Canada Reads 2018

Since 2002, CBC has been hosting an annual battle of the books called Canada Reads. Five books are chosen, around a particular theme. Each book is championed by a noteworthy Canadian and, over the course of a week, four of the books are voted off the island, leaving one book that all Canadians should read.

Over the last few years, we have been buying all five of the books on the shortlist, reading most of them, and then enjoying the debates. This year’s theme is “One Book to Open Your Eyes” with the debates beginning on March 26th.

Just days after the shortlist came out, we this year we headed down to Books and Company In Picton, (a really awesome independent bookstore) and were able to get all five of the books. I love books and this little pile just seemed to make me feel a little richer. It was also cool to think that all over the country, people were picking up these same books and curling up to read.

20726950._UY475_SS475_I began with Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto and have to admit, I was disappointed and hoped fervently that this offering was not indicative of the entire group. The story is a good story blending the true-life stories of the horrors of World War Two, and prisoner of war camps in the Pacific with the injustice, and racism endured by Japanese Canadians in the story of two families that are eventually joined together through the marriage of their children. There is lots here, lots of strong themes, lots that we should know about, but, for me anyway, the punch of the book was lost in what I would call a lack of good editing. The book has spelling errors and sometimes wanders off into the minute pieces of life that really didn’t add to the story, but were written in a notebook somewhere and just had to be used.

9780771024290My fears about the quality of the entire offering were quickly allayed as I got into the Boat People by Sharon Bala. A number of the same themes that came through in Forgiveness appear here as well, beautifully interwoven into the story of Tamil boat people arriving in Vancouver. References to the Japanese internment and the response of both the government and the public to the boat people suggest that the racism and injustice of the past is not really a thing of the past at all. This work of fiction, based on real events, is gripping and revealing.

I somehow managed to read the books in sets. Forgiveness and the Boat People share themes, localities, and even history. The next two books I picked up did as well, but they are very different than the first two in that both of them are apocalyptic in nature, science fiction written in a time somewhere in the future.

35436476The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline is the only book of the set written by an indigenous author.   It’s a young adult novel based in a time when, because of environmental degradation, people have lost the ability to dream. This ability continues in the native community and they are being tracked down and their bone marrow harvested so that the ability can be reclaimed by the colonizers. The Marrow Thieves is a story of colonization beyond land, a story of abuse of power, and a story of the struggle of a community to survive. Its a story of the battle against entitlement, and the strength that is found in bamding together against evil.

9780771009402American War by Omar El Akkad is also a dystopian, apocalyptic novel. I’m not sure why this book is part of the Canada Reads offering. While it does touch on huge themes: climate change, war, the plight of refugees, the influence of foreign powers, the polarization of society, it is not strictly a Canadian book and doesn’t deal with issues that are uniquely Canadian. I suppose the big issues it does cover are all of our issues, international issues, but the book is set and plays itself out in an American context, imagining the result of current American political and societal trajectories. That said, American War is a great read, thought provoking, and just a little bit more than frightening.

precious-cargoCraig Davidson’s Precious Cargo was the last book on my pile. If I hadn’t been sick for a week, I’m not sure I would have gotten this far. After the dystopian novels, Precious Cargo was a breath of fresh air. Its the true-life account of Craig’s year as a school bus driver, driving his precious cargo of special needs teenagers. Interspersed with the story is an “unpublished” novel that puts the characters on the bus in a futuristic setting where they are integral to saving the world. Craig writes about his year as a bus driver, with humour and compassion, helping us to really see the kids on the bus for the people they are rather than for their disabilities.

So, that’s all five. They are an interesting mix of the past, the present, and the future. I’m glad I read all of them, rather than just the one that is crowned the book we should all read in a couple of weeks. In my opinion, the celebrity panel, with its voting process, often gets that book wrong.



This year we decided to buy and read all of the books chosen for CBC’s annual Canada Reads event. We happened to be in Waterloo and found four of the five at the Chapters store. We read them on our holiday in Cuba and I shared my thoughts about them then.

The fifth book, Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee was not available in the store. It wasn’t available online at Amazon or Chapters/Indigo either. I found this odd for a book chosen to be part of the national book club. Printers did get the message and new copies were printed. We got ours last week after the airing of the debates about the books and the final announcement of this year’s winner, Ru.

