Introducing the Canada Reads 2012 resident blogger: Terry Fallis

I'd be grateful if someone could tell me where the last nine months have gone. It seems like just yesterday I was curled in the fetal position listening to the final day of the Canada Reads 2011 debates. Yet here we are already choosing the books for the 2012 debates. But there's a twist this year. For the first time in the history of Canada Reads, the spotlight shifts to non-fiction. Yes, it's Canada Reads: True Stories.

After giving silent thanks that the good folks at CBC didn't act on this idea last year, I'm pumped about helping spread the word about some of the best writing and the best storytelling this country has ever produced. Non-fiction has always sat alongside novels in our bookstores, on our buses, in our suitcases and on our night tables. And so it should on Canada Reads.


Terry Fallis with his Canada Reads 2011 panelist, CNN broadcaster Ali Velshi

To that dwindling but hardcore contingent of novel-only Canadians who think that reading non-fiction is too much like school, too dry, too boring and too much work: it's not too late! Dip your toe in the True Stories waters and then take the plunge. The water's not just fine, it's amazing.

I was once like you. For a period of about 20 years until about 2008, I was hooked on novels. During that time, you could count the number of non-fiction books I read on one hand and still have enough fingers left over to chastise bad drivers. But if I think back even further, from 1978 to 1988, I read non-fiction exclusively, with an emphasis on politics, history and biography. I remember joining the Book of the Month Club while studying engineering at McMaster in the early '80s. I took advantage of the signing bonus — an inducement to lock readers into the cult of the BOMC — and selected five free books.

To this day, I not only remember what those five books were, I actually still have all of them (and I even read a few of them). My five free BOMC books reflected my heavy non-fiction bias at the time. They were The Discoverers by Daniel Boorstin, Years of Upheaval by Henry Kissinger, Keeping Faith by Jimmy Carter, The Price of Power by Seymour Hersh and Cosmos by Carl Sagan. I know what you're thinking. Not a Canadian book in the lot! I should have been flogged with a wet beavertail. Forgive me, I was young.

So I've been through my pure fiction binges and my exclusively non-fiction phases and have come out on the other side. For the last three years or so I've maintained a more balanced reading diet. At any one time I have three or four books on the go. A memoir, spelled off by a novel, then over to creative non-fiction or a biography. But I confess it's nice to be back to non-fiction. I tend not to read as much fiction when I'm writing my own novels. I have this fear, misplaced or not, that voices from the novel I'm reading might somehow start emerging in the voices I'm writing. So with my third novel nearly finished, I've been reading more non-fiction lately, and as that great literary figure Maxwell Smart said far too often, "and loving it."

The Canada Reads 2012: True Stories Top 10 has just been unveiled and it's an eclectic and rich mix of stories very well told. The books cover everything from a graphic take on Louis Riel to life in the NHL, a personal story of courage in a far-off land to a Siberian tiger stalking his prey, and much more. I've been lucky in the last few years to have met and spent some time with several of the Top 10 authors and I'm pleased to report that I've already read a few of the Top 10 books, which will make the coming weeks and months a little easier.

I well remember the surreal feeling of unalloyed joy when I learned that my first novel The Best Laid Plans had made it to the Canada Reads Top 10 last year. I floated around in a daze for a week or so after the announcement. So I'm excited for all of the authors: Chester Brown, Ian Brown, Ken Dryden, Dave Bidini, Ryan Knighton, Margaret MacMillan, Marina Nemat, Roméo Dallaire, Carmen Aguirre and John Vaillant. I have a sense of what they're experiencing right now and wish them an exciting Canada Reads adventure. For at least five of them, and ultimately one, the journey will be unforgettable.

I had such a great time last year that I'll be tagging along for the 2012 ride as the Canada Reads blogger. I'm still working out exactly what that means but you can count on me talking about the books, what the authors are likely experiencing, what the last year has been like for me after somehow being the last author standing in last year's Canada Reads, and other related musings. So I hope you carve out enough time from reading the Top 10 books to visit the Canada Reads blog and keep me and the rest of the Canada Reads team company.

On your marks, get set, read...


Terry Fallis is the author of The Best Laid Plans, a satirical novel of Canadian politics that won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads title. His follow-up novel, The High Road, was a finalist for the 2011 Leacock Medal. McClelland & Stewart will publish his third novel in September 2012.

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