Canada Reads 2010: Day 3
Alex Good: I must say I’m enjoying this year’s program more than previous years. Mainly, I think, because of the honesty factor. Today’s show was a good example. We knew going in that Generation X was going to be the first book voted off based on what everyone had said thus far. Still, you never entirely know how these things are going to work out. But when the votes were counted it was pretty much what everyone expected. All the haters stuck to their guns and gave Generation X the boot.
Odd that there is this populist aversion to Coupland, despite the fact that he’s such a popular author. I have to wonder if things would have turned out differently if Roland had picked a more recent, and better, book, like The Gum Thief.
Samantha Nutt was Ms. Honesty in the early going. When Jian brought up the fact that The Jade Peony was flying under the radar thus far (as pointed out in yesterday’s expert commentary), she confessed that her strategy was to lay low. Then, when she voted against Fall on Your Knees, she was open about voting strategically, trying to take out the “Goliath” thus far.
The discussion went well. It seems pretty clear that Good to a Fault is next off. When Jian tossed out a question about which book had the strongest sense of time and place, no one mentioned Good to a Fault (even though a couple of panelists mentioned two books in response). This forced Simi to play a bit of defence, saying that Good to a Fault is a universal text. Which was well played, but surely in a losing cause.
Michel was disarmingly honest as well. When the question of class came up he basically just shrugged it off and admitted that notions of class didn’t play much of a role in Nikolski. But on the issue of the “Canadianness” he was floundering a bit, wondering where the francophone presence was in the other books. This wasn’t getting him anywhere.
So overall another good program. Jian is making some interesting points as things go along. I like the way he started off today’s program with the observation that these books are all “youngsters” (that is, all written in the last 20 years). That made me wonder what a Canada Reads program made up of books published pre-1970, say, would look like. One thing’s for sure, those would be five books most Canadians would not have already read.
So … next off: Good to a Fault. After that, things should get (strategically) interesting.
Steven W. Beattie: It’s funny that you enjoyed today’s discussion so much, Alex, because I thought it was easily the weakest thus far. Not so much because the panelists were weak (Simi Sara is proving to be quite eloquent in defending Good to a Fault, Samantha Nutt finally came out of stealth mode around The Jade Peony, and Perdita Felicien continues to scare the living shit out of me), but because the topics were all so boring.
Even Jian Ghomeshi was forced to admit that the subject of Canadianness “comes up every year,” and, honestly, every year it’s a non-starter. “Surely it’s not an unfair question,” Ghomeshi said. Well, in a way, it is. It’s an easy default subject to talk about on a program called Canada Reads, but each year the overwhelming response (which yr. humble correspondent would heartily endorse) is that it doesn’t matter. Sara got it right when she said that “trying to determine what being most Canadian is” when discussing these books is a mug’s game, if only because it’s close to impossible to agree on the relevant criteria.
I will admit that there were two moments in this discussion that gave me pause this year. The first was Michel Vézina complaining that except for Nikolski and a few “very short mentions” in Fall on Your Knees, “the French-speaking fact of Canada is totally absent in all of these books,” despite the fact that 25% of the population (according to Vézina) is francophone. You’re right, Alex, this went nowhere.
The other moment that gave me pause (literally: once again, I had to rewind the playback to make sure I’d heard correctly) was Nutt’s astonishing assertion that the immigrant experience “is one that you don’t often get in fiction.” This is where you can imagine my eyes popping out of my head on rubbery stalks à la Jim Carrey’s in The Mask. The immigrant experience is not often reflected in our fiction? Really? Well, let’s see: Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures; The Amazing Absorbing Boy; Barnacle Love; Cockroach; Soucoyant; Brown Girl in the Ring; The Electrical Field; Obasan; Certainty; In the Skin of a Lion; More; What We All Long For; Some Great Thing; The End of East. And that’s just off the top of my head. Arguing that The Jade Peony is the most Canadian book remaining in competition because “it’s about a quintessentially Canadian experience” is one thing, but it’s impossible to suggest that novels about the immigrant experience are hard to find in Canada.
At one point, Ghomeshi suggested that Good to a Fault is particularly Canadian because it features a working-class woman who spends most of the novel in hospital and doesn’t have to pay for it. Tommy Douglas would surely approve. However, what interests me about this comment is not so much what it says about Canadian health care, but what it says about something the panelists seem to be studiously avoiding when discussing Endicott’s novel. We’ve now had three days of discussion around this book, and the subject of cancer has not come up once. This is no small matter in the book, since it’s Clara’s discovery that Lorraine is suffering from ovarian cancer that prompts her to take the family into her home. The fact that this subject has so far been off-limits is interesting; it will be interesting to find out whether it’s broached tomorrow or Friday, should Good to a Fault make it that far.
Which it probably won’t. Like Alex, I suspect it will be the next to get voted off given the way the panelists have been leaning thus far. At the midpoint of the debates, I can foresee a finale in which strategist Nutt faces off against brawler Felicien for the title. I’m still hoping Vézina can rally tomorrow to make a compelling case for Nikolski. He’s going to need to if he wants to keep his book in contention past the third vote.