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Taking the Canada Reads challenge

Since I haven't read any of this year's Canada Reads titles before, I've been questioning what I would have assumed about each book if I came across it in a bookstore. In other words, outside of the Canada Reads context. Here's a breakdown of how my thought patterns would likely go:

Essex County: "Not into that genre."

Unless and The Birth House: "For women."

The Best Laid Plans: "Not into politics."

The Bone Cage: "Don't like sports."

Canada Reads books

I probably wouldn't relate the above titles to my own experiences. I wouldn't consider them "me" books. (When I say that, I don't mean books written by, published by and starring Brian Francis. Rather, it's that feeling I get when I pick up a book, read the back cover, and decide in that split second if I'm the right reader or if the book is for "someone else.")

Where would my opinions about the Canada Reads titles come from? Fact? Previous experience? I'm not familiar with these authors. At least, not familiar enough with their work to form a viewpoint with any validity.

In short, my opinions would be completely baseless. Plucked from the air. But that wouldn't stop me from having them.

We all make judgment calls. It's part of our nature as consumers. Ultimately, when there are dollars involved, we're a lot more selective about where and how we spend our money. We tend to stick with things we're certain will give us return on our investment.

If you're anything like me, you hesitate when someone tells you to do something. Especially when it comes to things I already know lots about. Take books, for example. I know what I like and what I don't like. I know, even before cracking open the first page, whether I'll enjoy a book or not. I get a feeling. A vibe. On my days of self-deception, I call this selection process "intuition." On days I'm being honest with myself, I call it "being stubborn."

(I blame this on being a Capricorn. It's that goat syndrome.)

But if you follow a program like Canada Reads, you do have to do something that someone tells you. Which is, "Read these five books." And while some readers are more than happy to go along for the ride, there are others who might not feel the same way. They're the ones surveying this year's titles, thinking, "I may read this. But I won't read that."

Any reader worth his or her salt is an independent thinker. The very nature of reading is a testament to that. Unlike a movie, you don't read as part of an audience. There are no special effects. No musical score to sway your feelings. No good-looking movie stars to ogle. Books are simply words on a page. And in this simplicity lies their magic.

But sometimes (present company included), readers tend to stick with things and subject matters they're already familiar with. These are the readers who head to the same sections every time they go into a bookstore. And while there's nothing wrong with that, there's something to be said about questioning the opinions you have and deciding if your reluctance to read certain books is more about your comfort zones.

Ultimately, what Canada Reads does best is to challenge readers and their opinions. Canada Reads reminds us that books are there for us to experience different points of view and subject matter, challenge our thinking, and get us to re-examine some of our beliefs. After all, a book shouldn't validate your life experiences as much as question them.

Sitting in front of me are five books I wouldn't normally pick out for myself without Canada Reads. And I can't help but be reminded of my own book. How many readers would have passed on a novel called Fruit as being for someone else without its Canada Reads connection? In light of that, I consider myself lucky as a writer and a reader that Canada Reads is around.

Brian Francis

Brian Francis is Canada Reads' resident blogger. His debut novel, Fruit, was the runner-up in the Canada Reads 2009 debates. His second novel, The Natural Order, will be published next year.

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