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Counting on The Globe and Mail‘s 100

As it does every year, The Globe and Mail‘s book section published its “Globe 100” this weekend, a list of the 100 top-reviewed books of the year (with some exceptions: no anthologies were included, for example). Any year-end list engenders much discussion, both for and against, and the Globe‘s is no exception. (For the record, we at Q&Q welcome any and all comments on our own “Books of the Year” list, published in our December issue.)

Dan Wells at Biblioasis shares his own thoughts on the Globe list on the press’s blog. Having had a number of books favourably reviewed in the paper, Wells was counting on one or two Biblioasis titles appearing on the list, but it was not to be.

I’m not going to lie to you: I was a bit disappointed. I’ve just finished writing my first Canada Council Block Grant this past week, and I could have used the pick-me-up. Grant writing, I’ve discovered over the last few years, is one of the primary functions of a Canadian publisher; though I’m now writing about 10 -12 a year between press and magazine, they don’t seem to get any easier. I find the whole experience both depressing, frustrating and exhausting. As I’ve said elsewhere, there are times I feel more like a minor functionary in the literary bureaucracy than a publisher, and this week — paring down my contribution to Canadian literature, my artistic vision and editorial excellence, my management and 3-5 year plan to approximately 1500 words — I was feeling particularly bureaucratized.

But it’s also not Martin Levin’s job to give me a timely pick-me-up. It’s his job, in this section, to list the 100+ books he and his crew considered among the best of 2007, and if Biblioasis titles couldn’t crack that line-up, in their opinion, than they shouldn’t be there. I might respectfully disagree — and, trust me, I do — but that’s about as far as it goes.

What gets Wells’ goat, however, is what he sees is as a backhandedly condescending comment in Martin Levin’s editor’s column about the list. (“Have we given small presses their due? This year, I would say: Probably not.”)

What sticks in my craw a bit is what seems to me the underlying assumption of Levin’s example. It suggests that quote-unquote small presses operate on some different, likely lesser, level. That the criteria used to judge a book published by a smaller house is not the same — and may need a touch more generosity — than that of the larger presses. We’re the country cousins and provincials who don’t know what all the silverware is for and drink from the finger bowl. I fear it indicative of some belief that quote-unquote small presses need to be, in some fashion, propped up. That their best books can’t stand up on their own.