Intoler9781554688869able was the first book voted off the island. The program this year asked the question: “Which is the one book that breaks barriers?”. Certainly, Intolerable does attempt to do that, introducing us to a family pushed around the middle east by conflict and economics, a young man struggling with his sexual identity in an increasingly restrictive society, a part of the world being swept by religious radicalism. It is Kamal’s story, his biography, and on its own a wonderful story.

It was the first voted off the list. I missed hearing that particular program, but, its not hard to see why it was set to the side early. While it shares some of the themes of the immigrant experience with Ru, it does not do it with the same beauty of language and image. It shares some of the struggles of living into a sexual identity with When Everything Feels like the Movies without the graphic writing, the shock of words. It shares descriptions of displacement and discrimination, but doesn’t land in our backyard like The Inconvenient Indian. Its story telling doesn’t match And the Birds Rained Down. I’m not surprised it didn’t win or that, initially anyway, we couldn’t find it in the bookstore or online.

Don’t get me wrong,  Intolerable is a good read, an interesting story, a peep hole into a life I could never imagine and would not want to experience. Its a story of changing times, a changing world, and those who either change with it or decide to allow the flow to take them along.

But, the Canada Reads group was right in voting it down. Read the other four first, if you have time, pick up Intolerable.


A Week of Reading

We’ve just returned from a little break from the first cold snap of the season and the responsibilities of home. This break actually had a little bit of “required” reading involved, but also provided time to just read. The result is a sort of mixed bag of books.

A couple of weeks aThe-Girl-at-the-End-of-the-World-310x480go, I received an MA (Christian Studies) from Wilfred Laurier University. Augsburg Fortress the Lutheran publisher, gave graduates a gift certificate which we used the same day in their store in Kitchener. J noticed Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther, likely because it was promoted by Rachel Held Evans, and we added it to our little pile. The book was a sobering look into a fundamentalist/cult-like denomination which twisted biblical teachings into something that could only be described as abusive. The book reads like a series of blog posts, arranged chronologically, telling a story but maybe not fully developing characters. Its a good read, pointing to the dangers using a literal interpretation of the bible as a rule of life.

Following2153405 my recommendation, our local pastor’s group read Still Alice by Lisa Genova. I had read this book a couple of years ago and was deeply affected by it. The second time through was no less moving. The fictional story of a woman’s journey with Alzheimers provides a window into this horrible disease and leaves the reader wondering what it is that defines someone as a person.  The story is very believable, following the struggles not only of the main character, but also of her family as both memory and identity is lost.

The break I mentioned earlier was a short visit with another pastor in Florida. She is there on holiday as well as a week of study leave and suggested we read a couple of the books she had chosen to read. They are not books I would have necessarily picked up.. Sometimes having a reason to chose a book is a good thing, at least in terms of broadening horizons.

I had read someErasingHell of Francis Chan’s work before and and found him to be a writer pushing toward the edge, promoting a new way of living in an exciting style. So I was looking to Erasing Hell, a book he co-wrote with Preston Sprtickle to be more of the same. I was disappointed. The book is written as a rebuttal to Rob Bell’s Love Wins and while it does present a convincing argument for the existence of a literal hell it doesn’t do it with the edgy flair of some of Chan’s other work. There are just a few too many word studies, a little to much ancient sociology. I’m thinking the structure may have been more clear if I had read Bell’s book first.

Creature creature-of-the-wordof the Word by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger was a good read, pointing to the importance of keeping the Word central in the life of the church. This isn’t at all a new idea, but it is one that is worth a reminder. The book is not a difficult read and nicely reminds us of the importance of keeping the Word at the center in our teaching and preaching. It asks us to recognize again that the Word is used by the Spirit to change lives in a way that moralistic, or “how to” teaching just can’t do. The title refers to churches, not individuals as creature of the word emphasizing the fact that faith and faithfulness is a community activity not only an individual one.

The final re9780307962553_custom-b5d47bb5eda1dc406a6c1b697a1c2aba37cef254-s300-c85ad of the week, mixed in among some of the others, was The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon. The story takes us back to ancient Greece and the coming of age of Aristotle’s daughter. The book sees the world through the eyes of this young girl and sometimes leaves the reader confused, because she is confused. The story is well written, a good read, but likely requires a block of time which provides little distraction from the story, the long Greek names, and the bits that are known by the central character and not necessarily explained.

And so ends a little more than a week of reading, I’ve got a couple of more books on the go, but I’m back to work with a sermon looming in my future and the gauntlet of Christmas not far away.



