The Canada Reads team discusses their book's most important message

Congratulations to HNIC1000, 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.

Books are filled with nuances, complexities, twists and turns. But what is the single most important message each book has to offer? What is the single reason each of these books deserves to be read by an entire nation? That's the question the Canada Reads team tries to answer this week.


Adrian defends The Game by Ken Dryden

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Sometimes it's not what you say, it's how you say it.

Ken Dryden's hockey memoir The Game isn't particularly replete with heart-swelling, grand missives that crystallize philosophical truths about the human condition. There are no real prescriptive declarations of what human beings ought to do, how to treat each other, or what makes for the ideal life.

Dryden writes about a week in his life as a hockey player on one of the most dominant teams in NHL history. But it's how he writes — with reverence and respect.

He has critical things to say about the business of hockey, knowing how money and chasing contracts can twist and distort a player's identity and affect their play. He also isn't a fan of the modern NHL game's physicality and the level of violence and fighting in it.

But it's clear he has nothing but love for "the game"" the pure game itself. Two teams going after a rubber puck on a surface of ice. Just reading about his childhood experiences playing with his brother in their backyard helps you understand why a simple game can inspire people to dedicate their lives to it, how love for the game can bridge language and cultural differences, and the bond it creates between athlete and audience, team and community, sport and national identity.

Dryden has never thought of himself or his 1970s Montreal Canadiens dynasty team as bigger than the game. And I think that's a great message for any Canadian to take to heart. Respect what you do. Appreciate your teammates. At the end of the day, you're fortunate to have ever played the game at all.



Nicole defends On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini

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On a Cold Road's message is two-fold. It's a book about Canadian music, and it's a book about Canadian dreams.

Why should Canadian music matter to Canadians? Well, imagine life without it? How would we keep on rockin' in the free world? How would we look at love from both sides now? How would we get lost together?

Simply put, we wouldn't. The arts are often underappreciated and undervalued, but they serve as a form of expression and a form of release. And our music is as much a part of Canadiana as John A. Macdonald and Tim Hortons.

Yes, On a Cold Road's message is a double double. I'm sure I'm starting to sound like a broken record, and not a gold record, but Dave Bidini's book is also about the Canadian dream. Yes, we can have a dream, too. And unlike our neighbours to the south, our dreams aren't all fancy cars and big houses. They're motels and tour buses. They're runways, sitcoms, courtrooms, rap battles and Dragons' Den. Oh, Canada. We stand on guard for thee.



Barb defends Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

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Prisoner of Tehran is the ultimate underdog story: an individual versus a repressive system of government. No question that Marina Nemat is easy to root for. And even though Marina takes pains not to moralize, the book is a moral story, of right overcoming wrong, despite the odds.

That's probably the book's most important message. It's a testament to the remarkable capacity of the human spirit to persevere despite obstacles, and to overcome adversity. And who doesn't need that kind of inspiration? We all face challenges, we're all subject to disappointments and discouragements and, yes, defeat.

But there's also an underlying message to Prisoner of Tehran that makes it particularly powerful. That's the tone of the story: how even-handed Marina Nemat is in portraying her oppressors. And that attitude, after all she has gone through, is itself an inspiration. (Compare it to, say, Something Fierce, which resembles Prisoner of Tehran in some respects. But author Carmen Aguirre sees things in absolute, black-and-white terms.)

In Marina's live chat on this site, she was asked about her willingness to forgive. Her reply, in part, was: "Hatred is a prison and it hurts the beholder more than anyone. I want justice not revenge, and there is a lot of difference between the two." I think Prisoner of Tehran eloquently conveys that philosophy. And it's a message we would all do well to take to heart.


Debbie defends Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

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Something Fierce is unabashedly pro-revolutionary — indeed, the last sentence ("Until the final victory always") indicates that the struggle continues. Carmen Aguirre is always frank about how difficult life in the resistance was: the constant fear and anxiety, the way she had to compartmentalize her life and her feelings, the toll that a life of secrecy takes on personal relationships. And yet Aguirre rarely questions these sacrifices: she believes in the cause, in an end to violent dictatorships that maintain a status quo of gross inequality.

But Aguirre never casts aspersions on those who have no desire to lead a life in the political resistance (her sister, for example). Indeed, the most important message to be taken from this book is taken from the lessons that Carmen learns along the way: to live with integrity, honesty, courage and an open heart.



Alison defends The Tiger by John Vaillant

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The Tiger author John Vaillant is an environmentalist, and The Tiger has a strong message about wildlife conservation. Illegal tiger poaching is a major problem, and Amur (or Siberian) tigers are extremely endangered in the wild. But he also writes with extreme compassion and respect for how difficult life is in the remote Russian landscape. Neglected and exploited as that part of the country is, poaching is the last resort for many people, whose options are limited to (a) hunt illegally or (b) starve to death. Survival is equally difficult for man and tiger alike, and Vaillant never lets us forget that the problem of poaching is systemic, and simply casting poachers as bad guys isn't helpful to anyone.

The Tiger leaves readers with a profound sense of injustice, both natural and man-made. Ultimately, as humans, we have a certain power and influence over the natural world, which is more often than not misused. Vaillant urges his readers to ponder the philosophical implications of this fact, and the moral obligations that our species has to the species who aren't able to, say, drive cars.



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 books has the most important message for Canadians?


The deadline for entries is midnight ET on Friday, February 3. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

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