The biggest question of all is how have I never followed Canada Reads until now?
What the what?
For those of you readers, Canadian or otherwise, who don’t know what Canada Reads is, it’s a battle of the books type of competition where five Canadian books are chosen and each is represented by a celebrity champion. This is the 14th year the program has run (again – what the what?) and what I loved about watching the debate was the pure passion and intensity that came with each book. Come Thursday, I was checking my Twitter account like a sports fan wanting to find out the score. I had to know which book won! This year the panel were looking to find the best book to break down barriers and challenge perspectives.
Above are the five books that were chosen for 2015. Each breaks down barriers in its own way. To clarify up front, I have not yet read any of them (they are now ALL on my to be read list).
And the Birds Rained Down, defended by Martha Wainwright, shares the story of three elderly men who retreat into the woods to live on their own terms, challenging their age and their life’s purpose. It’s about living and dying with dignity, abandoning a society that does a disservice to the elderly. By all accounts it’s beautifully written and has that literary feel to it.
Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes, defended by Kristin Kreuk (yes, of Smallville fame), is a memoir about Kamal Al-Solaylee’s family leaving Yemen, moving to Cairo and experiencing the rise of Islamist extremism. This book spans many decades and is as much a social commentary as it is a personal one. Being a gay man, Al-Solaylee’s perspective on these countries is fascinating, given their intolerance for homosexuality. He moves to England and eventually makes his way to Canada, a country that Kreuk says he finally felt at home in. I won’t lie, it’s a hard book to do a short synopsis for, which is perhaps why it was the first book to be voted off.
Ru, by Kim Thuy, is about a Vietnamese woman who escapes Vietnam during the war, coming to Canada as a refugee. It plays in both the past and present, revisiting Ru’s memories of the horrors she saw in Vietnam, while in the present she is trying to cope with her son’s autism. Two very emotional, yet very different struggles. In all the debates it was focused on as the immigrant story, the barrier being immigration and integration into Canadian society. Nobody on the panel could argue about how beautifully it was written, describing it as a trailing kiss, but there were many arguments about the lack of intensity or immediacy as a barrier to break down in Canada.
When Everything Feels like the Movies is the first young adult book to ever make it onto Canada Reads! I’m new to the Young Adult genre over the last year, but it’s been a fantastic new relationship with reading. It was simultaneously praised for its cinematic qualities, but criticized for its frequent use of graphic language. The reason I gravitated to this book as my hopeful winner was purely down to the passion put forth by its champion, Elaine Lui (of Lainey gossip). When describing which barriers this book breaks down, she spoke of how this book was written following the horrific homophobic hate crime of 2008 where Larry Fobes King was killed by the boy who he asked to be his Valentine.
The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America is essentially a history book, but according to champion Craig Kielburger, it is the most accessible book he’s read on Aboriginal history. Eliminated on the second day (to the mother of all gasping audiences), that move created a fire on Twitter of Canadians announcing how important this book was. Kielburger highlighted that most Canadians would not know the facts in this book, and it is critical to read it to help inform our perspectives. If reading this book is anything like watching CBC’s 8th Fire was for me, I know it will change your opinions. I, for one, was taught a sanitized version of Aboriginal history in school. Not once did I hear about the atrocities of residential schools, not until I was in my early twenties.
And the winner is…
Having not yet read any of these books, I’m not going to make a judgement on the winning novel. Based on the arguments, would I have voted for a different book? Yes. But, what I think all of the panelists did a great job of was in highlighting the significance of each of these books. I have a strong desire to read each and every one, knowing each will impact me in diverse ways. I look forward to the books that will make me uncomfortable, push me outside my comfort zone and demand that I think differently.
The Canada Reads process is fascinating. Again, can’t believe that I didn’t know much about Canada Reads before 2015, but thank god I came to it in 2015 with a host as passionate and intelligent as Wab Kinew. What I do wish, and I saw this reflected on social media, was that there was a public vote incorporated into it. If this is about which book Canadians should read, let Canadians vote. Engage your viewers.
Canada Reads 2015 has challenged me. As a result, I’ve definitely taken a hard look at my to-be-read pile and decided that while I do need to keep some of my feel-good, escapist reads, I also need to challenge myself to incorporate more books that will create that discomfort, that deep thought and debate.
What about you? Did you watch Canada Reads? Which books are you eager to read? What would you have voted for and why?
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