Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Day Three

Down with Children! Down with Children!

This has been the best day of the debates so far. Intelligent conversations, no one panelist or book monopolized the discussion, Bill Richardson didn't try to influence the votes, and most importantly, people were honest without being petty. Plus, Children of My Heart was eliminated.

This, as you may remember, was the first book I predicted to go. I even foresaw Denise Bombardier's argument that the other books were too trendy. I shouldn't crow too loudly though. On the Canada Reads site last night I switched from my earlier stance and guessed that Stanley Park would be getting the boot today. It just goes to show; in a multiple choice test you should always go with your initial instincts.

I have to hand it to Bombardier today. She took the loss well. She had anticipated that her book didn't have a great chance and while she did accuse the others of being too trendy, it wasn't said with a lot of bitterness. She might have a point. Each year the good people at Canada Reads post the question, "If you could defend a book at Canada Reads, which book would it be?" (Like they'd ever let an average Joe John have a chance). One book I'd consider is Allistair MacLeod's No Great Mischief. My reluctance would be the same as Bombardier's; it's probably not hip enough. And a book needn't be trendy to be good, she's right about that. However, it's not fair to say that every book needs to feel dated either- and Children of My Heart did. A book is always a product of its time. The trick is making it relevant to whatever time it is, or will be, read. I think Lullabies, Kahunsha, and Natasha will accomplish this. It's hard to say of course, but I think they'll at least be as relevant 30 years from now as what Children is today.

Bombardier should also be commended for speaking her mind about Kahunsha not being Canadian enough in her mind. To say such a thing nowadays is pretty brave- even if you don't agree with her. I can see where she's coming from. I find it funny how Canadians (and I know I'm generalizing) cling to and claim anyone who's ever passed through, as long as they've accomplished anything noteworthy. That said, Anosh Irani is here now and the book was written here, so it's Canadian enough for me. Like Donna Morrissey said (in a surprisingly well-put defense), the themes in the book are universal. Plus, for us Canadians who aren't of Indian descent, why not learn a little bit about another culture? That's pretty Canadian isn't it?

Last year I remember my wife feeling that Cocksure didn't feel Canadian enough for Canada Reads (it was primarily set in Europe). It all comes down to what Canada Reads is to you, the listener (or if you're famous enough, the panelist). When I first started listening to the program a few years ago, I was bothered by the fact that it had no mandate. I complained (loudly enough so that Zsuzsi Gardner took a cheap shot at me- what the hell's the Spicer commission anyway?) that they had no direction, no unified reason that "Every Canadian should read this book." Since then the lack of focus has become one of the reasons that I appreciate the program so much. Some panelists choose because they think it's time Canadians read a funny book, to expose a relatively unknown author, in order to raise the awareness that there are actual poets amongst us, or simply because they like the story. So if Bombardier, or my wife, feels that a book should be set in Canada, or written by someone born here, that's their prerogative. They should just be fair warned that others might have differing opinions.

It was a nail biter today, wasn't it? The first four votes were revealed and there was absolutely no consensus. It was all up to John K. Samson. He stuck to his alliance with Morrissey however, and Children of My Heart was no more.

Jim Cuddy voted for Natasha again. He didn't feel short stories should be competing with novels. I'm not sure why Page hasn't made the argument that Natasha doesn't feel like a collection of short stories. Even if it did though, I disagree with Cuddy. It's okay of course not to like short stories, as is Donna Morrissey's case. Everyone is entitled to their tastes and preferences. But to say they shouldn't even be allowed to compete isn't fair. Hell, I say they should open the contest to non-fiction, religious texts, and even shopping lists as well if someone is crazy enough to defend them.

Another surprise came from Bombardier when she called Stanley Park boring. It is boring, she's right about that, but I had thought she would be Cuddy's only hope. None of the other four panelists have spoken in favour of his book (though Samson had a good point when he said Stanley Park was ambitious). I'm curious now as to which book she will be supporting. The only one I can see is Natasha. She did say something about it having "Jewish wit". Yet Cuddy and Morrissey don't seem keen on it. Once again Samson might be the deciding vote. I love it.


John Mutford said...

Since I'm dishing out the compliments, Bill Richardson should be commended on his blog today. I really enjoyed The Bachelor Brothers, so it should come as no surprise to me that he's a great writer. Today's posting however was exceptional. Loved the hummus pun at the beginning. (Though I'm not sure about his claim that Morrissey is articulate.)

I've been critical of Richardson adding a bit too much of his own commentary into the program (fearing he'd influence the outcome) and so I think the blog is great idea. It must be frustrating not to be able to say what's on your mind as the panelists ramble on. But now he has the chance. I loved to hear why he would have voted off Children of My Heart as well. And I'm exceptionally glad he kept it for the blog.

Allison said...

Doesn't feel Canadian enough. How often is that phrase uttered? Or better yet, what stipulates something as Canadian? Everything is so subjective there is no true answer, you're right, its all about what it means on an individual level.

Can you listen to the old episodes online of these debates?

John Mutford said...

The "not Canadian enough" isn't completely without merit. If a panelist tried to present a book written by an American in England about Iraq, I'm not sure I'd be okay with that either. It is Canada Reads afterall. I know that's an extreme case but where is the line?

Yes, the audio is available at the Canada Reads site for the past days' debates. Also, if you're interested in past years' debates, click on the "past editions" links and audio is available for some of those as well. You can download it as a podcast or listen online with realaudio.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Finally, word verification is back up! I was trying to comment all last night to tell you what a great post this is, John! But if the stupid word verification garble doesn't pop up, you can't publish. Argh.

Anyhoo, I think I enjoyed your take on Wedesday's episode as much as I enjoyed the show itself! And as you said yourself, it was a doozy. (And I think I ruptured something while reading your title, frankly)

You are proving to be quite prophetic about the outcome thus far, and you have single-handedly re-established the wisdom of always sticking to your instinct in multiple-choice. The vote could not have been more exciting, could it? I'm picking Stanley Park for Thursday's victim.

And I am really enjoying Bill's blog posts as well. I've always thought he was a gifted humourist with a fine sense of language. I never want Canada Reads to end.

John Mutford said...

Barbara, Thanks for the heads up on the word verification thing. I thought it strange that while I'm getting a record number of hits (my old record was pretty sad), I'm not getting many comments.

As much as I love the program, I'm glad Canada Reads will end. My wife would probably divorce me otherwise. She's often bragged to her friends that she doesn't have Stanley Cup blues, I'm still pretty inattentive this time of year.