World Book Day

April 23 is World Book Day. It’s been organized by UNESCO to promote literacy and publishing. The date traces back to Spain in 1923, where they wanted to honour author Miguel Cervantes who died on this date. Also, it’s the birth and death date of William Shakespeare. Wikipedia has an odd trivia fact about these two authors who died on the same date in 1616. Cervantes actually died 10 days earlier because Spain did not use the same calendar that England did (Gregorian Vs Julian). Not every country celebrates it on the same date but many countries do mark a date for it.

So today, read a book to or with your kids. Visit a library. Or why not read a classic book? I’ve got Rockbound by Canadian author Frank Parker Day on the go (stay tuned for review when I’m done). That was written in 1928 and takes place in a small fishing village on a tiny island off the coast of Nova Scotia, a kind of David vs Goliath story, Goliath being either the antagonist of the story or the force of the sea. Or both. I like to try to read a few classics ever year, either Canadian classics or others.

There is this list from CBC on the 100 Novels that make you proud to be a Canadian. There are a lot of great books on there, both by authors that are Canadian literature royalty and new, exciting authors. My favourites from the list are: Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald which I’m planning to reread this year, Annabel by Kathleen Winter, Galore by Michael Crummey (or anything by him), The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, The Outlander by Gill Adamson, and oh gosh, there really are a lot of good books on that list, and I’ve only read about a third of them.

There really are some great authors producing books of all types and genres. That’s the best thing about reading, there is bound to be something that interests you, be it fiction, non-fiction, graphic novel, audio book, magazines that will cover pretty much every topic under the sun. Reading improves your vocabulary, your imagination, your intelligence. You can learn from any kind of reading and you’ll never be bored if you have something to read.

 

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Canada Reads 2017 Starts Today

Canada Reads 2017 Defenders

Let the competition begin!

Canada Reads 2017 starts today, in a few short hours (11:00 a.m. Eastern, that means 12:00 p.m. Atlantic Canada, 12:30 in Newfoundland, 8:00 a.m. on the West coast. Check your local listings for other areas), and I’m excited about it.

You can watch it live online at the CBC Books site though I think the CBC site for streaming may possibly be country specific, meaning if you are not watching from Canada, you may not be able to watch the video on CBC’s site. They will also be streaming on YouTube and on their Facebook page. (see next paragraph for links) If you can’t watch the video, you should be able to listen to it via podcast. Here’s a link to CBC radio podcasts and one to iTunes.

To Watch: The links for today’s episode are here. The links will change each day and soon after the live episode, the video will be available for replay. CBC will also air it on television at 4 p.m. local time (in most of the various time zones across Canada, adding a half hour for Newfoundland 4:30 p.m.)

I may not get a chance to listen live during my lunch hour but I have the dvr set to record so I can watch when I get home later, just in case. I plan to blog notes on the daily competitions and post them the next morning.

The opening day doesn’t waffle around though there are initial introductions to the defenders, books and the competition. The defenders are always chosen with the idea that they should have very different voices from different aspects of society. They may be from the various arts, sports, political realms. They might be a journalist, a musician, an athlete, an actor. They need to be able to love the book they’ve chosen from a short list assigned to each of them and they need to read all the books chosen so that they can defend one and argue for others once theirs is voted out of the contest. They will be articulate and passionate.

This year’s defenders are:
Chantal Kreviazuk, singer/songwriter, defending The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier
Humble The Poet, rapper/spoken word artist, defending Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis
Measha Brueggergosman, opera singer, defending Company Town by Madeline Ashby
Candy Palmater, comedian/lawyer/broadcaster, defending The Break by Katherena Vermette
Jody Mitic, Armed Forces veteran, defending Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji

You can read more about them here. I’ve read all of the books (reviews linked in the above list) except The Right to be Cold and of the ones I’ve read, my favourite is The Break, with Company Town probably second favourite. It will be very interesting to hear the debates since the books are all so different. There are short trailers for each book here. 

Off to the races!

Canada Reads 2017

5 books. 5 defenders. Each day there are debates on the merits and points, defending their own book and picking apart the others, trying to negate the other points of view. Each day a book gets eliminated by vote. One book at the end is the winner. This year, there isn’t a particular theme but the point is to decide what book all Canadians should read.

There is a short opening argument from each defender of the books still in the competition each day. Then there are questions and points about each book to discuss. There is also often insight into the authors of the books as well. The defenders seem to often get a chance to talk to the author which gives them insight into the book and perhaps how to defend it.

Why should people read this book? How does it fit the theme of …(whatever, if there is a theme)? Which character shows the most courage/strength/ or other attribute? (if the defender’s book has been eliminated, they would speak about one of the other books) What did they love about the book?

