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!