Eclectic selection for Canada Reads

What a strange combination! You choose a number of Canadian celebrities and then have them pick a book by a Canadian author.

What a strange combination! You choose a number of Canadian celebrities and then have them pick a book by a Canadian author.

The celebrity proceeds to defend the chosen book on CBC radio as a book worthy to be read by all Canadians.

This year’s Canada Reads program can be heard on CBC Radio One on Feb. 7, 8, and 9 at 11:30 a.m. or 8:00 p.m. — or it can be streamed at the Canada Reads website.

The idea is that one book will be eliminated per day until a winner emerges. The celebrities debate each book’s merits and then vote to eliminate one title per day. On the website, you can express your thoughts about the books and the day’s radio commentary.

This year’s choices are once again an eclectic grouping of novels beginning with Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans. The author of this novel is president of his own public relations agency. Having worked for government, he knows much about how government works, and so he has written a satire of national politics. The only humorous book in the lot, it won the Stephen Leacock medal for humour in 2008.

A friend of mine tells me that The Birth House by American-turned-Nova Scotian Ami McKay will be the likely winner. It is a novel about the miracle of birth and the ancient, often mysterious tradition of midwifery in small-town Nova Scotia during the early 20th century. It features a young midwife who learns the profession at an early age.

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou will be a local favourite because Angie was chosen for the 2009 One Book One Kootenay library tour and visited here. An instructor at the College of the Rockies, she has written a novel about two young athletes who are in severe training regimes for the Olympics — the woman in swimming and the man in wrestling.

The sentimental favourite will be Carol Shield’s Unless, partly because Shields is deceased and partly because she’s viewed by the Canadian literati as one of Canada’s top writers. Her novel follows a woman who has everything in life but is miserable. Her life falls apart when her daughter chooses a life on the street over what the standard life offers.

The unknown in this group of five books is Jeff Lemire’s Essex County. This book is a graphic novel (think “comic book” style) and at first I thought it was a joke to include it. Then I thought it certainly would be the first one to be voted off the Canada Reads program.

Then I borrowed it from the Selkirk College library and read (or found my way through) it. Essex County is a good book, and it keeps you thinking about the nature of living. The author is actually a comics illustrator who has written graphic novels before and won many awards for them.

There are flashbacks and minimalist, highly emotional scenes featuring families that are fragmented and one old man on the verge of Alzheimer’s disease. Even as his mind is failing, he flashes back to his youth learning to skate and play hockey on a creek. And he revisits through memory his good times playing semi-pro hockey with his brother.

The celebrities discussing these books range from Ali Velsha, an award-winning CNN chief business correspondent to Georges Laraque, a retired NHL hockey player who was known as the tough guy wherever he played. Added to this duo are Debbie Travis, a well-known TV producer known most recently for All for One, and song-writer/musician Sara Quin of the indie musical sensation, Tegan and Sara. Lorne Cardinal, a Canadian actor best known for his role as a police officer in Corner Gas, is the final defender.

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