Thursday, April 20, 2006

Canada Reads - Day Four

Wow. After I first read Three Day Road I was convinced that it would win Canada Reads. It's not that it was my favourite (that would be Rooms For Rent), it's just that it seemed like a perfect fit for Canada Reads. Guess you can't make assumptions about one panel based on previous ones.

And how about that Nelofer? Ouch. I've ragged on her a lot in my last few posts but even I felt sorry for her today. All that animosity. Then again, she brought a lot of it on herself. I would like to advocate a little for Three Day Road though, since she did such an awful job of it. It's a great book. Forget that you might learn something- just read it for the enjoyment of a good book. Forget about stereotypes and the fact that war is ugly (really?), it's a good book. It's fast paced, full of interesting characters, and entertains (possibly while even making you think).

We're down to Rooms For Rent and A Complicated Kindness. Was strategic voting in play as Thompson suggested? Hmmm. I would have thought so but after listening to the panelists bicker, I'm not so sure. Like Musgrave said it's impressive that a book of poetry made it this far anyways. And while Canada Reads fans certainly don't make up a large fraction of the Canadian population, I've heard it said before that mere exposure of the book on the program DOES greatly increase it's sales. If it didn't, do you think places like Amazon would have entire sections devoted to it?

Scott Thompson, while he's not in support of the book I'd like to win, has probably been the best panelist they've ever had on the show. He's been witty and has raised some interesting points throughout the show. Today he even raised some good questions about poetry. For instance, after Susan Musgrave read from the Al Purdy poem "A Handful of Earth" Scott asked what made it a poem, not just a good sentence with different punctuation and different placement on the page. While I think he answered his own question to some extent- it's more of the dialogue that I want from Canada Reads. Likewise, I think I agree with him when he says a poem has no business being longer than a page (and I LOVE poetry). In defence of poetry today, Musgrave said that a good poem, or even a line from a poem, can change your life and/or your way of thinking. I agree, but I think her assessment of it is too grandiose. Good poetry, like good fiction, can change your life. But I think it's more subtle and slow than that. It's more like continental shifting than a violent earthquake, basically reshaping who we are over time. Anyone looking for the one poem, or one book, or whatever that's going to change the way they see the world, or change their life in some profound way, just as easily could look to a cult, get-rich-quick scheme or fad diet for a "solution" to their life's woes.

That brings me to A Complicated Kindness. Maybe I should read this book again. I enjoyed it the first time around but listening to the importance people seem to want to put on it, I feel like I've missed something. Like today when Samson and others were talking about the way it spoke of oppressive societies, I thought they were exaggerating Toews emphasis on that aspect of the Mennonite culture. To me the setting felt more incidental than that. The whole book feels incidental to me. But again, it is a good book. Just probably not as good as some people would suggest. While the setting might be unique, the story itself isn't.


Susan Musgrave: A Complicated Kindness
Scott Thompson: Rooms For Rent
John Samson: Rooms For Rent (despite his love for poetry, I doubt he'll pull a Justin Trudeau on us)
Maureen McTeer: A Complicated Kindness
Nelofer Pazira: A Complicated Kindness

If things fall this way, I'll be one happy camper. Nelofer is the wild card tomorrow- having voted against both of these books before, but maybe Bill Richardson's appeal to book sales will sway her more against A Complicated Kindness. McTeer could fall the other way too. In the first episode she spoke of her love of poetry, but today she said she was beginning to value humour more. For some reason, people are neglecting to talk about the comedy in Rooms For Rent. I challenge anyone to read Purdy's "The Drunk Tank" and tell me it's not funny.

(On a side note, they printed one of my letters to Canada Reads today. Usually people misspell "Mutford". The CBC on the other hand, misspelled "John" as "Jim"- thinking of Grania's hubby, I wonder?)


Robert Hiscock said...

Hmmm... Of the five contenders I only disliked one and really, really enjoyed one other. Both of my extremes are gone so come tomorrow it's a bit of a moot point for me. I like both books remaining but not strongly enough to care much which wins.

