Canada Reads 2010, Day 1

March 8, 2010 by · 5 Comments 

Alex Good: Day 1 of Year 9 of the contest and I do believe all of my burning questions received at least a provisional answer. And it was actually a really good discussion, too.

My awards:

“Didn’t See That Coming” Award: Samantha Nutt. Apparently The Jade Peony “teaches us something about ourselves as Canadians.” Uh-huh.

Big Winner: Fall on Your Knees. Perdita is a scrapper! And articulate, with a good radio voice. As far as the book was concerned, when given the chance none of the other panelists laid a glove on it and the Oprah stuff never came up. It’s looking very strong going forward.

Big Loser: Generation X. This is Dead Book Walking. I mean it took a beating. I’m not sure even I would have been that negative on it. Can’t put the blame on Roland (Edmonton has a poet laureate?), but he must have finished today feeling a little shell-shocked.

Best Panelist: Michel Vézina. His introduction to Nikolski was impressive, talking about how it relates to the social web of North American cities becoming more complex (hadn’t thought of that), and the obscure relations among modern “exploded” families. He also scored points (with me) for calling out Good to a Fault for being 50 pages too long.

Worst Panelist: Michel Vézina. Sorry, but this guy’s English is brutal. I don’t know how the Ceeb let him on the show. He was struggling for words and even tried to make a joke (at least I think it was meant to be a joke) that seemed to stump everyone.

Machiavelli Award: Simi Sara. Oh, she’s a pro. Introduces herself by saying her only strategy would be to have no strategy, then uses her intro time to launch into an attack on Fall on Your Knees, The Jade Peony, and Generation X for being books that everyone has already read. That has to be her strategy for beating them. But it’s looking like an uphill battle for Good to a Fault anyway.

Overall I thought it was a good show. I’m a little depressed that Fall on Your Knees came out as the clear frontrunner, but things may change.

Steven  W. Beattie: First off, did I complain last year about the annoying (and ubiquitous) theme music for the program? If not, let me do so now. If so, let me reiterate my objection: Enough with the theme music! Let’s get on with the meat of the program.

To wit:

After the usual general introductions (during which we learned that Perdita Felicien “squatted with books on [her] head” to prepare for the debates and Michel Vézina can apparently breathe fire), the panelists wasted no time getting down to what Samantha Nutt referred to as the “classroom brawl” that is Canada Reads. They brawled about Nikolski, which Nutt found “confusing” and “tricky to follow”; they brawled about Fall on Your Knees, which is “too dark” for Roland Pemberton to recommend; they brawled about Good to a Fault, which Vézina (bless him) said was 50 pages too long. But mostly, they brawled about Generation X. This was the book that took the brunt of the beating today, for both the right reasons and the wrong ones.

I will admit to letting out a little “squee” of joy when Perdita Felicien called the characters in Coupland’s book “annoying” and “too clever for their own good.” Score one for the Olympian. I will also admit to clenching my fists a little when the same panelist complained that the book has “no forward-moving plot.” Minus one for the Olympian (which I guess means she comes out even).

If there was an overarching theme to the debate today it was that plot-driven books, books in which stuff “happens,” are preferable to books that are more interior, or more focused on language than on action. Felicien’s complaint about The Jade Peony was that “not much happens.” Pemberton praised Fall on Your Knees for being “very well-written,” which he equated with being “very visual” and “cinematic.” And Nutt found Nikolski “left [her] feeling as if [she] was still waiting for something to happen.” This came on the heels of her complaint about the book’s opening line – “My name is unimportant” – “To me, the name is important.” Perhaps if she were to stop thinking about how little happens in the book, and start considering things like Dickner’s patterns of metaphor, she might notice the echo in the novel’s first line to that of another, older, equally waterlogged novel: “Call me Ishmael.” The ironic inversion here is completely intentional, and completely in tune with Dickner’s approach, which has precisely nothing to do with making things happen.

Fortunately, Michel Vézina was on hand to reply: “We’re not watching TV here, we’re reading books.” Hear, hear, M. Vézina. To be fair, this comment was in response to an interjection by Jian Ghomeshi: “A reader doesn’t necessarily want to feel like they’re doing work, do they?” (Heaven forbid, Jian.) In response to Nutt’s specific accusation that Nikolski is “thin,” Vézina pulled no punches: “If you read it in a thin way, you’ll find it thin.” Ba-boom! (I admit that here I had to pause the playback on my computer and rewind it. “Did Vézina just call his fellow panelists superficial?”) Nikolski, Vézina continued, is “not a book that tells you everything.” Pemberton agreed, saying that it “gives the reader credit.” Later on, talking about Fall on Your Knees, Vézina (who is quickly emerging as my favourite panelist) pointed out that “action is not the only purpose in a book.”

So, a mixed bag after Day 1. Here’s hoping that Vézina can convince his fellow panelists that there is more to literature than plot. If not, and should Nikolski get voted off at the end of tomorrow’s show, it may prove to be a very long week for yr. humble correspondent.


5 Responses to “Canada Reads 2010, Day 1”
  1. Biblioasis says:

    Christ! You’re going to make me listen to this thing, aren’t you?


  2. Alex says:

    It was actually pretty good today, Dan.

    I loved that “thin” zinger too, Steve. I thought Vezina might have meant it as a bit of self-deprecating humour, since he appears to be a beefy fellow himself. But again, maybe because of his awkwardness with the language, it came out sounding wrong, and he was immediately jumped on for it. So I don’t think it helped him at all.

  3. Kerry Clare says:

    It sounded right to me! Vezina was excellent.

  4. Panic says:

    Enough with the theme music!
    It feels like an SNL sketch.

    He probably wrote it, so he gets royalties every time it plays.

  5. steph says:

    You guys are putting me to shame with your commentary! Excellent post. (I’m especially loving the defence of Nikolski, my personal fave.)