Saturday, January 22, 2011 |
This week we asked the Canada Reads defenders to take the measure of their competition: who would be their chosen book's toughest opponent in the debates? All were equally respectful of their rivals, but they certainly had different notions of which book represented the greatest threat to their own.
Check out what the defenders have to say, and then share your thoughts on the question.
Biggest competition? Carol Shields's Unless. No question about it. Carol Shields is Canada's Tolstoy.
Yeah, that's it. Carol Shields's 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.
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.
The last novel from a CanLit icon, a standout in the graphic novel genre, a best-selling darling of book clubbers and a political satire that won the Stephen Leacock Award. I have to admit that The Bone Cage is an underdog in this company — but hey, who would have thought that dark horse Nikolski would come out on top in last year's debates?
Formidable opponents all, but I think The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis is the front runner. As a relatively light and likable read, it probably won't attract a lot of flak from the other panelists — and if their own pick gets eliminated, it's the kind of "compromise candidate" that may well sail through to the end.
And it's got fast-talking CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi as its booster. He definitely knows how to marshal an argument.
Georges, we've got a fight on our hands!
Although the other books are all worthy opponents, Essex County's biggest obstacle is not a book. Its biggest challenge will be overcoming the prejudice other panelists have against graphic novels. On Canada Reads launch day, Georges Laraque dismissed Essex County as a "cartoon" before reading it. Assuming he has read it by now, I wonder if Georges still feels the same way.
I haven't met anyone who has not loved Essex County once they have given it a chance. As Brisei02 wrote on the site, "I never read graphic novels only because I didn't think they 'qualified' as a 'book.' There is so much to read that I didn't want to waste my time on a cartoon. Thanks to Canada Reads, I read Essex County and was surprised at just how much I enjoyed this style of writing. Sometimes less is more, that couldn't be more true in this case."
Once panelists and readers get over the format of Essex County, I'm confident that it will go far in Canada Reads.
There is some very real competition for Unless, and that competition comes in the form of a large, loud and exceptionally brilliant Scotsman-turned-Canadian politician named Angus McLintock. Yes, I'm talking about The Best Laid Plans. We know from King Leary that a comic novel can win Canada Reads, and with The Finkler Question winning this year's Man Booker Prize, there seems to be a real appetite for clever, humorous writing in the literary community right now.
But just like The Finkler Question, it's really selling The Best Laid Plans short to think of it as being merely "funny." The reason why it succeeds, and why it's such a threat, is that Fallis has created these incredibly memorable, multi-dimensional characters that you can't help but root for, regardless of your political leanings. As a result, he brings a real humanity to the Canadian political process that is somehow very refreshing to read (who knew I'd become so cynical?). Watch out, Unless, this underdog has proven it can come from behind in the past, and it just might do it again here.
Which book do you think will be the toughest competitor?