I didn’t fall in love with a book during this Canada Reads. Last year I fell in love with Nikolski (and, hey, it even won), and I’ve fallen for others throughout my long relationship with Canada Reads.
It’s hard not to hope for that. But of course the odds are against it. How often does it happen, really? And would you really want it to become an everyday occurrence? If you fell in love with books all the time, it would take some of the shine off.
I really enjoyed The Best Laid Plans, but I didn’t fall in love with it. Of course I’ll read the sequel, and I expect that I’ll follow Terry Fallis’ novels over the reading years, but more in a BFF kind of way. And of course there are clear advantages to a bookish relationship on this footing, so I hope you don’t think that sounds dismissive. But there really just isn’t anything like falling in love, right?
Still, when you’ve read a lot, you can keep this in perspective. You can see the down-side of falling hard. All you can talk about is your fresh love. Your MREs and ATFs have to sit quietly, neglected on the shelf, whilst you go on and on about the latest thrill.
You can call on your ma-toor-ity. You can introduce an element of practicality. You can consider the bigger bookish picture. So the other day I was saying that I was willing to set some of my petty-ness aside. Minor annoyances and disappointments could be taken in perspective.
“What I love about this show remains intact: a group of people who love to read, who are concerned that some great books are going unnoticed, who are willing to publicly debate the merits of their favourite works.”
But by the end of day three, this wasn’t true for me. It wasn’t just that the event had lost some shine, some lustre, some gloss. Right in the middle of it all, there was a spot of corrosion, a blight, a greeny-yellowy-smoky blister.
I don’t need to like the books chosen for Canada Reads. Go ahead: tell me what I missed in Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers. Extol the virtues of Frank Parker Day’s Rockbound. Make me want to take another look at Mordecai Richler’s Cocksure. I’m listening.
I don’t need to like characters in a book. I need to believe in them.
I don’t need to like the panelists defending books in Canada Reads. I want to believe that they’re there because they love to read, they want to bring attention to good books and talk about them.
I didn’t finish Mordecai Richler’s Cocksure that year, but you can bet your bottom dollar — or your shelf of first editions — that, if I’d been a panelist on Canada Reads, I’d’ve read it. And I would’ve taken a kazillion notes so that I could explain exactly what didn’t work for me. (And if someone had convinced me that the reason that book drove me crazy was because I so believed in that rather unlikeable character, I’d’ve had to eat my bookish words and let my opinion be swayed.)
So, okay, maybe it’s pie-in-the-sky of me to want the panelists to love books and reading. And maybe that’s just the Romantic in me. That’s just my own bookishness swelling up. Do Ali Velshi, Sara Quin, Lorne Cardinal and Georges Laraque love books? I’m not sure. But I respect what they did. They read the other panelists’ books, spoke to specifics in each: Debbie Travis did not.
And there she sat. In the middle of the panelists. Having left three of the books unread — either having flipped through parts, skipped parts, or having left the book outright unfinished — and not having offered anything about the fourth that she couldn’t have gotten from the back-cover and the first page. (I do believe that she read The Birth House, but I don’t think she read it recently, and she said she hasn’t read it more than once.)
I’m not sure when it happened. Somewhere between Day One and Day Three. You know how it is. You’re in love and then you’re not. Somewhere in there, something happened, something went wrong. That glow Canada Reads had for me, having brought some great reads into my reader’s hands? It was there and then it wasn’t.
And what to do about that? It’s not like you can sign up for couples’ therapy in a situation like this.
You can suggest a workaround for the ridiculousness that requires a panelist to make a tie-breaking vote between their own book and another’s book. You can suggest more meaningful ways to involve listeners and viewers.
But in the wake of it, what shines the brightest is the sense of disappointment. Once you question the fidelity of a beloved, you’re kinda stuck.
If you have to suggest to Canada Reads that they institute the literary equivalent of random drug testing, something has already gone wrong, long before you realized things had changed.
And that’s a whole lot of whining from someone who just got a new BFF. From someone who was reminded, and happily so, through this event of previous flings with Essex County and Unless.
But when a reader flips back through the pages of her bookish love life, the betrayals cut deeply. It’s not just a paper cut.
Terry Fallis’ The Best Laid Plans JAN29 (CBC pitch is here)
Carol Shields’ Unless JAN31 (CBC pitch is here)
Ami McKay’s The Birth House FEB2 (CBC pitch is here)
Jeff Lemire’s Essex County FEB4 (CBC pitch is here)
Angie Abdou’s The Bone Cage FEB6 (CBC pitch is here)