2016 was the first year I actually watched a bit of the debates and participated in discussions in a Goodreads group. I didn’t read any of the books because they didn’t really draw me in.  There was a theme last year, “Starting Over”. This year’s long list had quite a few books I thought I’d like and I’ve read all but one of the shortlist that will be debated at the end of March. The books chosen for the competition are: The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis, Company Town by Madeline Ashby, The Break by Katherena Veremette and Nostalgia by M. G. Vassangi. I’ve also read one from the long list, Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer, before the shortlist was announced. There are 2 or 3 more I might try to get to over the year.

The Right to be Cold is a non-fiction book about global warming and the impact it’s having on northern communities. Fifteen Dogs is an allegory or sort of fairy tale about a group of dogs given the ability to reason like humans and how it affects their lives. It’s meant to reflect on humanity as a whole. Company Town is a dystopian future on an oil rig off the east coast. Technology has advanced to where you can change your body any way you want but one woman on the city of the rig is unable to due to an illness. She’s a bodyguard and a fierce warrior and must solve a murder mystery. The Break is a story about an extended family of Native women in Winnipeg before and after a terrible crime is perpetrated on one of them. Nostalgia is another futuristic book about being able to erase your past memories and install new ones while you live a very long time. Is that fair to the younger generations or those that can’t afford it?

They are all quite different and it’s unusual for science fiction/speculative fiction to be included but that’s actually what attracted me to the books. While it isn’t my favourite genre, I do enjoy that type of book. I’ve read all of the fiction books and I don’t plan to read The Right to be Cold because though I’m sure it’s a very worthy book, it’s not really something I think I’d enjoy. Mostly my non-fiction reading is either an autobiography/ biography or a history.

I think my favourite is The Break (review) and I think that’s going to be the favourite of a lot of people that read these books. It’s more relateable, with the women and the family dynamic and network of support they provide for each other. We also get the story behind the perpetrator of the crime which in its way is just as tough to read. It highlights racism and abuse and a number of other issues that not just Native families have to deal with but a lot of families in general.

My next favourite is Company Town (review).
I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the book and the main character, Hwa, who is tough and a survivor. She acts first, often violently, before thinking because she’s a physically strong woman who trained herself in order to help overcome an illness. Her mother rejected her and her beloved brother has died. She could so easily have gone down a very dark road of self destruction but she seems to want to do the right thing, protect people, right the wrongs, and she doesn’t let her disability keep her down. She’s got to be a bodyguard to the young son of the rich family that’s bought the oil rig, so big that it’s a city all on its own. The son may be a target but so might Hwa whose friends are starting to be killed. All the technology available isn’t going to solve the crime though it might help.

The book I liked the least was Fifteen Dogs (review). Two Greek Gods give these dogs the ability to reason as humans and we follow them as they cope with this new sensibility. It makes a difference to the pack dynamic and how other dogs see them. There are leaders and followers and victims. The gods have bet that with human reasoning the dogs will still die happy. If none of them are happy then one of the gods must be a servant to the other for a determined amount of time. There are apparently metaphors for humanity in general but I never get that sort of thing out of a book, not really. Some of it was ok, with the stories of a couple of the dogs and how they survive but the rest didn’t draw me in. Other people really loved it.

That’s the cool thing about books, it doesn’t matter if you love a book, someone else is bound to dislike it and that’s ok, too. Reading is very subjective. Different stories and characters for different personalities and interests.

Canada Reads will be live streamed on CBC Radio One and on CBC Books  at 11 a.m. Eastern time. (that’s 12 noon in Atlantic Canada and 8 a.m. in British Columbia, with the rest of the time zones as you find them). March 27 – 30 are the dates (Monday to Thursday) and they replay each day’s events on television that afternoon at 4 p.m. I think I better set up a recording!

Canada Reads 2017

Canada Reads is a CBC television show that promotes Canadian writers and books. It sets up a competion of books gleaned from a longer list, which are picked for a theme that changes each year. Five of these books will make the cut for the competition and will each be defended by a notable Canadian. One book will end up the winner with the others eliminated over the course of 5 days/episodes of debates. I was aware of this but last winter I paid more attention to it, and even watched a bit of each day’s debates.

I did find it odd that the show aired during the daytime with repeats in the evening. If you couldn’t watch during the day, you might get the results for that episode spoiled before you could watch in the evening. That was my only objection. It was very interesting though I admit I hadn’t read any of the books. They announce a long list before Christmas and the shortlist is going to be announced January 31 with the debate episodes airing on March 27 – 30 this year. That gives you time to read some or all of the five books if you want to. Mind you, if you aren’t planning to buy the books, getting them from the library might be difficult as there may be a lengthy waiting list for them.

This year’s theme is “a book all Canadians should read” and I would imagine that the debates will focus on why it’s important for Canadians to read each particular book. Judging from the descriptions of the longlisted books, though, some of the selections seem a bit surprising and not something I would have thought would be a book so important that everyone should read it. They’ve also included a variety of genres including Science Fiction/Fantasy and poetry.

The host of the competition is Ali Hassan, an actor and stand up comedian. I only know him from when he was a comedy panelist on the old talk show George Strombolopolous and I can’t remember what I thought of him on the show.

