Canada Reads 2020

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at 10.07.15 PMWhile the CBC studio was devoid of book loving spectators, it was full of discussion, passion, strong personalities…  and 5 great books!  Canada Reads is a wonderful event that is part game show and part literary event which gets Canadians reading and supports Canadian authors.  Does the best book win?  Well, it depends who you ask, but in the end, all the books win with exposure, discussion and media attention which is focusing on some of the struggles Canada is facing in 2020.

There was no shortage of discussions about the books, the panelists and the debates on social media.  It seems the people forget that the authors, panelists and the great team at CBC are individuals with feelings and have invested their time, energy and passions into their books, the debate and this “title fight”.

The 2020 books included:

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As always, it was an eclectic collection of books including 2 memoirs, 2 novels and 1 collection of short stories.

Small Game Hunting came with a trigger warming that “this might hurt, be brave” – and it certainly did but it told a fictional tale of struggle in the backdrop of a find dining restaurant in Newfoundland, with an order of misogyny, substance abuse, poverty, physical and sexual abuse.  This book was a challenging read, I read the beginning 3 times but it was well worth it and somehow seemed easier to read when I kept the author’s voice in my mind!

From The Ashes was an eye opening memoir of Jesse Thistle’s sad experience being in foster care, living with his grandparents and getting into drugs with led to addiction, homelessness, incarceration and further abuse.  I was so glad to know that he had lived through many of these challenges and was now a scholar as I read through the terrible situations that he experienced.

Son of a Trickster was a coming of age story filled with the magical realism of indigenous peoples as told by the delightful Eden Robinson, who’s infectious laugh I have written about before.  I have had the second book of the trilogy, Trickster Drift, on my shelf for far too long and need to get to reading it soon!

The second memoir (and winner of today’s finale), We Have Always Been Here,  told the story of a newcomer to Canada who was struggling to be free to be herself as a queer woman, despite her strict Muslim upbringing.  I can’t imagine being betrothed to a male cousin, yet knowing that she had a secret that was key to her being!

Radicalized was a collection of short stories touching on issues of race, pandemics and equality.  It was slammed for being more American focused in a time when we may be hearing enough about the dysfunction to the south of us.

All were worthy competitors and although I would have liked to see Small Game Hunting and From the Ashes in the finale, all the books are winners!!

Canada Reads is meant to be a competition to bring Canadians together, to get us reading and talking but unfortunately it did take a negative turn on social media.  Much of the controversy was about the gender divide.  Some viewers struggled with strong, assertive women objecting to Akil’s poor choice of words saying that Amanda had an “axe to grind” but it is a debate.  He needed to be called out and although it would have been nice for him to have more of an opportunity to defend his rational rather than being told that he was “mansplaining” but he was certainly not a victim!  What I particularly struggled with was George Canyon’s reaction to his book being voted of… saying “girls, girls, girls” to a group of grown women (no female children in sight)!  If this wasn’t bad enough, he compounded his patriarchal mistake by apologizing and trying to wipe away his misstep by saying he felt like the “dad”.  Really?  the dad to strong, adult women?  I hope that his daughter helps him to see the importance of being careful with his words and gives him some important advice.

I have struggled with the negativity on the CBC Canada Reads FaceBook page.  What should be a great place to discuss, has become toxic and there has been a lot of bashing of the assertive, strong, female voices by a few men (who themselves have been called trolls) and worse than that, there have been women bashing other women instead of supporting women who were speaking up to the patriarchy!  for those of you who might be on that group, let’s continue to add positivity to the site, for the benefit of readers, authors, defenders and the wonderful CBC crew who have likely spent countless hours preparing for the 4 day event!

I for one, am looking forward to the 2021 event and am hoping that CBC considers having a hunt for one book that brings Canadians together, that makes Canadians smile or that makes Canada (and the world) a better place!  It is time to set the stage for some positivity after a year struggling through the COVID19 pandemic and a time to support and be kind to each other!

For followers, a few questions to ponder or to comment on:

Did you read all the books?

What was your favourite?

What did you learn about yourself through reading or listening?

