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And the winner is... Flannery takes us inside the thrilling final debate

Hello, readers.

OK. This time I really mean it. If you haven't seen or heard today's show, then you must do so here. I don't want to be a surprise-spoiler — not today.

Giddy is the term I'd use to describe the overall mood in the "green room" (I feel very cool, very backstage groupie — in a good way — when I use that word) this morning. Fuelled by caffeine, adrenaline and complimentary carbohydrates, the panelists were all smiles and nervous laughter. There was talk of books they were reading now, or couldn't wait to read when Canada Reads was over. When War Child Canada's Sam Nutt tells you about the book she read while in Afghanistan recently, you start to feel a little silly complaining about how your new puppy keeps you from picking up a novel, you know?

Spirits were high, and I think the events that marked the last debate were partly responsible for the jovial atmosphere. If yesterday saw the demise of Fall on Your Knees, one of the most beloved books in Canadian fiction, what would today bring? So many twists and turns, I'm still shaking my head in disbelief.

Twist number one

Jian wasted no time getting down to business on this, the last day of Canada Reads. There were no lengthy intros, no "what it dos" or "ahoys" from Roland to start the day, just a few quick words and then straight into the results of yesterday's vote. I appreciated his haste, for what a result it was. The second-to-last vote was a doozy. Curveball number one: an unexpected tie between Good to a Fault and Nikolski. Heads definitely turned in the control room when that announcement came down, I can assure you.

The tie-breaking vote was pretty tense. I think I was holding my breath hoping that we'd stop eliminating books altogether, and starting voting one or two back in just for fun. There was little doubt about what book Roland, Michel, Sam and Simi would vote off. The only possible wild card was the always-unpredictable Perdita Felicien. I have to admit a part of me was hoping she'd upset the whole game and change votes mid-stream. But it was not to be. The funny and feisty Olympian marked an "X" beside Marina Endicott's novel and — bam! — it was off the table.

Whoa. And then there were two...

In four short days, our five books had come down to two: Nicolas Dickner's Nikolski and Wayson Choy's The Jade Peony. The sights, scents and history-rich backdrop of Vancouver's Chinatown circa 1930s vs. the vivid street life of Montreal in the late 1980s and early '90s. With major book sales on the line, it's no surprise that both Michel Vézina and Sam Nutt came out swinging during the final debate. Each panelist eloquently talked up the virtues of their picks. For Michel Vézina, Nikolski has an urgent modernity; it speaks to us about the way we live now. For Sam Nutt, The Jade Peony's historical narrative dramatizes the story of our nation.

The populist appeal

Jian pulled a "big-picture" question out of his hat: "Which of the two books has the broadest appeal to the greatest number of Canadians?" It was a bold move. Pose that query to five distinctly different Canadians such as the members of our panel, and be prepared for a number of different responses — or so I thought. But oddly enough, as the replies accumulated, a picture of what that novel would look like began to emerge: it would be multicultural, polyphonic (to steal a term from Michel), with a nomadic bent, bordering on the pathological, and stylistically inventive. (Are you getting my spoiler drift?)

The final vote

The buzz in the control room began shortly after the first tie-breaking vote came down at the top of the broadcast. Twenty minutes later, toes were tapping and knees were bouncing as the final vote was taken. The panelists spoke their choice for Canada Reads 2010 calmly and decisively. On the side of The Jade Peony, Sam Nutt and Perdita Felicien. Firmly in favour of Nikolski: Simi Sara, Rollie Pemberton and Michel Vézina. After months of debate about the blight of bestsellers, the dark horse of the competition, Nikolski, took the final prize!

Though I was heartsore for Wayson Choy and Sam Nutt, it was an exhilarating moment. There's something really wonderful about being taken by surprise like that. I wasn't alone. Even Michel Vézina was rendered speechless. His delight was clearly palpable, however — he was beaming. I got a chance to speak with him afterwards, and I don't think anyone could have been happier about the result, with the possible exception of Nicolas Dickner and his publishers.

My favourite moments of the final debate

  • Sam Nutt's eloquent analysis of the wind-chime scene in The Jade Peony. Her breakdown of the scene between Sekky and his grandmother collecting bits of broken glass to make a wind chime was lovely. Are we certain she doesn't have an English Lit degree?

  • Michel Vézina's comparison of Nikolski's unconventional approach to storytelling as akin to an Impressionist painting. It's an instructive metaphor for future readers of the novel. I'm going to use that assessment, and the "box of family photos" metaphor, when I reread Nikolski.

  • Listening to Perdita Felicien. I could listen to her read the book jacket of Fall on Your Knees. She's a brutally frank and funny panelist. I see a radio show in her future. This panelist is far too entertaining to be limited to her usual role as a world-class athlete.

  • When Jian good-naturedly referred to the panel as a collection of "nervous and bitter people." A Felicien never forgets, remember. Neither does a Roland Pemberton.

  • Sam's Post-It notes. It's possible there are more Post-It notes in Dr. Nutt's copy of The Jade Peony than there are pages in the novel. When I asked her about them before the broadcast, she laughed and told me her copies of all five of the Canada Reads books look like that. She also mentioned that she had even developed a colour-coded system!

  • Another behind-the-scenes view: Canada Reads senior producer Ann Jansen's book-shaped earrings. What better day to wear a pair of tiny novels in your ears than during the final debate of Canada Reads? I'm hoping the whole team gets a pair for 2011.

That's a wrap

That's my last report from the control room on the Canada Reads 2010 debates. After months of reading, writing and debating, we have our winner. Congratulations to Nicolas Dickner and Michel Vézina.

But wait — the fun's not over yet.

Join in our final live chat today at 3 p.m. ET, when I sit down with Book Club host Hannah Sung to talk about what went down during the exciting final debate.

On Monday, the winning author and panelist will be talking to Jian on Q, and the winner of the People's Choice poll will be revealed.

To be continued...


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