Canada Reads 2017: Day One

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So today I wanted to talk about what happened during this first day of Canada Reads.

I was fortunate to be in the studio audience for this first day, and I’ll be there for the next two days as well. There was a lot of waiting in line, but it was well worth it to experience this cool Canadian literary event first hand. Please note that I’m going to talk about the eliminated book in this post, so if you’re waiting for the TV spot that will be on later, please be aware of the large spoiler that lays ahead! I’m also going to be talking about some of the moments from the debate that I agreed or disagreed with, so other book and debate spoilers will also come up.

You can watch the Day One replay here.

I haven’t yet been able to read all of this year’s contenders as I’ve been on the library waiting list for ages, but I certainly intend to get to all of them. I’ve read Fifteen Dogs and Nostalgia so far, and though I probably shouldn’t judge before I finish the others, I don’t think that either of them answers this years’ question.

The question is, of course “What is the one book that Canadians need now?”

I enjoyed reading Fifteen Dogs, but I don’t think it should be the winner. All respect to Andre Alexis, and to Humble the Poet as well. Humble’s concise and well-spoken argument for this book saved it in this first round. He stated that the human condition is at the root of all of humanity’s issues, and that we must thus examine what it means to be human in order to solve those issues. It was a rather inspired argument, and I hope to see him expand upon it in the days to come. Still, as mentioned by Measha, this book has already won the Giller Prize. It’s being read and thought about already, and perhaps we should be giving another read the chance to come forth and shine..

In contrast, I didn’t enjoy Nostalgia, nor did I think that Jody Mitic’s argument for it was strong. He argued that in order to move forward we must examine our past – which, fair enough. I agree. However, that wasn’t the strongest point I would take away from the novel. Humble brought up the struggle for young people to find their place in society, and Measha the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the young woman who does what she has to in order to get by. I think that Jody moved closer to an urgent point when he brought up the refugee crisis in the novel, but he lost me by the end when he said that the main character had ‘run from his past’. Did we read the same novel, Jody? The main character was erased by a government he was at war with – that could have been an interesting point to bring up itself.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only person taken aback at Chantal Kreviazuk’s vehement defense of The Right to Be Cold, at the expense of fellow defender Jody Mitic. Surely a concession that perhaps the book is not an easy read, but is still an important one, would have been kinder than saying “we don’t need you then”.  Yikes, Chantal. Still, it’s important to note that she wasn’t able to be there in person because her son is currently hospitalized in Los Angeles. So perhaps emotions were running high there. I do think that her arguments weren’t very strong either. Yes, climate change is an important issue that Canadians (and the world) need to be thinking of. What makes The Right to Be Cold the book that will unite us as a nation? That focus will be far more important moving forward in the competition.

I’m curious to read Companytown, especially after Measha Brueggergosman’s defense of it. A world in which everyone is enhanced, there is no exclusion of any race, and where sex work is decriminalized? Yes please. I also thought it was interesting she mentioned that it’s a book that shows that one person’s utopia can be another’s dystopia. Candy’s argument that she found issue with the main character being ‘strong’ by displaying masculine traits rather rubbed me the wrong way. I don’t think it’s right to think as physical strength or muscular definition as being typically feminine or masculine traits. Don’t build a fence around your definition of femininity, Candy – I am surprised at you. Still, though Companytown sounds like a story I will be more than happy to get my hands on, I don’t know that it is the book that Canadians need now.

Now we come to the impassioned defense of The Break by Candy Palmater. Unfortunately, Candy was sitting with her back to my section, so I couldn’t see her facial expressions as she defended the novel – I could see the reactions of her fellow defenders though. I think that colonialism does still have effects that are deeply felt in our indigenous communities today, and I was really hoping this book would make it further in the competition. When Measha said she was uncomfortable that there was a lack of male representation in the book, I was very surprised. Jody’s concurrence that the fact that men seemed to be demonized, and that all of the male characters made him feel uncomfortable seemed to seal the fate of The Break. He mentions a part of the book in which something is said about ‘the way that white men say goodbye’ and that he didn’t realise that they said goodbye any differently. He felt uncomfortable, demonized – and othered. Measha wondered where the good example of men were in this book, because they aren’t all irredeemable people. (Not all men – sound familiar?)

