Fact or fiction? Canada Reads 2015

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Tania’s Take on the Canada Reads 2015 Panelists – do you agree?:

Martha – the poet. It’s tough to match the language of her passionate defense.
Lainey – the activist. Sorry, Craig. Lainey is coming out as the stronger activist voice. She also seems to be capturing Wab’s eye, or is that just me?
Craig – the moderator. Sorry, Wab. Craig’s well-reasoned, balanced voice is keeping this debate going. Also, Craig you shine far above Stephen Lewis – who I wanted to punch several times during last year’s debate – as a Canada Reads panelist
Kristin – the surprise. Every year, Canada Reads picks someone that I think isn’t going to add much to the debate. Kristin proved me very wrong and I’m so very glad she did.
Cameron – the convincer. I don’t think I’d really love Ru, but dammit if I’m not hanging on Cameron’s every word – he should write a book about the immigrant experience. His whole speech about how the immigrant hope is to feel okay with feeling constantly in between, constantly both, was just brilliant.

Some great questions have been raised about the nature of breaking barriers, such as Lainey’s idea that a hammer is needed to really break barriers, and Cameron’s defense that a lullaby can be just as useful. There has also been some debate about whether satire/humour is useful in breaking barriers, which has driven me a little nuts as I am currently the lone defender of the satire in the Green Grass, Running Water discussion over at CBC goodreads. Satire is a thing, people! Laughter can make you think, the smile that hides a knife is a powerful and ominous tool, and a sense of humour is what gets us through the darkest hours.

Ahem, but moving on, Canada Reads hasn’t really brought up the question that I would like discussed: Can fiction break barriers better than non-fiction? *

How Poetry Saved My Life (our current read) starts with a quote from Jeanette Winterson.

“A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is. It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.” – Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

The first two books voted off the debate were the non-fiction books. This kinda makes sense to me as I find that non-fiction doesn’t hit me in the heart the way that fiction does. It doesn’t stay with me. It also doesn’t resonate over generations quite as well as fiction does. Fiction offers up so many different types of language to deal with the tough situations, and somehow I don’t feel non-fiction does…though Amber Dawn may very well prove me wrong in this month’s read.

So, I put the question to you, would you choose non-fiction or fiction as your tool to break a barrier down and keep it down?

* This may have been brought up in the Q & A discussions, but I haven’t watched them yet.

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18 Responses to Fact or fiction? Canada Reads 2015

  1. This is my first year actually paying attention to Canada Reads and I can’t believe I’ve never tuned in before! What great debate, so many interesting points made, such passion! About books! I agree with everything you said about the panellists except that as eloquent as Martha was she was also the meanest I thought. Like it was personal that the others didn’t share her views.

    As for your (very thought provoking) question – I don’t know! I think that fiction allows people to read about things that they might be wary of if it were presented via a non-fiction lens. An Inconvenient Indian probably won’t be read by most Canadians because it’s non-fiction and sure to make most of us feel hopeless and terrible. If Everything Felt Like the Movies is also about extremely uncomfortable subject matter but it’s fictional so I think it allows people to feel ok about reading it.

    That said, I’m the most uninformed person because I have read exactly none of the books. I have Ru sitting on my shelf and I want to read An Inconvenient Indian and If Everything Felt Like the Movies but that’s all talk at this point!

    One thing’s for sure – I will be tuning in again next year. And hopefully will have done my homework!

    • Naomi says:

      Yay, Eva! I’m glad you loved it!

    • writereads says:

      So glad you’re listening this year! Not every year is as good, but the last couple have been great.
      Inconvenient Indian is a great read and it’s not particularly “the white man sucks” as was suggested. It was well done and easy to read, even though it was about some pretty tough subjects. But I agree that people take tough stuff better in fiction, I’m not sure why, but I think they do. -Tania

      • The debate was fantastic. I loved listening to them argue the merits of the books they were championing. I do actually want to read The Inconvenient Indian after tuning in – I thought Craig did a fantastic job convincing people that this was an important book. But I think a lot of readers, especially more casual readers, shy away from non-fiction because it’s perceived as being difficult to read. Not even emotionally difficult, just dry and more like reading a textbook, reading that you do because you have to.
        But guess what? I totally started reading Ru this morning!

