Lead book reviews of non-fiction Canadian titles no longer pour off the pages of our big city newspapers. Instead, reviews usually cover fiction — that’s what gets a literary editor excited, and most of Canada’s major literary awards are for fiction. Non-fiction books that do earn reviews often are from American or British authors/publishers, and the subject matter tends to be intellectual or far out — not books enjoyed by typical Canadian readers. The craze for fiction is evident in the Toronto Star of September 19, 2010. In its “Insight” section (the Star no longer has a book section, but does reviews in this catch-all pullout), 7 of 8 new books reviewed/mentioned are fiction. The sole non-fiction is Anna Porter’s new title, which is guaranteed a review no matter what (a week later the Star featured four more new fiction releases, so non-fiction books don’t stand much of a chance with this paper).
In its September 18 Saturday edition, the Globe and Mail (also no longer with a dedicated book section) ran an item headlined “10 books you must read this fall”, first choice (can you believe this) being Margaret Trudeau 2nd memoir about all her life’s problems. This is followed by an aethiest’s vision of morality, a “mixed media” poet’s view of the universe, etc. There’s little in this book editor’s list to catch the eye of any ordinary Canadian book lover, other than (maybe) a book by an American futurist predicting things to come in the Arctic, and one targeting Stephen Harper yet again as the anti-Christ. In the following pages are 7 reviews of fiction, then 1 each of children’s, social studies, history and crime books, 2 of which are from American publishers. One book — The Wave — is palmed off on us as a Canadian book (Doubleday Canada, says the review), but it’s really by an American author and published by Random House of New York. So give us a break here on what’s Canadian, Mr. Book Editor.
The National Post also runs book reviews in a catch-all section. In its September 18 edition, the book editor leads with a full page of fiction coverage. The next page reviews a new piece of social commentary described as “not your typical self help book”, then the book editor continues with coverage of something really important to Canadian readers — a bio about American folk icon Bob Dylan. A new David Suzuki effort gets half a column — another book guaranteed a review no matter what. More fiction and two more American non-fiction books then are covered, one of the US items being something cut-and-pasted from the New York Times. And to catch up a bit … in the Toronto Star of Sunday, August 7, 2011, all 7 books reviewed are fiction and barely a one is Canadian. Of course, reviewing fiction is ever so simple – no great intellect or hard work is required. Air-heads have a ball with this stuff and it helps them feel smart. After all, this is the “literary critic’s” totally dumbed-down, lazy bones, comfy little life, right! So what hope for any local, regional or national Canadian non-fiction book publisher — good luck, eh!
Thank goodness that there still are a few exceptions among reviewers, one of whom is Mike Filey of the Toronto Sun. Mike, who has an eye for what readers really want, loves a good new Canadian non-fiction book. Decades ago he did lead reviews of such CANAV best sellers as The Avro CF-100 and The De Havilland Canada Story. Here is Mike’s succinct take on our new title from The Sunday Sun of September 13:
Fans of the International Air Show, and aviation buffs in general, will find the newest book in Larry Milberry’s Aviation in Canada series fascinating reading. Titled Evolution of an Air Force this profusely illustrated hardcover volume records the history of the Canadian Air Force and Royal Canadian Air Force (the “Royal” preface added in 1924) during the two world wars as well as the part the RCAF played on the “home front” during the uneasy and frequently disheartening 1939-1945 era. For details on how and where to purchase this book visit www.canavbooks.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.