Monday, November 22, 2010 |
The book: The peccadilloes of Parliament Hill's political animals are the subject of The Best Laid Plans, Terry Fallis's hilarious first novel, which won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. Read more >>
The author: No stranger to the worlds of public affairs and government, Terry Fallis has worked in public relations for more than two decades -- and his insider knowledge in both arenas shines through in his irreverent, award-winning satire of national politics, The Best Laid Plans. Read more >>
The panelist: An award-winning CNN anchor and the news network's chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi has covered every major news story from the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year to the financial collapse of Fannie Mae and Lehman Brothers in 2008. Read more >>
On the Canada Reads blog:
Cheering for The Best Laid Plans?
Check out Terry's live chat transcript below:
November 28, 2010
I'm David, a senior producer at CBC. And I've got plans for this weekend. Big plans. I'm going to retire to my chambers to read The Best Laid Plans
Surely you've heard of this political satire by Terry Fallis? One of the Canada Reads finalists...
I've got a good feeling about it. Ali Velshi (CNN anchor, and the book's chief lobbyist) assures me it'll be first past the post. "It's wickedly funny," he told me. Best of all, he promised me it's a "very fast" read.
He better be right. My attention span is shorter than a Kim Campbell government. If this novel doesn't whip me senseless within the first 20 pages, I'll be sure to file a non-confidence motion.
Chapter one, sentence one:
"After an impressive hang time, I plummeted back to the sidewalk, my fall broken by a fresh, putrid pile of excrement the size of a small ottoman."
Not a bad start! I'll keep you updated.
Will you be championing The Best Laid Plans this Canada Reads season? Why or why not?
December 5, 2010
So I was planning to dip my toes into The Best Laid Plans. Just splash about in its frothy, comedic waters, then set the thing down and give you my first impressions.
Oops, flawed plan. Turns out, Terry Fallis wrote a book you can't just dip in and out of. This book grabs you by the ankles and swallows you whole. You start it, you finish it, probably in the same 24-hour news cycle. It sucked me under Tuesday night at 8, and spat me out Wednesday afternoon around 4. And I had better things to do, you understand. Question Period was on. Being Erica.
My thoughts? Well, at first glance it seems to be a boy's book. With melon-bombers! Sexy political aides! Hovercraft! Chess!
But then you notice it's a girl's book too. With Liberal matriarchs! Buff whistle-blowers! Swashbuckling septagenarians!
Best of all, it features more free advertising for CBC Radio than any Canadian novel in recent memory. Seriously, it's almost as if the author was trying to.....
Hang on a sec. Gotta do something.
(Two hours elapse.)
Sorry about that. Dude dropped a copy of Jeff Lemire's Essex County on my lap. Once the swelling went down (it's 500+ pages) I decided to have a peek.
Oh. My. God.
Someone call Mr. Fallis. We've got ourselves a ball game!
Essex County is fantastic. Am I allowed to say that? I don't care, look at me; I'm a puddle of tears. I've got the eyes of a sea lion. I can't remember the last time a book got me so choked up.
Resolved: you can not call yourself a lover of Canadian literature unless you've read Jeff Lemire's Essex County.
There, I said it. So...where was I?
I'll drop my second impressions on you shortly. But right now, Power and Politics with Evan Solomon is on.
I bet he'd love The Best Laid Plans.
What were your first impressions of The Best Laid Plans?
December 12, 2010
Mr. Harper is at it again. Seen the video yet? There he is, seated behind his Korg, banging out pop tunes from, like, a hundred years ago.
Neil Diamond, The Who, BTO, the Beatles. If you're a white, male, English, septuagenarian rock star, you probably got covered by the PM and his band.
This can only mean one thing, of course. Election!
Of course, you already know that if you've read The Best Laid Plans. Quite apart from its literary merits (and they are legion), Terry Fallis's book cracks the code on Ottawa's indecipherable smoke-signals. Prorogation, non-confidence motions, stacked Senate, first-past-the-post. All that stuff used to confound me. But not anymore. The Best Laid Plans broke it all down -- into hilarious, sexy, bite-sized nuggets.
Still unconvinced? Think about this. Which do you prefer? Laughter, or tears?
If you're hankering to spend this holiday season in deep sorrow, pick up any of the other Canada Reads books. Seriously. Want to read about shattered dreams? Check out The Bone Cage. Keen to explore the inevitable decay of body and spirit? I've got a copy of Essex County I can lend you. Or how about spending a week mourning for humanity? Unless is waiting at a better bookstore near you.
If, on the other hand, you want to feel joy. If you choose hope over hopelessness, mirth over misery, then The Best Laid Plans is the book for you.
It's as exhilarating as a toddler's laughter on Christmas morning. And with an election in the offing, isn't that essential?
Is The Best Laid Plans an "essential" read to you? Why or why not?
December 19, 2010
The Best Laid Plans is, without a doubt, the most beaver-tailed, hockey-loving, maple syrup-drenched book of the bunch. Being quite serious here. TBLP and Canada go together like Bob and Doug McKenzie, like french fries and cheese curds, like Gordon Lightfoot and the key of G.
Want proof? I'll give you proof. The book is set in Ottawa, the town that rules us all. The prime minister makes an appearance. An Arctic air mass plays a major role. And in a poignant twist, two lovelorn characters do something extremely Canadian -- they separate!