You can delve around the CBC site for Canada Reads here, where there is more detail about the books and authors including past lists and winners. You might find some pretty good books that you might like to read. The page on the site that lists the contenders, the short list and the people that will defend them will be updated later this week after the announcement on Tuesday.

Here is the longlist of books.  I’ve marked with a * the ones I think I might be interested to read. I will be interested to see which books make the cut and who the defenders will be and I might try to get hold of some of the books to read ahead of time. Two months to read five books, I could probably do it!

The list of past winners is here.  If you want to see the video episodes of 2016 and 2015’s competitions, you can see them on CBC’s On Demand video site here.

The ones I’ve read are The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill (really liked it), Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis (quite good), A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (quite good).  I’ll blog again when the short list and personalities are announced.

Promoting Canadian Writers

When I was in high school in my last year, there were two specialized English classes that we could opt to take instead of the regular one. The regular English class would have a variety of topics and usually included a Shakespeare play, some novels and possibly some poetry and short stories. One of the specialized courses was European Literature and one was Canadian Literature. At the time, I decided to take the European Lit class instead of the Canadian Lit because, I’ll admit, I thought Canadian authors were boring. I know. I’m ashamed of that now but that’s the way I thought  back in the 70s.

I believe the Canadian Lit course included such authors as Margaret Atwood, Margaret Laurence, Timothy Findlay and probably Robertson Davies among others. The European Lit included Ibsen, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Solzhenitsen, Tolstoy,  Flaubert and Josef Conrod.  Some of the novels I liked, some I hated. I’ve reread a few of them in the past year or two and changed my mind on several. You will never get me to crack open a Conrod ever again. He scarred me for life!

In the more recent years, however, I’ve rediscovered that Canadian authors are very diverse and even the classic authors are pretty damn amazing. Even before I found the Canadian book groups at Goodreads, I’d been dipping into books written by home grown authors and authors that have immigrated to Canada and are considered “ours”.  Through the Goodreads groups, I’ve discovered lots of newer authors and I’ve been encouraged to pick up more of the classic books by authors that have been writing for decades. The experience has been mostly quite positive and I will definitely be delving into more of their back catalogues.

Here’s a good blog post about a 2012 survey about how Canadians felt about Canadian books and authors. The results are quite interesting.

A couple of good places to start if you don’t really know what you might like is the website for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, a literary prize handed out every year to Canadian writers. There is a long list which is pared down to a short list of new novels published that year. The winner is announced in November.  They have the lists and winners on their site going back to 1994. It’s a great place to find superb books.

Along a similar vein, there’s CBC’s Canada Reads competition. They choose five books and a well known Canadian defends each book, promoting it’s good points in a televised competition over a few days where one book is eliminated by a vote of the defenders each day. The books are not always new releases, either, they can be much older. Each year the competition sets a theme for the books and picks a long list and each defender must read all five of the shortlisted books. There are some wonderful books to be explored. The website has the shortlist and winners back to 2002. The shortlist for 2017 will be announced at the end of January with the competition near the end of March.

CBC, the national television and radio broadcaster, is a big supporter of the arts and their Books section has lots of great information, interviews, lists and you can click and click and find all kinds of interesting things like “My Life in Books” where prominent Canadians share their favourite books.  There are two radio shows that feature books and interviews, too.  You can listen on line to past episodes or to podcasts and one also has a blog. The Next Chapter is one and Writers and Company is the other.  Follow CBC Books on Twitter.

100 novels that make you proud to be a Canadian
100 YA novels
100 True Stories that make you proud to be a Canadian 

I have long decided that Margaret Atwood is my favourite Canadian writer and I plan to try to read all her novels and short stories, maybe even her poetry. I admit that’s not really my favourite thing to read but for her, I’m willing to experiment! I’ve seen her interviewed and she’s sharp and witty and so interesting!

Other Canadian authors I’ve discovered and really enjoyed include Miriam Toews (Manitoba), Ann-Marie MacDonald (Nova Scotia), Ami MacKay (Nova Scotia), Lesley Crewe (Nova Scotia), Michael Crummey (Newfoundland), Wayne Johnston (Newfoundland), Frances Itani (Ontario), Kathleen Winter (Quebec), Linden McIntyre (Newfoundland), Heather O’Neill (Quebec), Jocelyn Saucier (Quebec), Sussana Kearsley (Ontario),  Louise Penney (Quebec), Richard Wagamese (Ontario) and Elizabeth Hay (Ontario). There are more but those are the ones that  particularly impressed me. In fact, Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese is probably my favourite book from my reading in 2016. It certainly stayed with me for some time after I finished it.

I am most definitely going to be reading Canadian authors regularly.  I look forward to finding new ones and discovering more books written by our classic authors in addition to Ms. Atwood, such as Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies and Timothy Findley just to name a few. I think it’s important to promote home grown talent  though I’ll continue to read from other countries, too,(I’ve developed a fondness for Scandinavian crime novels!)  and I plan to continue my quest to read literary classics.