Yes, But What Were the Ratings Like?

Yesterday evening, while the United States writhed in untangling the nuances of Midterm Madness, Canadians were treated to an elegant and erudite hour of prime-time television watching the presentation of the Giller Award, one of the country’s most coveted literary prizes.

I watched the show, which is weird, because I don’t watch a lot of that kind of television. That kind being anything that smacks too much of reality. Give me House. Boston Legal. The occasional old episode of Friends. And cooking shows, I like some of those. But that’s a different kind of reality.

The Gillers, though, were oddly wonderful. Everyone -- from celebrity presenters to novelists rousted from their lairs -- were beautifully turned out. Black tie for the boys, miles of brightly colored dresses in the kind of stiff fabrics that make a racket when you walk for everyone else. And good hair days all around.

The 60 minute show snapped right along. Each of the five finalists were introduced by way of a meaningful and interesting video montage that showed them in their somewhat natural element talking about their book or their process, and even reading a snippet of the nominated work. That sounds like a recipe for slumber, but the videos were very well produced, as was the whole show and what could have felt like six hours was over very quickly.

The winner was Margaret Atwood’s protégé, emergency room doctor Vincent Lam for Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures. Lam takes home the $40,000 prize. In a week when musicians have been caught acting badly at awards shows, the Giller winners -- and non-winners (I won’t call them losers, because they’re certainly not) were all appropriately sweet and (dare I say it?) Canadian. This from the National Post after his win:

“I think the Giller committee really does their own thing,” said Mr. Lam, when asked if Atwood’s backing helped him in his win, “and so they should ... As I was reading each book, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this book should win, this is a fantastic book.’ I was shocked that I won.”

There was something really grand about watching a literary awards show done up -- done way up -- for television. That the network and the sponsors thought that Canadians as a bunch are literate enough to watch a literary awards program in prime-time and on a major network. And none of this can be bad for the community that creates, publishes and sells books in Canada.


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