The Canada Reads team explores identity in their chosen titles

Congratulations to Lana Shupe, 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.

This year's Canada Reads contenders all explore identity in some way, whether it's the identity of an individual, of an industry or even of a tiger. We asked the Canada Reads team to discuss what their book says about identity. See what they had to say below!


Adrian defends The Game by Ken Dryden

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What can you actually learn about yourself and your place in this world from a game?

Well, plenty, if you're Ken Dryden. When you dedicate so much of your life to hockey, and showcase your skills at the highest level under the most intense scrutiny, you learn a lot about your strengths and your limitations, both physical and emotional. But most interestingly, you learn about how even achieving your dreams and the adulation of millions often lead to questions about who you really are.

In his introspective memoir, The Game, Dryden reflects on the effect that celebrity and success has on his identity. I love the following passage. Many of us dream of being famous, being celebrated, but Dryden reminds us that the heroes we adore don't see themselves the same way:

"Off the ice, I struggle as you do, but off the ice you never see me, even when sometimes you're sure you do. I am good at other things because I'm good at being a goalie, because I'm a celebrity and there's always someone around to say I am, because in the cozy glow of success, of good news, the public — or the media — want me to be good ... We are not heroes. We are hockey players. We do exciting, sometimes courageous, sometimes ennobling things like heroes do, but no more than anyone else does."

His honest writing and insight make The Game a truly fascinating exploration of Ken Dryden the hockey legend and Ken Dryden the man.



Nicole defends On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini

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David Bowie. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. What do they all have in common? They're musicians! Sure, Bowie can dance and Joni can paint, but nothing is as closely linked to who they are than their musical talents.

The same can be said for Dave Bidini, and everyone he wrote about or spoke to in On a Cold Road. Heck, it can be said about any musician. These guys and gals were born to play, sing and rock out. Their musical prowess is not just their way to make a living, it's their way of life.

Bidini came to music at a young age. When he was "nothing but a pimply little question mark," Bidini and his sister Cathy went to a local music shop to learn how to play the guitar. In those early lessons, his sister "out-licked" him on basic chords and campfire songs. Bidini quit, but his bedroom walls remained covered with posters of his favourite bands and photos ripped from his favourite music magazines.

A year later, Bidini picked up a guitar again. He just couldn't stay away. He joined bands and started writing about music. He stuck with these passions — music and writing — through his formative years, and those two talents are as closely linked to who Bidini is as his name and those great hats he's always wearing.



Barb defends Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat

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I'm not sure how much weight "identity" has in determining a reader's engagement with a book, except in the broad sense of being able to connect with someone's story because of their basic humanity — though I think we can also read to gain perspective on the cultural and ethnic differences that are part of someone's identity.

On both counts, Prisoner of Tehran scores. It offers insight into a specific cultural identity (that of a young Iranian woman). But it also involves universals: the struggle to be true to yourself, and to find happiness.

Prisoner of Tehran is the story of a teenager who is very typical in some ways: she likes dancing and pop music; she has a crush on a boy she's met and enjoys summer vacations.

But Marina Nemat also has experiences that are far from typical: imprisonment, torture, seeing friends led off to execution, being forced into marriage.

This combination of experiences we can relate to directly and harrowing circumstances that are (for most of us, thankfully) beyond our personal experience is partly what makes Prisoner of Tehran so powerful. The other is Marina's remarkable generosity of spirit: this is not a narrative written out of hatred or anger, despite the hardships she endured.

It's impossible to read Prisoner of Tehran and not be profoundly affected — to have your own sense of identity shift, in some small way. It's a rare book that has that kind of impact.

There are plenty of readers out there who would agree with me. For instance, here's a comment from Gabe Fritzen, who posted on our site:

"... get the book and read it! You'll have a hard time putting it down. At the end, you might find your paradigms have shifted a little. I was left with a sense of greater tolerance for human shortcomings, greater craving to see conciliation not retribution the order of the day, and more appreciation for the beauty life has to offer."



Debbie defends Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre

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Figuring out who you are is a part of the experience of most teens.

But imagine doing it while living as an underground revolutionary!

Of all five books up for the Canada Reads true stories title, Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre offers the most fodder on the theme of identity. Its lessons are also the timeliest of the bunch.

Carmen had to forge her own sense of self while: (a) trying to live up to the godly image of a dedicated revolutionary that shuns all thing bourgeois, and (b) embracing those same abhorrent sensibilities with the middle-class persona she had to adopt as a life-saving cover.

Let's not forget the various life-changing moves too.

Her family flees Pinochet's Chile and starts over in Vancouver. Then, they return to South America and forge a new life as resistance members against Pinochet. They bounce between Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, with new personal histories, nationalities and friends each time.

Who, where am I? My head's already spinning!

Eventually, Carmen turns 18 and cements her identity as a revolutionary. She joins the movement herself and takes the resistance oath.

Then, out of the blue, she's told it's all over. They're disbanding. The resistance lost.

Now what?

If anything, this book illustrates the resilience of humanity and how malleable, fixed, contradictory identity really is.

If any movement is to survive, it has to make room for this.



Alison defends The Tiger by John Vaillant

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"Identity" is a loaded word and a tricky concept. I will roll my eyes through the roof if you try to claim that as a Canadian, my identity is automatically tied to the game of hockey. Nationalistic identity is based on generalities, but personal identity is based on unique specifics. In The Tiger, both the identity of the Russian villagers who rely on the forest to make their meager living, and the identity of the tiger himself are at stake. Russian hunters and poachers have their identities intrinsically tied up in the taiga (the forest) — their ability to survive the challenges of the wilderness is a major part of who they are. The changing nature of the Russian landscape forces these people to adapt, which forces them to recalibrate their sense of identity.

As for the tiger, we can't say if he experiences a self-aware sense of identity (anyone who has seen a smaller feline go after its reflection in the mirror will certainly argue that he does not). But the tiger's identity is undeniably in flux throughout John Vaillant's narrative. As his forest home is inevitably intruded upon by humankind, the tiger's identity as a jungle beast in a world without people morphs into that of a vengeful man-eater.



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:

Do you prefer your non-fiction stories to explore people, places, movements or things? Why?

The deadline for entries is midnight ET on Friday, January 13. The complete rules and regulations are here. Good luck!

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