I am a fan of Lawrence Hill. I’ve read and loved his past books and have a signed first edition of The Book of Negroes in a prime spot on my bookshelf. Full disclosure: I also work for his publisher so I’m biased there too. I’m a fan of his writing–definitely–but I’ve gotten to know him a little and worked with him often and I’m a fan of the man too.
I first met Larry before The Book of Negroes was published. Before it won Canada Reads; before it won a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize; before it was a special Illustrated Gift Edition; before it was a blockbuster television miniseries.
Of course, all of that commercial success doesn’t even touch upon the cultural impact of The Book of Negroes–a book that revealed pieces of Canadian history while challenging us with an honest depiction of slavery–a book now taught widely in Canadian schools.
So how does a writer follow that kind of success? Masterfully, in my opinion.
Before last year I had never read anything by Greg Iles. But with a 5-hour flight ahead of me, I grabbed the big, thick advance reading copy of Natchez Burning and decided to dive in. In hindsight, that may have been the smoothest flight I’ve ever taken and I found myself almost (almost!) wishing it could be extended so I could keep reading. I know some people are intimidated by books that are 700 pages or more but trust me, if I can find myself wishing to be squeezed into an airline seat for a few hours longer, you know the read delivers!
It’s been a busy Fall for book events. Since the last week of August I’ve visited Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, London, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Victoria and Winnipeg from my home in Toronto (with a quick vacation to Ireland jammed in between somewhere). Each event was wonderful and fun. Speaking with readers and booksellers across the country about the books I love? Easy! But none of those events compared to the sheer glitz and glamour of attending the 2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize held in Toronto at the Ritz Carlton.
I was a Giller-virgin before last night having never attended. Host Rick Mercer (who brought a fun, upbeat and hilarious spirit to the ceremony) joked about the “downtown Toronto elite” and walking into the ballroom at the Ritz last night you do get a sense of something special. Book nerds notice the giants of the industry–like my old boss from M&S Doug Gibson, Naomi Klein, Frances Itani and others. Then there are the faces you recognize instantly like Toronto’s Mayor-elect John Tory, Kim Coates, Jessica Pare and Rick Mercer himself.
I was pleased to be seated with David Bezmozgis whose novel, The Betrayers, I had devoured in a enjoyable, feverish, 12-hour session in which nothing else got done. (Side note: read it!) When you’re uncomfortable in a monkey suit and nervous for your authors, sitting at a table with people you genuinely like is a huge relief!