Canada Reads 2017 Notes on the finale


Today was the showdown between Company Town and Fifteen Dogs (linked to my reviews) to see which book would be the winner of Canada Reads 2017. Which book is the one all Canadians need to read right now?

So, on to today’s debates, trundling down the final stretch.

The three eliminees spoke about their books one last time.

Chantal felt she failed at her job to convince that it was the book that everyone needs to read. There are so many serious social issues rearing their heads and people need to have the patience to read about them. Jody explained that Nostalgia will help you make the choice on who you are and where you’re heading. It might be set in the future but it also reflects on where our society may go. Candy said her book was about family, women’s connections, and the effects of colonization today. There are a lot of different perspectives from several generations telling the story.

The two finalists are introduced and we are ready for the first debate with a 60 second defense. Humble reminds us that we are a diverse country, “we don’t tolerate our differences, we celebrate them.” The book allows us to forgive ourselves for these struggles. Measha read a statement by Tamara Taylor who was originally meant to defend Company Town. Measha had replaced her a few weeks ago. Tamara talkd about how effective stories educate and entertain. This book touches on old themes but in a sharp, new way.

How does Fifteen Dogs project the voices of the voiceless, something Humble stated yesterday? There was a discussion about so many different characters in the dogs, with many different dynamic relationships. There are a lot of negative emotions that we have to deal with and by facing them, we can also forgive ourselves. Chantal is impressed with what he just said and talked about the idea of forgiveness.

How does Company Town educate and entertain? Measha thinks science fiction can get a discussion going for people of all ages to talk about various issues. It’s a cautionary tale that actually relates to climate change with regards to the oil bubble. Jody thinks scifi makes you think “bigger”. New technologies today have been developed from older scifi and lend themseleves to what’s possible in the future. Issues in CT currently exist in their infancy and this is where it could end up, a speculative future vs. projected future based on the truth of now for things such as climate change.

We heard a quick audio on past winning panelists and what they think the secret to winning is. Words such as luck, preparation, relate your own experience, psychology, mind games, the need to understand the otheres’ motivations.

In the next round, everyone was asked which of the two books was the best written. (and I’m paraphrasing the speakers here)

Candy, with biases, likes both but leans to Fifteen Dogs but only just, because she’s not a science fiction fan and is a dog person though did admit to liking the story of CT better which she thought had gorgeous and sometimes unexpected prose. Chantal allowed it was difficult to answer. CT is entertaining and vividly written, where FD is quite fluid and flowing. Jodi was asked what is more important, good writing or a good plot. He thinks if it’s not well written, it’s hard to get into the plot (I agree…DaVinci code, anyone?), sort of like video with bad sound. For Measha, the plot hangs on good writing and it helps the plot advance with a good turn of phrase. She loves the precision of the succinct language to get to the point. For the book with the most satisfying ending, Chantal liked CT for the heat at the end. Candy was let down by the endings of both final books.

Regarding the theme of the one book that canada needs now, the two finalists had to convince the three free agents that what matters to them is found in their book.
Humble spoke about trauma and healing, human nature and emotions, mentioning how the dogs were brand new to intelligence and found it traumatic and intense. Measha sparked a discussion on mysogeny in FD, thinking that the one female character wasn’t enough. With CT, Hwa, a strong female, is central to lives of the men in her life. The discussiong surrounding mysogeny threatened to become controversial with a question about reverse racism. Ali jumped on that and deftly moved the discussion onward to environmental concerns. Chantal happy to hear they did consider envionment effects in the books. The conflict in CT with Hwa getting new body to survive was touched on as was the pack leader dog Atticus’ wish to start over and make changes. There was also talk about the past and the future influencing each other.

There were some audio messages from the authors, Madeline Ashby and Andre Alexis, thanking their defenders.

Ali then charged the two finalists to say something nice about the other book. Humble liked the setting of Company Town and admired the use of current patterns to create the future. Measha thought Fifteen Dogs made her feel more human, bringing up ideas she hadn’t thought about ie. poetry, love and even the violence. It was a perfect image of humanity in general.

They each had a few last words to say before it came down to the final vote. In the end, Company Town had four votes against, with Fifteen Dogs only the one from Measha as you would expect.

Fifteen Dogs wears the crown.

No real surprise, I have to say. I  could see it coming all week. Well done to Humble the Poet for his fantastic defense.

It’s been interesting watching the debates all week. Last year was the first year I paid any attention to Canada Reads and had not read any of the books. This year, I’ve read all but one. It’s a lot better when you have, because you know what the panelists are referring to and you can become much more engaged with the debates. There seemed to be a bit of difficulty trying to differentiate between the issues that the books presented and trying to show *how* each book presented the issues and why each book was the best one to do that. Voting was often a matter of strategy rather than how the panelist actually felt but that’s part of being competitive, I think. If you know that The Break is the strongest book, you aren’t going to want to see it up against the book you’re trying to defend because you want your book to win.

The panelists were all very different personalities that often clashed. Humble the Poet seemed to be the Voice of Reason, always dignified, kind, calm, yet always stood his ground. Candy Palmater seemed to want to keep everyone on a politically correct path when it came to issues she personally promotes (Indigenous people, feminism). Jody Mitic seemed a little out of his element but also really believed in what he was defending. Measha Brueggergosman was well prepared and entertaining, she was down to earth and even tempered and passionate. (I should have realized she was a Maritimer!! She was born and raised in New Brunswick.)  Chantal Kreviazuk seemed overly defensive at times but she was also under a lot of personal stress, having a child ill in the hospital and it shows her integrity in an admirable light that she participated remotely rather than back out of her commitment at the last minute. Nobody would have blamed her if she did. The host, Ali Hassan, did a fantastic job herding the cats and dogs and keeping order when things got heated.

I will definitely look forward to this every year and try to read as many of the books as I think I will enjoy. I’ve also read Quantum Nights by Robert J. Sawyer which was on the long list and there are a few more from the long list I would like to read as well.

You can find more information about Canada Reads on the CBC website, where they also have lists of past short lists and winners. No matter what your interests are, you will find some good recommendations there.

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