There never was (or will be) a literary prize short list that everybody in the book trade can agree with. That’s natural enough, and the whingeing and gossiping helps to keep things lively while we wait for the eventual winners. The positive injustices (to coin a phrase) that occur aren’t all that disturbing—it’s hard to object to anyone, or at least to anyone new in the poverty-stricken world of Canadian writing, winning an award and a whack of cash. It’s the negatives that irritate, the superb books that don’t even get a short-list nod. And that’s why I love Richard Bachmann’s self-styled “annual correctives,” proof that Canadian literary recognition is not entirely like the weather: someone actually does something about it.
Bachmann’s Burlington, Ont. bookstore, A Different Drummer Books, has been handing out Drummer General’s Awards since 1993, fuelled by Bachmann’s “incredulity, occasionally tempered with outrage,” at what the national prize lists have laboured to gestate. Of course, I would be ineligible to take part in the national moaning if I agreed with every DG award—and, in fact, Deafening had all the attention it merited before its DG—but there’s no denying that Bachmann is on the side of the angels far more often than not. Consider 2002, when the fiction DG went to The Last Crossing, the Guy Vanderhaeghe masterpiece inexplicably ignored by both the Giller and the GG, or 2004 when Bachmann quite rightly honoured Patrick Lane’s brilliant and moving memoir, There is a Season.
This year he’s done it again: the non-fiction winner is Where War Lives by Paul Watson. It’s one of the finest Canadian books ever: beautifully written, scarifying and illuminating in equal measure, written by a man whose insanely dangerous journalistic work actually altered the course of international political history in the 1990s. And Watson’s reward for all that? To be shamefully ignored in his own country. So hurray for the Drummer General’s. Now, if Bachmann would only start adding some monetary value …
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