Monday, February 15, 2010 |
I'm sitting pretty over here — got a big, smug smile on my face. It took me a bit longer than I thought it would — thank you, book-shredding, reading-time-thief demon-puppy! — but I can now say that I've read all five books and am able to turn my thoughts to the task at hand: thinking about which one of our fab five deserves to be the Canada Reads 2010 winner.
We're not panelists, but we are here to share in the debate. So let's establish some first principles. Number one: Canada Reads is a competition. The point of the contest: to select a book that every Canadian should read. It's a tall order, and it's probably wise for us to establish some criteria for how we go about it here, at the Book Club or on the discussion boards on this site.
What is the discernible distinguishing feature that sets a book transcendently apart from the competition? It's a huge, even loaded, question and one you know is sure to provoke a lot of debate among the panelists — I really can't wait to hear what they have to say on this particular point.
Let's deal with the most obvious and prickly question: should the Canada Reads winner somehow be more Canadian than the other books? I can visualize a thousand pairs of eyes rolling, including my own, but it's going to come up. Like it or not, it's an important consideration, if a tad overcooked in our hypersensitive cultural climate. We're constantly asking ourselves what is Canadian — maybe too much — but then cultural neurosis is pretty Canadian too.
All of our writers are Canadian, so that's a start. Four out of the five books are set in Canada — at least most of the time. Nikolski namechecks countless provinces and territories, small towns and street names, though it also skips beyond our borders — it's almost an annotated atlas in its geographical scope.
Good to a Fault is set in Saskatchewan. The novel also takes genuine — some might even say, Canadian — interest in the plight of a regular woman. To my mind, Clara is an antidote to all that chick-lit mania south of the border.
In The Jade Peony, Choy paints a detailed portrait of the Chinese-Canadian experience in Vancouver during a tumultuous period of our history. On the surface that sounds like "good for you" multi-culti medicine, but it certainly doesn't feel like it. Choy's characters aren't ciphers for a historical treatise, or marionettes acting out a national ideal. They're very real people who warrant attention and elicit affection.
Ann-Marie MacDonald also takes the historical approach in Fall on Your Knees, set mainly in Nova Scotia. It's a family epic that plays out against the backdrop of many significant world events, including miners' strikes and the First and Second World War.
Generation X is the only novel not set in Canada, or explicitly about Canadians — though Dag is half-Canuck. The absence of concrete ties to Canadian soil in Gen X doesn't bother me at all. The spirit of the novel — restless, bored, terrified, and rebellious — speaks to everyone. I don't think a book has to be about Canadians to be meaningful to Canadians.
At the moment, I'll admit to being utterly confounded by the choice before the panelists. I don't envy them. What about you? Think you know who deserves to come out on top? Don't keep it to yourself.
And tell us what book you would choose for Canada Reads in our Make a Pitch contest. Your blog, vlog or audio argument may win you a Sony Reader Digital Book.
Until next time,