Canada Reads 2015: Aftermath

It’s time for me to look for a job again.

Reality is already biting in the aftermath of Canada Reads 2015. My employment situation still hasn’t changed, but this week, at least I had the annual literary showdown to shield me from any ill effects. Now that it’s over, I must once again face my bleak career prospects. Mind you, Indigo is putting on a Canada Reads event tonight which will extend Cameron Bailey and Kim Thúy’s victory lap quite nicely.

After that (and Quad City Chaos on Saturday), what then? I’m not looking forward to one more week of sending many resumes and getting nowhere, so I hope and pray that my situation changes soon.

In the meantime, I have some extra thoughts on this year’s iteration of Canada Reads.

First, I count myself fortunate to be a resident of Canada, a country with a “reality” show where panelists intellectually debate books. This is a uniquely Canadian phenomenon; in their travels around the world, Stephen Lewis (one of last year’s panelists) and Wab Kinew have encountered disbelief and surprise at the existence of a show like this one. The excitement of discussing literature may not be immediately obvious, but there’s a reason why I keep coming back to this show year after year: the debates usually reach a very high intellectual standard.

Consider last year’s debate, where Lewis and Kinew had an argument about the torture scenes in The Orenda, which Kinew was defending. Despite its intensity, neither panelist lost any respect for the other in making their cases. Before the winning book was crowned, Stephen actually came around to Wab’s point of view. In Stephen’s own words, Wab “totally eviscerated” his argument.

This year, a similar event happened between panelists Craig Kielberger and Cameron Bailey. Though their exchange wasn’t as intense, it may have been a catalyst in swaying the other panelists. Craig had high praise for the writing in Ru (Cameron’s book), but he still voted to eliminate it on the first two days. On the third day, however, he took his praise a step further and eloquently revealed how the book dissolved a personal barrier: the prejudice which he brought into reading it. Craig didn’t vote to eliminate Ru for the remainder of Canada Reads; I believe that this exchange was a significant turning point in his choices. (Go to the 19-minute mark in this video to hear Craig explain the dissolution of his barrier.)

Second, in a previous blog entry, I mentioned the interesting contrast in the panelists who made it to the finale. Elaine Lui’s forceful, take no prisoners style was up against Cameron’s smooth and gentlemanly way of speaking. Lainey’s method got my attention first, but Cameron’s modus operandi was no less well-executed. In talking about this contrast with two fellow attendees, I brought up the Extrovert Ideal which is mentioned in Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Given that attention spans are getting shorter, people are more likely to listen to someone who can impress with the volume of their argument, even though its substance may be lacking. Lainey’s arguments definitely had substance and her fierceness impressed me from the beginning. In contrast, I thought that Cameron needed to step up his arguments, but this may have been a case of me falling for the Extrovert Ideal. If I get a chance to re-watch this year’s debates, I promise to pay closer attention to what Cameron said, particularly in the first two days.

This final point is much more personal.

As I’ve already explained, me and Cameron both have Bajan ancestry. I wasn’t born in Barbados, but both of my parents are originally from there; Cameron, though born in London, England, spent his early childhood there. In my younger days when I wasn’t afraid to fly, I used to visit my Bajan relatives on a frequent basis. I think I’ve unintentionally repressed my memories of these trips; the last one took place at least fifteen years ago. Yesterday evening, those memories came flooding back to me. Among them: riding in my uncle’s car on East Coast Rd., visiting his house in Enterprise, figuring out what the “ABC” in ABC Highway stood for, and dealing with very big cockroaches. One particular memory, however, stands out.

Anytime I returned to my maternal grandmother’s house from Bridgetown (Barbados’ capital city), I’d always take one of three routes from the bus terminal. The first one, St. Albans (route #1), would drop me off closest to grandma’s house; the other options would drop me off further from her house, but the walk wasn’t that long. Given how I’ve walked from Cruickshank Park to Union Station in downtown Toronto (a trek which takes four hours), if I was to take that Bajan walk right now, it would be…well, a cakewalk.

By the way, the route name for one of those other two buses? Rock Dundo (route #2A), where Cameron Bailey grew up before immigrating to Toronto.

This year, I expected Canada Reads to offer intellectual escapism; in that regard, it did not disappoint. I did not expect it to end up taking me on a mental journey to the land of my ancestry. Before I die, I’d like to take that journey with more than just my mind.

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