Canada Reads

'The stories of our lives and... this Earth are intertwined': Scott Helman defends Two Trees Make a Forest

During the opening round of Canada Reads 2021, Scott Helman and Roger Mooking exchanged notes on the memoir Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee.

Canada Reads 2021: Day One Highlight

2 years ago
Duration 1:54
Canada Reads 2021: Day One Highlight

The Canada Reads 2021 theme, "One Book to Transport Us," was at the heart of the first round of debates, as singer-songwriter Scott Helman and chef and TV personality Roger Mooking faced off.

Helman is championing Two Trees Make a Forest by British Taiwanese Canadian author Jessica J. Lee, a memoir that explores the ways nature can intersect with family stories. Two Trees Make a Forest is about how a chance discovery of her grandfather's letters leads Lee to her ancestral homeland of Taiwan.

Mooking pointed out that, despite having Asian ancestry himself, he couldn't fully connect to the characters of Two Trees Make a Forest because the book spent too much time on the landscape and surrounding environment. This week, Mooking is championing Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi.

Helman argued that Two Trees Make a Forest asks readers to "take a breath" and remember that "the stories of our lives and the stories of this Earth are intertwined."

Below is a condensed version of their discussion. Watch the video above for their full debate.

Roger Mooking"My grandfather is Chinese. I have an affinity to that region of the world and I was anticipating a great personal connection to a lot of the things [in the book].

"I, too, grew up calling my grandfather Gong so I was looking for that connection, but I found that I was so distracted by the landscape explanations."

"I couldn't get to the core of the storytelling or the core of the heart of the humanity of the cast of characters. When I did interact with the cast and characters, I was fascinated. I was drawn.

"I wanted to hear about the food and how they grew up and how the grandfather was a war pilot and he was celebrated — this very rich world.

"There's some cultural references that I'm familiar with so I did feel those connections, but it took me so long to get to those moments because I spent so long walking up this mountain and learning about this tree."

Canada Reads host Ali Hassan: "Well, let's hear from you Scott. Let's hear your thoughts on that."

Scott Helman"My response to that is this book is calling for you to take a moment and take a breath and appreciate the Earth. As much as one can go into reading this book expecting to be completely and utterly transported to a world of just humanity — I don't think that's what this book is attempting to do. I think it's attempting to show us that the stories of our lives and the stories of this Earth are intertwined.

"I would call for any reader to make room for that when reading this book and I think that's what changed me when reading it."

The Canada Reads 2021 champions and their chosen books are:

Here's how you can tune into Canada Reads 2021:

ON RADIO: Canada Reads will air on CBC Listen at 11:05 a.m. ET, CST, MT, PT at 1:05 p.m. in AT, and at 1:35 p.m. in Newfoundland and Labrador. 

ON TV: CBC TV will broadcast Canada Reads at 1 p.m. ET, CST, MT, PT; at 2 p.m. in AT; and at 2:30pm in Newfoundland and Labrador.

PODCAST: New episodes of Canada Reads will be posted daily on CBC Listen. You can also download them wherever you get your podcasts.

ONLINE: CBC Books will livestream the debates at 11 a.m. ET on CBCBooks.caYouTubeFacebook and Gem. The debates will be available to replay online each day. The livestreams on YouTube and Facebook will be available to watch outside Canada.

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