What an amazing day at Canada Reads! Congratulations to Mark Sakamoto whose compelling family story, Forgiveness has been deemed the one book that Canadians should read to open their eyes! The winning book was defended by fashion icon Jeanne Becker through 4 days of raucous debate. Thank you to the CBC and their fabulous Canada Reads team who have done a stellar job organizing, producing and recording the debates – especially to Tara who has answered our questions and joined us on the CanadianContent Goodreads group. This team has inspired Canadians across our great country and outside our borders to pick up great books and celebrate reading! Thanks also to my daughter and my amazing book friends, who support and share my enthusiasm for CanLit and joined our CanadianContent contingent from Brantford, Guelph, Markham, Aurora, Kingston and as far away as Bermuda!
The excitement was palpable as the studio audience filled the seats bringing together readers, book clubs and students to celebrate the title fight. It is interesting to note that there was even a guide dog-in-training who may or may not have shared the enthusiasm – the dog slept right through the show!
After introductions of the panelists, the free agents (with no books to continue defending) had a chance to comment on their books and their experiences this week. Ali noted that the Canada Reads organizers in the control room likely fell of their chairs with Jully’s suggestion that book debates be held twice a year, or even every month since their are so many great books! Greg reflected on Precious Cargo being a celebration of special needs and how books like this change perceptions which is “what literature and reading is all about”. Mozhdah noted that The Boat People made her realize the reality of what her parents had gone through as refugees and how her experience is similar to Priya, a character in the book.
The remaining defenders repeated many arguments from earlier in the week with Jeanne showing her emotions, fighting back tears sharing her personal experience and feelings towards Forgiveness. I wish that she had shared more details about the books to prompt Canadians to really think about Mark Sakamoto’s maternal grandfather starving in a prisoner of war camp while his maternal grandmother started a family after being displaced to live in a chicken coop working in the prairie fields. These details would have provided additional strength to her arguments. Tahmoh was a strong, measured debater but spent a lot of time repeating the importance of difficult stories telling truth. While I don’t disagree, he too could have shared more anecdotes about American War and really dug into the character changes of Sarat. These arguments could have resonated with the other defenders who all expressed appreciation about Sarat.
Forgiveness “sheds a light on a shameful chapter of Canadian history” (Jeanne Becker)
Each defender had a chance to try and convince the free agent panelists and Tahmoh spoke of Romeo Dallaire’s insight that the “the greatest weapon of mass destruction is child soldiers” while Greg countered that he was looking for hopefulness. I struggled with Jully’s comments that “white Canadians” are privileged and “sit in their cottages and homes, swipe their visa cards to make donations”. She later spoke of gaining allies in working through the issues of indigenous and black Canadians but her statements judging “white people” do not inspire working together (with her). Regardless, we need to continue to appreciate and support the diversity that makes Canada great! I appreciate Jully’s passion but her aggressive attitude was not engaging to a group of readers who were not only enjoying diverse books but supportive of the rights and freedoms of Canadians during a time when Canada works to atone for historical decisions through actions like the Truth and Reconciliation report. Tahmoh moderated her comments by expressing the need to stop the cycle of mistakes and inspire action to move forward through hearing the stories. I can’t agree more. He later commented he wants to read Wab Kinew’s book, The Reason You Walk and I would encourage his to also read the memoir Up Ghost River by Edmund Metawabin. From a fictional perspective, I would also suggest reading anything by my favourite author, the late Richard Wagamese – especially The Medicine Walk, Indian Horse or Ragged Company.
Here are a few highlights from the finale debates:
- “we have the power to change our minds” (Jeanne) opting to live and to live with compassion and positivity which the world needs right now.
- Tahmoh shared that forgiveness is only one aspect relating American War indigenous issues and a truth that needs to be heard.
- All the panelists did root for the character of Sarat who was radicalized.
- Tahmoh’s – grade 3 teacher called in to congratulate and support him.
- Moses Znaimer (City Tv) brought Jeanne to tears when he called prompting to Jeanne to comment on him being an amazing mentor and that being on Canada Reads was an emotional stretch “like nothing I have ever imagined”.
The debating ended with a positive moment when each panelist shared what they appreciated about each of the remaining books. For Forgiveness the comments included:
- Jully liked following Grandpa Ralph’s story as well as appreciating the aspects of mental health included.
- Mozhdah appreciated “just about everything” as the story was from the heart and “so powerful, so magical, so exceptional”.