The Wives of Los Alamos

J recommended I read this book, by Tarashea Nesbitt, and I’m glad she did.

Most bdownloadooks have one or maybe two main characters and if the story is told in the first person the word “I” will be used a lot. This book takes a totally different tack on an experience had by many. It is written in the first person but always in terms of “we”.

The experience is the work of developing the atomic bomb at Los Almos as seen through the wives of the researchers at the facility. It feels a little bit like the women were gathered in a room, their responses to life before and during Los Alamos recorded on big sheets of paper, and then all incorporated into the story with the use of the global “we”.

Wives of Los Alamos does a wonderful job of reminding us that in every situation there is more than one story, more than one point of view, more than one set of experiences. I reminds us that we cannot lump a group of people together and assume all of them think the same way, feel the same way.

By the end of the first chapter, I was a little confused and wondered if the main character was schizophrenic, but by the end of the book the odd structure had affected me in positive ways.

Risky Undertaking

From time to time I get books, before they are published, for review. Like the title of this book, this practice can be a risky undertaking.

downloadRisky Undertaking is the eighth book in the Buryin’ Barry Mystery series by Mark de Castrique. The series follows Barry Clayton, a part time deputy, and full time undertaker. The title of the series and the odd positioning of the main character would lead one to believe that this might be a comic look at crime investigation. It’s not really though. Sure, Barry’s extended family do provide comic relief from time to time but, at least in Risky Undertaking, the subject matter is serious and the characters generally act professionally, there is blood, and the smell of gunpowder.

There’s something shallow about it though and maybe it’s because I haven’t read the other seven books in the series (I’m not likely to either). This story centers around a murder which stems from a conflict between a native casino and developers planning a second casino for a rival band. The issues are actually real enough, but I didn’t feel the cast of characters placed in the story carried the weight the issue deserved. It was like the story was dropped on top of the scenario.

If you are looking for a quick read in the “who done it” genre, this book may fit the bill, but I honestly can’t give it many stars. It is set to be released November 4 2014.

A Song of Ice and Fire

imagesI’ve just finished reading book five in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. These books are likely best known through the title of the first book of the series, A Game of Thrones, which is also the title of the HBO series based on the books. The series is based in an imaginary medieval world and describes the rise and fall of kingdoms in the brutal way that one might expect of a medieval time.

For the past months, I’ve been immersed in these kingdoms and the machinations of the folks who want to run them. I started the first book in late April and by Sunday of this week I had finished the final book with a total page count of almost 4300 pages. (that’s enough reading for four masters courses) I did read other things along the way, but these last months have been dominated by brutality and backstabbing, religion and romance, hope and hatred. All of it wrapped up in a story that actually doesn’t move very fast. It could likely be seen as five or six separate, but linked novels dropped into a blender, each with its own story and plot, each one at some point intersecting with, or being affected by, the others.

None the less, I’m feeling a little lost now. The website says there is a book related to the series coming out next month, but there is no indication when the actual story will continue. We were left hanging, but I guess life is like that. I’ll need to find something else to read in the meantime.

Any suggestions?

Feeling at Loose Ends

Maybe it’s the weather, rainy, cool, and gloomy. Maybe it’s because summer has come to an end, the days shorter, the promise of snow in our futures. Maybe it’s because, for the first time in five years, I’m not back in school. Whatever it is, its causing a feeling of melancholy.

It’s likely a combination of all of those things and more. I am really missing the first days of school though. The syllabuses to read, the anticipation of learning new things, the calendar to organize, the new books (oh, the new books!!!) to buy and peruse, all added a feeling of newness and excitement to life. The people, teachers and students alike opened windows to worlds I could only imagine in an atmosphere that somehow encouraged openness and sharing, the rapid building of friendships.

Don’t get me wrong, I do have exciting things going on in my life, things that would be quite impossible to maintain if school were part of life’s mix. There is travelling to do, especially since our Edmonton family moved to Ottawa. There is time to spend with those I love without the need to rush off to another class an hour and a half away. There are tandem bike rides through the countryside. There are lots of things to do here at home, things to build, to fix, to prepare for. There are books to read and conversations to have. There are sermons to write, a congregation to love, classes to teach, meeting to attend, the trouble of a burnt church to weave through. There are rations to run, farmers looking for advice, a training session to speak at.

I even went and joined a choir just so I could sing the Messiah this Christmas.

Life is full.

But still, with all the fullness, there is a little hole looking to be filled.