Canada Reads 2015 – 5 Books & Panelists Revealed

CR2015-books-620

Canada Reads is upon us once again – nearly!  Today the 5 books and the panelists who will champion each read were revealed.  For those who are not familiar with this program, think of Survivor, except with literature and without any eat-this-horrible-thing contests.  It’s a bit of a cultural phenomenon here in Canada – a competition featuring books! But for bookish Canadians, Canada Reads is like Christmas and the Oscars rolled into one giant ball of literary awesomeness.

The program is not without its detractors, and its controversies, however.  But, overall, the program has proven great for readers, authors, and publishers. How can any program working to promote homegrown talent and literature, and featuring engaging public debates about Canadian Literature be a bad thing? Sure it can get a bit hokey with its mood music and lighting. And by eliminating a book on the first day, one book always gets the short end of the stick.  But it’s an amazing phenomenon this program, and one that draws a huge number of listeners and viewers ever year.

For 2015, the theme is ‘one book to break down barriers’. The longlist of 15 books offered a great assortment of fiction and nonfiction (a Canada Reads first having both genres in the running), as well as a broad range of socially important subjects.

Today, January 20th, the 5 finalists were revealed!

From CBC Books website:

Let the games begin.

Canada Reads, CBC’s annual battle of the books competition, revealed this year’s roster of panellists and contending books on Q:

  • Cameron Bailey, artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival, will defend Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman, a story inspired by the author’s own experiences as a refugee from war-torn Vietnam.
  • Actress Kristin Kreuk (Beauty and the BeastSmallville) will defend journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee’s memoir Intolerable, which chronicles his journey as a Middle Eastern gay man finding a home in Canada while members of his family slip into hard-line interpretations of Islam.
  • Activist and social entrepreneur Craig Kielburger will defend The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King, the acclaimed writer’s critical and personal missive on what it means to be “Indian” in North America.
  • Broadcaster Elaine “Lainey” Lui (etalk reporter and co-host of The Social) will defend When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid, an edgy work of YA fiction that explores youth, sexuality and the search for identity.
  • Singer-songwriter Martha Wainwright will defend And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins, a haunting meditation on aging and identity.

You can learn more about this year’s contenders and panellists at the Canada Reads 2015 page.

The 2015 show will be hosted by Wab Kinew, who won last year’s competition defending The Orenda by Joseph Boyden. This year’s panellists are tasked with identifying “the one book to break barriers.”

I would love to know what you think about the 2015 edition of Canada Reads – the books, the panelists, tell me your thoughts! If you were creating a dream list of 5 books from the 15 longlisted books, which ones would you include?

Happy reading!

The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

From the book’s description:

In Eowyn Ivey’s magical debut novel The Snow Child, a couple creates a child out of snow. When she appears on their doorstep as a little girl, wild and secretive, their lives are changed forever.

SnowChildpaperback-bannerAlaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for a couple who have never been able to conceive. Jack and Mabel are drifting apart—he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season’s first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. The next morning the snow child is gone, but they catch sight of an elusive, blonde-haired girl running through the trees.

This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and leaves blizzards in her wake. As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who seems to have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in the Alaska wilderness, life and death are inextricable, and what they eventually learn about Faina changes their lives forever.

I first read this wonderful novel at the beginning of 2013. I very much read to both my mood and the seasons, so being in Canada, in January – it seemed like the ideal time to read a book about a ‘snow child’, set in the Alaskan wilderness!   While it was the first book I read in 2013, it stuck with me throughout the entire year, and was one of my favourite reads.

Here we are now, in 2014. I find myself in a fairly pervasive reading slump. But, given my work, and involvement in a few online book groups, a reading slump can be a problematic situation.  Two of my book groups have chosen to read The Snow Child in 2014. One group is reading it now (CBC Books, on Goodreads), and I am leading the read/discussion). The other group will be reading it in March. So…I really had to get going on the re-read of this book.

eowyn-bioLuckily, the second time reading The Snow Child was just was great as the first. Ivey, using inspiration from classic Russian fable (The Little Daughter of the Snow), has created a truly wonderful fairy tale for adults.  Don’t let that description scare you or cause you to turn up your nose. Fairy tales, while beautiful and magical, often tell hard truths and share dark realities.

It is very easy to become swept up in the world Ivey has created in The Snow Child – it all seems so bleak, remote, challenging and nearly impossible. And yet, her characters are so full of life, as is the setting of the story. So much of human survival hinges on the natural world. And the natural world is a marvel. Some may even think mother nature magical. And here is where Ivey really shines as she balances her story between naturalism and the mythical.

There is an sadness that anchors The Snow Child, and Ivey certainly does not romanticize the Alaskan frontier. But the hopes and dreams that have long lured people to Alaska, the mystery of the place, are very present in Ivey’s characters. There is such a life force in this story – I really hope it will capture your imagination and heart, as it has captured mine.

Faina

“In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believe as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.” 

Ru by Kim Thúy

Ru: A NovelRu: A Novel by Kim Thúy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We lost power for over 24 hours, thank to Super Storm Sandy, so I decided to re-read this beautiful book.

Kim Thúy’s novel, Ru was shortlisted for this year’s Giller Award. Released in its original French in 2010, it won the French-language Governor-General’s Award that same year, and has secured foreign rights in 15 countries. (Though according to a rep at Random House Canada, I have been told a U.S. publication date has not been established.) The English translation has been crafted beautifully by Sheila Fischman. While I was reading, I sensed the tenderness and integrity Fischman brought to this project. (But I would now like to read Ru in French!)

Ru is a fictional memoir told in beautiful vignettes that weave us through An Tinh’s escape from Vietnam to her time in a Malaysian refugee camp to her new life in Canada. The novel begins with a note on the meaning of ru. In French, it denotes a small stream or a flow – of water, blood, tears or almost anything else. In Vietnamese, ru means a lullaby.

The opening that follows, gives us a good idea of what’s in store:

I came into the world during the Tet Offensive, in the early days of the Year of the Monkey, when the long chains of firecrackers draped in front of houses exploded polyphonically along with the sound of the machine guns.

I first saw the light of day in Saigon, where firecrackers, fragmented into a thousand shreds, coloured the ground red like the petals of cherry blossoms or like the blood of the two million soldiers deployed and scattered through the villages and cities of a Vietnam that had been ripped in two.

I was born in the shadow of skies adorned with fireworks, decorated with garlands of light, shot through with rockets and missiles. The purpose of my birth was to replace lives that had been lost. My life’s duty was to prolong that of my mother.

I love the form this book takes and feel that the way Thúy tells us this story fully captures how we remember events from the past. Our recollections help form the big picture but it’s the snippets of memory, of moments along the way, that fit together like a puzzle and create the full portrait of a life. Even in its entirety life can be messy but whole, disjointed and connected at the same time. But from the chaos and uncertainty, physical and moral strength and endurance can emerge and sustain us.

Prior to the Giller Awards gala event, Thúy did a quick Q & A session with CBC Books.

I would suggest you take a few minutes to watch this video of Thúy, as she talks about writing Ru and the immigrant experience. Thúy has become my new favourite person. She’s bright, funny and quirky. Around these parts, we call that adorakable!

Read her book; won’t you? It’s one of my most favourite reads of 2012.

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