Canada Reads panellist Tahmoh Penikett and American War author Omar El Akkad get to know each other
Tahmoh Penikett is defending the dystopian novel, which depicts a world devastated by climate change.
Omar El Akkad: "What was it about my book that you connected with?"
Tahmoh Penikett: "There's no quick answer to that. It's very close to home. It affected me in a deep and personal way. I felt that I connected to the characters and their plight. I think your book is very real and an unsettling take on the possible near future."
Tahmoh Penikett: "What is the first word that pops in your head when I say Canada Reads?"
Omar El Akkad: "Community. I grew up in parts of the world where the idea of a community or, in this case, a country coming around storytelling and gathering around that idea and in support of that idea, simply didn't happen. So to be involved in this thing where you see an entire country and entire communities come together to talk about books, about storytelling, that's a huge deal for me."
Omar El Akkad: "Do you remember how your love of reading began?"
Tahmoh Penikett: "My father worked a lot. He was a career politician. So at a young age, before my sisters were born and I was the only child, my dad was gone a lot, either travelling or just working. He's a workaholic, he'd work 12 hours a day. The one thing I looked forward to, the one thing that he always did when he had the opportunity was to read to me and he'd read me amazing books. I remember Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, White Fang — that was one of my favourite books as a kid — by Jack London, which is a Yukon story, and I just love those books. I love looking forward to my father reading them to me and once I got old enough, I started reading myself."
Tahmoh Penikett: "What was the best part of writing this book?"
Omar El Akkad: "There were no good parts of writing this book. Writing for me is not even a chore, it's just a nightmare of self-doubt that goes on for years and years and years. The best part was being done and looking back at it and being able to say this was blank pages and then I made something of it, which to me is a big deal."
Tahmoh Penikett: "When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Omar El Akkad: I was in the third grade and our school was having anti-littering week and we were asked to do something for anti-littering week and because I had no talent of any kind I couldn't draw, I couldn't really do anything. I wrote a short story called Dirty Harry in the Tin Can Trash Man. So off the bat, the very first piece of fiction I wrote was partially plagiarized. I think I'd just seen Dirty Harry on TV. Anyway it got into a student newspaper — the stapled pamphlet that they gave to parents — and it was from that day that I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life."
Omar El Akkad: "How will you prepare for Canada Reads?"
Tahmoh Penikett: "This isn't the first time I've been asked this. Everyone's asking me about my debate techniques and all these things, like I should know about this. I haven't done this before. I'm not a debater. I don't know. I'm going to do my homework as best as I can and study this book and let the book speak for itself."
The Canada Reads 2018 contenders
Mozhdah Jamalzadah, defending The Boat People by Sharon Bala
Tahmoh Penikett, defending American War by Omar El Akkad
Greg Johnson, defending Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson
Jeanne Beker, defending Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto
Jully Black, defending The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline