Scott Helman is ready to champion Two Trees Make a Forest on Canada Reads
The Canada Reads 2021 panellist spoke with Chris dela Torre on CBC Radio One's Afternoon Drive
Canada Reads will take place March 8-11, 2021.
"This book's importance is twofold. For one, understanding one's place in the world is a universal struggle but within a multicultural landscape of Canada, it is even more so. More importantly, this book is told through an environmental lens and dissects the painful crossroads that an individual must face within the place of a diaspora and a family. The merging of nature and humanity has never been of higher importance in this moment in history," Helman said on the Canada Reads reveal on q.
You are defending a book called Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee. Could you tell us about it?
It's a beautiful book. It's written by a wonderful person named Jessica J. Lee. It was sparked by this letter that the author found from her late grandfather, who had passed away from Alzheimer's. It's in reading the letter that she decides she wants to go to Taiwan and learn more about her family history, where she comes from, and the history of the country she's from. In doing so, she learns about her identity, and her relation to the places that she's from. It talks about colonialism, war, home, family loss.
This book is told through an environmental lens and dissects the painful crossroads that an individual must face within the place of a diaspora and a family.
Because Lee is an environmental historian, the story is told through the lens of nature. She has merged the idea of humanity and nature, which I think is so vital for this time.
- In Taiwan's lush landscape, Jessica J. Lee found a deeper understanding of her family's turbulent history
What was it that made you want to get behind the book and defend it on Canada Reads?
There are three big reasons for me. The first is that the book focuses on loss and family and grief. Not too long ago, I lost my grandfather to lung cancer and it was really tough for me. He was a huge, huge, huge part of my life and inspired the way I live my life to its core.
The second reason is that Jessica Lee tries to identify what she is. That resonated with me. Both my parents are English immigrants. They came here in 1994 and had me in 1995 in Canada. And they're both Jewish. So I'm like a Jewish English Canadian. When I was growing up, people would ask me, "What are you?" So I resonated with being from a diaspora and not having a place and trying to figure all that stuff out.
And the third, underlying, reason for me is that I'm extremely passionate about the climate crisis and solutions to the climate crisis. I harbour the belief that one of the central issues of this time is that we've sequestered the climate crisis off its own category of issue. I think that is a huge mistake. We have to return to an understanding of nature as part of humanity, as part of society, as part of a culture. We need to approach all stories from a naturalistic perspective before we attempt to fix this glaring issue, the bigger issue of our time. She really, really, really achieves that in her book.
You got to meet Jessica virtually. What was that like?
It was one of the greatest joys of my year. I've read so many books in my life. The idea of being able to read a book that you love and then know, while reading it, that you're going to be able to talk to the person that wrote it is such a luxury. I had so many questions for her. We geeked out about nature. And I thanked her for writing such a great book and told her I hope I do it justice.
We have to return to an understanding of nature as part of humanity, as part of society, as part of a culture.
Another big reason I picked it is because I had no real knowledge of Taiwan. I had a preliminary understanding, but I didn't really know much. I thought that is what Canada is all about. We're a country of immigrants. There are so many cultures in this nation. I think that it's valuable to read stories other people tell about their personal experiences.
How are you feeling about going into Canada Reads, and defending a book?
I'm nervous. I get quite emotional about art. I remember once I was writing music with a really special person in my life and I started to cry during a session we had. And the next day, we said, "What a weird thing. This is one of the only jobs that you get rewarded for crying." So it will definitely be weird to have a camera on you while that's happening.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
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