What's more, TBLP is the only novel of the five with a Canadian flag on the cover. And as if that wasn't enough, the phrase The Best Laid Plans is an anagram for "Libs Adapt the Lens." No way is that a coincidence! (Editor's note: It's also an anagram for "Satan Beds Hell Pit." Significant?)
Bring on the posers, TBLP is ready to rumble! We'll go tuque to tuque; brewski to brewski; we'll be the mighty Gretzky to your Marty McSorley.
Do you feel that The Best Laid Plans is a "Canadian" book? why or why not?
January 8, 2011
Much has been made of how funny this book is. Winner of the Stephen Leacock award, etc, etc. And while The Best Laid Plans is indeed laugh-out-loud funny in places, some of the most memorable scenes, to my mind, reside at the opposite end of the emotional spectrum.
These moments of gravitas come from an unlikely source -- Angus McLintock. This crusty character loves chess, hates bad grammar, farts prodigiously and grudgingly runs for political office only to wind up changing the fate of the nation. He's basically a cartoon, a stereotype. At least, that's what you think he is, until Terry Fallis sits him down behind a bottle of single malt, and sets him scribbling in his leather-bound journal.
In these moments, which happen a dozen or so times throughout the book, Angus enters into a conversation with his late wife, Marin Lee. These are spine-tingling passages, hinting not only at Angus's profound sorrow, but also at the infuriating flame of human ambition that neither grief, nor cynicicm, nor age, nor unthinking partiasanship and vitriolic attack ads can extinguish.
What makes a literary character great? For me, it's the sense of untold depths; the belief that I'm only seeing the tip of the iceberg. (Jay Gatsby comes to mind, as does Hana from The English Patient, and of course, Charlotte from Charlotte's Web.)
While Angus McLintock may not quite belong in that rarefied group, Terry Fallis should be commended for anchoring him in deep water.
Who was your favourite character in the Best Laid Plans?
January 16, 2011
You just knew that hovercraft had to come out of the boathouse sometime.
It's literary convention. If you introduce a hovercraft into the proceedings, sooner or later, you've gotta take it out for a spin.
The author makes us wait for it though.
The Best Laid Plans is 312 pages long. The hovercraft takes to the Ottawa River on page 308.
But what a ride! And what a supremely Canadian way to tie off a book! Dressed in winter parka, ski pants, boots, mitts, hat and World War One leather flying headgear, the novel's hero, Angus McLintock, drives his personal watercraft downriver, through a paralyzing blizzard, to the Parliament Buildings.
I saw it coming a mile away. The sinister government. The non-confidence vote. The severe weather warning. Everything pointed to hovercraft.
And if the appearance of an air cushion vehicle isn't enough excitement for you, this scene also contains my favourite sentence from the entire book. It runs thus: "There's a vote to be won, and I'll not sit idly by while an unscrupulous Government hornswoggles a nation."
Hornswoggling and hovercraft, all in one page. Not too many authors can get away with that.
What was your favourite scene in The Best Laid Plans?
January 22, 2011
Biggest competition? Carol Shields' Unless. No question about it. Carol Shields is Canada's Tolstoy.
Yeah, that's it. Carol Shields' Unless. If any book can topple Ali Velshi and The Best Laid Plans, that would be it.
But wait. Canada Reads always contains a shock. A stunning reversal. A horrifying crash-and-burn.
Therefore, I bet Unless falls early. Yep, the more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it'll get voted off first.
Therefore, the biggest competition must be... The Birth House by Ami McKay!
And why not? It's a wonderful book; rich with historical detail, and plenty of fascinating trivia about vibrators.
But wait! The Birth House is defended by Debbie Travis. And TV stars tend not to do well on Canada Reads. Usually, it's the musician who wins. Jim Cuddy won. So did Stephen Page and John K. Samson. Which means the real competition must be... Sara Quin!
Sara Quin is defending the graphic novel, Essex County. So I guess that's the dark horse we'll have to watch.
Oops. Did I say that the musician always wins? I just double-checked, and that's not quite true. Male musicians have done very well, but female musicians never come out on top. Think of Sarah Slean. And Molly Johnson. Nope, Sara Quin can't possibly win.
Therefore the biggest competition must be The Bone Cage. Which is odd, considering it has a bright blue cover. No book with a blue cover has ever won before. Beige usually takes the top prize. Hmmm.
Which book do you think will be The Best Laid Plan's biggest competition?
January 29, 2011
Three words of advice: DON'T TRUST ANYONE.
Don't be fooled by the smiles and bear hugs and convivial chats over coffee in the final minutes before the show. Your competitors are watching, and they're out for blood. Don't reveal anything.
Keep an eye on the quiet one. Lorne Cardinal. He's up to something.
When the show begins, be forthright and honest about the fact that reading is a personal experience, and that it's impossible to quantify the emotional experience one gets from a great book. Then, whilst maintaining a dignified compassion for your fellow panelists' lamentable taste in books, be cruelly honest about the multitude of failings that plague each and every one of their novels. Go for the throat. It's not pleasant, but it needs to be done. The broadcast only lasts three days.
Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for the authors. They're resilient; trust me. They toil in the arts.
Besides, let's be honest, there's no real question about the quality of these books. Thousands of Canadians voted for them. They're all pretty great.
Still, it takes something very special to be named the essential Canadian novel of the last decade. So present your best case, find the chinks in their armour and then have at them with your basilard.
What advice would you give to Ali Velshi?