Terry Fallis welcomes the Canada Reads: True Stories final five

Well, the news is finally out. The five finalists for Canada Reads 2012: True Stories have stepped into the ring and now the competition gets underway in earnest. Since the Top 10 list was announced a few weeks ago, the suspense has become almost unbearable for book nerds like me. There were so many questions. Which five books would be left standing? Who would be the five celebrity panelists? Which book would each of them defend? Would any of the panelists fire a shot across the bow of their competitors at the launch? Well, we now have the answers to those questions. (If you missed the action, you can check it out here.)

The final five are a wonderful and eclectic array of brilliant true stories: The Game by Ken Dryden, Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre, On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini, Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat and The Tiger by John Vaillant. I'll be taking a closer look at each book in turn, starting in January.

What a great final five they are. Although, given the books that made it through to the Top 10, how could you end up with anything but a stellar quintet? There's a little something for everyone here. I'm excited for the five authors and I have some understanding about what they're feeling right about now.


Terry Fallis enjoying the Canada Reads 2012 launch in Toronto on November 23 (Tanja Tiziana/CBC)

I remember my trip down to the CBC Broadcast Centre exactly one year ago. Upon arrival, I knew only that my first novel was a finalist. I did not know the other four books nor did I know who the celebrity panelists were.

All was revealed in short order. It was such a thrill to meet my fellow finalists, Ami McKay, Angie Abdou, Jeff Lemire and, representing Carol Shields, her daughter Anne Giardini, who is an author in her own right. What I remember most about that day was just how lovely they all were. We knew that our celebrity defenders would soon be heaping criticism on one another's books, as was their mission, yet that sense of competition seemed nonexistent among the authors. I'll never forget that.

Last year Brian Francis, a great writer and a Canada Reads finalist in 2009, was the 2011 Canada Reads resident blogger, and offered advice to the final five authors on what to expect from the journey. It was wise and helpful counsel. So in that spirit, I thought I'd share some thoughts on what lies ahead for the five writers left in Canada Reads 2012: True Stories.

Ken, Marina, Dave, John and Carmen, welcome to the Canada Reads roller-coaster. Strap in, and above all else, enjoy this ride. As I noted in last week's post, all of you have already won. Your books will be in great demand from coast to coast to coast, and rightly so. You may wish to prepare yourself for more demands on your time. Not so much from CBC, although there will be some of that, but more from libraries, schools and other book-loving communities. Your names have just moved to the top of many lists across the country. I know that not every writer relishes the reading circuit. But I can tell you that Canada Reads has led me to so many places I'd never likely visit, and I enjoyed it all. You don't need me to tell you that such events build profile, sell books and give readers a glimpse behind the curtain into your lives as writers. It's a mutually beneficial relationship.

To the extent that you're able to, given geography and schedules, I'd urge you to stay in touch with your fellow finalists even it's only via Facebook and Twitter, particularly as you head into the debates in February. I know that you will let the panelists battle it out on behalf of your books, thus allowing all of you to hover above the fray where you belong, enjoying one another's company. You might prepare yourself to hear the odd discouraging word about your books, either from competing panelists or from partisan readers who engage with Canada Reads online. We've all been there before. I certainly have. It's a rare book that enjoys universal praise and affection. We all learn to let it roll off (cue the duck's back cliché) and it helps to remember that negative comments about your books, as opposed to serious criticism, may simply be part of another panelist's grand strategy to win it all.

You've all written extraordinary stories. You've made it through from the Top 40, to the Top 10, to the coveted final five. Now, it's time to let it go. The celebrity defenders take over. As CNN's Ali Velshi said last year, you've done the heavy lifting. The defenders will take it from here. Of course, I'm always available for Canada Reads finalists' personal counselling calls as the battle heats up. I hope your ride is as fun and fulfilling as mine was.


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. It's currently being adapted as a six-part mini-series for CBC Television. 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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