John Mutford said...

They fixed my name. Identity crisis averted. I'm John again, not Jim.

Sure b'y said...

Yeah, I think Rooms for Rent may very well come out on top. As for Nelofer, wow, that was not pretty. She just would not let that die. Wouldn't want to attack anything she wrote, she'd kill me. I thought her and Musgrave might disintegrate into fisticuffs. I kept thinking "wonder what John (aka Jim) and RJ are thinking about this. I'm such a geek. I'm fine with it either way. I'll just miss the daily recaps.

okay, people, let's have it. Our own panel: Newfoundland Reads! Looks like we'd all choose Colony so I guess we could skip the panel and just announce the winner.

John Mutford said...

Sure b'y,
I don't know. Would we all pick Colony? I certainly would, but didn't Random Passage win on Paul Butler's forum a little while back?

I wasn't going to mention this until tomorrow, but seeing as you brought up "Newfoundland Reads" today- I forwarded on a poll to the Canada Reads site to use if they're interested (doesn't appear that they are)which asked readers what spin-off of Canada Reads would you most like to see?

a. Canada's Children Read - a children's book competition

b. Canada Reads Nonfiction

c. Your Province Here Reads

d. Canada Writes- The host could present authors with a challenge each day (ex. A haiku) and listeners vote for their favourites

e. Canada Reads The Ultimate- Bring back the winning books (and maybe even the panelists) from the past 5 years and have a championship

(My pick would be e)

Robert Hiscock said...

At risk of sounding too much like a Canada Reads panelist, I would not pick a book many of Newfoundland's readers had already enjoyed as my choice in 'Newfoundland Reads' -- hence, not Colony.

I'd have to think a little more to decide what I would defend though. There are some wonderful books out there...

I could make an arguments for:

Enos Watts' Spaces Between the Trees,
Percy Janes' House of Hate and
Norman Duncan's Way of the Sea

I think fewer Newfoundlanders have read these and all are worthy of consideration and shelf space.

With regard to spin-off, everyone who reads Product knows I'd go for 'c but I'd also be interested in hearing a version where teens argue for their prefered fiction.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

John, why are you not producing programming for CBC? You've got some really good ideas.
I do hope you are wrong about the final outcome, but either way, it's been a fun ride.

Rebecca said...

I'm not a huge poetry fan, and I'm disappointed Three Day Road and Deafening didn't make it further. I haven't listened to yesterday's show yet, and won't be able to listen to today's until much later, so I'm hoping that Complicated Kindness comes out on top.

Also, I'm not sure I entirely agree with your assessment of Thompson. Sure, he's been pretty amusing, but I don't think he's that well-informed about any of the other books other than his. Most of his commentary about the other contenders sounds more like bitterness and dismissal as opposed to genuine criticism. And I wasn't all that please with his reaction when his book was eliminated - I found myself rolling my eyes a lot.

Michelle said...

I agree with you about finding little depth that everyone else finds in a Complicated Kindness. To me, Canada reads is about Canadian literature, and A Complicated Kindness felt Americanized. I think that Al Purdy's poetry collection summed up the Canadian experience and what it means to be Canadian the best, and Three Day Road would be my second choice. I feel like the debates of Canada reads offers minimal insight about the Canadian content in the literature.

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, I agree that not everything Thompson said was genius. As one Canada Reads listener pointed out, he complained about the lack of a male voice in Deafening yet defended Cocksure which had absolutely no female voice whatsoever. However, with the insane amount of petty bickering this year, he definitely added much needed comic relief. Also, I thought he, more than anyone else, brought up key points to discuss and wasn't afraid to ask what those big words meant.

Rebecca said...

Funny, after I posted that comment, I listened to days 4 and 5, where I found him to be much more interesting - he actually made an excellent point about humour and fundamentalism, and was then dismissed by Musgrave when he asked what makes a poem a poem.