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Debbie Travis defends: The Birth House by Ami McKay

The Birth House

The book: The miracle of birth and the struggle to live a good life; the miracle of a good life and the struggle to be born -- these are just a few of the themes explored in Ami McKay's poignant debut novel, The Birth House. Read more >>

The author: Born and raised in the U.S. Midwest, Ami McKay moved to Nova Scotia a decade ago and embraced Canadian history in writing her debut novel The Birth House. She and her family moved into a home that was once known as the local "birth house" -- it was there that she began writing fiction in earnest. Read more >>

The panelist: A pioneering force and major star in the now popular TV makeover genre, Debbie Travis is a household name -- for good reason. The design maven is a best-selling author and the CEO of a growing housewares empire, Travis's Home Collection, which boasts nearly $100 million in annual sales. Read more >>


On the Canada Reads blog:

Read and listen to excerpts from The Birth House

Meet author Ami McKay

Debbie Travis and Ami McKay on Canada Reads launch day

Meet design maven Debbie Travis

Ami McKay on the journey from Kitchen Ghosts to The Birth House

Canada Reads resident blogger Brian Francis on The Birth House

Inside The Birth House: from concept to cover

Podcast: Debbie Travis discusses The Birth House

Around CBC:

Ami McKay on The Next Chapter

Ami McKay on Airplay


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Support The Birth House on Twitter and Facebook with a Twibbon!

Check out Ami's live chat transcript below:

Kimberly Walsh defends: The Birth House

Kimberly Walsh The Birth House

November 28, 2010

As a person who reads, writes, and practically breathes books, I've learned over the years that book recommendations are a tricky business. I've been on the sending and receiving end of a few doozies. The Birth House by Ami McKay is one of those gems that, to this day, I hold up as a shining example of a great novel. All thanks to the words of my friend @fireflygirl who simply said, "You have to read this." Although I'm glad there's a book on the final five list that represents the East Coast, this isn't just a regional book. It's a book that looks at tradition in the face of change. And I'm here to defend its worth.

Will you be championing The Birth House this Canada Reads season? Why or why not?

Kimberly on her first impressions of The Birth House

December 5, 2010

It's tough not going into The Birth House without expectations. I'd never read a book about midwifery, known anyone who had birthed children under the care of a midwife or even had children of my own. In a way, it felt like the book was distinctly not for me. But what's a novel if not an escape from my own boring reality, right? Ami McKay's gift to the reader is her ability to paint a breathtaking landscape of rural Nova Scotia in the early 1900s and fill it with lively characters. Her characters spring to life from the page and offer an interesting glimpse into history. Just as in life, preconceptions of a book can leave you missing out on something wonderful. The Birth House is filled with gorgeous imagery and interesting dialogue, and along with these are the haunting experiences left unspoken. She also tackles issues that we continue to talk about today: equal rights, the role of science in childbirth and the preservation of traditions in the face of modern innovations.

What were your first impressions of The Birth House?

Kimberly on why The Birth House is an 'essential' read

December 12, 2010

Admittedly, I think I've got a huge advantage in this week's theme. Why is The Birth House an essential read? Every single one of us was born into this world thus making childbirth a crucial part of life without which we wouldn't even be able to read, ergo The Birth House is the most essential book. Fellow defenders, you've just been Canada Reads lawyered.

Not convinced? You just have to look at the world population clock for a few seconds to see that childbirth isn't going away. It's a timeless theme. Think about the controversial notion of being "too posh to push." Or the scientific advancements that allowed Adriana Iliescu to give birth in her sixties and who now, at the age of 72, says she's inspired "to believe that it would be possible for her to have another child."

As @trudi_e says about The Birth House on Twitter, "it's good fiction rooted in some real history, and it is timely, with the resurgence of midwifery." During the era in which the book is set, doctors diminished the important role midwives played in communities across the country. Today, as science keeps pushing the limits of the human reproductive system, the question still remains: just because we can, should we?

Is The Birth House an "essential" read for you? Why or why not?

Kimberly on the 'Canadian-ness' of The Birth House

December 19, 2010

Just as what makes Canada Canada, what makes a book Canadian depends on the person you're asking. Is it a distinct regional voice? If so, The Birth House has that in droves. But it's also a book that isn't just about one province and one town in rural Nova Scotia. It's a story about Canadian heritage and culture. It's a snapshot of a Canada in its infancy: where tradition meets modern invention, where we see our role in the First World War and the tragedy of a major historical event that was the Halifax Explosion.

We also get a close look at community, because first and foremost The Birth House is about people. Miss Babineau, the outspoken Acadian midwife who takes Dora Rare under her wing, is compelling as a character because she represents the past so well. She comes from a people who were expelled from the region and now her profession is threatened in the same way. It's a novel that theoretically could have taken place in many other parts of the country. McKay chose to set it in a place that inspired her creatively: her Canada -- and mine too.

