I’m about to write something incredibly insulting to a great number of people who are complete strangers to me. I will post this on the internet where such screeds are, shall we say, plentiful. Please do bear with me, for my statement is not borne of hubris or disrespect but is rather wholly a product of ignorance. Surely I earn brownie points for at least admitting such a failing.
As the epitome of a wannabe writer, that being someone who has been told by enough friends that they “should write a book” that they start thinking “hey, maybe I should write a book” but in the subsequent years of thinking exactly that has written precisely nothing remotely resembling of a book, I have spent a fair amount of time “researching” literary awards on the web. It’s an interesting avenue of inquiry while also providing a mildly applicable excuse for procrastination. I may not be writing books but look, I’m reading about books other people have written and not just any books, award winning books. Smug harrumph with arms folded across my chest for emphasis.
Of all the major awards I’ve looked into, from the prestigious (Booker, Giller, Pullitzer) to the niche (Hugo, Nebula, Aurora), the one that intrigues me most is the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour. This prestigious but probably not universally known award is given annually to the best book of humour in English by a Canadian. As an English speaking Canadian I am already halfway to winning. I’m arguably humorous, based on the kind feedback from a handful of loyal family members and valued friends, which pushes me to the three quarters mark with no greater effort than my existence. By my calculations, all I have to do is write something and the Leacock Medal, along with the $15,000 prize money, is mine for the taking.
As I perused the past winners dating all the way back to 1947, expected heavyweights of Canadian letters like Davies, Mitchell, Mowat, Richler, and Berton, were found dribbled in amongst a roster of authors I’d never heard of. Others like Atwood and Kinsella were shortlisted, often multiple times. In the more recent decades, several CBC radio personalities, such as McLean and Black, have won multiple times by simply publishing their broadcast essays. Delving further into finalist lists showed that even when they didn’t win they were typically a finalist. Even offerings from Red Green had made it to the shortlist stage. Still, by far, the names populating the Leacock Medal Wikipedia page were completely unknown to me.
Considering that most of the aforementioned heavyweights are deceased, I began thinking this must be the easiest major literary award in the world to win. All one need do is put in a small effort to avoid publishing the same year as a CBC radio personality and then sit contentedly by your living room window and await the arrival of the oversized cheque via Purolator. For those slow on the draw, this is the insulting part I warned about.
Since making that bold assertion, thankfully only internally, I’ve actually read some of the winning books and my understanding of this award has matured. First of all, some of them are actually quite good. Secondly, like all art, humour is wildly subjective and the pond from which eligible works for this award are fished is far deeper and broader than I anticipated. And thirdly, I’m a dumbass.
I remain, awakening notwithstanding, intrigued by this award and have thus challenged myself to a small task as a sort of penance for my regrettable pretension. The 2016 Leacock Medal for Humour shortlist was announced last week and the three finalists are Poles Apart by Terry Fallis, When the Saints by Sarah Mian, and Republic of Dirt by Susan Juby. The official Stephan Leacock Associates winner will be announced to a packed and adoring crowd at a fancy gala dinner on June 11th near Orillia, Ontario. I, on the other hand, will be announcing the official A Crock of Schmidt winner to a small number of half-interested blog readers on June 10th from my breakfast nook counter in Calgary, Alberta.
No, I will not be reading all submissions. I won’t even be reading the long list of finalists, though I have actually read one of them previously. This is meant as penance not persecution. I will read the three shortlisted works and review each on my blog before finally choosing the one I feel is the best English language humour book in our land. The winner will receive zero dollars because my blog still hasn’t earned $10 in over two years and no medal because the one I was going to give was made of chocolate and it didn’t survive the celebration of my chocolate avoidance resolution success.
And now, I must read!