  2. Whew. Lots to cover here. Bear with me 🙂

    On the whole this definitely wasn’t my favorite group I’ve seen, but they were solid, for sure. Kristin was that all measured grace, Craig brought an unmatched intelligence and real world experience, Cameron was incredibly well spoken and was probably the most magnetic personality.

    Lainey really surprised me with her fire. She was the most interesting of the five, I thought. She gave the debate some spark, which is always needed in order to make this show interesting. If you’re going to have a debate show about books, you need some passion to keep it from being a snoozefest.

    Laney also spoke to other people’s books better than anyone else, I thought. She used other books to prove her points, where the other panelists didn’t. Her arguments were the strongest because hers weren’t simply, “My book is the best because I want it to be.”

    Now, to Martha. I was so glad that she didn’t win. I don’t think she argued well at all. Martha argued with bias. She didn’t seem open to discussion.

    Martha argued for subtlety, which I patently disagree with in this competition. Lainey hit the nail on the head in terms of needing a hammer, not a lullaby. I think Martha was trying to speak to the power of elegance, but I don’t think she argued the point effectively

    She seemed to take things personally, and spoke over everyone constantly. Incredibly long-winded, controlled the conversation way too much. This is probably Wab’s fault, but he got much better as a moderator as the comp. went on. By day 3 I think he finally hit his stride and was able to control the conversation. But it’s his first go, so that’s understandable. I thought Wab was a really good host, and I think after another year or two, he’s going to be a great host. He just needed the experience. He’s not as good as Jian, but he was so good at this.

    • writereads says:

      Totally agree that Martha annoyed me at times, she wasn’t a particularly good listener, but I get that it’s a weird type of discussion format. I think she would have preferred going for beers and having a chat, rather than a formal debate like this.

      Respectfully disagree about the hammer. I think a hammer is good for a call to action amongst those already on your side, but I don’t know that it has ever swayed or broken a barrier for those not on your side. Extremists use hammers, and they rarely ever sway me to their side. Westboro is hammering all over the place and, somehow, I still don’t agree with them 🙂 And they wouldn’t agree with me if I used a hammer. It’s just my opinion, I think a subtler implement is necessary to really break through to those on the other side of the barrier – something small that creates an empathy for the different side without people even noticing at first.

      Again, I think IEFLTM is a great book, and an excellent call to action for people too lazy/not aware enough to really get involved in gay rights, but who do support them. But will it break the barrier of the homophobes? I doubt it. -Tania

      • Yeah, that’s a great point. It’s tough, though. I’m not sure the hammer method actually breaks the barrier, as much as it helps expose it. Then it can then be broken. Going subtle doesn’t create an uproar. On an individual reader-by-reader basis, maybe the subtle way works better. It probably would. But a subtle book doesn’t create a cultural phenomenon/discussion the way hammers do. Most of the time. I think. Haha.

      • writereads says:

        Very true about creating the cultural phenomenon necessary to bring awareness to a barrier. Most of the time. I think 🙂

  3. Personally, I think fiction breaks barriers better than non-fiction, but I’m also biased towards fiction so take this with a grain of salt. Just look at all the books that have cultural impacts, the ones that have lasting life, the ones that get passed down through generations. They’re overwhelmingly fiction.

    I think fiction allows you to inhabit the mind of another even better than non-fiction, because it comes from a position of taking some who is exterior (the readers) and purposely putting them in another person’s head (the character). With non-fiction, it can often be about simply presenting something (whether it’s a person or an argument) without actively putting the reader into that character’s head or situation. In my opinion.

    However, I don’t think poetry is the proper vehicle for “breaking down barriers.” At the moment, poetry is a dead medium. People’s reading comprehension and sophistication is too dumbed down right now to be galvanized by poetry. It sucks, but it’s true.

    • writereads says:

      Agree that fiction somehow works better. I wish I could explain better why I feel that way.

      Another respectful disagreement about poetry. I don’t read poetry, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Edmonton still has so many poetry nights around the city, and our poetry festival garners quite an audience. Poetry has always been there to express a variety of emotions, and right now with spoken word becoming so popular, it has become the very language of the raw emotions that break barriers, while still being subtle enough to communicate without barraging. Teenagers will always write poetry, it will always be there and I would argue that our “sound bite” era is one where the shorter, more concise piece of work is the one that is going to capture people’s attention. The people best at Twitter make it seem like poetry. What is a good sound bite, but a poem? I think you’re being all “sweeping declarations” guy, which I can relate to very much, but I can’t say that this particular sweep makes sense to me 🙂 -Tania

      • Maybe I misspoke. Poetry isn’t dead as a medium, it’s dead as a agent of mass cultural change. How often do books of poetry land on best-seller lists? How often to you read about them the newspaper? How many poets can the average person actually name? Any?

