Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Books As Personal Identifiers

What we read says a lot about who we are, or at least about who we want people to think we are. I read Wired and BBC Breaking News' Twitter feed and Silicon Valley Insider's Twitter feed (bit of a trend, there -- headline-surfing is much easier when everyone's limited to 140 characters) and romantic suspense and paranormal romance and science fiction and fantasy written by rationalists and webcomics. Those say a lot about who I am as a person - I like up-to-the-minute technology and thought, and I'm an old-fashioned romantic at heart.

Sometimes, though, I'll cave to boredom or a weakness for shiny advertising and pick up a book that's 'in' right now. The other night before a meeting in the Starbucks in Chapters, I was seduced by the New and Hot shelf near the door and looked at The Sentimentalists. A Giller Prize winner, it is also the product of small press: the initial print run was 800. It's a testament to the power of literary awards in Canada, to the fact that story still trumps all the gimmicks in the world, that I was able to find the Nova Scotia-printed small-press novel in Chapters in Victoria less than a year later.

The win for The Sentimentalists also says a lot about who we are collectively as readers. Introspective and focused on the past, it also tries to make sense of war and human relationships: current, universal issues more easily approached through veils of fiction and historical context. It says that we as readers want to know more about how everything works in our own psyches.

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