Nikolski, the debut novel by Quebec author Nicolas Dickner, has won the 2010 Canada Reads competition on CBC Radio. The book, which was first published in French by Éditions Alto in 2005 and then published in English by Knopf Canada in 2008 (with translation by Lazer Lederhendler), beat out runner-up The Jade Peony (Douglas & McIntyre) by Wayson Choy. Winning Canada Reads generally means a phenomenal increase in sales and profile for the winning book.
According to Vintage Canada publisher Marion Garner (Vintage publishes the book in paperback), Nikolski was a hit in Quebec, but English Canada was slow to warm to it. “[The win] is just terrific news because this book has deserved more attention since it was translated…. Now the entire country is aware of it and will invest in it,” she says, adding that she expects sales to go up by “100 per cent.”
In preparation for the win, Vintage recently reprinted the book. Though Garner wouldn’t divulge the size of the new print run, she revealed that 30,000 copies have been printed in total.
Vintage also had a second novel in the running for the 2010 Canada Reads crown – the 1996 bestseller Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald. Garner reports an elevation in sales for both books immediately following the Canada Reads shortlist announcement.
Dickner says he was overjoyed when he heard the news two months ago that his book had won. “We don’t have anything like [Canada Reads] in Quebec,” he says, adding that he was shocked at the amount of people that attended some of the lead-up events in Toronto. “Books very seldom get a second chance nowadays, so Canada Reads is really a unique opportunity to reach a wider audience.”
According to Dickner, he was too sensitive and fearful to listen to the debates himself. “I wouldn’t have been able to bear the punches and the blows to the book,” he says. “Paul Quarrington had the same feeling a few years ago. You’re [listening] to the jurors debating the books on air – you’re seeing something you don’t usually see in the awards.” He did, however, look at some of the online recaps after the fact. “After several years of being a writer I should be used to [criticism], but you never get used to it.”
Though Dickner didn’t expect to win, he wasn’t entirely shocked, because he knew that his on-air defender, editor and reviewer Michel Vézina, would be an excellent panelist, describing him as “very passionate about books, very clever, and a bookworm.”
Besides The Jade Peony, Nikolski beat out Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott (Freehand Books), championed by news anchor Simi Sara; Generation X by Douglas Coupland (St. Martin’s Press/H.B. Fenn and Company), defended by poet Roland Pemberton (aka. Cadence Weapon); and Fall On Your Knees, defended by athlete Perdita Felicien.
The five Canada Reads panelists all agreed that Nikolski is one of the more challenging reads of the bunch, partly because it doesn’t adhere to a traditional linear narrative. In the end, however, Vézina was able to champion the book for this very reason. Dickner, however, found it odd that his book succeeded with the same panel that booted off Coupland’s Generation X in the very first round. “There is something very classic and very experimental in what Douglas Coupland does,” he says. “It is very ironic that his book was the first voted out and that Nikolski got to win. We’re kind of lauding the fact that it’s unconventional, but that didn’t help Generation X.”
Dickner’s second novel, Apocalypse for Beginners, will be released in English by Knopf Canada in 2011. (It has already been published in French by Éditions Alto under the name Tarmac.) “We’re speeding it up a bit because of Canada Reads,” he says. Dickner is currently at work on his third novel.