The Canada Reads team makes a case for their book as the best story

Congratulations to KLReads, the winner of the first Canada Reads prize pack. She scored signed copies of all five books and an always fashionable and extremely practical Canada Reads tote bag. We're giving away another set this week. Keep reading to find out how you can win!


Our celebrity panelists will be standing up for their favourite read in the February debates, but the Canada Reads team is ready to start right now. Five of our producers have chosen to go to bat for their favourite Canada Reads 2012 title. Each week, they will make a case for why their book is the best.

But why should we have all the fun? You can get involved too — and just by jumping into the fray, you get a chance to win a Canada Reads prize pack. We're giving one away every week. To enter, see what our team has to say about their book of choice, then answer the question at the bottom of the post for a chance to win.

This year's Canada Reads theme was "True Stories." So today, we asked our team why their book is the best story. See what they had to say below!


Adrian defends The Game by Ken Dryden

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At first glance, the "story" in Ken Dryden's The Game could be seen as the most conventional of the Canada Reads 2012 finalists. After all, the book contains no struggle in an Iranian prison or ambitions to overthrow a military dictatorship in Chile. There are no sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. There isn't even a confrontation with a man-eating tiger (though Denis Potvin could play like one).

Really, The Game is about one man who wakes up every day, kisses his kids goodbye, and goes to work. He has a talent, is devoted to his craft, but understands that his success depends on his ability to play on a team. He thinks about his future and wonders if he — and his team — are doing the right things, making the right choices.

Dryden carried a hockey stick to work instead of a briefcase, but that doesn't make his story less relatable. Canadians don't admire hockey stars because they're stinking rich or have larger-than-life personalities: it's because, more often than not, they come from humble beginnings, work hard, and take whatever talents and opportunities they have as far as they can go.

That's the story of most Canadians. And it's a story that never ceases to inspire.



Nicole defends On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini

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With every great movie comes an awesome soundtrack. In On a Cold Road, we're getting a story about the soundtrack — the soundtrack to our lives. Music is with us every step of the way, and with the music comes the musicians who make it and perform it.

Now the structure of a story is a lot like the structure of a great song. You've got bits that remain constant throughout (characters, choruses) and you've got parts that move the story forward (chapters, verses). Then you have the parts that get you on the edge of your seat or give you goosebumps: the climax and the conflict.

On a Cold Road tells the story of what it's like to be a musician in Canada through a cast of characters. There's Dave Bidini, of course, and he weaves in anecdotes from Randy Bachman, Bruce Cockburn and Tommy Chong, among many others, throughout. The book is divided by province, which moves the story forward and across our country.

Is there conflict? You betcha! Bands break up, buses break down. Some fans get too close, others only care about the other band on the line-up. Maybe the weather won't co-operate, or one of the instruments just can't hold a tune.

These are just some of the challenges faced by a travelling musician. But we have challenges in our day-to-day grind, too. This is what makes On a Cold Road not just a story by and for musicians, but a story for everyone who spends their days trying to doing what they love.



Barb defends Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

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When it comes to non-fiction, I look for perspective on current or historical events or a window on a world I'm not familiar with. But I also want what I get from good fiction: a narrative arc that encompasses dramatic highs and lows; a sure sense of pacing; insight into the human condition through characters I can relate to; settings and situations described so vividly I feel I'm right there.

Marina Nemat's story of her imprisonment, and the remarkable sequence of events that led to her release and flight from Iran, fulfills all of those requirements. That's what makes it the best story in Canada Reads 2012.

Ordinarily, I would prefer to dwell on the positive and just emphasize how great Prisoner of Tehran is. But the comparison game has to come into it sooner or later. So, let's take a look at the opposition:

On a Cold Road. Rock musicians, road trip, anecdotal yadda yadda. Entertaining, sure, but this is the kind of book I might read on a train trip, when I'm looking for light reading between napping and looking out the window.

The Game. I'm a hockey fan, so I get it. But I know many people who aren't, and I can't see foisting this book on them and claiming it's not just about the sport. Yes, it addresses heart-warming things like community, dedication, hopes and dreams. But so does a Tim Horton's commercial.

The Tiger. No question that the basic elements of this story are gripping (how can you miss with a man-eating tiger?) and John Vaillant does a thorough job of contextualizing events. Maybe a bit too thorough at times, unless you're keen on lectures.

Something Fierce. Another dramatic tale, and similar in some ways to Prisoner of Tehran. But here's where topicality comes in. General Pinochet's brutal military regime was defeated, and Chile is again a democratic country. As for Iran and its political situation, they're still front-page news.

I rest my case.



Debbie defends Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

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You know how fresh ingredients are the basis of a tasty dish?

Well, it's the same concept with a great book.

It starts out with a key basic: a good story.

What makes for a good story? OK, a man-eating tiger probably does. And, fair enough, an ex-hockey great at his peak in the NHL sounds promising too.

So does the coming of age of a young girl living a double life as a revolutionary in South America, with its dramatic and sometimes funny twists.

That's the story of Carmen Aguirre's teenage life and her debut book, Something Fierce.

Its basic story is compelling, and so are all of the little stories Carmen uses to tell it.

Like the one about Carmen's three great aunts, the virgins who build an empire from nothing and made a blood pacts in their teens never to marry. Or, the story of how Carmen gets in trouble with her parents for kissing the neighbourhood boys in the alley, not because she's getting a "reputation," but because she's drawing unwanted attention to her family, who are risking their lives to blend in.

But there's something else about Something Fierce..

It's a story that's bigger than itself. Like any good dish, it's not just satisfying in the moment. It nourishes you far after you've put it down.

Something Fierce happened over 20 years ago. But, the central struggle, the story of the book, still rings true. Just look at the Arab Spring or the Occupy Movements.

The book, along with these revolutions and movements, make you think about the type of person you are and want to be and what you'd do for your basic rights.



Alison defends The Tiger by John Vaillant

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Five words: Hungry. Tiger. On. The. Loose.

In The Tiger, John Vaillant taps into a primal story of man versus beast, the sort of tall tale that has captivated readers for centuries. The Tiger has all the elements of a timeless folk legend. Vengeful and dangerous beast? Check. Terrified villagers? Check. Brave team of huntsmen? Check. Only it's all true.

More important, Vaillant grounds the mythic elements of the story in the brutal reality of life in Primorye, and the daily struggle of its citizens just to scrape by. Life isn't any peachier for the tigers either, and Vaillant skillfully balances the two perspectives with an overarching eye to the universal struggle for survival and general unfairness of life.

And there are dozens of fascinating smaller stories within the grander narrative of the book — childhood friendships torn apart by the cruelties of Russian life; the last practicing shamans, whose connection to the forest is almost mystical; the individual life stories of Vladimir Markov (the tiger's first victim) and Yuri Trush (the leader of the hunt).

And The Tiger's story is apparently kick-ass enough for Brad Pitt, who has optioned the feature film rights to Vaillant's book. I hope Angelina Jolie plays the tiger!



Ready to win a Canada Reads prize pack and decide for yourself which of our defenders is right? Now's your chance! Answer the following question in the comments below:

What makes a book a great story?

The deadline for entries is midnight, ET on Thursday, December 8. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

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