Saturday, February 5, 2011 |
Well, folks, here we are. On Monday morning, our steadfast Canada Reads defenders will turn the reins over to the celebrity panelists. From there, it will be three days of live, no-holds-barred fighting. So, as they say their goodbyes, the team defenders are offering up their final words — specifically, the five reasons they think their book deserves to be champ.
Here are five reasons The Best Laid Plans is going to take it. (I can actually think of several more, but modesty prevails. Besides, I believe in following the rules. Unlike in politics, no dirty tricks here!)
1. The Bone Cage is about power and competition...but so is the political world, except it doesn't involve Spandex. Competitive instinct? The single-minded quest to be a champion? Sure, The Bone Cage has those things, but so does The Best Laid Plans.
2. Essex County portrays a community in transition....but The Best Laid Plans is about a whole country in transition. Take that, rural Ontario.
3. Unless is introspective, but all Reta Winters does is sit around and think about things. Angus McLintock is a man who gets things done. And who would you rather have on your side?
4. In The Birth House, Dora Rare battles the big bad doctor in town, way back in the early 20th century. (Even your grandparents don't remember back that far, I'll bet.) Angus battles the big bad government in the here and now.
5. The story of The Best Laid Plans stands on its own, but the story of how it came to be is worth celebrating too. From self-published author to Canada Reads champion? Have another book try to top that.
Here are the down and dirty five reasons why The Birth House should win Canada Reads this year:
1. The content is universal. Sure, not everyone will give birth to a child — for a good percentage of the population it's physically impossible — but everyone was born. If you can't appreciate the fact that you had a mother who carried you in her womb for about nine months before pushing you out into the world, then I don't know what to say to convince you that this book is inherently about all of us.
2. It's distinctly Canadian. Come on, you know this theme is going to come up during the debates. The Birth House is wrapped up beautifully in Canadian history. It's practically a homage not just to the East Coast but also shows a snapshot of life in the 1900s in this great country of ours.
3. Debbie Travis. Have you seen how much preparation she's been doing on her blog? She means business, people.
4. It's an essential read. This theme will surely come up in the debates because it's the topic that framed the Canada-wide votes to begin with back in the fall. Many of the issues in the book are relevant today: sex and sexuality, tradition versus modernity, procreation and women's rights. While all the books in the debates have their place, I'd say many of them are less "essential" reads. (Yeah, maybe that was the sound of claws coming out.)
5. See reason number 1. Seriously, if the other panelists don't stand behind this book they'll make their moms cry.
Never let it be said that I don't respect my opposition. I freely admit that all of the Canada Reads contenders have their good points. But I also believe that there's a strong case for putting The Bone Cage atop the Canada Reads podium, for the following reasons:
1. Popular subject: The Olympic Games are a huge fan favourite in Canada, so there's already an established interest in the subject matter. The Canada Reads choice should appeal to a general audience.
2. A new angle: We're used to seeing high-performance athletes in their glory moments, competing at the Olympics or other high-profile events, perhaps even standing atop the winners' podium. But Angie Abdou brings added dimension to this familiar subject. Immersed in Sadie's and Digger's reality, we come to appreciate what it takes, physically and mentally, to excel at that elite level. It's a story that hasn't really been told in Canadian fiction.
3. The Bone Cage gives readers a vivid, visceral sense of what it's like to be a top-level athlete. How else are you ever going to live that experience? (And without leaving the comfort of your armchair!)
4. Gender balance: The storyline is split evenly between a male and a female protagonist, unlike several of the other books, which seem aimed more towards one sex or the other.
5. The Bone Cage didn't get national recognition when it was first published. Shouldn't the Canada Reads champ be a discovery, not a book that's already been fêted?
1. Canadian: it doesn't get more Canadian than Essex County. There's hockey and landscapes of cold winter warmed up by the company of caring people.
2. Universal in its reach: Much of Essex County's strength comes from its characters and the relationships they have with each other. They may be Caucasian and live in the country, but everyone can relate to their awkward relationships of love and regret.
3. It's absolutely beautiful: Good graphic novels (or comics, if you prefer) like Essex County paint us a picture, but still allow us to use our imagination to fill in the gaps.
4. The "it's a graphic novel" argument isn't good enough: even though it's a graphic novel, it's still better than the other four books. It's 2011 and the graphic novel is widely recognized as a valid form of literature. In 1986, Maus (Part One) by Art Spiegelman was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award. That was 25 years ago, before the internet. If the Book Critics can recognize a comic as an art form and of worthy literary merit, surely the Canada Reads panel can open their minds.
5. My fellow bloggers agree: Two of the four other bloggers agree that Essex County is really good. Hannah Classen said aside from her book (Unless), Essex County "is the only other good book." David Carroll, who is championing The Best Laid Plans spent one of his blog posts praising Jeff Lemire's book. He said "Essex County is fantastic....you cannot call yourself a lover of Canadian literature unless you've read Jeff Lemire's Essex County."
Okay, panelists. I'm going to lay it out plain. There's no need to hold my cards close to my chest anymore. As Essex County defender Andrea Chiu said to me recently, this is Canada Reads: A battle of the books, not Canada Reads: A friendly handshake of the books.
Unless has got to win, and I shouldn't even need five reasons to persuade you. These three alone make my case:
1. It's clearly the best book. I don't know how many times I can say this. Carol Shields is one of the greatest writers to ever call this country home. Unless was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award AND the Orange Prize for Fiction. This is an outstanding work of fiction. That is just a plain, old, staring-you-straight-in-the face kind of fact.
2. One of the reasons it's so extraordinary is because it is so tightly crafted. Shields doesn't miss a single beat here. Every word, every sentence, every mark of punctuation is there for a reason. The other nominees are fine, but I always found myself getting frustrated by plodding plot points. When I'm reading, I want to forget the fact that writing is about making decisions, not muddle along waiting for those decisions to happen.
3. One of the amazing things about literature is that it can show you a different reality. It really is one of the best ways to learn about life. When you look at past winners of Canada Reads, they almost without fail highlight some unique element of our Canadian identity, and then delve in deeply to open up that element to all of us. In the process, we learn something about who we are as a nation and a culture. There has been a lot of talk about whether or not Unless is a book for women. I'm not sure that it is. Reta's struggle to define herself raises questions for all of us, female and male, about the choices we make and how we live our lives.
Which book are you cheering for? What are five reasons it should win?