

I love the beginning of the year. I know it goes against the grain of popular opinion, but I think January is great. And February – February is one of my two favourite months of the year.

I’m using my TWDTM post to help vault me back into the habit of posting at least semi-regularly. Before writing this, I looked back into the history of these posts. I’d thought I started in 2017, but it was actually 2016 when I posted my first which means we’re coming up on a four year anniversary – fruit and flowers. I can get down with that.

Goal setting is fun. It’s great motivation to sit down and hash out the things we want to do and fantasize about the roads that will take us there. When we talk about goals, we talk about money and career and real estate and competition, but we rarely talk about good, old-fashioned leisure. What I’ve found is that having some fun and light-hearted goals is a nice way to interrupt the monotony and drudgery of obligation. Month to month, I will publish a list of things I would like to do during the month ahead. Of course, this list doesn’t take the place of all of my standard goals related to health, wellness, money and spirituality, but I reserve the right to, in some cases, blur the lines.

  • Post my 20 for 2020 & one little word
  • Super Bowl (my contribution to the snack-fest: almond butter rice crispy treats, veggie chili, sourdough biscuits, cookies)
  • Celebrate a milestone birthday for my Mom
  • Road trip to Seattle
  • Make and send Valentines
  • Valentine’s Day/Smackdown
  • Pancake Day!
  • Hike
  • Snowshoe
  • Make gluten-free sourdough bread
  • Take more photos of people
  • Replenish seed collection
  • Finish my personal commandments
  • Day trip to the valley

January was a very inwardly focused month. I did a lot of personal work, focusing on meditation, healing, calm and stillness. I found a way to perfectly balance the needs of my largely introverted personality with the part of me that wants to create and maintain meaningful relationships. For the first time in a long time, I was able to go out regularly without feeling completely drained by the experience. I want to continue with that internal growth and it’s time to start integrating my experience by wading further out into the world again while trying to maintain that feeling of peacefulness. I think this month’s list will really nurture that combination.

What do you have planned for the month of February?

Resolution: read less

Happy new year, everyone!

New Year's Day 2020

Over here in BC, it is an amazingly beautiful day. Clear skies, 12° temperature and it’s almost impossible to believe that it’s the first day of January and not the first day of Spring.

It’s sure been a while since I’ve inhabited this space, sitting on the publisher’s side of my blog, in front of the keyboard with the ideas swirling around in my head. The words and phrases are always there, continually being calculated, cut and rearranged, as is the intention to share, but after more than an year of daily posting, I needed to put some distance between me and this format. I needed a break from being on. And sharing. And the publicity of it all. There is a strongly reclusive pull inside me that sometimes takes the wheel. Enter: four month sabbatical.

Now that we have entered a new year, a new decade, I am deep in contemplation about my 20 for 2020 list. It’s exactly what it sounds like – twenty things I want to do in the coming year. This is my second consecutive year making one and even though my 19 for 2019 was a miserable failure (more on that soon) I’m jumping back in. I’m nothing if I’m not optimistic. But I’m a little behind in establishing it and it isn’t quite set in stone just yet. It is in progress and one of my immediate goals for this first week of the year is to settle on the final goals. Stay tuned for more.

One of the things that will not actually (okay, probably won’t) make the list is any intention related to reading. Last year, I’d added a goal to finish 60 books. I read at any possible opportunity and had surpassed my goal by Thanksgiving. Books brought me a lot of joy and satisfaction and I read a wide range, from utter drivel to popular classics. I have no regrets about it.

Over the past three years that I’ve been setting reading goals on Goodreads, I’ve slowly increased my targets. I was coming off a few years of practically not reading at all so I started slowly and as time went on and goals got loftier, I got really comfortable in a label I’d previously worn quite comfortably: bookworm.

Between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, my reading lagged and it got more and more challenging to get through. (It wasn’t the books, I read some of my favourite books of the year towards the end of it.) This stall indicated to me that part of my motivation to read was the goal and not the enjoyment of the process. I don’t think that was a big influence, I think I just got burned out. It did make me rethink how I prioritized reading for the coming year.

For the first time, I’ve downgraded my reading goal for the year – though it’s still what I’d consider high – one book per week. Partly, this is because I’m hopeful that decreasing the expectation will improve the experience. I’m also doing it to take back some of the time I have been spending on books. Last year, I chose reading over many things: making art, knitting, cooking new things. And those are just a few of the activities that I want to do more of.

At the beginning of 2019, I made a decision to be selective about what I was consuming when it came to the podcasts I listened to. I used to listen to anything and everything. People would tell me their favourite podcast and I would immediately subscribe. My podcast app contained downloaded episodes that spanned every popular topic you could imagine – and only a fraction of them were even remotely of interest to me. But I listened to them anyway. It was entertaining, sure, but it was also a total waste of my time. I’m bringing this vibe to my reading year now as well. At the same time, I intend to be more selective about what I’m reading and even more willing to put a book down when it isn’t working for me.

There is a bit of mortality in this discussion and that’s hard for me to shake. Ultimately, when I acknowledge that I won’t have time to read all the books I want to in this lifetime, it’s equally terrifying and motivating. I don’t know anyone that is really comfortable with the idea of their own inevitable demise and that’s the scary part. At the same time, if I won’t have time to read everything, then why they hell would I spend even a few extra minutes on something I don’t love?

My reading world is changing. What about yours? Did you set a reading-related goal for 2020?