In Canada, they're becoming less conspicuous. Toronto is losing bookshops quicker than I'm losing hair and small towns like Huntsville have, if they're lucky, a single shop to service the community.
And yet, every year CBC Radio One, under articulate Jian Ghomeshi's guidance, runs a successful show on books. Initiated in 2001, Canada Reads has five Canadian personalities select a book they think Canadians should read. On each day of the debate one book is eliminated until there is one book left standing. (Sort of sounds like an Agatha Christie murder mystery where the clues eliminate a putative murderer one by one.)
This year's battle of the books will air online, on the radio and on TV from March 3-6.
Five novels will do battle:
- Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood defended by Stephen Lewis. (By the way, I was very surprised to hear that Canadian statesman (I think I can use that word unironically) Lewis doesn't read books. No time, he says. He reads reports, briefs, memos and summaries. Probably what the Prime Minister's reading consists of. Did Stephen ever get back to Yann Martel on what he's reading?)
- Wab Kinew speaks for Joseph Boyden's The Orenda. My wife liked this one, but not as much as Three-Day Road.
- Donavan Bailey makes the case for Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues. Donovan can run. Can he also debate? Again my wife liked the novel, but wasn't wow about it.
- Samantha Bee of The Daily Show speaks for Rawi Hage's Cockroach. Samantha Bee is a very funny lady and should be an entertaining debater.
- Sarah Gadon defends Annabel by Kathleen Winter. You'll know Sarah Gordon from David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis. She's a terrific actor. Is she also a terrific debater?
So what's missing? For my money, a mixed genre book called The Strange Truth About Us by M.A.C. Farrant - that's what.
The Strange Truth About Us is a novel, a memoir, a prose poem, a reading list, a note book, a book of quotations, a manifesto. It's a work of intellectual speculation on what the world is going to look like in a few years.
What will it be? Mad Max with motorcycles and conflicts over oil? Cosmopolis where the rich ride around in bullet proof cars sneering at the world? The Road where survivors fight over food? Or, Blade Runner, where you're not sure who is human and who isn't.
"There are many futures running parallel to one another and they all remain hidden," says the narrator in The Strange Truth About Us. In some places, the future already looks like Cosmopolis. In other places, it's like The Road.
The future is on our mind. That's one reason Atwood's The Year of the Flood has to be the favourite going into the Canada Reads debate. Another reason is that Stephen Lewis is a very skilled and experienced debater.
Farrant's book would give Atwood a run for the applause. It's experimental, brave, daring, unusual, brilliant.
Farrant has a lot of white space on the page. Here's the complete page, point 5., for example: "So we concoct a make-believe novel and a set of annotations in which... We attempt to express the universal confusion of mind that is the main feature of contemporary life: We are afraid."
Sometimes Farrant's language reads like comedic bumper stickers, teasing tweets, profound fridge magnets, shocking e-mails, chirps of meaning, chirps of sound.
Yeah, Farrant's book is the one I'd throw into the ring. The lady muses, dances and sings.
(Originally published in the Nancy Duffy Show, January 30, 2014)