Last night a friend and I checked out the second annual Bookstravaganza. Presented by Chatelaine and Random House of Canada, it’s about connecting book lovers with “fall’s hot new books!”
The format was this: After a cash bar cocktail hour, which did include some food, everyone headed into the Royal York’s ballroom were we ate cake, watched sizzle reels and listened to various people, mostly Random House editors, talk about reading and a few specific books that they were excited about. Then, once that wrapped up, you could get the two books you received as part of your gift bag signed by their authors.
Before I go any further, I need to talk about the attendees. There were around 400 people there and 75% of the audience was white women, with another 20% being non-white women. Now, this event was sponsored by Chatelaine, which is a (white) woman’s magazine, and fiction is mainly read by women but still, I was expecting to see a few more men there.
All of the speakers commented on the huge gender imbalance and I’m glad they did; fiction is, like most things, something that both genders should be involved with, and shouldn’t be labeled as a “woman’s thing.” One of the editors highlighted a trio of books that she thought both genders would enjoy and I quite liked that approach. However, I was less than thrilled that the authors of those three books were all male.
Female authors were championed by other people, so it’s not like they weren’t represented however, the idea that a man could read and enjoy a book written by a woman, nope, never mentioned. And despite the promotional nature of this event, I really wish someone had gone there and touched on that topic. It just really bothers me how there’s this idea out there that men don’t read books written by women. Oh, it’s true, I used to work in a library, I know that it’s true, but something can be true and wrong at the same time and that’s exactly what happening with this issue.
Men, for a variety of reasons, don’t read fiction books written by women and that’s something that I think publishers and book lovers should be actively trying to change.
All right, enough ramblings about gender, let’s get back to the topic of books. In total, we heard from three different editors who highlighted the novels that they were the most excited about. The following three caught my attention:
Jo Baker’s Longbourn: When this book first appeared early on in one of the sizzle reels, the room erupted in “Ohhhhhs” at its description: It’s Pride and Prejudice told from the perspective of the servants. I have no interest in Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey or life as a servant and won’t be reading this book. But I do have an interest in being a published novelist and the idea behind this book is so obvious and such a clear winner that I can’t help but kick myself for not thinking of it first.
Dave Eggers’ The Circle: My prediction is that this is going to be one of those books that you’re going to be hearing a lot about. It’s about a young woman who goes to work for The Circle, which sort of sounds like Facebook-meets-Google-meets-North Korea. The editor who was pushing this book described it as being more meaningful than 1984, which, no, no, no, impossible. She also said some other things that made this seem like the type of book that I’ll yell at. Still, it does sound interesting.
Anthony De Sa’ Kicking The Sky: I’d heard about this book prior to the event and already had it on my to-read list. It’s set in Toronto in 1977, against the backdrop of the infamous Shoeshine Boy murder and sounds absolutely fascinating. It largely revolves around the city’s Portuguese community (the Shoeshine Boy was from the Azores), and because of that, I’m sure Dundas and Ossington make at least an appearance. Also, I love the cover.
Wayne Johnston and Mary Swan were the two authors who were present and both spoke for a little bit. The latter, a Giller-nominated writer, wrote an inter-generational story, My Ghosts, that really didn’t catch my interest. However, since we were given a copy of her book in our gift bags, I’ll likely be reading it.
I’ll definitely be reading Wayne Johnston’s new one, The Son Of A Certain Woman. While it’s about topics that don’t really interest me, incest, forbid love and Newfoundland, Johnston was such a funny and engaging speaker that I’m now really looking forward to this book.
Overall, I thought Bookstavaganza was well run though I was expecting to receive more than just two books (however, given the size of the event, I see why only two were given). We did receive a bunch of other items in our gift bags, some good, like a Truffle Pig chocolate bar and perfume samples, and some, well, not for me, like the full-sized box of All-Bran. Weirdly, we did not receive a copy of Chatelaine. That didn’t really bother me since I already have this month’s issue but I thought that was an odd omission.
My ticket to Bookstravaganza was $30 and I think it was a touch high given the low numbers of canapés that was going around. Next year, there should be more food, more raffles (there was only three giveaways, which seemed low given that one of the sponsors is a book publisher; couldn’t they have at least given away a couple of book-centric gift packs?) and more books.