Available at Polar Peek Books & Treasures
- Reviewed by Angie Abdou for The Fernie Fix's March 2011 Issue
Well, this recent run I had with Canada Reads 2011 is something I sure never envisioned for myself. During the week of debates, I had a moment in the studio at the Toronto CBC when I was chatting live with Daybreak South while my cell phone rang off the hook because the National Post book editor was waiting for me in the lobby. Who to talk to first? CBC or National Post? Nice problem to have. I would like to give a heartfelt thank-you to CBC and Georges Laraque for introducing these "problems" into my life. Another giant thank-you goes to all the readers who worked to get my book on the short-list in the first place. If I had to pick one word to summarize my feelings about the whole experience, I'd choose gratitude.
For me, writing is a hobby, a form of play. I don't plan to give up my day job. I have no delusional ideas about getting rich or famous from my novels. But I do, desperately, want people to read them. Definitely. I wouldn't bother making them otherwise. I write books because I have something to say, and that doesn't work if nobody is listening. It's hard, though – there are so many worthwhile novels published every single year. I'm an avid reader, but I can't get through a fraction of the books that catch my interest. So, what's going to make a reader pick my book out of the mountains of Canadian Literature? That's what Canada Reads did for me – it put my book in the hands of readers, oodles of them. It's been absolutely thrilling to hear the many reviewers, book bloggers, and radio shows respond to The Bone Cage and to feel, finally, that my sweaty little book has taken on a life of its own.
The debates themselves were fun too. There's that other word that I keep hearing myself use in describing Canada Reads: fun. Nothing about these debates was ever meant to be taken too seriously. It's a game show, modeled on Survivor. It doesn't try to pass itself off as highbrow literary debate. Rather, Canada Reads aims to reach a wide audience and get a lot of Canadians talking about books (an admirable goal, no?). It definitely accomplished that goal more than ever this year, creating the noisiest Canada Reads on record. Everybody, it seemed, had something to say. Not all of it was nice. In fact, things got downright nasty at times. But emerging writers – Jeff Lemire, Ami McKay, Terry Fallis, and myself – can take a bit of the rough-housing that comes along with this kind of format. We can take bloggers discussing our personalities as if they are PR campaigns. We can take our work being booted off various metaphorical islands. We can take strategic voting. We can take celebrities saying dismissive, ill-informed things about our books on national radio even though they haven't read them (actually, no, that was a Travesty – but the rest of it, we can take).
Really, though, books aren't race horses. There are not winners and losers. The book-loving employees at CBC, I'm absolutely sure, know this. The contest format is all a bit tongue-in-cheek; it's for fun, simply a way of upping the energy level and getting our country to pay attention to its novels.
I appreciate that attention (again—gratitude, much of it). However, I do feel that such a format did not do justice to Carol Shields. She's not a rookie like the rest of us. She does not need to fight for a place for herself in the current literary scene. She is a well-respected writer who published over twenty books in her lauded career—novels, short stories, poetry, plays, essays. Shields' work is responsible for me falling in-love with Canadian literature over twenty years ago. Unless is the crowning achievement of a very impressive career. It raises crucial issues for a society that, at times, seems to think the work of feminism is done. It's beautifully and cleverly written, but it also does important social work, jolting readers out of their apathy. To hear Debbie Travis talk about skimming sections because they didn't hold her interest made me yell at my live-streaming computer. Carol Shields and Unless deserve better than that. I hope I can speak for everyone when I say that the rest of us Canada Reads' finalists felt lucky to be mentioned on the same page as her. I did.
Really, it is, of course, impossible to pick the essential book of the decade. It's impossible even to pick the one book that all Canadians should read (again – of course). Reading is subjective. The wonderful thing about Canadian Literature is its diversity—there's something for everyone. However, Canada Reads gave everyone a chance to voice an opinion, and here's mine: Unless is the most important and essential book on the Canada Reads' list. If you haven't read it yet, do. I plan to re-read it, just as soon as I catch up on my day job.
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Angie Abdou is a local writer. Her third book, The Canterbury Trail, was just released and she invites everyone to join her in celebrating its publication at the Fernie Museum (upstairs gallery) on March 3 at 7pm. Drinks at the Brickhouse to follow.