Friday, March 02, 2007

Canada Reads 2007- Day Five (And the winner is...)

It's not often I'm glad to be wrong. But today is one of those rare days. While I still wished it had come down to Song of Kahunsha and Lullabies for Little Criminals, Lullabies won anyway and it was my favourite book from the lot. Yay!

It wasn't the most surprising of the Canada Reads episodes today. The first to go was The Song of Kahunsha. In perhaps the only eye brow raising moment of the show, John K Samson voted off Kahunsha. Earlier it had seemed that he had an alliance with Donna Morrissey and that he was not a huge fan of Stanley Park. Perhaps the voting was strategic, perhaps Jim Cuddy had influenced his vote. I suspect there was a little a both going on. He claimed to be "bewildered" by his own actions.

Yet Samson's vote wasn't the deciding vote. There was a 2-2 tie between Kahunsha and Stanley Park, and the breaker fell to Denise Bombardier. Again, no surprises. She casually casted aside Kahunsha as not being Canadian enough, which earned her a lecture on what being Canadian is from Donna Morrissey. The tension was delicious. While I agree with Bombardier that Morrissey was a little out of place, I'd like to see Irani years from now win the Governor General's award or even the Order of Canada and hear him reflect on the competition he lost way back when he wasn't Canadian enough (he's lived in Canada from almost a decade now). But then again, this book wasn't set in Canada either. Maybe there is a line here somewhere. Denise Bombardier unfortunately was the one to decide what it was, and she felt it had been crossed.

Anyway, with Kahunsha gone the show was anti-climactic. Bombardier again was one of the most vocally against Lullabies. Oddly her loudest complaint was probably one of the best aspects of the book. Writing about pimps and drugs, she claimed, is "what's happening in our times (sic), it puts ahead values that are the values of our time, and it is also about this trash vision we have of our time and I thought it was too depressing...This is also reality, we know that..the television is full of all those depressing lifes (sic) of people who are victims [of their] social class...I'm looking for hope and expectation." This is exactly why the book is necessary. So sad that the reality is too harsh for Bombardier, but looking away or pretending it's not the way it is surely won't breed the hope she's longing for. But I'm lecturing. Oh well, she won't read this anyway.

I also liked the audio clip from O'Neill but felt the panelists shortchanged her message. She said that she grew up in a similar life as Baby and wanted to show how interactive pimps and drugdealers are with children who live in inner cities. She said, as children living amongst such characters, they are often idolized and treated almost as superheroes. After the clip, Bill Richardson said he didn't feel that such characters came across as superheroes at all after reading the book and said it in a way that led me to believe he thought it was a flaw with O'Neill's writing. But in her defence, O'Neill didn't say they were superheroes, she said children often view them as such (there's an interesting new genre of music called "Hip Hop" that presents similar views). The difference is crucial to John K. Samson's argument that the book is important. It's also crucial to the coming of age element discussed by Steven Page. Towards the end of the book, Baby has grown out of her illusions about the sleazy characters around her.

Anyway, when all was said and done, Lullabies won. Stanley Park lost. And all is right with the world. Except for the sad fact that the show is gone, not to return for another year.

The winner of Canada Reads 2007-

Lullabies for Little Criminals - Heather O'Neill


John Mutford said...

The winner of Le combat des livres was announced today as well: Denis Theriault's L'iguane Fortunately for us anglophones, there is a translation.

John Mutford said...

It's occurred to me that this is not the outcome everyone wanted. Denise Bombardier seemed horrified at the outcome. And while I've certainly poked a lot of jabs at her, she's entitled to feel that way. As will plenty of others. Certainly there are more Denise Bombardiers out there. Likewise, I'd be very disappointed had Stanley Park won today. But people get a little too hung up on "What is the one book all Canadians should read?" Obviously that's to be taken with a grain of salt. It's a sexy pretense, a slogan, nothing more. Of course one book can't be, and shouldn't be for everyone. Canadians are a diverse bunch and most of us celebrate that fact, so why we'd expect one book to speak to everyone is beyond me. In actuality people are debating their favourite of five books, which book a lot of Canadians should read. That's not as catchy.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

It's rather harsh, isn't it, how Canada Reads sweeps into our lives, gets us all worked up, and then abruptly leaves for another year?

Of course I was happy with the outcome, but I don't think I would have been as devasted if Lullabies hadn't won as I would have been if A Complicated Kindness hadn't won last year. I want to read The Song of Kahunsha very much, and I do think that the real focus of this whole exercise is, as you suggested, to encourage discussion about books, to bring Canadian literature (in whatever form it appears) into the spotlight, and not neccessarily to read one particular book.

John Mutford said...

I wouldn't have been devastated either. Unless Stanley Park won. Any of the others I could have accepted.

I did love A Complicated Kindess too, but I had been rooting for Rooms For Rent last year. Sadly poetry, like short stories, doesn't stand a chance. Even though I thought Lullabies was better than Natasha, I hope this doesn't set a precedent. I hope future panelists will be brave enough to champion different genres.

Anonymous said...

To answer the comment you left me (which I read at work and wasn't able to respond), I didn't read any of the other books. Although, the number of times I picked up Natasha and put it back down is in the double digits, I will certainly pick it up and try it again.

I didn't hear any of the debates, but I'm downloading them to listen to this weekend.

John Mutford said...

Rebecca, were you just interupted or could you not get into it (Natasha)?

Kati said...

I'm glad I wasn't the only one who found Denise Bombardier's comments disturbing. Just how narrow would she like Canada and Canadian writers to be, I thought, as I heard some of her comments. Perhaps, I would not be welcome in her Canada, and that pisses me off! Although I still haven't read the books, I enjoyed the debates immensely!

John Mutford said...

While Denise Bombardier didn't come across as someone I'd invite over for tea, I wasn't all that disturbed by her comments. Surely, there has to some point at which a book isn't Canadian enough for a program called Canada Reads. Would Steven King be okay? What about if he wrote the story in Toronto? What about if it was set in Montreal? What if his grandfather was an Albertan? I'm not saying I have the answers either, but Bombardier is entitled to her opinions. For what it's worth, I think if someone is allowed to immigrate here, they are then Canadian and so are their stories. Maybe we're all hung up a little on borders. This kind of stuff though is why I love the Canada Reads program. Discussions about "What Canadian books are", "Short stories vs. Novels" and so forth are more important to me than the outcome. Though finding out which book wins is definitely fun.