What are you’d doing to make the world a better place?

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March Book Blitz

27.  American Dirt (Cummins, Jeannie)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 10.48.31 AMDespite the raging controversy, American Dirt is a difficult book to put down. It starts with unbelievable violence that leaves Lydia and her son with one option, to take their chances on La Bestia (riding the rails) to escape the cartel which is searching for them.  The violence truly takes your breath away and leaves the reader feeling anxious and distraught as they race to the end, hoping for a positive outcome!

Lydia and her son try leave behind their grief and save themselves along with a motley group of migrants, each with their own devastating story. The price for their escape is high and the story includes rape, murder, theft and trauma…  I will never walk over a bridge without imagining these characters leaping down onto the top of a moving train!

While some have identified stereotypes within the text, the story does open readers to the experience of migrants as they gamble everything, including their lives, for a better life.  In the times of the “build a wall” American President (and I struggle to refer to that man as “president”), this book details the humanity and desperation of migrants through well-researched fiction that helps readers to have empathy for the refugees seeking a better life.

26.  Woman on the Edge (Bailey, Samantha M)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 10.59.16 AMThis mystery begins when a woman is frantically, handed a baby in a train station.  When she looks up she sees the woman, dead on the track.  Was it postpartum depression or was there a sinister plot? This novel will keep readers second guessing what is happening almost until the end.

For a debut novel, it was well written and suspenseful. It was a great palate cleansing read and can be read in a day.  The main character makes some decisions that leave the reader scratching their head but it is fiction and if you ignore a few of these choices, you will get carried away in the mystery.

25.  The Toll (Shusterman, Neal)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 11.03.42 AMI begrudgingly finished the final book in this trilogy.  I love to read along and discuss books with  the kids and started this series when my son read The Scythe for a grade 7 project.

The Scythe was a terrific tale, I enjoyed the second book but the finale seemed to fall apart.  It was a challenge to keep reading to the end but perhaps YA readers would have a different experience.

I would have liked to chat with my son about the challenges faced by Citra and Rowan, in The Toll,  but he only finished the first book of the series.

Not being a big fan of watching TV, I do think that this series would make a great movie trilogy!

24.  Rick Mercer Final Report

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 11.20.03 AMWho doesn’t love a great Rick Mercer rant?  The are are fun to watch and fun to read!  The rants are short, sarcastic and funny.  Written for him to orate in 90 seconds they are each 2-3 pages long and many focus on politics.

I had been looking for a lighter read from a Newfoundland author (after The Wake and Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club) and my friends on the CanadianContent group succeeded with a great suggestion.

I loved reading the sections describing his collaboration with Canadian singer, Jann Arden as well as the time that he spent with Pierre Berton as the 90 year old taught Canadians to roll a joint… and kept the extra weed!

This is a great book to read between more serious tomes… just reading a couple of rants a day is a fun reflection on Canadian politics and issues over the last decade.

23.  Radicalized (Doctrow, Cory)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 11.26.49 AMRadicalized was my last Canada Reads book and it was not an easy book for me to finish (or start, if I am honest) but it certainly was thought provoking.  It seemed prescient in a time when the world is struggling with homelessness, COVID19, cancer, racism and the disparity between the rich and the poor.

This book is a collection of 4 short stories and would likely be excellent fodder for book club discussions.  It is thoughtful and was well-written despite not being my go to genre.

As readers are aware, Canada Reads was postponed due to COVID19 (which feels like its’ own short story) and the debates will start on July 20th!  It will be interesting to see how this collection fares amongst strong fiction and a harrowing memoir.

22.  Thunderhead (Shusterman, Neal)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 11.31.58 AMAfter reading The Scythe along with my son who was reading this with his class, I kept going with the series.  I enjoyed the characters and the story helped me ponder a society where people can be fixed to the point of immortality.  Of course, the world can only support so many individuals so the solution is to glean!

I enjoyed the next instalment in the trilogy and look forward to The Toll. Reading YA is a relaxing type of read, with good fiction and an easier pace when the world which seemed the right choice as early March had us contemplating a potential pandemic.

