Saturday, January 03, 2009

the bad and the ugly

Happy New Year all. I didn't want to start the year off on a downer, but I did promise the bad and the ugly after my good post a while back. I kept putting off posting the latter because, well, you know, there's just too much bad and ugly already...but then what would the arts be without acknowledging the bad and the ugly too? So, here it is. What wasn't great about 2008.

The Bad

* Book store closings: McNally Robinson in Calgary, Pages in Toronto, Robin's in Philadelphia, everywhere book stores are in trouble, closing down, not stocking poetry. We love you booksellers, from Victoria to Chelsea. In light of that, one of my resolutions is to buy the bulk of my books in person. End of story. I wanted to say all my books, but I realize poetry doesn't have proper distribution and people like BookThug and Ugly Duckling (both appearing on the good list) need those online sales, so as much as possible I'm crossing thresholds this year and plunking down cash.

* An odd complaint after the last one, but once again I whine about the lack of Canadian Literary presence online. Why aren't the major print publications also doing an online portion? Why does The Capilano Review, West Coast Line, Malahat Review, The New Quarterly all have websites with nothing on them? I suspect it's because of funding formulas, and I sympathize, but print alone isn't enough. Can't we have some online resources? How about putting up a selection every month? I agree, not everyone needs to go online, and not everything needs to be online. How about half and half? Methinks it would inevitably result in more subscriptions.

The Ugly

* The Governor General Awards debacle. The recent Canada Council mess was just depressing--and regardless of right/wrong it emphasized the overall disconnect the CC seems to have with the community it is supposed to serve. And it doesn't seem to have resulted in any changes, or any sense of accountability. It's depressing. Accountability is required of everyone, no? How about more direction for jurors. And I want to know what makes one eligible to be a judge? Having written one book? Having written a book twenty years ago? Shouldn't people judging contemporary poetry understand the world of contemporary poetry? And shouldn't there be some critical accountability? Can't we ask that people tell us why a particular book, and make an intelligent statement that introduces the poetry, and poetry in general, to people? Zach Wells posted, from Open Letter, a long interview with Christian Bok about his trouble with the Canada Council jury. It's well worth reading. (Note to Open Letter: it shouldn't be posted on a blog it should be on your site! You rock, please archive online.)

* The Globe and Mail, Canada's national newspaper, has canceled its stand alone book section as of the December 20th issue, and I may well be canceling my subscription too. At first I thought this might be a good thing. Change can be good. The stand alone does make for a little book ghetto, and if reviews are folded into the larger Arts and Review sections perhaps more people will read them. But no, after some thought I think this is a huge error. As a national paper the G&M really needs to show some backbone and vision in these economic times, which after all, come on people, everyone must have seen coming. It needs to get new blood on board. In the past few years it has had more online makeovers than I've changed operating systems, and it is no clearer, no more focused, no more useful as a resource. The print portion has remained stubbornly slender, staid, and resolutely white and male: it doesn't reflect the dynamic range of thinking in this country. But the bottom line is we need that Saturday Book Section. Particularly in tough times someone needs to show some direction, not just roll over and die, or to borrow from Naomi Klein, use the crisis as a way to get rid of things and make changes that benefit certain market interests. Not that the books section shows much vision now, but it should.

Bail outs for corporate mismanagement, lack of vision and greed, but cut the books section? There is no way that can be made to sound good.

And after reading today's G&M, despite several articles mentioning the fact that in both the last two recessions book sales rose, the book coverage is abominable...National Post? Here's your moment.

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