Canada Reads 2017 Mini Reviews

The theme for Canada Reads 2017 is “the one book Canadians should read now”, and the debates will air on March 27 to 30. Here are the five books being debated this year, in the order of when I read them.

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, defended by Humble the Poet, a rapper, poet and spoken word artist

I read Fifteen Dogs when it first came out back in April 2015. See my review here. Since then, it has gone on to win the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize. It has also been nominated for the 2017 International Dublin Award Longlist. I loved this book. I thought it was creative, unique, funny, smart, moving, and thought-provoking. It’s certainly deserving of being a contender on Canada Reads, and it’ll be interesting and fun to see how Humble the Poet ties it into the theme. I’m not even going to attempt it.

The sentence from Fifteen Dogs that is most memorable for André Alexis.

 

The Break by Katherena Vermette, defended by Candy Palmater, a comedian and broadcaster

I read The Break in February (my review). It is gut-wrenching, beautiful, powerful, and necessary. In my opinion, along with The Right to be Cold, it best fits the theme of Canada Reads, and I’m really hoping it does well. However, with Candy Palmater as its spokesperson, I think it will go far, even if it doesn’t win the competition.

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see Candy when  she came to the Halifax Public Library on March 9th. She came to talk about The Break, but she also spoke a lot about her family and herself. She’s funny, interesting, smart, and has a lot to say about so many important issues. So, basically, she’s fantastic. Have a listen to her talking to Bob Murphy at the Halifax Library here.

Candy at the Halifax Library.

One of Katherena Vermette’s favourite sentences in The Break. 

 

Company Town by Madeline Ashby, defended by Measha Brueggergosman, an award-winning International opera singer, as well as a second-time pannellist for Canada Reads. Her first time was in 2004, defending Alice Munro’s The Love of A Good Woman.

I was nervous going into Company Town. It’s a full-on sci-fi adventure, which is not the kind of book I usually read. At first, I felt a little lost, but once it got going I relaxed a bit (stopped trying so hard to understand all the techy stuff that was happening) and enjoyed the story.

Company Town is set in the future on a huge city-sized oil rig off the East coast of Canada. The main character is a young woman who is physically strong and capable, but deeply troubled. She is also one of the few “organic” people left – people without ‘augmentations’ made to their bodies. Hwa has been working as a bodyguard for sex workers, but has been hired on by the owner of Company Town to guard his son, who he believes to be in danger. But as the story progresses, it’s clear that Joel is not the only one in danger. There are a series of gory murders, all more connected to Hwa than to Joel. Because of the murders and investigations, I found this book to be like a sci-fi/action/murder mystery. A lot of violence and blood, but also some relevant issues like women’s rights and social inequality, as well as (crazy smart) ideas about what the future could look like. A little disappointed, however, in the fact that a man is the catalyst for helping Hwa to begin seeing the good in herself.

Overall, I was amazed by the creativity and brains that must have gone into this novel. The futuristic ideas and technology is mind-boggling to me. The ending seemed a little far-fetched (and I still might not understand it completely), but I’m not experienced with sci-fi, so it could very well be typical of the genre. I’m looking forward to how this book will be presented at the Canada Reads debates.

Humanity is coming to an end. Someday people like you – people who remain fully organic – will be nothing more than specimens in a museum of humanity.

Madeline Ashby on her most memorable sentence in Company Town.

 

Nostalgia by M.G. Vassanji, defended byJody Mitic, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran and Ottawa city councillor

I ended up enjoying this book more than I thought I was going to. In fact, by the time I got to the end, I didn’t want it to stop. I wanted more of this strange new world to see where it was going to go next.

Frank lives in a world where people can be “rejuvenated” by being given new memories and letting them lead new lives. They even have people who are the “writers” of these implanted memories. And Frank is one of the doctors who help make sure the old memories don’t leak through. “Nostalgia” is the term for leaked memory syndrome, and can be fatal.

There are also the “Baby Gens”, first generation humans who haven’t yet opted to be rejuvenated. Among other things, the book explores the interesting dynamic between the two. Many of the Baby Gens, as well as religious groups spend their time protesting against rejuvenation.

And then there’s the land beyond the “Long Border”, which is basically the war-torn countries who have been completely cut off from the more ‘developed’ world at this point. Racial discrimination doesn’t seem to be an issue – instead the prejudice is against anyone from the other side of the Border. This aspect of the book made me think that humans will always find something to discriminate against. Even if we all looked exactly the same and we all had the same amount of money, etc, we’d still find something else – maybe we’d hate people who liked music, or people with pets. (I can’t help but think of The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss.)