- Greg’s highlight was reading Grandpa Ralph’s story and his eyes were opened to Ralph’s struggle in the POW camp.
- Tahmoh related that he can relate to coming from two opposite cultures understanding what it is like to love an alcoholic.
The comments for American War included:
- Mozhdah shared that although it was dark and difficult to read she liked Sarat “and the way way Omar El Akaad has created this world and flipped things around, I thought that was a genius move”.
- Greg found the book to be a “page flipper” that was “wildly entertaining”. Although it “did not fit my world view, the message is important”.
- Jully felt a connection with Sarat’s father leaving for work having grown up with Caribbean descent where many father’s had to leave to find work.
- Jeanne commented that it was “well written, very visual and very cinematic”.
Towards the end of the debate, each defender was granted 30 seconds to make a final statement:
- Forgiveness is “a book about healing oneself before we have the power to go on and grapple with the big picture” (Jeanne)
- “We have to hear the hard stories” and he “encourages all Canadians to tell their true stories”. He ended with a quote from Sarat “when I was young, I lived by the sea with my father and my mother and my sister. I was happy then”. (Tahmoh).
Mark Sakamoto joined by phone and tearfully thanked Jeannie, laughing that his earlier promise of sending her to Milan was really a joke. He shared that he owes her a “debt of gratitude” and shares this win with her parents who are holocaust survivors”. Jeanne was able to comment on “what a ride” the Canada Reads experience had been saying:
“as much as something might scare you… just do it! put yourself out there”
Ali wrapped it all up noting that all 5 defenders were clearly out of their comfort zones this week as he encouraged “get reading Canada”!
For those of us in the studio audience, we were treated to a visit from Mark Sakamoto and his family. He had time for a few book signings and pictures before he was whisked off for interviews. I also had time to meet Ali and have a chance to sit in his chair… Move over Ali Hassan!!!
If my readers have been following the YouTube recordings of the show, you may have seen the Question and Answer sessions that continued after the radio and television broadcasts ended. It was particularly refreshing to hear the great questions from young readers which provided more insight into the Canada Reads experience.
In reflecting on comments that it is the best time to live in Canada, a question arose relating to avoiding a dystopian future. Comments included:
- Canada is passive and needs to speak up (Jully) noting that she feels the need for allies, “especially privileged allies that are not afraid to say something”.
- Mozhdah shared she lives a double life, living a privileged life in Canada while seeing despair and oppression in the Middle East and war zones.
I always love knowing what others are reading and a question came in from twitter asking what the panelists are reading next:
- Tahmoh shared that his father a voracious reader who constantly gives him book. Next up is Wab Kinew’s autobiography.
- With Tahmoh’s recommendation, Greg is going to read Romeo Dallaire’s book and was warned that to read this traumatic book it is important to be in the right place as it is the heaviest book he had ever read.
- Jully plans to read the bible and learn lines from a script.
- Jeannie is looking forward to Tina Brown’s book, Vanity Fair Diaries to find some levity and plans to reread her parents memoir, Joy Runs Deeper as she “owes them a big debt of gratitude for bringing her up to see the world the way she sees the world”.
- Mozhdah has a lead role in Red Snow, a Canadian film, so is reading a script and also needs to fact check a book being written about her. She also has plans to select another pile of books like the Canada Reads selection.
CanadianContent member, Srividya got to ask a question about non-fiction and biographies versus finding truth in fiction:
- Tahmoh loves fiction, he states that some stories are based on historically accurate things and that his book choices depend on his mood since “books are all about reading them at the right time”
- Mozhdah found so much truth in American War and The Boat People yet loves biographies and true stories.
- Jully commented on the power of vision, dreams and keeping minds open.
- Greg said that he never reads fiction and had questioned whether The Boat People was fact or fiction as it seemed so real.
A 12 year old twitter fan asked what the defenders found to be their favourite thing about the week:
- Jeanne – getting to hang out with great people, making connections and working with the people behind the scenes as it takes a village to make a show like this.
- Greg also commented on the characters around the room and the fun he had making fun of Ali.
- Jully commented on how those about those around the table, or perhaps all of us in the studio saying “we are Canada”.
That is it for my blog posts on Canada Reads. It has been a whirlwind week and I am so grateful to have spent time in the studio for the opening day and finale. It is an exceptional way to share a love of books and I look forward to Canada Reads in 2019!!!
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