Why everyone should watch Canada’s Celebrity Debate on BOOKS!

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Canada Reads 2019 concluded last week. Five Canadian celebrities defended their chosen books on this year’s theme — One Book to Move You. The show went on for four days, an hour of debate per day, and at the end of each day, the panel, which consisted of the five celebrity contenders, voted off one book. I watched them live at the CBC studio in Toronto. For Free!

Having moved to Toronto recently, I was amazed at the bookish nature of this reality show when compared to Kim Kardashians and the Bachelors and the Dancing Stars of the rest of the world. Although I am a devoted reader, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard of this show before— a show which has been going on for eighteen years since 2002. I won’t be surprised if you have never heard about this too.

Canada Reads 2019 Panel (Source: cbc.ca)

Let’s dive into the world of books debated this year.

The Woo Woo by Lindsay Wong

The Woo Woo was defended by Joe Zee. This was the first book to be voted off by the panel. Lindsay’s memoir touches on the thorny subject of mental illness based on her childhood experiences of immigrant life in Vancouver BC. The book sheds light on the Chinese practice of masking mental illnesses and blaming it all on ghosts.

Joe undoubtedly connected with this book and even mentioned that Lindsay’s parents could very well have been his parents. However, the book was voted out because most of the other panelists could not connect with the protagonist. Some panelists mentioned that certain characters and incidents in the memoir seemed unrealistic at times, highlighting the cultural chasm between people of different backgrounds. However, this is a timely memoir for all cultures alike. We have to stop pretending that all is well when not many things are well at all.

2. Suzanne by Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette, translated by Rhonda Mullins

Suzanne was championed by Yanic Truesdale. We bid goodbye to Suzanne on the second day. This memoir is a letter by the author to her grandmother, who abandoned her family to embrace a life of arts and freedom. Although the book begins in hate, it ends in forgiveness as the writer empathizes with her grandmother.

Yanic unveils that he too was abandoned by his father when he was two. The irony of defending Suzanne is thus not lost on him. He passionately defends the book, but this was a hard sell to most panelists and the public alike because it is difficult to get behind a woman who left her family for freedom. This is precisely why we need to read this book, as it is bound to expand our empathy like a rubber band if only we let it.

End of Day 2, Canada Reads 2019

3. Brother by David Chariandy

Lisa Ray defended Brother, a story of brotherly love between two Trinidadian immigrants’ sons. This fiction touches on contemporary issues of single motherhood, police brutality, racism, and mental illness, all wrapped inside the gift of beautiful love.

Although Lisa didn’t want to read Brother initially (she wanted to read Sister!), she said that David’s writing drew her in with his technique and characterization. However, this book was voted off on day three as some panelists believed that they needed Canada to read a book of hope (the winner of Canada Reads is deemed as the book that all of Canada should read this year), not one completely devoid of hope. Lisa continues to advocate for Brother, as she thinks Canada is mostly blind to the subtle current of ongoing racism in the country.

4. Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung

Chuck Comeau was drawn into Homes because he identified with the father’s love in the memoir. The memoir is based on Abu Bakr’s life of fleeing war in Iraq and Syria and finally coming to Canada. This is a collaboration between Abu and his English teacher, Winnie, boasting of the Canadian magic that many immigrants hope for.

A war mostly misunderstood by the world population and a community viewed by us in cross-eyed fashion. Homes was voted out at the finale despite Chuck’s best efforts to draw attention to this vastly misconceived Muslim population. But this is still a good read because there are not many voices representing the war-torn Syrian community and much is to be learned from how Abu and his family faced the war.

5. By Chance Alone by Max Eisen

The winner of this year’s Canada Reads. Ziya Tong defended the memoir, which depicts the Auschwitz brutality that Max faced as a teenager. Moments before his dad was hauled away for medical experiments in the camp, he promised his dad that he would share their story with the rest of the world if he got out of the camp alive.

Although there is an elaborate collection of Jewish literature out there, Ziya was able to convince the panelists that this memoir added a new shade to the known ferocities. She used many interesting debating mechanisms like showing panelists a public picture of Max which had been disfigured out of hate, stating current hate crime rates in Canada, and making the panel envision certain monumental points in the book. I thought she had the best personal relationship with her author too. Max called here every morning to wish her good luck for the debate before heading to the gym!

Towards the end, she mentioned that Max was ninety years. “We need to learn from these wise voices before they fade away,” she was ripe with emotion. This won her the deciding vote of victory and I think this will also win our vote to read Max’s story.

Yes, the themes are heavy and the stories are atrocious. But that’s a slice of the real world for you. These books are by Canadian authors and mostly encompasses Canadian settings. But the books are definitely worth a read not only by Canadian readers. Let’s read them all and see whether we too will get invested in these stories as the panelists did! You can also watch the scintillating debates here.

My wish is for reality shows like this to spread the world like a good virus!

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Why everyone should watch Canada’s Celebrity Debate on BOOKS! was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Read more: writingcooperative.com

  • April 7, 2019
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