The Canada Reads team discusses the challenges within their contenders

Congratulations to GabeFritzen, the latest winner of a Canada Reads prize pack, which consists of 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 on the case right now. Five of our producers have chosen to go to bat for their favourite Canada Reads 2012 title. Each week, they will make an argument for their book as 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.

Whether it's the challenge of winning another Stanley Cup, the challenge of political resistance or simply the challenge of surviving a cross-country tour, each of this year's contenders is about overcoming challenges in some way. We asked the Canada Reads team to look into what their book says about overcoming obstacles.

Adrian defends The Game by Ken Dryden


If the 1978-79 Montreal Canadiens, the subject of Ken Dryden's The Game, knew how to do one thing, it was win hockey games. Make no mistake about it, Dryden and his talented teammates were elite veterans not underdogs. The Habs of 1971 were certainly scrappy overachievers, when a rookie Dryden helped to lead his team to Stanley Cup victory after failing to even qualify for the playoffs the previous year. But the Habs we meet nearly a decade later are accustomed to wealth and glory and are expected to be victorious. They may not seem like a team that has overwhelming challenges to overcome.

But you know what they say: heavy lies the crown.

In most compelling sports dramas, a team of underwhelming misfits go from zeroes to heroes through hard work, determination and team work. The Game focuses on a team used to dominating the league, but it's fascinating to see such a group at work, and to learn some of the secrets of its success. As Dryden reveals, preparation and emotional control are as important as the talent they're blessed with.

"For us, this is just another game in a long schedule. It is one of about fifty or sixty such games a season, anticipated with routine emotions, played routinely to an almost certain result. It brings with it no special feeling, and except for the player who scores two goals or more, it will leave nothing special when it ends. Because we are the best, because a long, numbing season rarely permits one team to set up an emotional trap for another, our games reduce almost to formula: physical readiness plus emotional readiness equals victory."

Physical readiness + emotional readiness = victory. It's a good formula to keep in mind whether you're competing for Stanley Cups or tackling anything else in life.

Nicole defends On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini

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On a Cold Road might as well be called On a Cold Challenge, because Dave Bidini's book is full of them!

The book starts with the challenge of being a young kid and working hard to make your musical dreams become a reality. Then, Bidini is faced with the challenge of finding the right band for him. Then after Bidini's found the right band, they're faced with the challenge of finding success — success in a small Canadian market, at that.

Bidini points out early in the book that a very small number of Canadian consumers support Canadian bands (19 percent of total sales) and that because of our "scant population," Canadian artists share the same audience in the same 10 cities across the country.

Yes, it's hard for a Canadian musician. Bidini knew he wasn't alone in his struggle, which is why he sought out stories from his fellow Canadian musicians about their challenges.

In every chapter of On a Cold Challenge (see — it works!), Bidini matches up the Rheostatics' experience across the country with similar challenges that were overcome by the many Canadian musicians who came before him: from playing in biker bars to the impact of the CanCon rule to the pinnacle moment in a young musician's challenge-filled career: playing Maple Leaf Gardens.

Richie Henman summed up playing at the Gardens best. He said playing there was at first a scary challenge, but it turned into the biggest high. "[The audience's] reaction was the best drug yet. If we had any doubts before that we were really hooked on this life, it was cemented right there."

Barb defends Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat


Let's face it. The ultimate challenge that anyone faces is survival. And the circumstances that Marina Nemat confronts in Prisoner of Tehranare the most dire and life-threatening of any of the books. (Yes, there's a man-eating tiger on the prowl in The Tiger, but author John Vaillant is telling that story, not living it. And in Something Fierce,Carmen Aguirre writes of the constant fear of falling into the hands of the secret police — which is exactly what actually happened to Marina.)

Wrongful imprisonment.


Being sentenced to death.

Being forced to convert to Islam, despite being raised a devout Christian, and made to marry one of her jailers.

And all this when she was just a teenager.

Marina's story is remarkable, and the dramatic circumstances she chronicles make for a riveting read. But one of the things that's so compelling about Prisoner of Tehran is how ordinary she seems in many other ways: her adolescent crushes, her interest in fashion and pop music and, simply, having fun with her friends. This is not the story of a larger-than-life hero. She writes candidly about her fear while imprisoned and the traumatizing effects of what she went through.

In other words, we can relate to her. And we can relate to the challenges she overcomes, extreme as they are, because basically her story is about staying true to your principles and standing up for what you believe is right.

Debbie defends Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre


"Challenge" is a staple of all good stories, so it's no surprise all five Canada Reads contenders face one issue or another.

Yet, Carmen's challenges in Something Fierce were more high stakes than dealing with the mishaps of touring across Canada or with career existential angst.

They included memorizing a new identity, losing the secret police and keeping it all together when her parents went on covert and lengthy excursions for the movement.

Carmen's challenges had life and death consequences.

Yet Carmen and her family accepted these. Just read that intense scene in the book when she joins the resistance herself and repeats the membership oath. It starts with "I am willing to give my life for the cause."

This book is filled with regular people who put their lives at risk to overcome a dictatorship and fight for a vision of fairness and justice. We see that around the world now too.

It also seems her challenge was living up to the image of the perfect revolutionary. She didn't want to let her family, friends, the movement and her country down. That tension between desire and values is something we all face.

This book also teaches us a lesson about that too. The secret lies in somehow balancing a love of Michael Jackson and of the posters of Ho Chi Minh, Salvador Allende and Tupac Amaru that hung on a young Carmen's wall.

Alison defends The Tiger by John Vaillant


Here's a challenge for you: try hunting an angry, man-eating tiger through a frozen jungle in the middle of a freezing Siberian winter where you get approximately six hours of sunlight per day and have to camp out in an unheated converted military utility vehicle. Also, you have devoted your life to the protection of the endangered tiger, and to be responsible for destroying one forces you to grapple with a personal moral dilemma.

Life in this part of Russia is plenty challenging, even without a man-eating tiger on the loose. This book is all about the desperate measures people go to in order to rise to the sheer challenge of survival.

And The Tiger issues its own challenge to the reader. One of the most frequent complaints I hear in my conversations about The Tiger is "There's too much!" I personally disagree, but I do agree that there is a lot. John Vaillant has written a densely packed book that is simply bursting with stories and lives and facts and politics and many, many things you didn't know about Russian life, or forest life, or large cats or pine nuts (yes, pine nuts). It's worth it, though, if you can handle the challenge.

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 kinds of conflicts or challenges most appeal to you as a reader?

The deadline for entries is midnight ET on Friday, January 20. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

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