Last post, I mentioned Canada Reads. Canada Reads is an annual contest on CBC Radio (think the Canadian equivalent of NPR if you’re an American). Five people who are well-known for any number of things come one to defend five books. Each one-hour episode (which are on the radio, television, and released as podcasts) involves them debating the merits of each book, and ends with voting a book out of the list. The last book standing at the end of the week is the book they decide all of Canada should read. Past winners include In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje (author of The English Patient), The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe, and Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill (her newest book, The Lonely Hearts Hotel, just came out).
They’ve also had years were they went with a theme. 2011 had an online vote to decide which books they panelists would defend. The next year was non-fiction. 2013 was one book from each of five geographic regions. This year’s theme is “The book Canada needs now,” and the debates will be held from March 27 to 30. I started The Right to Be Cold today, and hope to read at least three of the books before the debates air.
There have been a number of moderators since the first edition in 2003
2003 – Mary Walsh, comedian from This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Check out Marg, Princess Warrior on YouTube to get an idea of her humour.
2004-2007 – Bill Richardson, author and radio host.
2008-2014 – Jian Ghomeshi, radio host notorious for being charged with sexual assault, which he claimed was consensual BDSM. He was dismissed by the CBC after his activities became public. He was found innocent in the first trial, and the second trial was cancelled after he agreed to a formal apology to the woman involved.
2015 – Wab Kinew, musician, broadcaster, and most recently politician.
2016 – Gillian Deacon, journalist, author, and radio host.
2017 – Ali Hassan, comedian and host of CBC Radio’s Laugh Out Loud
And so, this year’s books are
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis (magic-realism). Hermes and Apollo get into a discussion about whether animals with human intelligence would be happy or miserable as a result. They go to a veterinary clinic and transform fifteen dogs for a year to settle the bet. This book won the Writers Trust of Canada award, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and is being defended by Kanwer Singh, aka Humble the Poet. You can check him out on Youtube
Company Town by Madeline Ashby (science fiction). The book is set in a community off-shore, around an abandoned oil rig off the east coast of Canada. The heroine is the only person in the community without bio-engineered enhancements. And someone is killing women, in particular sex-workers. This book is being defended by Tamara Taylor, a former model and actress. You might remember her as the boss on Bones.
Nostalgia by M. G. Vassanji (literary science fiction). Set in the future, immortality has been achieved, but the human mind can only hang onto so many memories, so rejuvenation involves wiping the mind and implanting new, fictional pasts. But some people suffer from Nostalgia, or memories of their past histories leaking through. The main character is a doctor who deals with these problems, and a patient whose memories may be dangerous. This book is being defended by Jody Mitic, a military sniper who lost bost legs to a landmine, competed on Amazing Race Canada, and is now a city councillor here in Ottawa.
The Break by Katherena Vermette (literary crime). A young metis woman witnesses a tragedy outside of her window and calls the police. It follows all the people related to the event, including the police, a social worker, an artist, a homeless teen. This book was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Literary Awards and the Writer’s Trust of Canada, and is being defended by Candy Palmater, who describes herself as “…a gay Native recovered lawyer turned feminist comic, who was raised by bikers in the wilds of northern New Brunswick.”
The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier (non-fiction). This is a book about climate change, as well as a memoir of an Inuit woman who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and is a past International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. This book is being defended by singer Chantal Kreviazuk. For Americans, she sang the version of Leaving on a Jet Plane that appeared in the movie Armageddon.