Tag Archives: bestsellers

An Evening with Michelle Good, Author of Five Little Indians

Michelle Good, author of the award-winning novel Five Little Indians, will be visiting Vaughan Public Libraries via Zoom on Tuesday, September 27, 7:00 pm, three days before the National Day for True and Reconciliation. I’m inviting all of you to join us for an evening of meaningful conversations. Please register now on Eventbrite!

Five Little Indians has received phenomenal success, for many good reasons. First, for a book that deals with such a painful, heavy topic, it is surprisingly readable and captivating. Michelle has chosen a unique focal point. The book does here and there describe the devastating suffering that the residential school children had to endure, but the horrific crime that happened in the residential schools is not the focus of the book. Instead, the book emphasizes the hardship that the five protagonists had to struggled through while they tried to make their way into the society after the residential school – the outright racism they still received despite they were finally speaking perfect English, the lost connection with their own family (both physically and emotionally), the mental trauma that continued to haunt them even after the cruel physical abuse had stopped … With precise and profound insights, Michelle has skillfully crafted five unforgettable characters, each with a unique story.

The five protagonists’ stories are all based on true cases. Michelle is a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She had worked for Indigenous organizations for twenty-five years before she obtained a law degree. She has been advocating for residential school survivors for over fourteen years. This direct experience with the residential school survivors offers a firm ground of solid materials for Michelle to build her characters and tell their stories.

The traumatic residential school experience impacted all Indigenous communities collectively, but the damage done to each individual is specific and none are the same. There is no way to simply create an “archetype,” so Michelle choses to sculpt five protagonists instead, and the detailed, vivid portrayal of these characters has clearly touched many readers. Michelle’s wise choice of using fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, has made this dark era of the Canadian history much more accessible to other Canadians or even international readers.

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We Need to Talk About BookTok

the song of achilles

Earlier this year I wrote about the hype machine and its influence on the book industry (and on our own subsequent reactions to the hyped books). In that post, I talked about how Instagram (“Bookstagram”), YouTube (“BookTube”), and Goodreads all contribute to the success of certain books. But, in my ignorance of the app, I neglected to pay tribute to the actual behemoth in the hype game: TikTok.  

Confession: as an organization comprised mainly of adults, staff at the library are not as TikTok-literate as some of our younger patrons. A lot of us were scratching our heads as to why, for example, The Song of Achillesa book published in 2011—currently has a combined total of 115 holds (and our neighbour to the south, the Toronto Public Library, boasts a total of 1911 holds). I mean, it’s a great book, but why the sudden burst in popularity? The story behind this is the same for titles like We Were Liars (2014), They Both Die at the End (2017), and One of Us is Lying (2017), which all have disproportionately long waitlists for how long they’ve been out. And the story is, to put it simply, that someone cried about them on TikTok.  

Influence on book popularity often comes from outside the literary world. At the library, we know that if a book is adapted into a film or television show, the hold list will jump astronomically (if anyone is still interested in reading the first book of the Bridgerton series, it looks like it’s finally available). Same thing happens when a celebrity endorses a book, or if an author goes on TV to talk about their work (this is particularly true for health-related topics like dieting and aging). So it’s not surprising that social media would be a similar force. But where Instagram users pitch books via artfully arranged, hyper-controlled, aesthetically conscious images, and where YouTube creators talk about books for anywhere from 5-30 minutes, TikTokers create short, quick videos pivoting almost entirely on emotional reactions: “books that will make you sob” is a popular topic, and often features people wailing dramatically into the camera. In an interview with the New York Times on the topic, the director of books at Barnes & Noble shared the following tidbit: “These creators are unafraid to be open and emotional about the books that make them cry and sob or scream or become so angry they throw it across the room, and it becomes this very emotional 45-second video that people immediately connect with.” 

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To Hype or Not to Hype

midnight library coverPicture yourself in this scenario: you hear about a book (maybe you see it on prominent display at a bookstore, or it’s topping the bestseller lists, or Reese Witherspoon picks it for her book club). You think, “that sounds like something I’d enjoy”. You join the waitlist at the library and you’re 95 people deep. Then, months later, you finally get to read the book and you think to yourself, “…that’s it?” (Infomercial voice) Has this ever happened to you? If so, you may have found yourself the victim of hype. Don’t worry, it’s a place we all find ourselves now and again—and some of us (cough me) find ourselves there repeatedly, all year long!  

This post was, of course, inspired by my current readwhich is The Midnight Library by Matt Haig—a book that has such a long waitlist at VPL that I’m only reading it now because I got a copy of it for Christmas. At the time of writing this, the book was sold out online at Indigo, no doubt helped by Dolly Parton mentioning that she’s reading it in a New York Times interview from December. The book also has a 4.22 rating on Goodreads, which, on scale of one to five stars, is quite good. I’m headed towards the end of the book, and I have to say: it’s…fine. Like, it’s not bad by any means. But nor is it particularly good? It’s just…fine.  

Falling prey to the hype machine is something most avid readers will experience periodically; there’s really no way around it. Hype is a double-edged sword: an excellent word-of-mouth promo tool, but also a bullseye for backlash. When I say “hype”, I don’t mean your friend who fell in love with a book and insists that you read it; I mean the cultural circus that surrounds a book sometimes well before it’s even released to the general public. It’s something that’s built up from the bottom; sometimes a book is a sleeper hit that no one predicted, but most of the time, a book is highly visible on purpose. If a publishing house thinks they have a title that the public will eat up, they really throw their back into that promo. So by the time it reaches our eyes and ears, the hype will have snowballed into something unignorable, forcing that book into your line of vision—you might not even know what the book is about, but you’ve heard it’s supposed to be good! Again, I’m not claiming this as a strictly good or bad thing. One could argue that, with the unprecedented volume of books available, hype can be a lightning rod for readers looking for a little guidance. It shortens the search process. “Here’s a book we think you’ll like”, it says—and truly, don’t we all love to hear that? 

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