Discussion: Canada Reads 2017

It’s that time again! On March 27th, Canada Reads begins. If you’re not familiar with Canada Reads, it’s an annual competition where 5 Canadian novels are chosen based on a theme. Each novel has a prominent Canadian associated with it and their job is to defend the book as the moderator asks them questions. At the end of every day, all 5 panelists vote on which novel should be eliminated based on the day’s discussion. Even when the book is eliminated, the panelist stays on so every day, all 5 panelists vote on which novel should be eliminated.

This year, the theme is: “What is the one book Canadians need now?” I read all 5 novels and here is my ranking of which I think is least deserving to which I think should win.

5. Fifteen Dogs – Andre Alexis

Fifteen Dogs I had a really hard time getting through this book. Not only am I not a fan of apologues, I just don’t see how this book is related to the theme at all. I understand the book was trying to make a point about humanity and human nature, but this is no way a “Canadian” book. The book could have been set anywhere, and throwing random Toronto places into the book was wholly unnecessary. This isn’t a book that deals with specifically Canadian problems or makes any grand declarations about the lives of Canadians. While I know this is an award winner, I feel like this book was only picked for the short list because it won the Giller prize. Overall, a really poor pick for the competition this year.

4. Nostalgia – M.G. Vassanji

Nostalgia This was another book that I had a rough time with. I thought the idea of this book was so wonderful, but it suffered from really poor execution. The book had little to no plot building, and we were thrust into the story immediately without any understanding or background knowledge. The plot was also disjointed, and the main character was entirely forgettable. However, this book has social commentary on the plight of refugees and less fortunate countries, which I do think is something that Canadians need to consider and develop an understanding for.

3. The Right To Be Cold – Sheila Watt-Cloutier

The Right To Be Cold: One Woman's Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole PlanetThis was the only book in the competition that I was unable to finish. The subject matter bored me, mostly because I only tend to read memoirs of people I’m familiar with and want to know about. While I admire Sheila Watt-Cloutier for dedicating her life to her Inuit community and being a Canadian environmental activist, this isn’t something I wanted to read and I didn’t like the tone and voice of the book. The reason why this book is number 3 on the list instead of number 5 is because I do think that this subject matter suits the theme really well. Climate change is an ongoing problem, not only for Canada, but for the world. I think it’s important for Canadians to realize the effects of this global issue to our country and our people.

2. Company Town – Madeleine Ashby

Company TownThis was the most entertaining book out of the bunch. This is a science-fiction novel about how technology can affect Canada in the future. It also raised some really interesting points about multiculturalism. The world-building was so detailed and richly imagined. I loved the main character, Hwa, and all of the secondary characters as well. I even enjoyed the romantic sub-plot. It was written really well.

The only criticism I have is that it could be really confusing at times. I’m still not sure I understand everything that happened and sometimes the writing was a bit disjointed which meant I had to re-read a couple of passages.

However, it doesn’t really embody the theme very well, which is why I can’t choose it as my number one pick.

1. The Break – Katherena Vermette

The Break If this book doesn’t win Canada Reads this year, it will be a travesty. Not only does this book discuss the real problems Aboriginal women face in Canada, it’s beautifully written and extremely heartbreaking. Not only was it shocking with how graphic and horrific it was, it just showed how hard it is to be a Native woman in Canada. The blatant racism, the poverty, the addiction – it all builds and creates these women that are damaged, but still very strong and deeply loyal to their families and their communities. I loved this book for a lot of reasons, and I really hope this wins.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how the Canada Reads results stack up against my own personal rankings.

If you’re interested in following the competition, more details can be found here: http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/how-to-tune-in-to-canada-reads-1.4037838

Review: When Everything Feels Like the Movies – Raziel Reid

When Everything Feels Like the Movies School is just like a film set: there’s The Crew, who make things happen, The Extras who fill the empty desks, and The Movie Stars, whom everyone wants tagged in their Facebook photos. But Jude doesn’t fit in. He’s not part of The Crew because he isn’t about to do anything unless it’s court-appointed; he’s not an Extra because nothing about him is anonymous; and he’s not a Movie Star because even though everyone know his name like an A-lister, he isn’t invited to the cool parties. As the director calls action, Jude is the flamer that lights the set on fire.

Before everything turns to ashes from the resulting inferno, Jude drags his best friend Angela off the casting couch and into enough melodrama to incite the paparazzi, all while trying to fend off the haters and win the heart of his favourite co-star Luke Morris. It’s a total train wreck!

But train wrecks always make the front page.

