‘Canada Reads’ worth watching

Did you tune in to “Canada Reads” the week of Feb. 11-14? If not, I wish you had.
It was the celebration of Canadian literature in a way unparalleled by the Giller or the Governor General’s Award, or other Canadian literary awards. In the format of reality programming, “Canada Reads” pitted five Canadian novels against each other—each representing a region of Canada.
CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi was the ringmaster of the event and I always enjoy the tone he brings to the discussion of creativity wherever its roots may be. He is a drummer, and I think his natural rhythm shows itself in the timing of his questions and the flow of the discussion.
Five prominent Canadians (Carol Huynh, Ron MacLean, Charlotte Gray, Jay Baruchel, and Trent McClellan) were asked to “defend” a book that represented his/her region.
If you watched, you know the details so I’ll not repeat them. If you didn’t watch, then I suggest you pick up all five novels (“Indian Horse,” “The Age of Hope,” “Two Solitudes,” “Away,” and “February”) and give them a read.
Undoubtedly, there were many brilliant novels that didn’t make the list of five but were every bit as worthy.
Any of the five books could have taken top spot, and I was intrigued and moved by the emotional conviction of each defender. These books spoke to the very heart of their respective defender, and what a clear and concise assessment of Canadian writing—and the reasons each book should stand at the top—was delivered with articulate and eloquent speeches.
I was thrilled that Lisa Moore’s “February” won and my reasons are many aside of her superb writing skill. The tragedy that forms the backdrop of “February” marked its 31st anniversary on Feb. 15—the loss of 84 crew members aboard the Ocean Ranger in 1982. How poignant that this story should have a moment in the spotlight at a time of remembering.
It is a story of grief delivered in a raw and truthful manner that exposes grief for what it is—how it rips through our lives leaving us all victims.
And finally, it is a story written by a woman that I’ve come to know, have had the great fortune of working with, someone I consider a friend.
Lisa Moore’s passion for writing is nothing less than keen. Her artist background paints a story with texture and colour, and layers upon layers that appear seamless and effortless. She has a Newfoundland accent that sings its own melody—a sound that makes me smile because I now feel privileged to recognize its roots.
Lisa twists her blonde curls around her fingers while she is thinking; a reflex action that I’m not sure she is even aware of. And she writes about those thoughts, those feelings, those moments that live inside each and every one of us—moments that make the reader nod in recognition of when we read her work.
I felt an immense sense of pride when I watched and listened to the discussion round the table while the defenders eliminated one novel at a time. All the stories were rich with character and place and time, with Canada as its landscape.
These are only five titles of a long, long list of Canadian novels and I’ve now started my own list of “must reads.”
Trent McClellan, defender of “February,” may have said it best. If “Canada Reads” is to put Canadian literature up front on centre stage, then “we need books that [Canadians] can relate to. We need to give them people, not perspective.
“We need to give books that provide insight into intuition, not institution. We need to have characters with their hearts exposed and ripped out.
“We don’t need required reading, but inspired reading.”
I think these qualities are most certainly present in each book. What book or books will you put on your list?