21.  Flowers for Algernon (Keyes, Daniel)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 11.33.03 AMFlowers for Algernon is a thought-provoking story of Algernon (a mouse) and Charlie Gordon (a man with intellectual disabilities) who both experience increases in their intelligence following experimental surgeries. The character of Charlie is so vividly described as he learns about himself, reflects on past experiences, writes case notes and struggles to learn how to interact and live in his world with his new abilities to think and learn.

The book, published in 1966, uses the vernacular of a different time. As a child of the seventies, I recall classrooms called TR room, standing for the “the trainably retarded” and am glad that we no longer uses terms like “retard“, “retardate” and “moron” to describe individuals as they did in this book (and commonly a few decades ago).

My friend recommended this book, recalling that she enjoyed it in grade 10 (in the eighties) and it would be a great book to discuss in relation to understanding and treating others with compassion and respect. It was written in a time when students were segregated based on ability, unlike today where there are blended classrooms.

It is interesting to note that the author worked with students with special needs and was impacted by a student asking for help to “be smart“. According to wikipedia, it was rejected by 5 publishers and was originally written as a short story and later expanded to a novel. By 2004, it had sold over 5 million copies and been published in 27 languages. It was made into a film called Charly which won an Academy Award for best actor.

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20. Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club (Coles, Megan Gail)

Screen Shot 2020-07-04 at 10.46.00 AMAs everyone knows, I am a HUGE fan and supporter of Canada Reads.  Each year the CBC chooses 5 defenders who each choose a book to debate in the gameshow/literary prize program which I look forward to.  Canada Reads inspires Canadians to celebrate Canadian authors and the debates keep readers tuning in for the four day book showdown.  Each year, I challenge myself to read all 5 books and in doing so, am often delighted by books that I might not have usually picked up.  Sadly, the 2020 Canada Reads has been postpone due to COVID19.  The March dates have passed and it will now be in July.  I will miss being in the studio audience for the finale but am looking forward to the debates!

Although I read this book in February, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club deserves its’ very own post.  It was harsh, it did hurt but it was a terrific tale.  The story begins in the harsh, biting winter of Newfoundland and the story continued biting at the reader, like a storm,  as the dense prose delved into the lives of an eclectic group of flawed characters.  It starts with a warning: “This might hurt a little. Be brave” and you will have to read it through to see how it ends!

It is NOT an easy book.  I admit that I had to read the first 35 pages not once, not twice BUT 3 times but reader,  please perservere!  It is worth it!

After hearing Megan Gail Coles speak at the Canada Reads kick off, I could hear her voice as I read the dense prose of this story.  Her writing is amazing, readers can picture the characters who are all connected in very unfortunate ways.

If you have not read this book, now is the time to pick it up so that you can be prepared for the debates which begin on July 20th!

Posted in Book Club, Canada Reads, Canadian | Tagged | 2 Comments

February Book Blitz

As readers will notice, I have fallen behind in my posts.  Returning to work in February and the subsequent COVID19 pandemic have kept me distracted but I continue to read.  In an effort to catch up, I will do a few summary posts so that I am not clogging up emails with so many individual posts.

15.  Instant Loss:  Eat Real, Lose Weight (Williams, Brittany)

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Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not a big fan of cooking.  I like to throw things together quickly yet enjoy healthy meals.  Although I was a bit hesitant to use the instant pot, initially, with encouragement from my mom.  I did give it a chance and it is much different than the stove top version that I remember being a bit afraid of as a kid.

This great cookbook focuses on eating healthy, non-processed food. Like me, Williams  prefers quick recipes, with limited ingredients that can be thrown into an instant pot.

16.  How Full is Your Bucket? (Rath, Tom and Clifton, Donald)

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How Full is Your Bucket is a quick reminder of how important it is to share positivity, focus on strengths and praise others for a job well done!

This author has also written Strengths Finder 2.0 which was a great way to realize your own strengths and how to work with others who have different strengths.

 

 

17.  Scythe (Shusterman, Neal)

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 9.51.12 PMThe Scythe is a YA book that my son’s class was reading. It is an interesting concept… people can be fixed and live on forever by healing and resetting their ages.  The population can’t be too large so scythes are responsible for “gleaning” individuals based on statistics from mortal times.