Nostalgia is a good book for discussion. My first question would be: what is the purpose exactly of this rejuvenation? Maybe I’ve misunderstood, but what would be the point of having a new life if you couldn’t remember your old one? And knowing that your memories of family and childhood, no matter how real they may seem, are not real, is a lonely thought. You really are only left with your present life and connections to rely on.

In our bid to outpace age and defy death, we leap from one life into another, be it imperfectly, and hope fervently – in the manner of acknowledged sinners – that the past does not catch up with us. But sometimes it does…

One of M.G. Vassanji’s favourite sentences in Notalgia.

 

The Right to Be Cold by, defended by Chantal Kreviazuk, a singer/songwriter

The Right to be Cold is the one book I didn’t get to finish (yet). Sheila Watt-Cloutier is an environmental and human rights activist, who has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In her book she “addresses the global threat of climate change from the intimate perspective of her own Arctic childhood“. I did read the Introduction and first chapter before it had to go back to the library, which gave me an overview of the climate problem, how it is amplified in the North, and the implications of this on the people living there and their way of life. Being of an urgent nature, this topic ties in well with the theme for Canada Reads this year.

Naomi Klein wrote The Right to be Cold: a revelatory memoir that looks at what climate change means for the north at The Globe and Mail

“If the ice disappears, or if it behaves radically differently, then cultural knowledge that has been passed on from one generation to the next loses its meaning. Young people are deprived of the lived experience on the ice that they need to become knowledge carriers, while the animals around which so many cultural practices revolve disappear. As Watt-Cloutier has been arguing for well over a decade now, that means that the failure of the world to act to reduce its emissions to prevent that outcome constitutes a grave human-rights violation.”

5 Random Facts from The Right to be Cold.

Hear Sheila Watt-Cloutier read from her book.

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Have you read any of these books? Do any of them call to you? Any predictions or preferences for the winner?

I’ll be updating this post throughout the debates, so if you’re interested in knowing what’s going on, be sure to come back!

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Updates…

Day 1: The hour started on an emotional note when Chantal (defending The Right to be Cold) explained that she couldn’t be at Canada Reads in person because her son is in the hospital due to a severe asthma attack. Emotions continued to run high (at least for me), as everyone passionately defended their books. But things got really tense when female/male representation became part of the debate, and The Break was the first book voted off. I found the result upsetting, but I’m hopeful that it might raise some good conversation about the reasons behind it being voted off.  On a happy note, The Break is the #1 selling novel in Canada right now.

Watch the Day 1 replay

Day 2: Nostalgia was the book voted off today. Which makes sense to me the way the debate was going. Humble, Chantal, and Measha seemed much more passionate about their books today than Jody. However, in the Q&A after the show, Jody mentioned why it was that he chose his book, and I thought his reasons behind it were compelling and that he could have used his own personal story as part of his defense, like many of the panellists do (and have done) over the years. One of the things that makes watching CR so interesting is the different styles of defending and debating. Today’s vote was not as upsetting to me as yesterday’s.

Watch the Day 2 replay

Day 3: Another upsetting day for me – The Right to be Cold is now out of the running. The two books that I thought best fit the theme are now gone, so which remaining book do I get behind? I’m going to go with Fifteen Dogs. Even though I feel it’s a bit of a stretch to make it fit the theme, I love the book. And I also like the way Humble is defending it. He’s got a solid defense that has been holding up under the pressure, and may be the only one left around the table t that hasn’t been glared at by one of the other panellists. In fact, he’s making me want to go for a re-read!

Watch the Day 3 replay

Day 4: The winner of Canada Reads 2017 is Fifteen Dogs by André AlexisI’m happy about the outcome of today’s debates. I was already a fan of André Alexis, but now I am also a fan of Humble the Poet. I thought he came across as gentle and fair and intelligent. He seemed so calm over there in his corner, and I thought he exuded the very essence of Canada Reads (at least my idea of the essence of Canada Reads, whatever that is). 

Watch the Day 4 replay

Further thoughts: I like watching Canada Reads on-line, but this time around I discovered that sometimes I like to just listen so that I’m not distracted by the panellists’ facial expressions and body language. And I didn’t want to finish up without mentioning the host, Ali Hassan. I thought he was funny, fair, and good at keeping the conversation moving around the table.

For thorough written recaps on each day, pop over to Susan’s blog, A Year of Books.

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48 thoughts on “Canada Reads 2017 Mini Reviews

  1. drlauratisdall says:

    These books all sound fantastic, and this post makes me realise how unfamiliar I am with Canadian literature. Because I love speculative fiction, the Vassanji and Ashby sound particularly exciting, but the Vermette sounds wonderful as well.