        Poetry, in its classic form, is not a part of our mass cultural identity. But that’s because our poets are now musicians. If we include musicians, then poets are more powerful than ever.

        But when it comes to poets who put out poetry collections, I just don’t think they speak to the general public right now. And in order to break barriers, you need to speak to thousands and thousands of people.

        I’m not against it. I wish their voices were louder. But, generally speaking, no one reads poetry right now. 1 in 100, maybe?

      • writereads says:

        Okay, totally. I agree that books of poetry are not rocking the charts these days and probably don’t garner enough attention to break barriers – but perhaps Canada Reads should do a poetry book round and bring more attention.
        I was just thinking of poetry in its many varied and awesome forms, and I think it has moved into the modern age with grace and style in music and spoken word and multimedia work. -Tania

      • Oooooh, a poetry-themed Canada Reads would be FASCINATING, I think. I would so be down for that. Awesome idea. Do your own in a special Write Reads podcast series! 😀

  4. I love talking about Canada Reads haha

  5. Naomi says:

    I just read Eva and Rick’s comments, and agree with them both. I think fiction is better for these things than non-fiction. However, The Inconvenient Indian could possibly be an exception to this, because it was written by a storyteller who made it as story-like and personal as he could. I was moved many times while reading it. A memoir could work the same way, though, but I didn’t read Intolerance, so I can’t say what it was like.

    Now, the panelists (I love this – thanks for asking!):
    Martha: I thought she said some good things, but sometimes took way too long to say them. And, sometimes I felt like I wanted to tell her what to say, because I didn’t think she was saying the right thing. I did love what she said at the end about wanting to live in a Canada that was happy and okay with reading a book like Everything Feels Like the Movies.
    Lainey: I think she was the most fun to listen to, and did really well. And, yes, I totally noticed the little sideways glances from Wab!
    Craig: I thought Craig was good, especially for a young’un. I thought, though, that he had the hardest time picking one book over another. He tried to smooth things over all the time, rather than just give his opinion. But, yay for Craig, because I have always admired him.
    Kristin: I feel exactly the same as you about Kristin. I was impressed. I was thinking she might be a repeat of Sarah (the actress whose last name I can’t remember), but she wasn’t at all.
    Cameron: Oh, Cameron, how you won me over. I would never have thought Ru would win. I liked it a lot, but I didn’t think it would be powerful enough to win this. But, Cameron was so great, and, yes, brilliant, that it did win. I found myself, at the end, wanting Cameron to win, nevermind what book he was defending.

    Wab: I thought Wab did a good job, especially since it was his first time, and he was following in the footsteps of someone who was really great at it. I’m hoping he’ll do it again.

    I completely agree with you about the humour, and disagree with what Martha had to say about it. Humour can be very effective, and I personally loved the humour in The Inconvenient Indian.

    That quote from Jeanette Winterson made my head tingle when I read it. And, it’s pretty much, I think, what Cameron Bailey was getting at about the effectiveness of Ru to break down barriers.

    Thanks for asking, Tania! 🙂

    • writereads says:

      Looks everybody here is a fiction lover 🙂
      I also thought Wab did a good job for his first time out. I can’t imagine how intimidating that would be. Jian was great on CBC in general – too bad he’s a misogynist criminal.

      I know lots of people had problems with Martha, but I personally just thought she wasn’t a good person for a debate situation. Like I said to Rick, I think she just wanted to have a chat about the books over beers, with interruptions and no themes etc. More formal debating is a weird situation to be. It’s true that I think she missed some key elements of the book in her debate, but she also found new ones that I didn’t think of. And somehow I respected Craig for trying not to turn this into a big rager – I’m less a fan of CR when things get all personal. -Tania

      • Naomi says:

        Oh, I agree about Craig. If I was on there (which I would absolutely never be) I would have been like him – trying to make them all sound good. Because they are! For the most part, I think they all usually do a good job staying positive about all the books – I would be upset if they started dissing books to make their own look good.
        I think you’re right about Martha, too. She just wanted a good chat about the books. I don’t blame her.

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