Citra and Rowan are chosen to be apprentices to the scythes and learn more than gleaning as they come to understand the challenges and importance of the role of the scythe.

Although I might not have chosen this book, I did enjoy it and enjoyed discussing with my son catches up. It is a series so look for reviews of book 2 and 3 coming soon.

18.  Before We Were Yours (Wingate, Lisa)

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 9.54.30 PMBefore We Were Yours is a devastating story of adoption gone wrong, in the 1930s to 1950s, when children were removed (read stolen, kidnapped, unlawfully signed away) from their poor parents and adopted by rich families. The fictional story was based on historic situations stemming from the Memphis Tennessee Children’s Home and their wicked director, Georgia Tann, who profited from these adoptions. Children were not only kidnapped but were abused and even disappeared forever from these homes.

The topic was shocking and the fictional characters based on real situations. I struggled a bit with the “coincidences” in the story, particularly when elderly, May, stole the dragonfly bracelet starting Avery down the path of investigation.  Despite that challenge, the story does stick in one’s mind and make the reader realize how poorly children were treated in years past (think also of The Orphan Train or Home for Unwanted girls).

19.  The First Cell (Raza, Azra)

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 9.56.49 PMThis book was a very interesting examination of the importance of proactive screening.  It suggests that it would be advantageous to find cancer at an early stage rather than trying to cure cancer at later stages with such a great cost to healthy cells, finances and wellbeing. It examined individual cases (including the author’s spouse who sadly passed away from the same disease she studied and treated) and made me think of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.

As a health professional with palliative care experience, I still found it to be a lot of science yet it was eye opening.  I did find it curious that the oncologist had such a close relationship with her patients, on one hand it was likely reassuring but on the other hand seemed to cross boundaries when they went out for meals or shows.

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14. The Spy (Paolo Cohelo)

Screen Shot 2020-07-03 at 1.16.14 PMThe life of Mata Hari continues to be surrounded by mystery and intrigue.  The Spy was an interesting account of her life, known as a double agent and accused of sharing secrets between the German and the French during the war.  She was a dancer and an admitted prostitute who supported herself through the men she spent time with.

Was she a spy? or was she an independent women who used the means available to a woman in those days? This book shares that she was sent to the firing squad with little evidence to prove her guilt.

It was interesting to learn that after the firing squad, her head was removed and given to “the government”.   In the year 2000 it was discovered that her head was missing from the museum where it was kept.  The secrets, intrigue and mystery continues!

Coelho, most famously know for The Alchemist, has sold over 650 million copies of this (The Alchemist) fable as well as more than 200 billion books in 81 languages. Based on the jacket cover, it would be interesting to learn more about this author who is said to have “flirted with death, escaped madness, dallied with drugs, withstood torture, experimented with magic and alchemy, studied philosophy and religion, read voraciously, lost and recovered his faith, and experienced the pain and pleasure of love

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13. Everyday Ubuntu (Ngomane, Mungi)

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“Ubuntu is a Xhosa word originating from a South African philosophy that encapsulates all our aspirations about how to live life well, together. It is the belief in a universal human bond: I am only because you are. And it means that if you are able to see everyone as fully human, connected to you by their humanity, you will never be able to treat others as disposable or without worth.”

When I think of this book, the main message is to be kind, to be part of your community and to care for others.  Although I read this book prior to the COVID19 pandemic, it has such an important message in a time where we need to depend on each other as we deal with isolation and social distancing.

Written by Mungi Ngomane, the grand-daughter of Desmond Tutu, it is full of tips to be better neighbours, community members and family.

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12. The Wake (Linden MacIntyre)

Screen Shot 2020-04-19 at 11.11.24 AMDid you know that there was a tsunami in Canada?  It is hard to believe that a tsunami in Newfoundland is a piece of history that most Canadians are not aware of. The Wake describes the terrible tsunami, which was the aftermath of an earthquake, and then reaches far beyond that fateful day.    The book begins when 28 individuals, many of who were children, were swept to sea along with houses, wharves, boats and the livelihoods of a community. The fishing industry was decimated.