    • Naomi says:

      One of the things I love about Canada Reads is that it often gets me reading books I might not otherwise have read. Because I don’t usually read sci-fi, I might not have picked up Company Town or Nostalgia, but I’m glad that I did! I especially enjoyed Nostalgia, and, although it’s supposed to be quite different from his other books, I liked his writing style and looking forward to reading more of his books!

  2. TJ @ MyBookStrings says:

    As you know, I have read Fifteen Dogs and loved it. And you also already know that I want to read The Break. I’ll be curious to see if the discussions of the books will make me want to read Company Town and Nostalgia. Since those are in a genre I don’t read much from, I’m not that tempted by them at the moment. I’m also curious to find out how the non-fiction will do. So I’m glad that you’ll be updating us!

    • Naomi says:

      Your comment shows how similar we are! I felt the same about Company Town and Nostalgia, and might not have read them if not for Canada Reads. But I’m especially glad to have read Nostalgia, and look forward to reading more of his books (which I should already have done by now!). And I’m also interested to see how the one non-fiction will hold up. It’s very relevant, but in 2015 there were two non-fiction books in the mix and they were the first to go. So… we’ll see… 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I had a lot of fun reading Company Town, and I think it’s partly *because* I don’t read a lot of sci-fi. I might have been more critical of it otherwise. Once I got over the fact that I didn’t quite follow all the techy stuff, I had fun with it!
      There’s definitely an interesting mix of books this year!

  3. Brian says:

    Thanks for the recap. I haven’t had a chance to read them all but I love Canada Reads. They need to announce the names of the books earlier. Such a completely Canadian thing to do, listen to the radio, now watch on tv also, people discussing books to pick a favourite.

    • Naomi says:

      It’s true that it can be a bit of a scramble to get your hands on all the books and read them before the time comes. I’m always glad when I’ve already read one of them!

  4. FictionFan says:

    Haven’t read any of them (of course!) but I’m rooting for The Right to Be Cold. I was thinking just the other day that it was time for a refresher on where we are with global warming, and this sounds like an interesting way to do it…

    • Naomi says:

      Yes, that one does seem like the most urgent. Like I keep saying to my husband, no other issue really matters if the planet is destroyed!
      But the likability and merits of the books themselves often come into play. If all Canadians are to read it, it needs to be something they will *want* to read. But I think most of the books fit that bill for most people.

  5. Rebecca Foster says:

    Such a variety to these books! You’d hardly know where to start in pitting them against each other. Given that rather vague remit, I would have to agree with The Right to Be Cold. It sounds like it has the most urgent message.

    • Naomi says:

      Like I said in another comment, The Right to be Cold does seem to have the most urgent message. The themes are usually kind of vague, and the debates don’t always follow the theme. The panellists also consider which book all Canadians will most likely want to read, and which book has the greatest ability to get across its message. Sometimes it’s pretty loosey-goosey, but that’s half the fun. Unless it causes things to go wrong for the book I’m rooting for, and then it’s a different story. 🙂

  6. lauratfrey says:

    My prediction is The Break. I liked it but didn’t love it. It won’t stick with me the way Birdie did, for example. Fifteen Dogs is great and it’ll totally depend on how well this guy can tie it to the theme. I want to read Nostalgia now! Sounds like an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind kind of situation, and I loved that movie. The other two I’m not overly interested in. I will be watching though, of course!

    • Naomi says:

      I’ve been trying to compare The Break and Birdie in my head, but I find them very different, so I’ll leave it at that. I’m glad both of them got to be contenders in Canada Reads.
      I’m very curious about what Humble the Poet will say about Fifteen Dogs!
      You’ve read Vassanji before I think, yes? I loved the writing style. And it doesn’t take long to read, if you want to squeeze it in before Monday. 🙂

      • lauratfrey says:

        Yeah, they are super different. In terms of the social justice “worthiness” though they are comparable so that’s why my mind went there. Yep I’ve read Vassanji (The Magic of Saida – reviewed on the blog years ago) and loved it. Squeeze it in eh… haha. I’m not that fast of a reader! Though I do pass a chapters on my way home and it’s 40% off 😀

  7. Tvor says:

    I’ve read the all except Right to be Cold because that really just didn’t appeal to me at all. Fifteen Dogs was ok, but it wasn’t really something I was keen on. I don’t do well with books that have symbolism and metaphors etc. I did like some of it. Nostalgia was good, an interesting concept. Thing is, you *wouldn’t* know that the memories you have were not real, not once they were installed. I think they are saying that if you live very long, you have too many memories and you will become melancholic for all the lost people and things etc. I did like Company Town quite a bit though the ending was strange and confusing. I think my favourite was The Break, for the women, the support. It was a sad book but maybe with a bit of hope, too

    • Naomi says:

      Frank knew his memories weren’t real, but maybe that was just because he was one of the doctors? And I still think it would be more fun to have a new life if you could remember the old one, even though I know a lot of people wanted new memories because of trauma. (So I don’t think people were doing it for fun.) Maybe it will become more clear to me when they discuss it!
      The ending of Company Town was a bit confusing, but I felt like that a few times in the book, so I thought it was probably just me. 🙂
      I also hope The Break does well!

