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Canada Reads 2013: Turf Wars

9 Dec

Canada Reads is nearly upon us, with the debates airing on February 11-14. This year, to shake things up a bit, Canadians were asked to vote for the book they thought best represented the literature from the region they live in. Broken down into five “turfs”, voters nominated the best of the best from: BC and the Yukon, Prairies and North, Ontario, Quebec, and the Atlantic provinces.

The nominated contenders + titles are:

1. BC and Yukon: Carol Huynh defending Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

2. Prairies and North: Ron MacLean defending The Age of Hope by David Bergen

3. Ontario: Charlotte Gray defending Away by Jane Urquhart

4. Quebec: Jay Baruchel defending Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan

5. Atlantic: Trent McClellan defending February by Lisa Moore

I applaud CR for narrowing in on the varying regions of Canada, as I hope this will aid in breaking down the myth that Canadian Lit is homogeneous in nature. By reading all of these titles, it will become very clear to the reader that the literature coming out of the East Coast is of a predominantly different ilk than the literature coming out of the West Coast and so on and so forth. It is true that Canadian literature has always had deep roots in its own culture, but with the drastic differences of climate/politics/landscape/inhabitants from province to province, it’s ridiculous to assume that the works being produced throughout the entire country could ever be one and the same. And this will also give readers the opportunity to gain insight into the relevant topics that are impacting and inspiring ways of life for Canadians in other regions than their own. The nominated Quebec title Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan is a prime example of this, as it focuses on the pertinent divide between the French and the English in this country.

Looking over the list, I am convinced this is going to be the most engaging ie. competitive Canada Reads to date. Not only will the contenders be defending their particular titles; they will also be defending the territory in which they themselves live. A sense of acute regional pride should be at play during the debate. Being from Ontario myself, one might assume that my allegiance will be with Urquhart’s title. Having lived in other parts of Canada, I do not seem to possess that regional pride that so many others exhibit. Not to say that Urquhart’s Away is not worthy of being in the race. It certainly is. It’s a beautiful novel, with sensuous prose. And being of Irish descent, I was engrossed by her portrayal of the Irish immigrant adapting to the Canadian landscape. Even if Away does not win, it is a book that should be read. That goes for the other four books as well. Not to say that you will enjoy reading all five books, but you will no doubt learn something valuable of the people + history of that region.

I have read three of the five titles so far, and out of those three I have selected a title to which I am currently tentatively cheering for. I use the term tentatively, as my mind could very well change once I have read the final two books. And even once I have settled on a winning title, my decision could be further swayed based on one or more of the impassioned campaigns of the contenders. This is what makes the debates so exciting!

The debates are still months away, and yet I am already looking forward to tuning in. I would recommend my readers do the same. And if you are from the Toronto area, certainly try and attend one of the live debate sessions. I love CR because not only does it celebrate Canadian literature, but it gets Canadians excited about reading Can Lit. Canada is home to some amazing talent, and I always think it is a shame when Canadians are not familiar with the works that are being produced in their own backyard.

And for anyone interested in winning all five books, go to this CBC link: http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/win-a-set-of-the-canada-reads-2013-books.html

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Something fierce, alright.

9 Feb

As disappointing as it was to see Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat voted off on the first day of Canada Reads, it was a necessary move, as it propelled Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre to center stage in the Canada Reads Live debate. Going into Canada Reads, I had a clear idea of which book I was going to be championing for. Possessing the little knowledge I had of Pinochet, and the devastating consequences to his regime, I knew that I would find Ms. Aguirre’s book to be a compelling read. No doubt, the other entries would prove to be worthy opponents, and yet I held the steadfast belief that Something Fierce was a book that would not only captivate its audience, but would ultimately give its readers a lesson in history, as well as a lesson on humanity.

The book spares no details, in that it speaks openly of the atrocities that occur within a repressive regime, and by doing so exposes the ugly side of human nature. It also speaks of the aspects of human life that are identical across the board and how these facets of life are all consuming even when one’s way of life is under turmoil. Whether the reader has shared similar experiences or not, the readership will certainly be able to relate to Ms. Aguirre’s commonplace struggles with adolescence and complex family dynamics that plague most of us, no matter how extraordinary or ordinary our everyday lives are.

I am currently working with an author who has written a fictional account of a woman who lived in Chile during Pinochet’s regime. The book speaks of ‘the disappeared’, and gives a chilling account of the atrocities that occurred under this regime. Although it is fictional, I found this author’s account of the events to be immensely captivating and poignantly told. I hope that it is a story that will soon be shared with others.

With regards to Canada Reads, I am already anticipating next year’s selected titles and very much looking forward to watching the live debate. Last year was fiction, this year was non-fiction…perhaps next year the titles will be of a specific genre? Will have to wait to find out.

