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March 4, 2009

On Canada Reads

Unless forgetting to do it counts as participation (however passively?), this is my first experience participating in Canada Reads as either listener or reader. And I’ve written already about how much I’ve enjoyed it, how much I’ve been challenged as a reader by others’ competing viewpoints. I’m also glad to have discovered The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant, which I’ve become a wee bit obsessed with, and can’t stop talking about (and I would like a bracelet that says, “What Would Marcel Do?”). And now the radio debates, which I’m enjoying thoroughly. Which is not to say that some of the panelists don’t irritate me, but they’re a well-rounded bunch with so many viewpoints represented, and they’re challenging one another in all the ways they should be doing. My experience of their five books is being enhanced by the panelists’ perspectives. I love that books are being fought for. I love that any one could win.

Some things: I’m bothered by a lack of bolstering for Fruit, which is far from an insubstantial novel. Part of its complexity is that it can read as such, certainly, but read it again, you’ll find a different book. The book has been slated by YA, but I don’t think it is, or because if you give Fruit to a twelve year old and a thirty year old, they’re going to be reading two completely different books. There is a real darkness to Fruit, in spite of its humour, that nobody has remarked on. Also, stop talking about the nipples already, for they’re the most unremarkable part of the whole novel. And how about we talk about Peter Paddington vs. Sydney Henderson? Doesn’t Peter accomplish much the same goals as Sydney, narratively speaking, but manage NOT to be entirely one-dimensional?

Also, it turns out everybody loves The Fat Woman Next Door… And I can’t help but wonder if its age is part of that. If the thirty years since its publication have established the book within a context, and so we feel more confident supporting it than we might a book like Fruit, for example. I think it’s strange how many recent novels are included in the lot, and so criticisms that we cast upon them could go anywhere, for you never can tell. I also wonder what time will make of The Book of Negroes.

This conversation of what literature should do kind of makes me want to roll my eyes. For literature is a mulitiudinous thing, and sure it should educate (so says Avi Lewis), and confront us with morality (according to Slean), and make us laugh and show us ourselves (says Jen Sookfong Lee), but what I think it amazing about The Fat Woman… is that it does all of these things, and more. Literature should do a thousand things, and astound you at every turn.

I’m impressed by the subtle balance of Canada Reads gender-wise, by the way. Four out of the five books are by men, but many of them take into account women’s lives and experiences. And the panel is three women to two men. I feel that with this kind of balance, gender really ceases to be an issue, and we can get on to more exciting things.

Online, I’m really enjoying debates coverage at That Shakespeherian Rag, Roughing It In the Books, and the Keeping It Real Book Club.

3 thoughts on “On Canada Reads”

  1. The Chapati Kid says:

    Fruit, to me, is not insubstantial. Will never be. Especially after someone dear to me, who had come out not long before the novel was published, read the book, and found it to resonate so deeply with his own angst of growing up and learning to love and accept himself, that it really affected him. This novel sweetly and humorously captures the struggles of many exceptional young people who have struggled with social ostracism. And that makes it consequential, substantial, and universal. I judge a book by whether I’ll ever recommend it to my kid (if I have one). And I will recommend this one. But not for YA — this is more teen/adult content, I think. The narrative voice may be a child’s but it’s so clearly not talking about immature issues.

  2. Kerry says:

    You’re so right. And that it’s not a coming of age novel makes it all the more powerful to me– Peter doesn’t realize himself, he doesn’t figure out his sexuality. If he did, this would be a simpler, preachier book, and we could just put it away and be done with it. But we can’t, because we know it’s only going to get worse for him. The ending is simply terrifying.

  3. The Chapati Kid says:

    Ha! I’ve never heard anyone call the ending terrifying. But… you’re so right. Because while he’s happily spinning in his living room, we’re imagining the road that lies ahead for him.

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