The question that leaps out of today’s discussion is, for me, whether reading a book should be challenging? And I think that’s directly connected to this question: what kind of book is most likely to polarize readers? I think it *is* the challenging books that polarize readers. As one panelist remarked: she doesn’t want to feel like she’s doing homework when she picks up a book to read, and I think the majority of readers would agree with her.

Ironically, I think all of the remaining books are challenging in their own way.

The Jade Peony is beautifully written, but some people would be put off by the fact that it’s set in another time and place and sometimes that takes effort, to allow yourself to be transported there. (And, especially in this case, when it exposes parts of Canada’s history that shames Canadians.)

Good to a Fault is very absorbing but the language and perspective change often and suddenly, so that the reader feels the situation from varied points of view (ranging from a young girl to an older woman) and some people will find that unsettling.

And Nikolski, well Nikolski is the most disorienting book of the bunch.

Having said that, it’s all of these challenging qualities that most endear these books to me. But Nicolas Dickner’s novel is the one about which I feel most passionate. It’s the inspiration of my Quote-of-Canada-Reads-Past for today, from Monique Proulx’s The Heart is an Involuntary Muscle, which was nominated for Canada Reads in 2004 and contains many wonderful ideas about reading and writing and the importance of words and books. (The translations are by David Homel and Fred A. Reed.)

« Je vais le lire au complet, très vite, sans omettre un mot. Plus vite je serai engloutie par le livre, plus vite je ne pourrai être engloutie par rien d’autre. » 67-68

I would read all of it, at top speed, without skipping, not a word. The sooner the book swallowed me up, the sooner nothing else would. 52

« Le livre a instillé en moi son contenu et je le porte comme un fœtus monstrueux. Je le savais. Une fois ouvert, un livre vraiment nuisible ne se referme plus. » 71

The book had impregnated me and now I carried it like some monstrous fetus. I knew it. Open a truly dangerous book and you cannot easily close it again. 55

No, you didn’t miscount. There are two quotes for today. I feel like I want to repeat myself because I so loved Nikolski. I read all of it it at top speed and I could not easily close it again. So the Proulx quotes seem perfect for it. (And all the more so as it’s another novel which does include the French-Canadian perspective which, as Vézina noted yesterday, isn’t often the case.)

But do I think it should win Canada Reads? I think the majority of people do NOT want to feel like they’re doing homework when they read. They want to be entertained, they want a more traditional reading experience, they don’t want to problem-solve unless it’s an Agatha Christie novel.

And, yes, there are some very entertaining parts in Nikolski, but I don’t think the majority of readers will discover them. I think a lot of them will be put off much earlier, as was another of the panelists who was irked instantly by the first sentence. (I was rather hoping I’d be proven wrong on this score, but more than one of the panelists has raised the point and I think that view is representative of a good chunk of other readers’ opinions.)

So even though Nikolski is definitely one of my favourite reads, and I want it to win because it is such a deserving book, I think the readers who will most love it will find it with the exposure that it’s had: booksellers will hand-sell, eager readers will gab to book-obsessed friends, writers will yack about the author’s admirable debut, book-lovers who don’t mind putting some effort into reading will discover and come to love this novel. I don’t think it needs to win in order for this particular book to come out of Canada Reads a success.

What about you: have you ever felt that you were doing your homework while you were reading? Did you mind, or did you just sharpen your pencils and settle in.

P.S. I think ultimately the chosen book will be Wayson Choy’s amazing novel. Which’d mean that Marina Endicott’s would be overlooked, which is a shame because I don’t think that the subjects raised in the debates have allowed Good to a Fault to shine the way that it should, the way that it does: I hope that comes out in tomorrow’s discussions.