Canada Reads 2012

20 Jan

I recall last year’s Canada Reads, and how addictive those live debates were. How exciting it was to see well known Canadian figures championing for their chosen book. This year the selected titles are all of the non-fiction genre, and there are certainly some compelling titles up for battle this year.

I will be the first to admit, that I know nothing of hockey and really have no interest in the sport. Nevertheless, hockey is our national sport in this country and so it only makes sense that Ken Dryden’s The Game, an insider’s look into the sport, would make its way onto the list this year.

Being Canadian, and of a certain age, I am all too familiar with the band The Rheostatics and their former guitarist Dave Bidini. On a Cold Road is essentially a tour diary that Mr. Bidini wrote while on an across Canada tour with his band. I can certainly see the appeal in this book, as it will offer the reader a bird’s eye view of the behind the scenes in a musician’s life.

Prisoner of Tehran is Ms. Nemat’s emotionally charged personal account of her time spent in one of the country’s most notorious political prisons, where she was subjected to torture. She narrowly escaped execution, due to the intervention of one of the prison guards who had fallen in love with her and by converting to Islam and marrying him she was eventually freed. Prisoner of Tehran was longlisted for the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and won the prestigious Italian literary prize the Grinzane Award.

Being somewhat familiar with the historical details regarding the Pinochet regime in Chile, Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre is on my list of books to read this year. When the author was six, her family fled their home and moved to Canada. Five years later, Carmen’s Mother decided to join the Chilean resistance movement in South America, and moving back to Bolivia brought Carmen and and her youngest daughter with her. This harrowing memoir depicts the double life Carmen lived, as she struggled to live like a normal teenage girl, all the while devoting herself to the cause. Something fierce has been named to the longlist of the B.C. National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

Lastly, we have The Tiger by John Vaillant, is an account of a Siberian tiger terrorizing the residents of a remote Russian village. Vaillant recounts the hunt of the powerful tiger, as a team of tiger trackers make it their mission to stop the killing tiger before it strikes again. The Tiger has won a slew of awards, with the feature films rights being purchased this year by Brad Pitt.

With such an eclectic range of compelling titles, and interesting mix of defenders, I imagine the live debates are going to be rather impassioned this time around. I look forward to being in the audience this year, and witnessing all the action up close…and of course, championing for my favorite title from the sidelines!

The Giller.

7 Nov

I regret to say, that I have not had the chance to read any of the titles that made the Giller shortlist. Sadly, any reading that I do these days is work related. Nevertheless, I spent some time this afternoon reading the first few pages of each title on the Giller Prize Shortlist website in hopes that I could brush up on my Giller prowess. Scanning the summaries of each title, I was instantly drawn to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. The thought of absorbing a literary western with a unique and ferocious spin made me foolishly grin from ear to ear. Without having read a single word, I was sold. Or so I thought. Keep in mind, I was only privy to the first few pages…but still, I must admit the introduction to the narrative left me, well, kind of cold. Perhaps the hype killed any chance of an organic approach to this book? Not to say that I will not give it a go. I will most definitely take another stab at this book. Perhaps I am spoiled when it comes to literary westerns? Two books come to mind: Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang and Michael Ondaatje’s Collected Works of Billy the Kid. If you have not read either, please make a point of doing so. Whatever my initial impressions are of deWitt’s book, the hype is very real. If I am to go solely on the buzz, I would say that he is a shoe in for the Giller this year. Looking at the other titles on the list, my next bet would be The Antagonist by Lynn Coady. After reading a mere three pages, I was ready to throw caution to the wind and rush out and purchase this book. I wish I had. Instead, I spent the afternoon daydreaming about all the possible outcomes for her protagonist, while I researched American editors for an up and coming submission. Moving on; another strong contender is Ms. Edugyan’s Half-Blood Blues. Just like the reviews claim, her prose reads like jazz. And that is a literary feat in and of itself. I have added her title to my wish list, and I doubt I will be disappointed. After reading snippets from each author, I would be hard pressed to select an obvious winner. Well, that is not entirely true. If Mr. Ondaatje hadn’t already won a Giller (Anil’s Ghost), I would say that the obvious winner would be his beautifully crafted The Cat’s Table. With that being said, I doubt they will award him a second Giller when there are so many other fantastic titles up for the award. The last two titles, The Free World and Better Living through Plastic Explosives were not my cup of tea, but that does not mean that they are not worthy of the award and recognition that follows suit.Each and every title on this list holds merit, but in my biased opinion, I would absolutely love to see Ms. Coady or Ms. Edugyan come out in front. The Giller Light Bash is tomorrow evening, and so we do not have long before the winner will be revealed to us. With the Giller and the Canada Reads contest, this is truly an exciting time in the Canadian lit scene.