Today marks the launch of 2010’s Canada Reads, which obviously I find intensely interesting, but it might not seem as fascinating if you’re not following (live or via podcast), so I’m planning to pull out a more universal book-related, reading-related question that’s raised in each day’s debates — rather than focus solely on the day’s nitty-gritty debating details — so that even without following the program you can feel a part of the discussion.
Canada Reads is kinda like Survivor for books in Canada — more details here — in which the five books chosen and defended have to meet only two criteria: be fiction and in print. Books are voted off throughout the week (this year’s first casualty will be voted off tomorrow: it’s sad) and ultimately one book is The Book Canada Reads. This is the ninth year of the broadcast, so there have been plenty of other books in the running in the show’s past, many favourites among them, so as part of the week’s writing, I’ll choose a quote from a previous year’s nominee that has stood out for me as a reader.
Today, in talking about Nikolski, some of the panelists felt that it was confusing (multiple perspectives, one character left unnamed) and a bit thin (the resolution open-ended). I knew this would be an issue for a lot of Nikolski‘s readers but I read a lot of literary fiction so what some people find detracts from a book is actually what makes it so appealing for me. So, for instance, one of the things that I really loved about the novel was the ending (of course I can’t say why: that would spoil it). But this is not just about Nikolski: it’s about what makes a good read!
What do you think: does a book need to tell you everything? Should you need to go beyond the words and phrases of the book to flesh out the read? Do you enjoy that responsibility and feel that spelling-everything-out for the reader is really just spoon-feeding? Or is it simply the writer’s job to make things clear and you’d like that written into their contract?
Here’s a quote from Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals, which won for Canada Reads 2007, about what makes reading so valuable for Baby:
“I had always liked reading, but lately I had started reading in a different kind of way. When I opened a book now, I was seized with desperation. I felt as if I was madly in love. It was as if I were in a confession booth and the characters in the book were on the other side telling me their most intimate secrets. When I read, I was a philosopher and it was up to me to figure out the meaning of things. Reading made me feel as if I were the center of the universe.” (195)
Heather O’Neill’s novel is wonderful (some brilliant bits of language, evocative setting) and Baby is an unforgettable character. What do you think about the way she feels when she’s reading? Do you want to simply sit and read and have the characters tell you their most intimate secrets? Or do you want to do the work of a philosopher and do a bit of figuring in the process?
This is one of the reasons that I love Canada Reads: it’s about the five books that have been selected, sure, but, beyond that it’s all about books and reading and how can you not love that?