Yesterday was the first day of the Canada Reads debates. I watched them on TV at 4:00pm CST and live-tweeted my thoughts. I figured today, I would try and form some of those thoughts into a coherent post about what I thought about day 1 of Canada Reads.
Here there be spoilers.
I will preface this by saying that I have not yet read The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier. It was the one I was most tentative about, because I know non-fiction takes me forever to read. So I saved it for last. I also am even more nervous to read it after hearing some of the debate.
If you missed day one of the debate, you can watch it online here!
First, we meet the panelists. One of the panelists has changed since the initial announcement. Company Town by Madeline Ashby was originally being defended by Tamara Taylor, but is now being defended by Measha Bruggergrosman. I take an immediate dislike to Jody Mitic. His comments about “second place is the first loser” make me cringe. I feel like that is not a Canadian value.
Then, we saw the trailers for each book. Book trailers are kind of take it or leave it for me, as I find they can sometimes remove me from the story instead of adding to it. I get such a clear picture in my head, and when I see someone else’s take on it, it can be quite jarring.
Immediately following each trailer, the panelists each got 30 seconds to defend their books.
While Measha is talking about Company Town, I find myself nodding along. I really do like the points she touched on. Especially the decriminalized (though not destigmatized) sex workers in Company Town. The wage gap, the health gap… there is a lot of relatable content here.
I feel like Jody’s defense of Nostalgia is ineffectual. I liked Nostalgia a fair bit, but I don’t feel like it “connects directly with the moment we are in now”.
When Candy starts talking about The Break, I am very touched. She is poised and respectful. She talks about the effects of colonialism (which I admit, I am still learning about) and she mentions that The Break has been number one on Canadian bestseller lists for the past two weeks.
Humble the Poet is defending Fifteen Dogs. I can agree that Fifteen Dogs is a narrative on the human condition, but I think that is a big part of why I disliked it. The best part about dogs is that they aren’t subject to the human condition. They are innocent and pure and just, some of the best beings. And seeing some of the human traits projected on to them in such a negative light was awful for me.
The Right to be Cold is the one book I haven’t read yet. I feel like Chantal Kreviazuk is very passionate about this book, but I don’t feel like she is very adept at saying why.
We get a little break, and now we are letting the other panelists talk about everyone else’s books.
Candy starts in on Nostalgia. She makes a very valid point about Nostalgia being “yet another” book about a 50 year old man having an affair with a 20-something augmented woman. She then goes on to reiterate that the question Canada Reads is asking is “What is the ONE book Canadians need now”, and that in her opinion, Nostalgia doesn’t fill that urgency.
Jody corrects Candy, because the younger woman is not actually augmented in Nostalgia. It is the man who is.
Now, Nostalgia had been my second choice to win, but hearing Candy talk about the fact that yes, it is another book about another man in his 50’s who is enjoying life with a sweet young thing and poor him, is he going to lose her because he is old… it is a tired story. And it is the main story, unfortunately. Without spoiling too much, I think it would have been a lot more interesting if we learned the twist sooner, and heard more about what goes on in Maskinia.
Jody jumps in and starts talking about how we have people crossing the Canadian border in -40 degree (Celsius) weather, and how that is comparable to Maskinia and the climate in Nostalgia.
Well, first off, Maskinia is indicated to be somewhere on the Europe/Middle East side of things, where as our main characters are in Canada. Unless there was a major continental shift that isn’t discussed, then it is completely different from people crossing into Canada from the US currently. Jody latches onto the idea that there is a “wall” of some sort separating Maskinia from the rest of the world. Which I think is where he feels the connection is, with Darth Cheeto’s proposed plan.
But never in Nostalgia do we hear about people running across the border. We hear about them wanting a better life for themselves where they are. They want to be treated as equals. They want to not have nuclear waste dumped in their water. They want to not live in poverty. They don’t even care about removing their memory and being born anew. They just want to make things better for themselves and to not be treated like animals. Which DOES speak to current world affairs, but I don’t think that Jody Mitic actually picks up on that.
He keeps harping on the fact that “your past will always catch up with you” which is not the point I got from Nostalgia at all.
