Anita Rau Badami: The Hero’s Walk

Reading Birdie and Minister Without Portfolio felt like swimming in molasses, so I was hoping that The Hero’s Walk would let me conclude this year’s Canada Reads reading on a positive note.

HeroWalk

Like Bone and Bread, The Hero’s Walk focuses on the effects of an unexpected death in a family. While it didn’t amaze me in the same way as The Illegal did, it left a very good impression with its portrait of intra-familial conflict and upheaval. Among other things, we encounter a father who sees himself as an ordinary man, a mother mourning the life she could never achieve, and a grandchild who seems to be holding a grudge against her grandfather.

The Illegal set the bar impossibly high for the other four Canada Reads books, but this book came very close to clearing it. If Lawrence Hill’s book gets an early exit, I have no qualms in supporting The Hero’s Walk.

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Michael Winter: Minister Without Portfolio

That’s four out of five books I’ve read for this year’s edition of Canada Reads.

MWP

This book started off with a lot of promise. The main character, Henry Hayward, goes through a few events which send him reeling into uncertainty. I was looking forward to reading how his recovery would play out, but when I was done, nothing stayed with me. Granted, the writing is such that I didn’t see major plot points coming, especially in the beginning. I thought that characteristic worked in this book’s favour.

Unfortunately, the most positive thing I can say about this book is that I finished it.

I’m hopeful that Adam Copeland can elucidate the strengths of this book which I missed. However, unless the next book blows me away, I’ll be rooting for The Illegal to win Canada Reads this year.

Passed Over

I was going to wrote a morose blog post about how I’m always passed over for things like jobs and romance, then I got lost in a whirlwind of Ellen DeGeneres clips on YouTube like this one.

A few hours later, I don’t feel like writing that post anymore.

So…as I listen to RushJet1’s latest album which just dropped (get it…that’s an order), I’ll just say that my night could have been much different (i.e. worse) if it wasn’t for the many Ellen clips I perused.

Dream big, folks.

On Vulnerability

I do not like to be vulnerable.

I don’t like being in situations where I open myself up to criticism and hurt. I like to control outcomes as much as I can; this desire for control probably explains why I’m an overthinker.

As a mashup producer, I set myself up for scrutiny every time I submit my work to Mashstix and upload it to other websites. I do this despite knowing that I cannot satisfy the wide-ranging music tastes of the global population. The feedback is usually positive, but on the rare occasions when it isn’t, the resulting effects feel like a hard punch to my gut.

Despite my ease with being creatively vulnerable, it does not extend to other areas of my life. From a young age, I’ve had a fear of rejection which has held me back from living what I believe to be a full life. I thought it would be a good idea to build walls to protect myself from it. I kept people at arm’s length. I didn’t let anyone get close enough to hurt me. Instead of leaning on others, I learned to rely on myself and enjoy my own company. While this strategy kept some bad things out, it also kept me from experiencing things like romance and close friendship.

A perfect example of this phenomenon happened a few years ago, when I developed a profound crush on a woman who attended my church. We met shortly after she joined the music ministry, of which I was also a member. (For the record, I still serve in that ministry.) I was smitten from the first look, but being the rejection-fearing man that I was, I couldn’t bring myself to say “Hello.” Fortunately, she broke the ice for me.

We developed a friendship which became very special to me. Gosh, she was special to me because, among other reasons, she actually cared about me and not just the person she saw every week on the church stage. Naturally, my thoughts turned toward asking her out. Unfortunately, I passed up every opportunity to do this when it should have been done. I didn’t think that I could financially support a relationship. I listened to other people’s advice when I should have trusted my intuition. Most of all, I was scared of the changes which would result from her becoming my girlfriend. As a result, instead of being direct, I dropped hints and hoped she’d clue in.

Meanwhile, I told many people about my feelings for her…except for her.

I finally asked her out about 1.5 years after we met, but by then, I already missed my window of opportunity. I don’t know if that was the catalyst for us drifting apart, but at this point, I can’t even say that we are friends anymore.

In avoiding the pain of rejection, I unwittingly chose to live with another kind of pain: that which comes with regret and wondering what could have been. The fact that I still think about it many years later is a testament to the depth of my feelings and the stupidity of letting fear dictate my choices.