This was such a heartbreaking novel. This book was a contender for last year’s Canada Reads prize ad I knew I wanted to read it due to Elaine Lui’s (Lainey from LaineyGossip) defense of it, but I wasn’t expecting it to be such a gut punch of a novel. Jude was such a remarkable character. Even when he was completely misunderstood and tortured by his peers, he always remained true to himself. The sad truth is while this book is graphic and vulgar at times, it’s pretty realistic. There are some really dark parts in this novel. It’s very difficult to read certain sections and it made me really uncomfortable at times. The only thing that was hard for me to grasp was the fact that these kids were only in middle school. They spoke and acted like they were so much older, which is why I don’t know if it makes it better or worse than this book is inspired by true events.

The writing style of this book is also unique. It was a little dreamlike and stark, but it does take a little time to adjust to it. Overall though, this book is moving and powerful, and a really important read. I strongly recommend it.

 

Canada Reads 2016

I know I’m entirely too late and Canada Reads finished in March, but I just got around to reading the 5 contenders for the prize. If you’re not aware, Canada Reads is a yearly competition where five Canadian books are chosen, defended by five Canadian personalities (athletes, movie stars, directors, entrepreneurs), and over the course of four days, a book is progressively eliminated. At the end of four days, one book is the champion of Canada Reads.

This year, the theme was “starting over” and here are my thoughts on which book should have won in order from least applicable to the one I think deserved it the most.

5. Minister Without Portfolio – Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio I was unable to finish this book. I gave up reading pretty soon because the writing style was terrible. I couldn’t get past how frustrating it was to read and understand. The whole book is written stream of consciousness style, which makes it very distracting to the plot and I found it very difficult to follow the story. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue either, which is another frustrating aspect to this book. I found this book boring, and I abandoned it because I realized I didn’t care about the plot, the characters, or anything else. I’m unsure whether the theme of “starting over” applies to this book, but I assume it would. In the Canada Reads competition, this book was the first to be eliminated.

4. The Hero’s Walk – Anita Rau Badami

The Hero's Walk This was another novel I didn’t finish. Once again, the problem was that the book started so slowly that it never had my attention. I didn’t care about the characters or the plot, which is really sad because it had beautiful writing. The writing was the best part about this novel, but the Indian slang and way the characters spoke grated on my nerves after a while. Yes, it’s very authentic to how Indians talk, but it didn’t appeal to me. Even though I’m an Indian born Canadian, I never connected to this family and I really disliked the book. I think the theme of “starting over” really did apply to this book. Sadly, I had high hopes for it because it was the runner-up in the competition, but it wasn’t for me.

3. Bone & Bread – Saleema Nawaz

Bone & Bread This book had beautiful writing, but that was all it really had going for it. Beena wasn’t a great person, and sometimes I wanted to shake her because she made some really idiotic choices. I never really related to any of the other characters, but I did understand their motivations. The biggest issue I had with this novel was that it didn’t fit the theme of “starting over”. I don’t think Beena really did start over. The other problem was the plot was so long and overwhelming at times that the main point of the novel was lost among all the other things. A lot of loose ends were left at the end of the novel, yet the book was too long for the amount of story it has. This book was the second book to get cut from the competition, and I understand why.

2. Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

Birdie This was the first of the Canada Reads books that I really liked. This novel was so beautifully melancholy, but I felt like it was leading to a very triumphant place. During the debate, some of the people brought up the use of the disjointed timeline, but I thought the use of it was masterfully done. My favourite part of the novel was the relationship between the four women of the novel. It showed the strength and companionship between women of all different types, and how that friendship can be redeeming. While I never fully connected with Bernice because her experiences were so far removed from my own, I sympathized with her. The writing had some well-written passages, but I don’t think there was anything spectacular about it. It was also brought up that sometimes, this book was confusing, which is true, but I still understood what this book was trying to achieve and I think it did. While it did fit the theme of starting over, it wasn’t in a very obvious way. This book was the third to get eliminated from the competition.

1. The Illegal – Lawrence Hill

The Illegal My favourite of the Canada Reads novels was the book that won the competition. It was the most entertaining, the most exciting, and the one I enjoyed reading the most. During the debate, everyone brought up how it was almost like a movie playing out, and it was. There were some very cinematic things about it, but I didn’t think it was to the book’s detriment. The plot was very gripping and there were so many threads that came together in very surprising ways. The characters were all vividly portrayed and they weren’t black or white characters, which I really appreciated. This novel was multi-faceted and while there was nothing spectacular about the writing, it was a cutting political commentary on the refugee crisis of today. I’m not sure if the theme of starting over applies to this novel, but I know it’s the novel I was rooting for.

This was the first year I’d paid attention to the Canada Reads competition, but I’m proud to live in a country where debating about books is a national pastime. I’m proud that we celebrate literature and Canadians of all different backgrounds. I really enjoyed this year’s competition, and I’m very much looking forward to Canada Reads 2017.