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.

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.

Once In A Blume Moon

Some parts of my childhood are still alive – and vibrantly so.

I remember my grade four teacher reading Judy Blume‘s Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing to my class. Apart from frequent laughter, I don’t remember my specific reactions to it. I did, however, order the book from the Scholastic Book Club, eagerly anticipating its arrival. It’s one of the first books I’ve ever loved.

I still have that book. Heck, I’ve read it twice in my adult years, including once in the last week.

Blume

Needless to say, when I found out that Judy Blume would be making a stop in Toronto in support of her latest book, In The Unlikely Event, I was excited and pleasantly surprised. Thanks to the Toronto Reference Library’s Appel Salon, I’ve had the privilege of seeing people like Kazuo Ishiguro, David Suzuki and Chris Hadfield for free. Mr. Hadfield’s appearance has been my favourite Appel Salon event for a few years. People like Bruce Cockburn have come close to topping it, but still, it would take a lot for someone to actually clear that bar.

…Until last Monday evening.

The atmosphere was charged long before the event started. I arrived at about 2:40 p.m. thinking that I’d be the one to start the lineup. That would have been true if there weren’t about five other people already in line before I even set foot in the library. Still, at least half of the fun with any given Appel event involves waiting for the doors to open, so I had no complaints about doing that for three hours and twenty minutes.

Before we were let into the Salon an hour before the starting time, the line stretched to the elevators and coiled into the stacks. If you can’t visualize it due to having never visited the Reference Library, I’ll describe it this way: the lineup was long.

As for the actual event, it was far from being a disappointment. I can think of at least a few which didn’t live up to my expectations.

Blume2500
Left to right: Rachel Giese and Judy Blume

I’m struggling to remember specifics; that’s what I get for waiting a few days to write this blog entry. Besides, people like Michelle Lynne and Lindsay Reeder have got me beat on that already; that’s one tag team I don’t feel like going up against, thank you very much.

Here’s what I do remember:

  • Feeling absolute joy as Rachel Giese interviewed Judy Blume. This wasn’t an event where I struggled to stay awake; I was paying attention and keenly alert to what was being said. To echo a quote from Ms. Giese, it’s Judy freakin’ Blume!
  • The Q&A session, where one woman courageously defied her stuttering to thank Judy for her influence. That was easily one of the most emotional moments I’ve witnessed at any book event.
  • The faux time travelling. This event happened on a Monday, but for some reason, I kept thinking that it was Wednesday.
  • Being on cloud nine long after the event was over.

I’ve lost count of the number of Appel Salon events I’ve attended, but as of Monday, I’ve got a new all-time favourite. It was definitely a night to remember.

Canada Reads 2014: A Wrap-Up

I’ve previously attended Canada Reads tapings, but this is the first year where I’ve been able to attend all four of them. The circumstances which led to that weren’t the best, but there was no way I was going to pass up this opportunity.

I tried to read all five of the books included this year, but I still haven’t had a chance to read Year Of The Flood. That didn’t matter, though, because there was no shortage of intellectual food to digest as the debates progressed. All five panelists brought something to the table (no pun intended), but in my mind, Wab Kinew and Samantha Bee stood out.

From the beginning, Mr. Kinew made his presence felt. When he walked in with all five books, I knew he came prepared to do battle and his opening defense of The Orenda proved me right. He managed to weave every book into it while still touting the superiority of his book of choice. Throughout the debates, he never strayed from his calm demeanor, but the eloquent force of his points was never lost. For example, after his debate with fellow panelist Stephen Lewis on the torture and violence in The Orenda, Mr. Lewis acknowledged that Kinew “eviscerated” his argument. As for Samantha Bee, she did something I thought impossible: she made me rethink my initial negative reactions to her chosen book, Cockroach. Thanks to a brilliant defense of it, including an ending statement which floored everyone in the studio, I got to the point where I would not have been sad if Cockroach won this year’s contest. A second read probably wouldn’t change my opinion of that book too much, but nonetheless, her insightful comments did not go unappreciated.

If you’re interested in watching this year’s debates and/or finding out more about Canada Reads, you can do so here. I’ll conclude with a picture of me (I’m on the right) with host Jian Ghomeshi.

Poirot

Canada Reads 2014

There’s more to me than being a mashup producer. For example, I consider myself a voracious reader; I’ve always enjoyed books, but I got serious about reading them during a social media detox last year. Having a book handy is a surefire defense against the urge to log in to social networks on my cellphone. Among the books I read last year, An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth by Chris Hadfield and Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan were two of my favourites.

Since a few years ago, I’ve enjoyed Canada Reads, an annual event where the merits of five Canadian books are defended and debated until one emerges as the winner. Back in 2012, Prisoner Of Tehran by Marina Nemat was my favourite of the books selected. Unfortunately, it was also the first book eliminated; Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre ended up winning. Last year, my pick was the aforementioned Two Solitudes, though I would have been very happy if Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse took top honours. Both books were eliminated before Lisa Moore‘s February was declared the winner.

The five books for this year’s event are:

I’ve read four of these books and The Orenda is easily my favourite. Not that I find any of the other three especially horrible (although I really don’t care for Cockroach), but Mr. Boyden managed to capture and hold my interest despite his book’s epic length of almost 500 pages. That said, I’ll likely need a second reading (or third…or fourth) to fully appreciate the nuances I missed the first time around.

I still need to read The Year Of The Flood, but it’s been tough for me to get it at the Toronto library. The last book I read by Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, left me disappointed. That said, if former Toronto mayor David Miller‘s impassioned defense is anything to go by, Flood shouldn’t leave me feeling the same way. I just hope I can get to it before Canada Reads starts on March 3rd!

Just for kicks, here’s a chronological list of the books I’ve read so far this year.