Saleema Nawaz: Bone & Bread

Now that I’ve read Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz, I’ve read three out of the five books shortlisted for Canada Reads.

BoneBread

Thanks to this year’s Canada Reads q Broadcast, before reading this book, I knew that there was a character who lost both of her parents and her sister. Thankfully, this knowledge didn’t affect my enjoyment of this book in any way. (For the record, I avoid book reviews and summaries before reading any books.)

Speaking of enjoyment, I didn’t find it as compelling as The Illegal, even though it treads on some of the same subject matter. However, I believe that this book strongly adheres to the theme of starting over. Beena (the character I was referring to beforehand) copes with tremendous personal tragedy while struggling to maintain a relationship with her son, Quinn. On top of that, Quinn also wants to start over and have a relationship with with his father. Considering how the relationship with my own father has crumbled to pieces, this point continues to hit home even after finishing the book.

I hope Farah Mohamed has other angles upon which to elucidate the strength of Bone & Bread. While The Illegal is still the frontrunner in my mind, make no mistake – it is definitely not the only strong book in this year’s Canada Reads shortlist.

Tracey Lindberg: Birdie

For all of the Canada Reads debates I’ve attended, I’ve never read all of the shortlisted books in any given year. I got the jump on changing that last week; when I noticed that one library branch had three of this year’s books available, I borrowed all of them at once. Meanwhile, I’m keeping my eyes peeled for the book which has thus far been the hardest to get. At press time, it has 150 holds on it with only seven copies available for distribution. Fortunately, in an early example of the Canada Reads Effect, copies are being ordered.

This afternoon, I finished reading book number two: Birdie by Tracey Lindberg.

Birdie

I must confess that even though I was able to finish this book, I didn’t enjoy it like The Illegal. Whereas that book was a literary thrill ride, reading Birdie sometimes felt like a boring long-term homework assignment. In some ways, I actually wish I was studying it for an English course; I would have been more inclined to pay attention to the threads which the author weaves throughout. With that said, I did notice that Ms. Lindberg has a way with words which results in many memorable passages throughout her book. In retrospect, I wish I had an example for this blog entry.

I think Bruce Poon Tip has a difficult job ahead of him in defending this book, but I refuse to count him – and Birdie – out. Recall that in 2014, I didn’t like Rawi Hage’s Cockroach, but Samantha Bee’s defense of it was so good that I would have been pleased if it ended up taking the title. I even wanted to read Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (which is often cited in discussing Cockroach), but I haven’t done that yet.

On to the next book!

Canada Reads 2016: Anticipation

As I write this entry, I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement of this year’s Canada Reads panelists. I already know the books which will be on this year’s edition of the show. Ideally, I would have found out during the broadcast of q, but I looked at the Canada Reads page before said announcement. Oops.

I wasn’t always a book person, but ever since I became one, Canada Reads has turned into an event I look forward to every year. If you’ve never experienced it for yourself, imagine Survivor, but with a much more intellectual bent. This may be a literary contest, but the discussions can get quite heated.

Without further ado, this year’s books and panelists…

Birdie by Tracey Lindberg (panelist: Bruce Poon Tip)
Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz (panelist: Farah Mohamed)
Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter (panelist: Adam Copeland, a.k.a. former wrestler Edge)
The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami (panelist: Vinay Virmani)
The Illegal by Lawrence Hill (panelist: Clara Hughes)

Apart from Clara Hughes and Edge (!!), I know pretty much nothing about these panelists. That said, their thirty-second defenses on this morning’s edition of q give me no reason to think that any one of them would be a weak link. Actually, much like Lainey last year, I think The Edge may surprise a lot of people.

Needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to Ms. Hughes’ defense of The Illegal; I hope she does it justice. Her initial defense reminded me of Samantha Bee’s defense of Cockroach from a few years ago; that’s a very good sign.

I haven’t read any of the other shortlisted books yet, but I’ll solve that problem soon enough. 😉

Lawrence Hill: The Illegal

Sometimes, the simple act of reading becomes such a riveting experience that every spare moment must be devoted to it. Previously, books like The Mountain Story by Lori Lansens and Armada by Ernest Cline have given me that feeling.

Yesterday evening, I finished a book which gave me that feeling and then some: The Illegal by Lawrence Hill.