Do you feel that The Birth House is a "Canadian" book? Why or why not?

Kimberly discusses her favourite character

January 8, 2011

By far, one of the liveliest characters that leaped off the page for me was Miss Babineau. I grew up in the big city of Toronto and only moved to the East Coast as an adult. As such, I knew almost nothing of Acadian culture, only that I had an uncle (through marriage) who was French-Canadian but not from Quebec. To me, Miss B. represents not just tradition but a way of life that's disappearing even still today.

In The Birth House midwifery is being challenged in the same way that Acadian culture was in the 1700s through repression and ultimately expulsion. At one point she says, "Science don't know kindness." In context, there's so much truth to those few words. When Dr. Thomas comes into town he has no understanding of the lives of these women he's supposed to be treating, or even an inkling about what it's like to be a woman. He relies on science to explain what he believes are infallible truths, leaving kindness at the door. The juxtaposition of these two characters makes Miss B. stand out in my mind as one of the most interesting characters to come to life in any book and is certainly a big reason why The Birth House should win this year's Canada Reads.

Who is your favourite character in The Birth House?

Kimberly discusses her favourite scene

January 15, 2011

"Le jardin des morts, the garden of the dead, the garden of lost souls." This is what Miss B. whispers to Dora in one of my most memorable scenes in The Birth House. It takes place early on in the book when they go to bury the Ketch baby. The scene is haunting to me, particularly the description of the makeshift graveyard with the Madonna carved into a tree stump.

Even though I'm not particularly religious, this place is special because of its spiritual connection with all the lost souls of infants. The brief ceremony and recitation Miss B. performs to give peace to the soul of the dead baby boy is one that clearly has an impact on Dora, as it did on me. I think what makes this moment so memorable is that it really sets up Dora's path in the rest of the book.

The scene ends with Miss B. asking her to name him as they stand in the grove of spruce trees with dangling bits of lace and shells that are "like the wings of angels." She calls him Darcy after the beloved character in Pride and Prejudice, "Because he should have lived; he should have been loved." If that doesn't moisten your eyeballs even just a little, I'm not sure what will.

What scene in The Birth House is your favourite?

Kimberly on The Birth House's biggest competition

January 22, 2011

To me Canada Reads really comes down to the strength of the panelists and the debates rather than just the books themselves. The books are all wonderful -- perhaps The Birth House is slightly more wonderful than the rest -- but my point is, the competition is all about who can make the best case. That said, if it's not design maven Debbie Travis who takes the prize this year, I believe it'll come down to the wild card of the season: Essex County.

Why? Because it's the first time a graphic novel has entered the fray and it's being defended by Sara Quin. I foresee apples and oranges comparisons that will work in the book's favour. In previous years the short story has not fared well under the scrutiny of the panelists but with the combination of a visual format and the voice of Quin defending its merits, we may have a contender for #1 threat against The Birth House. That's if, and only if, the rest of the debaters are able to take down Travis. And that's a big if.

Which book is The Birth House's biggest competition?

Kimberly offers Debbie Travis advice

January 29, 2011

Dear Debbie,

I can call you Debbie, right? Even though we haven't met in person -- I'm the only team member who works in Halifax -- I feel like we can be on a first name basis because we treasure the same book so dearly.

Here's my humble advice to you, framed by my degree in public relations. Take 3-5 key messages and just keep driving them home during the debates. You're the dream defender for The Birth House what with all the women's issues tied into the main themes, so definitely stay true to that. But, remember, there are a lot of Y chromosomes out there listening to the show too and several of them are on the panel. If you can illustrate the more universal appeal of the book you'll be on your path to victory.

Also, I think you need to seriously consider delivering key messages against your opponents and their books. At the same time, you want to build allies because Canada Reads is kind of like Survivor in that the losers become your jury. So tread carefully. Here are some things to consider:

  • Whatever you do, don't call Essex County a comic book. It's a graphic novel. You can earn points with Sara Quin by calling out any of the panelists who try to belittle the book's merits because it's "a comic book."
  • Watch out for Ali Velshi and The Best Laid Plans. The book has the potential to be the King Leary of the 2011 debates.
  • Lorne Cardinal is a funny man. It wouldn't hurt to have a few jokes on hand to set up a nice repartee with him. You can't out-funny him but that's OK because your goal is simply to get him on your side when Unless is defeated.
  • Find a way to deke Laraque. I can't say how here because he might be reading this post but I know you'll find a way.

Finally, have fun. I'll be rooting for you here in Nova Scotia.

Your online BFF, Kimberly.

What would your advice to Debbie Travis be?

Discuss the book here.

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