  8. The Paperback Princess says:

    Thanks for this Canada Reads primer! I’m definitely not going to read all of them but now I know a little about each one.

    I’ve only read The Break – not sure I need to read any more! Excited to watch Candy champion it.

    I have The Right to Be Cold in my bag right now – as soon as I finish my other book I’m reading it. So I will have two dogs in the fight, so to speak. Can’t wait for the debate!

  9. annelogan17 says:

    I know what you mean about Company Town. I haven’t read it, but I feel the same way about sci-fi because I’m also struggling to figure out the techy things and their implications. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      I couldn’t believe how smart and creative it was, though. I spent some time reading reviews of sci-fi fans to get an idea of what they thought, because I don’t have much to compare it to.

  10. AYearOfBooksBlog says:

    As always, great overview! – my goal is to finish The Right to Be Cold and read the Break this weekend. I was hoping to re-read Fifteen Dogs but running out of time. I struggled with Nostalgia and enjoyed Company Town although wouldn’t see them as the one book that Canadian’s should all read.

    I LOVE Canada Reads and how it makes me read outside my comfort zone and can’t wait for the debates!!

    • Naomi says:

      I agree – I struggle to see why Nostalgia and Company Town are on the list. But one of the reasons I love the debates is that the panellists can often make me see things I didn’t before!

    • Naomi says:

      One thing I love about Canada Reads is that you really never know what’s going to show up on the list. It makes for some fun reading and interesting debates!
      Thanks for dropping by!

  11. Sandra says:

    What a great post! I love the idea of the debates; I’m not aware of anything similar here in the UK but perhaps someone will enlighten me.

    Like you, I’m not generally a fan of sci-fi (or dystopia) but Nostalgia grabbed me instantly. The Right to be Cold is the one that’s gone on my list though. This sounds essential reading.

    I’m struck by how little Canadian literature seems to come to my attention. Something I must try to remedy.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m glad I was able to tempt you with a couple of these books. The Right to be Cold *is* an important subject, which might be one of the reasons I left it until last. The thought of it makes me feel sad and helpless. So did The Break, but at least I didn’t know ahead of time what I was getting into!

  12. Deepika Ramesh says:

    This is a fantastic post, Naomi. I wish such debates took place in India too. I have already fallen in love with ‘Nostalgia’. Your mini-review was so enticing that I want to grab a copy right away. I want it to win and I love its cover. 🙂

  13. Grab the Lapels says:

    I like that the books are defended by people in very different fields. Sometimes I feel like literature in the US is insular; it almost seems like no one reads but writers. We’ve become writers talking and writing about writing.

  14. The Cue Card says:

    Hi Naomi, 15 Dogs seems a bit old to me for this, coming out in 2015, though I thought it was interesting. I read through all of the other book descriptions you listed, and i think The Break did appeal to me the most to read. Though I bet they will likely pick the climate change book since it’s topical and in the political airwaves these days. I’m not keen on reading Klein though. thx for keeping us Canadians up to date 🙂 on the competition.

    • Naomi says:

      All the books this year seem like really recent books, don’t they? In past years, there have been a mix of new and old, which I kind of like. I like bringing back older books that deserve some renewed attention, rather than just always spotlighting the newest books.
      The Right to be Cold is still hanging on. Come back at the end and read all the updates!

  15. Care says:

    This sounds fun! And like the TOB, I would want to read all the books first before the ‘contest’ starts. How much notice do you get? I have Fifteen Dogs (and now a few more) on my tbr because of you. 😉

    • Naomi says:

      Good to hear! 🙂
      This year there was almost two months between the announcement of the shortlist and the debates. Sometimes, it’s a bit shorter.
      It seems to me almost impossible to get all the books read for TOB!

  16. Shay Shortt says:

    What a roller coaster of a week! I was really pulling for The Break, so I was very sad to see it voted off day one. But there were a lot of great aspects of Fifteen Dogs, so I think I have made my peace with the result.

    • Naomi says:

      I agree! The first day really had me feeling tense, but after that I wasn’t quite as invested in the outcome, which helped. And I think Fifteen Dogs is a great book – it looks good up there with all the other Canada Reads winners!

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