Canada Reads 2008 chooses winning book

After five days of deliberations, the Canada Reads panel has made its final choice for the book it recommends all Canadians should read.

Spoiler alert: Celebrity panel recommends novel all Canadians could read

After five days of deliberations, the Canada Reads panel made its final choice Friday for the book it recommends all Canadians should read.

The full Canada Reads panel are, from left, Steve MacLean, Zaib Shaikh, Dave Bidini, Jemeni and Lisa Moore. ((CBC))

The winner is King Leary, by Toronto author Paul Quarrington, about an aging hockey hero who is taken from his retirement home to shoot a commercial and ruminates on how he's lived his life.

"I'm thrilled for Paul. He's a brilliant writer and a great musician," said singer-songwriter Dave Bidini, formerly of the Rheostatics, who defended the book.

"Finally, humour and wit has won the day, proving that Canadian writing is about more than just dark places and poetry," he said.

Jemeni said she particularly liked the passage about two young kids skating in 1920s Ottawa who fall through the ice and are rescued by a young native man.

"It's very moving," she said, admitting that she hadn't known much about hockey before she read the book. "He introduced me to this world and gave me a peek at it."

In the final day of discussion, the celebrity panel first eliminated Thomas Wharton's Icefields, leaving a choice between King Leary and Timothy Findley's Not Wanted on the Voyage. Mavis Gallant's From the 15th District and Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring were eliminated earlier in the week.

"Timothy Findley has created a whole world with animals talking, fairies and dragons are living and breathing and angels come down the earth," actor Zaib Shaikh said in defence of Not Wanted on the Voyage, a retelling of the Noah's Ark story.

He defended the generally unpleasant character of Noah as a man who was burdened with too heavy a responsibility.

Jemeni praised Findley's imagination but said she felt as if he "dropped me into a new world and ran away. I almost felt abandoned at the end of the book."

'Evenly matched'

Findley's book has more of an international reputation, but either of the books could have won, said astronaut Steve MacLean, who ultimately voted for King Leary.

"There may be a perception that it was a David and Goliath struggle, but the past five days have proved that these books are evenly matched."

King Leary, first published in 1987, was not widely available until it was chosen as one of five Canada Reads choices.

Now it's undergone a reprinting and seems destined, if past Canada Reads winners are anything to go by, for bestseller status.

Last year's winner, Heather O'Neill's Lullabies for Little Criminals, became a bestseller.

The final Canada Reads discussion can be heard Friday at 7:30 p.m. (half an hour later in Newfoundland and Labrador) on CBC Radio One or downloaded on podcast.