Trent McClellan's advice for this year's contenders


Trent McClellan and Jay Baruchel, the final two contenders in Canada Reads 2013.

Last year's champ returns! Trent McClellan will be our guide to the Canada Reads experience. Follow along as he blogs and tweets about the 2014 edition of CBC's battle of the books. His blog posts will appear on the Canada Reads website every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @Trent McClellan for his complete Canada Reads 2014 coverage.

I have been asked what my preparation tips would be for the Canada Reads panelists for this year. I am going to oblige with my "Top 10 Tips for Canada Reads Prep" (TTTFCRP).

1. Read the books

This sounds self-explanatory, but it is important to really pay attention to what you're reading. If you've ever read a sentence and are thinking about whether or not you have a meeting this week, then you know what I mean. Readers have to be engaged in the words the entire time so that the story and characters are clear. I remember having to re-read passages last year after my mind had wandered. It's like driving when you've spaced out for 30 seconds and wondering if you've run any red lights!

2. Take notes

I took as many notes during my Canada Reads prep as I did in a semester in university (okay, not really, but I took plenty!). I wanted to make sure I had the full grasp of each book and putting some thoughts on paper helped me make my ideas concrete. Panelists have five books with multiple characters and story lines to keep straight. If they're not careful, it can become as confusing as a cell-phone bill pretty quickly.

3. Beware of the past

It was very helpful for me to watch previous episodes of the show and Seinfeld (that one was more for relaxation). When panelists can see what the show looks like, the nature of the questions, and in general how the show runs, they feel more prepared. They don't want to feel overwhelmed -- like Rob Ford coming out of an elevator at city hall.

4. Author authorization

There can be no greater expert on your book of choice than the person who penned it. My talks with Lisa Moore gave me a real comfort level with February and, in turn, allowed me to take some ownership of the story. Lisa was able to let me interpret the book how I wanted while keeping me on track with the facts of the story. I think the talks also give the author some comfort too as they now know their defender can get the right message across in the book's defence.

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5. Decide what is and what isn't

This is not a riddle from that crazy green guy named Yoda, but a very important point. The book you chose to defend cannot be all things. Understand fully what your book is about and keep it on that plane. If panelists try to spread the theme of their book too widely it becomes very thin and will consequently open it up for an attack by other panelists. Does your book do what it attempts to do? I wish more politicians would ask the same of their policies. I digress.

6. Get in the mood

I'm big on mood. If you can get into the mood and tone of your book it is very helpful during the debates. I used music quite a bit to take me where I needed to go emotionally and it added a deeper angle on the subject in the book. For my defence of February I listened to Atlantic Blue by Ron Hynes on repeat in my hotel room while I rehearsed my opening and closing. It painfully took me right where I needed to be. Thanks, Ron.

7. Rehearsing means ready

The debates have a strict format, so panelists need to make the most of their allotted time. Each day panelists may be asked to give opening or closing segments and engage in one or two rounds of debate with the other panelists. The rounds of debate will require in-the-moment answers and defenders will have to come armed with thoughts locked and loaded. But the opening and closing statements will be timed quite strictly, so it's important to make good use of time and have an impact. Panelists should rehearse those one-minute opportunities in order to take advantage of every second. 

8. Finish early

Reading the books as far in advance can be an advantage. If panelists complete all the books in plenty of time before the debates, they have more time to prepare their debate strategies. If they are reading right up until debate time, that last book has had the least amount of time to marinate. As a result panelists may miss angles like an 1980s goaltender! The more time panelists have to let all the books sink in, then the clearer their approaches can be when discussing them.

9. Ignore the hype

All the books come with some type of acclaim but that needs to be blocked out of the panelist's minds, just like the haircut they had in Grade 9. The books need to be examined through the lens of the panelists without any contamination from the literary world. The Scotiabank Giller Prize jury will not be at the table with the panelists in March so their opinions during the debates are irrelevant. (Sorry, Giller jury. That being said, don't think you don't matter. You do. Just not in the Canada Reads debates.)

10. Hope to it

One thing the defenders can't control is the perception of their chosen book by the other panelists. Defenders have to hope that their choice resonated with their peers, thus making it difficult to vote off. This is all up to specific taste and is as up in the air as the Toronto Maple Leafs playoff hopes (zing!). All the panelists can do is hope they chose well so that those looking to find holes are left wanting.

Those are my TTTFCRP. I hope they have been helpful. The panelists will all choose their own means to get ready for the showdown in March, but maybe some of these suggestions may wind up being helpful.

I must now decorate my house in a festive manner. Until the next blog!!

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