Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What's on your list?

It’s that time of year again. Everywhere I turn, whether listening to the radio, reading the paper, surfing online, there are lists. Top ten toys, Heather’s Picks, Must-have gadgets for Him. The malls are awash in twinkling lights and lively music, every store emblazoned with sale signs to exhort the shopper to buy. And every year, the offerings seem even more garish, more generic and more fake.

I have a sense that if I dropped by a mall in Vancouver, or Florida, or maybe even Paris, I’d see the same stuff on offer, be it plastic angels or iPads. We are a global village, apparently. But does condemn us to uniformity? Blandness? Whatever happened to the unique, the special niche, the local gems that reflect the culture and traditions of each region? I don’t want to buy plastic Santas, or even haute couture, made in Bangladesh when I shop in Paris. Not that I do that often but you know what I mean.

The global villagers will argue that it doesn’t matter where the Santa or the dress is made, as long as it’s designed in Paris. They could be right, although legions of skilled, out-of-work Parisian dressmakers would beg to differ. And even I know that in our race to the cheapest, mass-market bottom line, we are losing the quality that a true artisan brings.

But this is not a blog about dresses or Santas, or even mass out-sourcing. It’s about books. More specifically, not the generic, blockbuster best sellers that command the front shelves in chain stores, Walmarts and Costcos, but the books on the back shelves. Those unique, finely crafted local gems that reflect the culture and traditions of the region in which they are written. They bring a diversity of colour and style to the book world, and are typically written by what the publishing industry calls ‘the midlist author’. These are authors who write intricate, interesting, and highly varied books worthy of being published, at least for now, but who don’t make the publishers (and therefore the booksellers) a ton of money so they don’t get the promotional backing that earns them a spot on those front shelves of Costco. It doesn’t take an advanced degree in economics or marketing to see where that leads.

But without the midlist author, much of the richness and diversity of culture, and of our reading pleasure, will be lost. If they cannot make a living, or if the increasing strapped publishing world no longer makes enough profit from them, we will lose our unique voices. Plastic angels, scented candles and copycat blockbusters will rule the world. So if you love books, if you love the unique experience of reading the unexpected, I urge you to go to the back of the store and check out the lesser knowns. Read the back blurbs, the first pages, the author bios. Check out the stories they have to tell you. I promise you will find a book that you will love. A book that tells you about people you want to meet, takes you to a place you’ve never visited, and teaches you about a topic you’ve never understood before.

And stay tuned. Two weeks from now I will blog about a special kind of midlist author with a unique voice and stories to tell. The Canadian. Meanwhile, if you have discovered a midlist author who deserves to be on a list, please comment!

3 comments:

Rick Blechta said...

I have one: Barbara Fradkin. I hope you’ve heard of her. Every book in her Inspector Green series is a must-read for me.

Rick Blechta said...

And now a bit of serious business: to all those companies who have been leaving generic comments, but whose ultimate intention for visiting Type M is to promote their businesses and not to add anything to the conversation, please be aware that your comments will be deleted immediately.

SO DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME HERE!

And now another Canadian author suggestion: Tom Curran. If you want to get a feel for what Newfoundland (correctly pronounced the same way as "understand", by the way) is all about, read his books. They're great!

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