It has been an exciting week for book lovers across Canada! Over a million listeners have tuned in to Canada Reads to witness the drama, frustration, excitement, passion, laughter and enthusiasm for 5 great books. Many Canadians have been reading and discussing CanLit, the studios were filled to capacity each day and social media was busy with tweets and posts about Canada Reads!
As many of you know, I am a big fan of the CBC and love following Canada Reads which has been described as a ‘title fight’ but really is a cross between an awards and a game show. Each defender took their job seriously to defend their book and used different strategy to determine the one book that all Canadians need to read right now including strategy to eliminate the strongest book (in my opinion), The Break on the very first day.
The finale began with Chantal speaking about her experience defending The Right to be Cold (the one book that I am still wading through the details but plan to finish). She expressed that it had
been difficult to defend from Los Angeles while her son was hospitalized. She felt that she “failed” and that while Company Town and Fifteen Dogs are “tremendous artistic triumphs” she was not voting for “what book Canada needs to bring to the beach”. She felt that it is important to have patience to read about climate change and clean water. While I totally agree that it is important to support climate change, I am still stuck on the minutia of Sheila Watt Cloutier’s life and all the names, acronyms and minute details of each organization and meeting that she attended. It is insulting to think of both remaining novels as ‘beach reads’ as they both had substance and were beautifully written prose, not the fluff that one would take to the beach.
Jody and Candy were given one more opportunity to talk about their eliminated books as well. Jody shared that “at some point in your life you will be faced with a decision of who you are and where you want to go” and that his book, Nostalgia will “give insight” into those decisions. He felt that it was an interesting discussion on the direction that society might be heading. Candy spoke passionately about The Break which is a painful story of Metis women yet demonstrates how “family can hold you up even in your darkest times”. This book exemplifies the lasting effects of colonization and I agree with Candy that it is an important read for Canadians from the perspective of 10 different narrators.
The defenders of the final 2 books got a chance to speak about their books as well. Humble reiterated the importance of Fifteen Dogs representing the need for Canada to reconcile itself and that it is ok to start over. Canada celebrates differences and diversity. Measha read a final comment from Tamara Taylor who had originally chosen Company Town having to step away and be replaced by Measha. She read that her book had to ability to “educate as well as entertain” and described a future “I could see, touch, smell and fast”. The main character, Hwa, had been born with flaws which “are ultimately the thing that made her unstoppable”.
Round 1 addressed the need to project the voices of the voiceless and Humble spoke to how qualities of humans such as “jealousy, resentment, violence, frustration” are part of human nature and we need to forgive ourselves and accept that they are part of our nature. Chantal expanded that we need to “slow down and forgive yourself first”. Measha spoke to how sci fi can be “persuasive way to get people of all walks of life, young and old, to talk about these issues of climate change” and that Company town provides a symbol of what could happen to Canada if we don’t fight for its’ collective soul. It was interesting to learn that all of the technology in Company Town exists in its’ infancy stages.
The audience was treated to the secrets of winning from past Canada Reads defenders including: bribery, luck, preparation, psychology, mind games and the fact that it “always feels like the right book wins in the end”. This was followed by Round 2 which was to determine which book was best written. Highlights including the fact that Candy had the audience laughing saying that Fifteen dogs was best by a “dog hair” stating that his prose was beautiful with an imaginative way of showing the reader things while she is not an avid science fiction reader. Chantal felt both were “phenomenally written”.
Round 3 had the remaining defenders discussing the themes of trauma, the environment, climate change and technology which were important to the defeated defenders. This was followed by the “Canada Needs a Hug” part of the show where Humble and Measha were asked to share something nice about the other’s books. Humble enjoyed the setting of Company town and acknowledge how important it is to notice patterns of society to write a believable futuristic setting. Measha felt more human and recognized that the behaviours of the dogs exist in herself and are a perfect image for humanity.
Each had an opportunity for a final remark and Humble noted that the “essential theme is happiness” and at the end of the day he said (spoiler alert):
“one dog, the poet Prince dies happy. He does not die happy because of his circumstances, he dies happy because of a change in his mindset. Everyone in this room can understand the recipe to happiness is not what happens to you buy how you deal with what happens to you”.
Measha talked about Madeline Ashby being the “new voice in Canadian genre fiction” and reiterated that it is “not Canada ReReads but it is is Canada Reads” making the point that Fifteen Dogs has been widely read and celebrated. She ended with the fact that Hwa is a “woman who is vulnerable even thought she kicks ass”!
In the end, the votes were tallied, all but one (Measha’s) voted to eliminate Company Town leaving Fifteen Dogs to be the one book that Canadians need to read right now!
“In the end, the poet died happy” (Humble)
For those listening on the radio, they heard Andre Alexis speak to the amazing Humble the Poet with Humble noting that when they had met to discuss the book, they did not talk about it other than Alexis sharing the pronounciation of some of the dog’s names. For those of us in the audience, we had the chance to meet Alexis and our group was lucky enough to get our books signed and pictures.