Presentation of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction
Toronto, Monday, March 5, 2012
My wife, Sharon, and I are delighted to be here today in the company of so many outstanding literary talents.
I have been looking forward to this occasion, not least of all because I have long been an advocate of reading and the vital role it plays in our society. More often than not, I have a book in hand—often more than one. In fact, my grandchildren call me “Grampa Book,” and not without just cause.
I am constantly sharing books, stories and quotations. My predecessor, Vincent Massey, was a passionate advocate of literacy and literature in Canada, and I share his belief in the power of books to elevate individuals and societies as a whole.
Like these awards, which recognize non-fiction works of great literary merit, Massey paid special attention to the quality of books, to the style of writing, and to language most especially. He referred to language as “the mainspring of human affairs, that special mark of humanity by which [we] stand or fall.”
To some, this may seem like an exaggeration, but it is above all through the clarity and force of language that we are able to communicate with, and therefore comprehend, each other.
In today’s interconnected world, our ability to form and communicate ideas and stories clearly is critical to our well-being. And despite our technological advances, nothing transmits the depth and detail of our experience and learning like a great book.
Great books change our lives for the better.
Or, as Alberto Manguel wrote:
“Life happened because I turned the pages.”
This year’s shortlisted works range widely in subject matter but are united by “the excellence in style that is the basis of communication in thought” that was both practised and prized by Charles Taylor.
Today, we shine a spotlight on you, our leading non-fiction writers. Your remarkable books have entertained and enlightened us. Your curiosity, imagination and dedication to the written word have enriched our culture and our country.
Looking over this year’s shortlist, I am once again amazed at the literary talent of Canadians. This year, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Governor General’s Literary Awards, and I am pleased to be here with you as the Charles Taylor Prize enters its second decade.
Canada is known around the world for the quality of its literature, and this prize plays an important, nurturing role in the genre of literary non-fiction.
On behalf of all Canadians, I offer my sincere thanks and congratulations to the supporters and creators of great literature in Canada.
Bravo to you all!