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And they're off! Flannery handicaps Day One of the debates

The first shots have been fired in the Canada Reads 2010 debates! Our five panelists were quick on the draw and didn't waste much time making nice before they took aim. There were controversies, passionate defences, insults and a couple of pretty inspired puns and jokes — all in all, Day One featured every necessary ingredient for a great discussion.

Let's start with the controversies. Not surprisingly, the first hot-button topic was the question of how relevant the chosen books are to the competition itself. Three of this year's Canada Reads books were published more than a decade ago, and the issue of their contemporary value has been raised since the line-up was announced.

Simi Sara was the first one to strike that chord — in her 60-second pitch for Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault, she went after Fall on Your Knees and Generation X, arguing that they didn't deserve the recognition of a Canada Reads victory because their place in Canadian literature is already firmly established. Good to a Fault, published in 2008, is far more deserving of notice in her view. Her argument brings me to my favourite impassioned defence: Roland Pemberton's spirited championing of Generation X.

I think Roland addressed Simi's complaint against the contemporary value of Gen X (which came out nearly 20 years ago) extremely well. Rollie made it clear that he wasn't bringing any specific criteria to his selection other than the subjective: he chose Gen X simply because it was a "great book." And really, that's what we asked of him — to choose the book he thought every Canadian should read. But in doing so, he's opened himself up to a world of pain in the debates. I don't think any of the other panelists are going to let him or his book off the hook — certainly not without a fight. Fortunately, Edmonton's poet laureate isn't lacking in the verbal dexterity department.

On to insults and quips! Yes, retorts, gibes and comic asides are my favourite part of any debate, and this, our very first debate, didn't disappoint. Of course, I'm thinking of Michel Vézina's response to Perdita Felicien and Samantha Nutt's criticism of Nikolski as being "thin." Vezina threw that assessment right back at them, declaring: "If you read it in a thin way, you'll find it thin." That's a classic move in literary debate — laying blame with the limitations of the reader rather than the author. Nicely played, Michel. You may not have won many female fans with that one, but it was a bold move.

Michel was also responsible for one of the more amusing/cringe-inducing puns of the day. Talking about his difficulty with Fall on Your Knees, the journalist said, "I have to admit it fell on my knees a few times." Perdita's quip that she was looking for "any distraction" to put down Gen X caused me to laugh out loud, as did her defence of the troubling content of FOYK: "We don't live in Disneyland."

What issues, defensive manoeuvres and witty rejoinders will arise on Day Two of the debates? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can't wait to find out. Here's one thing that's for certain: by the end of the second debate, the fate of one of our five beloved books will be sealed. After the end of Day One, who do you think it will be? Did this opening round change your opinion on any of the selections? As always, share your thoughts! We've got the ideal venue to do so: Join our live chat today at 3 p.m. ET, featuring Jian Ghomeshi and Book Club host Hannah Sung.

Until tomorrow,



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