What happened next was worse, mining which caused a legacy of cancers and lung disease, wiped out generations of men who had little choice but to work in the mines to feed their families. Safety equipment and protocols were substandard, to say the least. The men didn’t even have hard helmets and were even drinking run off water in the mines. They had limited success fighting for wages, safety standards and support following workplace injuries.

While I enjoyed the history, it was hard to follow all the names of individuals and their families. A page with family trees might have been helpful but in the end, I didn’t worry about keeping track of the names and just immersed myself in the history with horror to the think of the generations of deaths that followed the tsunami.

I had been lucky enough to hear the author speak of this novel at the Grimsby Authors Series.  The story is personal to MacIntyre as his own dad had been a mine supervisor and died at a very young age. As I read the words, I could hear Linden MacIntyre’s voice and was continually impressed with all the detailed research he completed to write the story.

Please don’t read this story if you are looking for a happy ending.  We read it for our February book club and and the harsh reality of this small community was difficult (but important) to read.   While the story was bleak, we did enjoy some Newfoundland treats including pineapple crush, Purity gingersnaps, tea veas and jam jams (sourced at Stoyles Newfoundland Food Products in Cambridge and the purity snacks can also be found in Sobey’s stores, for some reason in the “international” food section).

Posted in Author event, Book Club, Canadian, Historical Fiction | 1 Comment

11. 101 Ways to Go Zero Waste (Kathryn Kellogg)

Screen Shot 2020-04-19 at 10.58.43 AMWith the thought of protecting our environment, in January, I read a library copy of 101 Ways to go Zero Waste.  Although full of good ideas, this book was really a review of similar zero waste books and reinforced what our family is already doing to save the environment.

We are already using shampoo bars (love the ones from LUSH), reusable vegetable and grocery bags and make our coffee (reusable filter) and tea (loose) at home.  We consider our purchases and are fastidious about composting and recycling.

One great idea, from the book, that i will try (once we flatten the curve and COVID19 is no longer impacting our day-to-day lives) is bringing my own container to  take out restaurants to reduce garbage.

Posted in Environmentally Friendly, Non-Fiction | 1 Comment

10. NDN Coping Mechanisms (Billy-Ray Belcourt)

Screen Shot 2020-04-19 at 9.54.53 AMFirst of all, I am disclosing that I am not the best connoisseur of poetry.  Sure I can still recite Stopping in the Woods on a Snowy Evening but I recognize that I am probably missing some of the beauty and education wound into these poems. I take full accountability (and admit that I prefer the narrative fiction and non-fiction) that it is me, not the material as the good reads ranking for this book are very high. To be absolutely honest, I just read it because it was on the long-list  for Canada Reads.

Although it was very artistic, creative and I appreciated the different formats, I struggled to maintain focus while reading these poems. The author clearly has a strong command of language and vocabulary but perhaps, I was just too tired to read poetry in January!

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9. Love Lives Here (Amanda Jette Knox)

Screen Shot 2020-04-19 at 9.18.39 AMWow!!  What a loving family. I am thankful that they were willing to share their story, their challenges, their knowledge and their love with others.

The author, Amanda, endured struggles in her teens – with bullying, alcohol.  She got treatment, met the love of her life,  had 3 children together – happily ever after, right?  No, life continued to throw challenges and when one of her children came out as transgender the family learned and supported their daughter through many difficulties, even moving schools, dealing with trolls yet always loving and supporting their child.

As their brave child worked through many challenges, Amanda’s husband was working though his own story.  He had been unhappy, depressed and the marriage was at risk.  A year later, he bravely admitted that he too was in the wrong body.  Not only that, they adopted a teenaged daughter who had been bounced around in the foster system sharing their love and becoming a family of 6!

As part of the Canada Reads long-list, it is another book that will move readers to a place of understanding and, hopefully, less judgement than seems to exist in society.   It did not win a place on the short-list I am thankful to have read, learned and witnessed the love of a family through this book.

Need to know more?  check out her website here.

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