Jessica Clark Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences
I spent Friday and Saturday last week at the Salon du livre de Montréal. If you’ve never been to Montreal’s Salon, it’s an absolutely incredible event – the largest in Québec. Other Salons also take place across Québec every year – it’s a whole system of events that connect the public with the books and authors they love. In Montréal, publishers, authors and readers take over the huge showroom floor at the Place Bonaventure, with thousands, possibly millions of books to browse. I’ve been before, and every time I attend I am overwhelmed by the event’s energy and enthusiasm.
I was there to meet with publishers who apply to the Awards to Scholarly Publications Program. I met with a number of French-language publishers; as always, I was deeply impressed by their passion for their métier. From relatively new publishers who are busy building a reputation for their houses, to seasoned publishers who are admired throughout the industry, all of them were clearly motivated by a love of good writing and important ideas.
I also attended a panel on L'avenir du marché du livre au Québec. At one point, a panelist lamented the relatively small and apathetic lectorat in Québec. As an Anglophone, I found this statement puzzling, even contradictory in the context of this extraordinary event. Nothing like the Salons exists in English Canada, and I wish it did! I think Québec’s annual celebration of books means that it has a better relationship with reading and a different appreciation of authors than the rest of our country.
Anyone can line up and have their favorite authors sign a book. They are real people, right there, who will talk to you for a moment or two, maybe answer a question about your favorite character or plot point. And they are also real people that you know, a family member, friend or neighbor, who has published a cook book, a local history or a collection of poems. And maybe because authors seem so “real” in this context, writing seems more “doable.” It’s not just the purview of some idealized author, living for the mot juste and freezing in a garret somewhere. It’s something done by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. And it’s to be respected, admired and supported.
This is something that gets picked up, along with the colourful bookmarks and picture books, by many of the children who visit the Salon with their schools or their parents. “Maybe this is something I can do…” You can almost hear those thoughts as they sail above the hum of the show room floor.