Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Canada Reads: Chapter 1

After two days of debating, the Canada Reads panelists voted off their first book: Generation X by Douglas Coupland (defended by Winnipeg rapper and poet laureate Roland Pemberton, aka Cadence Weapon).

Yesterday, the panelists (who also include hurdler Perdita Felicien, War Child founder Dr. Samantha Nutt, media personality Simi Sara and belletrist Michel V├ęzina) had an interesting discussion about what Canada Reads is meant to do. As host Jian Ghomeshi frequently points out, the winner of Canada Reads has always benefitted from a huge boost in sales - Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes has been on the Canadian bestseller list since it won last year. So, should Canada Reads serve to draw attention to books that may otherwise go unlauded or unread, or should it just be about the best book in the bunch?

I'm tempted to say it should be about recognizing previously under-appreciated works of Canadian fiction. It is, of course, wonderful to hear people discuss literature on the radio and I am for anything that promotes reading, but I like to think that Canada Reads could help wonderful books reach an audience they may not have otherwise had. The National Post's Canada Also Reads is working to do that this year (since many of the Canada Reads selections are already fairly commercially successful).

So, in the spirit of recommending great Canadian fiction, here are five novels I would love to see championed on Canada Reads (with brief explanations):
Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro: I have talked about this one before and I know Munro is already successful in her own right, but this is a lovely book that speaks very much about small-town life. It also offers an sideways glance at what it was like to grow up during and after the Second World War without going into the actual details of the war. Really, it is just so excellent.
Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden: Yes, yes, Boyden won the Giller last year for Through Black Spruce, the sequel to Three Day Road. But, I kind of feel as though, in the wake of that win, this book got pushed a little to the side. Of the two novela, this one floored me. Boyden's voice lifts off the page and rolls around in your head and his images are incredibly vivid without being demanding. Plus, it has a layered narrative, which I tend to love.
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maude Montgomery: This is kind of a sentimental favourite, but for me it was more quintessentially L.M. Montgomery than all the Anne books (especially the ones after she was married). Don't get me wrong, I loved Anne of Green Gables, but The Blue Castle is less sweet and actually really funny. There's also a lot of social commentary in this book, which makes me feel a little as if Montgomery is winking at her readers through Valancy's eyes.
The Birth House by Ami McKay: This is another recent-release (relatively speaking), but I was so taken by it the first time I read it that I couldn't put it down (and I was supposed to be on a ski trip). Historical gynecology may not be for everyone, but there is so much life in the characters McKay creates that it's easy to get lost in the world of pre-World War I Scots Bay, Nova Scotia. Really, I just couldn't put it down.
Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell: Apparently this was taught in schools, but it was never part of my high school education, so I have none of those associations with it. What I loved about Mitchell's novel was how believable the perspective was. He seems to really get kids and what their world looks like, and that is a rare gem in literature. Plus, he has great names for his characters - different without being unrealistically quirky - which I always appreciate.

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