The Canada Reads team discusses their book's biggest weakness

Congratulations to LolaJane, 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.

During the Canada Reads debates, the panelists are going to have to champion their books, selling the country on why their book is the best. But each book has strengths — and each book has weaknesses. What will be each book's biggest weakness heading into the debates? We asked the Canada Reads team to point this out in their book — and share what they think their celebrity defender counterpart should do to overcome it.


Adrian defends The Game by Ken Dryden

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Despite being first published in 1983, Ken Dryden's week-in-the-life hockey memoir The Game has a certain timeless quality about it. After all, it's less of a play-by-play of his time on the ice than it is a superb collection of reflections about the connection Canadians have with hockey, and how the sport has evolved in form and identity.

Now, in my opinion, most awards have a zeitgeist element to them. Often times, a winning work captures the spirit and sentiment of the time. With this edition of Canada Reads, two books immediately jump to mind when you think of current relevance: Prisoner of Tehran and Something Fierce.

In light of last year's Arab Spring, the Occupy movement, the "99 per cent" protest, social justice, civil rights and political freedom are subjects that have come into sharp focus. Both Prisoner and Fierce are compelling, remarkable stories that truly fit into the current conversation.

But if there's one other book that's relevant right now, it's The Game. Another major conversation on the public agenda lately concerns the level of violence in the NHL. With the frightening fallout from concussive headshots and the recent deaths of veteran hockey enforcers fresh on our minds, Dryden's eloquent and well-researched analysis on violence in the sport is essential reading for anyone with an opinion on the matter. In Dryden's mind, excessive violence only begets more violence until the finer qualities of the game are lost. Many would agree, other would disagree.

Either way, defender Alan Thicke would be wise to bring this up in the debates. After all, this is a battle over the heart and soul of Canada's game.



Nicole defends On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini

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When I started reading On a Cold Road, it quickly became clear to me what angle the other panelists would take to argue against it. I mean, if Canada Reads was about the most harrowing experience, Prisoner of Tehran would easily take it. Surely voluntarily riding a tour bus across Canada can't compare, right?

But that's not what Canada Reads is about. It's about great, essential reads for all Canadians. And On a Cold Road is the headliner on this bill.

On the surface, On a Cold Road is about Canadian music, and that's its biggest challenge. Surely a revolution is more important than a cross-Canada tour, right?

But deep down, that's not what On a Cold Road is about. It's about a person with a dream and enough ambition to make his or her dream become a reality. Dave Bidini is that person, and so is supermodel Stacey McKenzie.

Maybe you've never picked up a guitar or walked a runway. Maybe you've never dreamed of being a rock star or in a Calvin Klein ad. But you've had a dream, right? Acting, singing, cooking, accounting, parenting — you and your fellow Canadians go to sleep and wake up with dreams like these every day.

This is why On a Cold Road is the essential Canadian read. It takes place in Canada (all of Canada), it's about Canadians (lots of Canadians), but at its core, its story is universal.



Barb defends Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

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There's just one obvious argument that I can imagine being made against Prisoner of Tehran, although it's one that could be directed at three of the contenders: the main events of the book don't take place in Canada.

As far as I'm concerned that's a wrong-headed approach, and ignores the fact that the issues that Marina Nemat addresses in Prisoner of Tehran are of universal importance. Really, the more appropriate question is why the book should matter to Canadians.

Canada is a diverse, multicultural country, so it's pointless trying to define one story that resonates equally with all of us based on some quality we consider essentially "Canadian." But we're all human beings. As I've said before, we all have struggles and sometimes feel overwhelmed. And we can all draw inspiration from this story of a young woman who showed courage and resilience in the face of a repressive regime — and who, years later, writes so compassionately and fairly about her captors, without demonizing them.

There's no denying the timeliness and urgency of Prisoner of Tehran, either: for even though Marina's ordeal took place 30 years ago, the fundamentalist regime in Iran continues to violate basic human rights with impunity. Evin Prison is still in the business of torturing its inmates.

No doubt the defenders of the other books will try to come up with arguments against Prisoner of Tehran precisely because it has so much going for it. Bring it on, I say. Ultimately Prisoner of Tehran, like its remarkable author, is a survivor.



Debbie defends Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

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There's not much that's weak about Carmen Aguirre's intense memoir of South American revolution — I was so enthralled I barely slept the weekend I read the book.

This is Aguirre's first book, and she's admitted in interviews that she wrote it "the way she talks," which is effective, but can sometimes read as a bit casual, especially considering the gravity of what she goes through. A revolution is going on around her, and 14-year-old Carmen just wants to make out with her dreamy Bolivian boyfriend.

Contrast this with Something Fierce's most similar book in this competition, Prisoner of Tehran, which is extremely serious and sombre in tone throughout — and rightly so, as what Marina Nemat lived through in Evin was horrific and mind-boggling, especially to our North American sensibilities.

But there's strength and spirit in Aguirre's casual tone: though she might downplay some of the darker moments (a suicide attempt she makes, for example, is brushed past in just a page or two), her dark sense of humour makes Something Fierce eminently readable.



Alison defends The Tiger by John Vaillant

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The Tiger's biggest weakness is also its greatest strength: it's incredibly dense with information about everything from the evolution of tigers to the importance of pine nuts to a Russian peasant. Like I said last week, reading The Tiger can be a challenge — throughout the book, Vaillant goes off on many tangents to bring us detailed background information, and I've personally heard from several readers who found this aspect of the book distracting and off-putting. And perhaps they're right: as a long-form journalist, Vaillant is concerned with the facts and details that lead to the bigger picture, many of which would be fascinating as their own magazine features, but some of which do distract from the thrust of the story.

Complainers should just skip to the last section of the book, which is a straightforward wilderness adventure as the hunters close in on the tiger. The positive side of Vaillant's attention to detail is that when he creates the tense atmosphere of the hunt with such accuracy, you feel like you're in the Russian taiga with Yuri Trush and his men, and you're ready to jump out of your skin at any moment.



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:

Which one of these contenders has the biggest challenge to overcome? Why?

The deadline for entries is midnight ET on Friday, January 27. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

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