One Book to Move You: Canada Reads 2019 on the Global Stage
CBC announced the 2019 Canada Reads contenders and panelists on January 31, 2019. This past week, the live debates were held on March 25-28 and broadcasted on CBC Radio One, CBC TV and online, and at CBC Books.
For those unfamiliar with Canada Reads, a long list of approximately fifteen books written by Canadian authors is usually announced in early-to-mid January, from which five are selected to compete against each other in a roundtable-style debate in March. Unlike other literary prizes, there is no genre restriction and the books selected often include works of Canadian literature ranging from speculative fiction, non-fiction, memoir, YA fiction, and everything in between.
This year’s long list speaks to the theme: one book to move you. The five books chosen to compete in the live debates shared themes poignantly relevant to our current socio-political landscape as Canadians on the global stage and included stories about Syrian refugees, feminism and womanhood, racism and immigration, the Holocaust, and mental illness. For each of the five books, a Canadian public figure or celebrity must defend their choice to the other panelists and argue why their book should be selected as the winner of Canada Reads 2019. On March 28, the last two books standing went head-to-head in the last live debate of the year.
Chuck Comeau, the drummer of popular 2000s pop-rock band Simple Plan, and Ziya Tong, television personality and co-host of the Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, took turns defending their chosen books. Comeau defended the memoir Homes by teenager Abu Bakr al Rabeeah which tells his story of growing up in Iraq and moving to Homs, Syria seeking haven from war only to be met with even more violence not long afterwards, eventually making his way with his family to Canada where he is now a high school student in Edmonton. In his defense, Comeau argues that Homes is exactly the type of book the world needs right now:
There is something powerful about that. It’s immediate, it’s here, and I think that’s important. [The book] has the strong possibility of making people want to reach out to their neighbour... saying we have more in common than I thought.
Tong uses similar language in her defense of By Chance Alone by Holocaust survivor Max Eisen. The book explores the horrors of the Holocaust and the long journey of healing that was necessary well after the Second World War had ended. Tong emphasizes the importance of history and the act of remembering when defending her chosen book to the other panelists:
How are we expected to learn from history when we don’t even know what history is? That’s why this is such a profound and timely book. This is the book that this country needs to be reading right now.
After four days of heated debates, live broadcasts, and a 3-2 vote, By Chance Alone by Max Eisen survived the final elimination and was declared the winner of Canada Reads 2019 on March 28. In a time when the world is becoming increasingly divided along national, ethnic, racial, and economic lines, this book reminds us of how important it is to remember our history as a human race. For Tong, Eisen’s memoir “cracks open your skull with the basic realities of human dignity. And how similar we all are, but how suddenly we can be so incredibly divided.” In a time when white nationalism seems to be an increasing topic of conversation reminiscent of the early 20th century, I would encourage everyone to pick up a copy of Eisen’s book, alongside any of the fifteen long listed books, and ask yourself: what books move me and why?
The long list, along with abstracts and summaries of each book, can be found at:
By Nicole Harris