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
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.