ARMCHAIR BOOK CLUB: And the winner is … all readers

Penticton book columnist Heather Allen reviews the national book debate Canada Reads.

Canada Reads, the national book debate, has a winner. Now that the ever-popular CBC radio contest is over, do we agree with the winning choice?

And which, if any, of the five books debated on the program will we read ourselves?

This year’s contest, hosted by national radio host Jian Gomeshi, pitted books from different regions of Canada against each other. B.C. and Yukon was represented by Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse. From the prairies and the north: i by David Bergen. From Ontario: Away by Jane Urquhart. From Quebec: Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan and from Atlantic Canada: February by Lisa Moore.

In my mind, the two frontrunners in the debate were: Indian Horse and February. As previously discussed in this column, Indian Horse is a beautifully raw depiction of a young Ojibwa boy who survives residential school in part by immersing himself in the game of hockey.

February is also a beautifully-written novel set around the real-life sinking of the Ocean Ranger off the shores of Newfoundland in 1982. Although neither book finished as well as it started, they both had much going for them.

Indian Horse and February are relatively recent publications, and are topical. With the possibility of new pipelines and development of the tar sands, safety in the oil and gas sector is on many people’s minds.  Indian Horse highlights injustices being raised by the Idle No More movement.

Canada Reads is a lively discussion, in part because of the celebrities who champion the books on behalf of the authors. Indian Horse was defended by Olympic wrestling medallist Carol Huynh, and February was backed by comedian, Trent McClellan. Ironically, the other three books had more competitive champions: Ron MacLean represented The Age of Hope, historian Charlotte Gray backed Away and actor Jay Baruchel backed Two Solitudes. They talked circles around their opponents, but their books let them down.

The Age of Hope is new, but this dull tale about a woman born in 1930 simply wasn`t Bergen`s most compelling effort. Two Solitudes, written in 1945, is already a Canadian classic about English/French relations in Quebec. Away, the story of Irish immigrants to Canada, is more than 20 years old and has already been read by countless Canadians, having sat atop the bestseller list for 132 weeks (a record for a Canadian book). In the end, despite McClellan’s debating tactics, February won the literary crown. If you missed the debates live, you can revisit them online at cbc.ca/books/canadareads as well as find chats, interviews with the authors, and even the winner’s music playlist.

While there are obviously many other Canadian books that deserve to be read, this spotlight on books can only be a good thing.

In fact, the Okanagan has its very own spin-off called Okanagan Reads. The Okanagan Regional Library is encouraging all valley residents to pick up Shoot! by George Bowering.

Happy Reading!

Heather Allen is a writer and reader living in Penticton.

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