Humble steps up and starts talking about how fiction is very easy to use as a mirror.
Measha praises the younger character for her resourcefulness in “shacking up” with an older man in order to live the life she wants. Which I think is a little off… What are we trying to teach our women if we think it is ok for them to be unhappy, unfaithful, and to do something essentially demeaning to themselves so they can live in a fancy house?
The Right To Be Cold
Ali Hassan asks if The Right to be Cold inspired Jody Mitic to take steps to prevent climate change. He responds with a no, and says that it was too hard to read. This kicks off a very interesting debate between Chantal Kreviazuk and Jody Mitic that really put me off.
First, she drags Humble’s comment about lies being used to tell the truth in fiction. The Right to be Cold is the only non-fiction book in contention this year, but this is a discussion I have ongoing with people in the book community. Non-fiction is not inherently better than fiction. There is no “better” in the world of books, there is just “better for you”.
Chantal talks some more about the scientific facts and that while they might be too heavy for Jody (ooh, burn!) the book is still forgiving of people like Jody. Which he takes offense to that, and asks if he is the one who is causing climate change. It then devolves from there until Ali Hassan breaks it up.
Humble talks about how there are two sides to this particular book. One is “Do we recognize the important of climate change?” and “Does this book do a good job of pushing forward that issue”. He touches on the fact that there are still a lot of perspectives vs fact in the book. He then says something about “is this the book I will shove down people’s throat to make that point”. And this is where a lot of activism goes, is to the shove-down-the-throat scenario.
Candy makes an excellent point before we move on to the next book. She says that the whole “you’re not invited” perspective is not one that is conducive to healing. We need to bring as many people together as we can to heal the nation, and to move forward. I wholeheartedly agree with this.
I feel like there is a lot of passion in Chantal about this book. I also think that maybe the situation with her son in the hospital is taking a toll on her being able to constructively share that passion. It happens to all of us when we are emotional.
Measha kicks off by saying that this book is hard to love if you aren’t a dog person. Which I really disagree with. I am a huge dog person and I really didn’t love this book. So loving dogs is not necessary.
Chantal speaks about how this book has already received awards and accolades and is being celebrated. And she touches on the fact that the book is not the book we need, regardless of enjoying it.
Jody says the first thing I really agree with. The dogs are given intelligence and then “almost didn’t evolve”. And there are very many inconsistencies about what the dogs know and comprehend. And this, while I couldn’t put my finger on it before someone else said it, was something I really hated about the book.
Humble tries to take it back saying that you can replace the word dogs with people, and it describes what the book is trying to convey perfectly. Humanity’s lack of evolution, and the frustration resulting. He gets a few applause, and then Candy steps in and becomes my hero.
“Humble says that you can say not dogs and say people, but I say that you can say not dogs and say men,”
Fifteen Dogs is a very misogynistic book. And it didn’t hit me until someone else said it. I knew it but I couldn’t put my finger on it. And I am so glad that I became more aware of it, because it also highlights my need to grow in my ability to identify problematic content.
Candy talks once again about the urgency of the theme, and then she moves on to the evasive “strong female character” descriptors.
This is another long-standing debate in the book community. What does a “strong” female character make? It isn’t physical strength, but that is often what we get.
We talk to Jody next about Hwa, the main character of Company Town. His veteran status is called up to talk about how he related to the book, and he says he liked Hwa the best. He then throws out the word “fictional” like he isn’t championing a book about memory alteration. So back on my “nope” list he goes.
Chantal talks about how Hwa is an amazing heroine, and says how she feels like she needs to read Company Town again because of the chaotic nature of the storyline. I really agree with this, especially in the last 1/4 of the book. It got confusing and overwhelming.
Measha talks about the cinematic quality to Company Town, and I think that is a trademark of dystopian novels. Measha is so tentative to call it a dystopian, but it really was.
Humble says that the cinematic quality is why he didn’t like Company Town. Because it all gets wrapped up in a big happy bow in the end, it is too neat and tidy.
