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.
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.”
Hear Sheila Watt-Cloutier read from her book.
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!
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.
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.
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!
Day 4: The winner of Canada Reads 2017 is Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis! I’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.