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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

Canada Reads 2015: Day 4

This last day of Canada Reads brings excitement and sadness at the same time. Starting tomorrow, this event won’t be available to distract me from the wreckage which is my life right now. But for now, I’ll take joy in this.

…And then there were two: Ru, defended by Cameron Bailey and When Everything Feels Like The Movies, defended by Elaine “Lainey” Lui. Today’s debates were less vociferous than earlier ones, but by no means did either panelist take victory for granted. Lainey made a particularly hard-hitting point when confronted with Barbara Kay’s infamous attack on Movies in her National Post column. Not to be outdone, Cameron whipped out his passport for his closing statement and drew on the struggles of his parents in immigrating to Toronto from Barbados.

Much like last year, I couldn’t tell which way the votes would swing. Unlike last year, the vote totals would be a surprise…

Today’s eliminated book:
When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid.

The winning book for Canada Reads 2015:
Ru by Kim Thúy.

Lainey ended up being the only panelist to vote against Ru. All of the other ones, including Lainey’s former BFF Martha Wainwright, voted against When Everything Feels Like The Movies. That honestly surprised me; I thought the vote would have ended up going to a tiebreaker. However, when Craig Kielberger and Kristen Kreuk voted against the latter book, the former’s victory was sealed. (We found out about Martha’s vote after the fact.)

I always enjoy attending Canada Reads debates and this one was no exception. I think last year’s debates were the absolute intellectual high point, but by no means did this year’s discussions disappoint. All of this year’s panelists were strong, although I wish Kristen had better opportunities to elucidate the strengths of Intolerable. With that said, Lainey’s lawyer-like defense and Cameron’s smooth and articulate approach definitely made deep impressions with me, not to mention Craig bravely going toe-to-toe with Lainey on Tuesday. It took more time for me to come around on Cameron, but when I thought he needed to step up his game, he did so without attempting to be Lainey 2.0. Besides, since we share Bajan roots, I was rooting for him anyway.1 🙂

Oh yeah…I’ve got pictures today.

image
That’s Martha Wainwright on the left. The picture is slightly blurry, but I don’t mind.

image
If there was one picture I was really hoping to get, it’s this one with Lainey. When I asked her my question yesterday (which she thanked me for asking, by the way), I forgot to tell her that I loved her own book, Listen To The Squawking Chicken. I solved that problem today, though.

I hope I have a job by this time next year. In any event, Lord willing, I’ll be able to enjoy next year’s books and debates.

image
Left to right: Cameron Bailey, Kim Thúy and CBC anchor Suhana Meharchand.

Special thanks and respect to this year’s host and panelists: Wab Kinew, Cameron Bailey, Craig Kielberger, Kristen Kreuk, Elaine Lui and Martha Wainwright.

Footnote:
1. Both of my parents, along with Cameron, grew up in Barbados – specifically, the parish of St. James. My father grew up in Holders Hill (or was it Paynes Bay?), while my mother grew up in Upper Carlton. Being able to share those details with Cameron and have him relate to them is blowing my mind as I type this sentence. Speaking of Cameron, though he was born in London, England, he grew up in Rock Dundo before immigrating to Canada when he was eight years old.

Canada Reads 2015: Day 3

Sitting in the CBC Atrium and reflecting on what just took place, a few things come to mind.

First, the debates were slightly less ferocious than yesterday’s fever pitch. Lainey was her usual forceful self, but Martha Wainwright seemed to pull her punches. Meanwhile, Cameron Bailey kept his gentlemanly demeanor as he ably defended his book.

Second, there weren’t as many audience members today. This may be due to yesterday’s elimination, but in the pre-show holding area, the lack of people was definitely noticed.

Third, the Wainwright-Lui alliance was broken. Lainey and Wainwright had an exchange during the debate, but that also happened yesterday. When the votes were counted, I couldn’t have seen either person stabbing the other in the back. (Lainey voted to eliminate Wainwright’s book; that favour was returned by Ms. Wainwright).

Here’s what else I didn’t see coming…

Today’s eliminated book:
And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier.

I was looking forward to a Lainey-Wainwright final, but nonetheless, I’m pleased that Lainey and Cameron Bailey will be battling for the 2015 Canada Reads title. It will be interesting to see how Lainey’s forceful style contrasts with Cameron’s gentlemanly yet firm demeanor.

It will also be interesting to see how the free agents are swayed during the debates. Will Wainwright side with Lainey again? Will Craig Kielberger look for revenge? Will Kristen Kreuk, who saw her book ousted on day one, end up playing the role of King/Queenmaker?

We’ll find out tomorrow.

I don’t have any pictures today, but I did ask Lainey a question in today’s post-debate Q&A. Here’s the video link; I asked my question around the six-minute mark.

Canada Reads 2015: Day 2

The pre-show lineup was much smaller than it was yesterday. I guess all of the Intolerable supporters stayed home. (That book was eliminated yesterday.)

In yesterday’s blog, I mentioned the good first impressions made by Martha Wainwright and Elaine Lui. Today, both women came out swinging; at one point, they came out swinging against each other. That was surprising in light of the alliance which they seem to have formed.

Ms. Lui was particularly fierce in her defense of her chosen book. There was one particularly passionate exchange between her and Craig Kielberger. Lainey is not a shrinking violet, but Mr. Kielberger deftly defended his book against her jabs and got in a few of his own.

After two lively debates, it was time for each panelist to vote. When the first four panelists did so, there was a four-way tie between the remaining books. If that wasn’t enough drama, the panelist breaking the tie was…Lainey

Obviously, When Everything Feels Like The Movies wouldn’t be eliminated today…

Today’s eliminated book:
The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King.

I did not like this book; I couldn’t even finish it. However, given Craig Kielberger’s deft defense today, I’m not happy to see it go. After Martha Wainwright admitted to voting strategically – against Mr. King’s book, I might add – it’ll be interesting to see if she allies herself with Lainey again in an attempt to eliminate Ru.

If Cameron Bailey wants his book to avoid elimination tomorrow, I think he’ll have to be just as fierce in his defense without forsaking his gentlemanly and articulate demeanor. There is no question that the Wainwright-Lui alliance will be broken.

The only question is when.

image
Panelist Kristen Kreuk is on the left. Unfortunately for both of us, Intolerable was eliminated yesterday. Of the three Canada Reads books I’ve read, it was my favourite.

image
That’s Craig Kielberger on the right. I made sure to let him know that even though I didn’t like his chosen book, his defense of it was great. Ergo, I was very sorry to see it eliminated.