“In order to heal a nation you have to include the entire nation” are the words from Measha about The Break. Written by a strong woman about similar strong women spanning multiple generations, there is not much (if any) “positive male representation” in The Break. Measha takes offense to this, because she is the mom of two boys.
My immediate response is that how many years have we gone with women as window dressing in fiction? We are only just getting proper representation for the disabled, POC, LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities. It will not harm men to go without positive representation in a book about women.
My second thought was that if you are worried, as the mother of two small boys, raise them right and you have nothing to worry about. Men will always have the upper hand.
Jody gets the next response. He says that there is a phrase about white men saying goodbye in an offensive way, and how it made him feel attacked. As a white man, Jody has never been in the position the women in this book have been. Until you have been marginalized the way women, POC, LGBTQ+, disabled, etc have been, you don’t understand how someone can be so offensive with such a small thing.
Candy talks about how the way men are portrayed in The Break is a direct representation of how colonialism has affected the Indigenous men and women of Canada. Again, this is not something I can comment on as I am still learning about colonialism and its effects. But I can say that I think it is important to tell the stories that center around women being strong on their own, or with the support of other women. The idea that the men have to be well represented is so frustrating.
I also note that they don’t talk to Humble about The Break. I wish they had, because I feel his views might have been different, especially regarding where Jody felt so “misrepresented”.
Lightning Round and Vote
Measha talks about how Company Town has no race as an exclusionary measure. I disagree, because they do talk about Indigenous people in Company Time.
Jody talks about how Nostalgia makes you think about the past in relation to your future.
Humble compares fundamentalism versus wanting to actually make the future better.
Candy reiterates that The Break has been on the bestseller list for two weeks, and cannot go out in the first round.
Chantal wants to honor Sheila Watt-Cloutier and her efforts.
The vote comes out as follows:
Measha votes for The Break, because of the lack of positive male representation.
Jody votes for The Break, no reason given.
Chantal votes for Company Town, no reason given.
Candy votes for The Right to be Cold, because of the debate that happened.
Humble votes for The Right to be Cold, because he feels it is inaccessable to all Canadians.
The tie breaker comes down to Chantal, as she is the only one who voted for a book other than the tied books. She was obviously not going to vote her own book out, so The Break was eliminated in the first round.
I am really sad about this decision. I feel like The Break was a glorious piece of fiction written by an #ownvoices author. I was tentative going in, because I didn’t know if it was going to be accessible to me, but it really was. The Break was my first choice to win Canada Reads. I feel like it is an important piece of work that needs to be read by as many people as possible.
The other heartbreaking thing for me is the reason it was taken out.
In the Q&A session, which wasn’t on the TV version, but is on the web version, Candy states it perfectly.
“As an avid reader who has been reading all my life, and reading male dominated, and white dominated books, and loving them and giving them their due,” […] “that all those women were simply silenced today,”
There is some debate about if The Break being eliminated is equivalent to silencing these Indigenous women.
“To say their fates are sealed by a bunch of people voting on books is not fair,” is Measha’s response.
The thing is, yes this is already a Canadian bestseller. But there is never too much promotion for an #ownvoices book. There is never too much you can do to elevate the voices of the marginalized.
When Measha gets asked about Hwa and the ending of Company Town, I really dislike her answer. I dislike the idea that women have to give in to romance (especially heterosexual) to be whole. It is a tired trope.
A studio audience member touches on how male vs female authors are always going to be presenting their characters through their own lens. Humble talks about how he recognizes he is a male and he may have blinders on with regards to representation. Candy says that everyone is fighting to be heard and acknowledged. And if you are reading and you aren’t feeling that, it will affect how you feel. Chantal said that as she was reading “the book” (Fifteen Dogs) she felt “Did a man ever write this!”. Jody finds that when he reads a book by a man and the male author is writing a female character, he gets uncomfortable. He finds that it can be crass and creepy.
Measha was asked how she prepared for the debate. She has rebound her novels in coil and there are tabs. She also says that the “literaryness” is a higher priority for her than the subject matter.
PHEW! That was a really long post. Join me today at 4:00pm CST as I live-tweet the TV broadcast of the debate, day 2!
Stay bookish, lovelies!