HillIllegal

This work of fiction is almost four hundred pages, but I breezed through it in five days. It’s not light reading by any means, but its story is so efficiently structured and paced that delving into it was such a pleasure. It introduces many characters, but not so many that I lost my way at any time. I did, however, frequently review earlier chapters to jog my memory.

It’s a pity that this is my first experience with Lawrence Hill’s work. I’m probably the only person in Canada who hasn’t read The Book Of Negroes yet, but don’t be surprised if I change that! If it’s nearly as good as The Illegal, then I’m in for another treat.

Speaking of treats, this year’s Canada Reads longlist becomes a five-book shortlist tomorrow. The Illegal is on the longlist and I’ll be very happy if it ends up being one of the final five. In the right panelist’s hands, The Illegal has a significant chance of becoming Lawrence Hill’s second book to win Canada Reads, especially given its timeliness in relation to Canada’s response to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

The book I’m currently reading is also on the longlist. Given the buzz surrounding it, I won’t be surprised if it’s also shortlisted.

Interesting fact: Lawrence Hill has one sister and one brother. You may have heard the brother’s work.

Tie Domi: Shift Work

There’s more to me than making unlikely musical hookups. If you’ve been paying attention to previous blog entries, you already know that reading books is one of my favourite pastimes.

Some folks like to party and others prefer to attend numerous events; I don’t look down upon either choice. However, on some nights, nothing appeals to me more than going to the Reference Library and reading a book. To wit: yesterday, I was planning to visit the Art Gallery Of Ontario; free admission is offered every Wednesday night. However, right before leaving home, I changed my mind and opted to visit the library so that I could do puzzles and finish off the book I was reading.

That book was Shift Work by Tie Domi.

Domi

Here in Toronto, Mr. Domi is most well-known as a former hockey player for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Proving that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, one of his children, Max, is making headlines with his own hockey career. As for Tie’s book, while there wasn’t anything deep or mindblowing about, it was easy to to read and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it.

It’s a good thing that I went to the library instead of the art gallery last night. A book which I’ve had on my Must Read List for a few months was available for borrowing. I won’t divulge the title yet, but I’ll blog about it when I’m finished reading it.

A caveat: this isn’t a book blog, but I plan on blogging about books I’ve read from time to time. Blogs like Musings Of A Writer go into much more depth than I feel like doing.

Appel Of My Eye

I’ve been attending Appel Salon events at the Toronto Reference Library for many years. I don’t remember what my initial motivation was, but the free price tag likely factored into it. In the early days, there were no tickets given; on the day of any given event, you simply lined up before the doors opened.

When a ticketing system finally was implemented a few years ago, I stopped attending Salon events. Considering my faithful attendance in recent years, I cannot believe that I did that. It might have been because I wanted to be sure that I had no commitments before getting a ticket, but I’m not entirely sure of my rationale. Whatever it was, it seems so insignificant now. Fortunately, this self-imposed moratorium wasn’t permanent.

In late 2013, I found out that a world-famous Canadian astronaut would be making an appearance at the Appel. Considering his then-recent stint on the International Space Station, I knew it would be a heck of a big deal (that’s an understatement).

The astronaut’s name? You may have heard it before: Chris Hadfield.

On the day that tickets went on sale for his event, there were technical issues which almost caused me to end up empty-handed, but my second attempt was successful. The stage was set for my long-awaited return to the Appel Salon.

Since that event, I haven’t looked back.

Under the leadership of Tina Srebotnjak and Yvonne Hunter, the Appel Salon has thrived in Toronto’s literary scene. Many an author has graced its stage, including Margaret Trudeau, Caitlin Moran, Lena Dunham, and current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In my opinion, 2015 was a banner year for the Appel; the hits kept coming night after night. It’s one thing to be able to book people like Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Mohamed Fahmy, and Judy Blume in the same venue. It’s another thing when you can book all of them in the same year. It shouldn’t surprise readers of this blog to find out that Judy Blume’s appearance is my all-time favourite Salon event; until that evening, Chris Hadfield had that honour.

On January 11th, the Appel Salon will open its doors for its first event of 2016: an appearance by chef Gabrielle Hamilton. This event is sold out, but given the Salon’s cachet, this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Here’s another fact which shouldn’t be surprising: I’ll be there.