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 books and defenders

CBC yesterday morning released the announcement about the five books selected for Canada Reads 2017 and the people that will be defending each book.

The books and defenders are:

Nostalgia – M. G. Vassanji defended by Armed Forces veteran Jody Mitic
Company Town – Madeleine Ashby defended by actor Tamara Taylor
The Break – Katherena Vermette defended by comedienne Candy Palmater
The Right to be Cold – Sheila Watt-Cloutier defended by singer/songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk
Fifteen Dogs – Andrei Alexis defended by poet/rapper (“spoken word artist”) Kanwer Singh aka Humble the Poet

Tamara Taylor, Jody Mitic, Candy Palmater, Humble the Poet, Chantal Kreviazuk, Canada Reads defenders and their books

Tamara Taylor, Jody Mitic, Candy Palmater, Humble the Poet, Chantal Kreviazuk, Canada Reads defenders and their books (photo from CBC)

I confess the only one of the defenders I’ve heard of is Candy Palmater but have no real knowledge of her work. It’s quite a wide range of people so the debates should have some interesting perspectives. The theme is the book that Canada needs Right Now.  It doesn’t seem to be the obvious theme linking the books though the non-fiction book does talk about the effect of climate change on the Northern communities and that’s happening Right Now, for sure. But then, the idea of the debate is to prove that each book embodies the theme. You can watch a 12 minute video recording of the defenders who were on the CBC radio version of Q  for a little taste of what you might expect. I’m not sure if that’s available outside of Canada, however.

I’m looking forward to the competition. I’ve bought two of the books last week and both of them made the short list (Nostalgia, The Break) so that’s good. Not sure if I’ll read all of the short list but I did have Company Town on my list of books I’d like to read. Fifteen Dogs has been out a couple of years and won the Giller prize in 2015. It didn’t appeal to me then and it still doesn’t but it would be a quirky little book just the same. The Right to be Cold is non fiction, where the others are fiction, and most of the other fiction books have aspects of science fiction and fantasy to them aside from The Break which is different.

If you live in the Toronto area or want to go and attend the debates, tickets are available here. They will be live streaming the event on and broadcasting it on CBC television and radio as well. I seem to recall last year it was during the daytime so if I can’t watch it, I might be able to listen live to the radio broadcast at work or at least watch it on the reruns each evening. The dates for the competition are March 27 – 30.

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.