If I was coming into these debates not having read these books, I think I’d be readily swayed by Lorne Cardinal’s defense of Carol Shields’ novel, Unless. (With Sara Quin weighing in on the other end of the table.)

I’m not just saying that because Unless is one of my favourite novels, but because he has consistently and genuinely spoken about how well-written it is.

His comment in the second/middle debate would have cinched the deal for me. He said that she takes the mundane and illuminates it. Well, who doesn’t love having the mundane illuminated. (Or, at least, who doesn’t admire the fact that someone can do that.)

But, as much as I love this novel, I have to agree with Georges Laraque, who suggested that Carol Shields’ Larry’s Party would have been a better choice from her list of works for an event like this one. Or perhaps The Republic of Love, but I have to admit that Larry has his own charm.

With Unless, I think a lot of readers would do what Debbie Travis admitted to doing, skipping the parts that had to do with writing. Which, I figure, adds up to, oh, I dunno, most of the book, given that Rita uses her writing to order — at least she tries to — her world.

(Really, Ms. Travis didn’t finish The Best Laid Plans, she flipped through Essex County in the bath, she skipped half of Unless and then called it predictable…I’ve got a good idea what kind of student she was in school.)

I’m in agreement with Ali Velshi, in that the most accessible book should win, if the intent is to get more Canadians putting down their mobiles and picking up a book. I would have thought that would come down to either his own book, The Best Laid Plans, or Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, so I’m not surprised that he voted off his stronger competitor in the first round. I’m still smarting over that.

Canada Reads is declaring this event to be about the essential Canadian Read. Essential: absolutely necessary, indispensable. Without defining these terms that are so glibly tossed about, it’s hard to negotiate this terrain. But if one accepts that it’s absolutely necessary for the maximum number of readers to take part in this event, then The Best Laid Plans should come out on top in the final debate.

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)