What I have to say to you is this: I am shocked that The Break was eliminated for what seems to be essentially a lack of non-indigenous and male representation. As Candy said, she spoke to many people for whom this book was the experience of their lives. There are women in this country, and in this world, who don’t know any kind men. Not their fathers, brothers, husbands, or friends. Candy spoke of the relation between this book, our indigenous communities, and the fact that colonization has affected them so deeply in a manner that has yet to ever be addressed in any substantial way.

You feel uncomfortable reading this, Jody? Measha? Good. You were supposed to. If a book doesn’t make you uncomfortable, if it doesn’t make you think, or question your perception of the world, or your country, is it important enough to win this competition? Is it important or urgent enough to be read by all Canadians now?

Candy, my heart breaks for you, as I know how invested you were in your defense of The Break.

The avoidance of hard truths is a hard pill to swallow. The discomfort of Canadians with the thought of sexual violence, battery, and colonization is strong. Often, people dismiss it in favour of thinking there are systems in place to help already, and that indigenous people are simply too lazy to do anything about their situations. Wake up, people. Educate yourselves about the conditions so many in our own country are facing today, and the reasons behind them.

What did you think of this first day of Canada Reads? Do you agree or disagree with my points? Let’s have a debate in the comments below!

So You’re In A Reading Slump

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Hello folks, it’s been a while – too long, in fact. What’s been keeping me away, you ask? Well, I was in a reading slump. Considering a large part of my content consists of book reviews, the reading slump all too quickly evolved into a writing slump. And here we are.

The slump can quickly spread to various activities, and you’ll find yourself angrily eyeing your bookshelves as if they’ve personally offended you. That just isn’t a healthy attitude for a bibliophile to have for a long period of time.

My slump began when I started reading two rather daunting books at the same time. Unlike my usual simultaneous reads, both of these were books I felt I had to read with no background noise or distractions. This severely limited my reading time as well as the joy I usually find in stories I don’t have to take too seriously.

To top it off, I got a lot of my ‘wished for’ and requested books on NetGalley and Edelweiss all within the same week. Factor in the two hard reads, along with the mounting list of ARC’s I had to review, and I was getting more and more stuck.

So, you’re stuck. What do you do?

There are a few different things that may work for you, but I’ll be sharing the things that have worked for me now and in the past.

– First, stop reading the books that have you stopped up, if that’s part of your problem.

– Do a book detox – watch some episodes of a new tv show or grab a new cd to listen to. Put reading out of your mind for a little while.

– Try to re-read a favourite, preferably a short stand-alone title.

– Head to your local library to browse. Pick the first title that speaks to you and read as much as you can in the library. Sometimes a change of location helps more than you think! Try heading to a park or to the beach to read if it’s nice out.

– Read some short stories – either collections, or online tales. I’m a fan of the shorts found on Tor.com, as well as short fanfiction.

– Check out some alternative format literature: comics, plays, or audiobooks. Kickstart your love of a good story with something a little different from your usual. Try listening to some narrative podcasts.

– If there’s a list of books you have to read for review purposes, pick the one with the absolute furthest deadline. Doing something ‘wrong’ by temporarily neglecting the read coming up soonest might make the one you pick up more thrilling to finish.

So those are the different things I’ve used in the past to get out of reading slumps. This time around, I set aside my two difficult reads. I then caught up on some procedural crime dramas for a while, before picking up a book I don’t have to have reviewed until June. I’m now more than halfway through it and going strong.

Back to effortless and enjoyable reading!

Does my list include things you do? What techniques do you use to get out of a reading slump? Let me know in the comments below!

On Reading Authors You Dislike

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So I thought today would be a good day for another discussion post. It’s been a while and it’s nice to get a little discourse going now and then!

A while ago, there was come controversy about Joseph Boyden lying about his Native identity and about the way he treats the people he bases his characters on.

Considering The Orenda has been on my ‘to read’ list for ages and I had just gotten a copy, I was really dismayed when I came across that information. For ages I agonized over whether or not it was okay for me to read that book – or any of Boyden’s work. Reading it seemed almost like I was indifferent or in agreement with his gross behaviour.

I dithered over it, but it really got me thinking about other authors whom I’ve disagreed with regarding personal views or actions in the past.

Orson Scott Card is a well-documented homophobe. William Golding was an attempted rapist and messed with boys by pitting them against each other and observing the results. Many authors are or have been unsavoury characters: plagiarists, thieves, murderers, racists, rapists, misogynists – not to mention those that are more well known for their heinous actions than their writing. Hitler, anyone?

So what’s a bibliophile to do?

As someone who loves reading for both pleasure and knowledge, could I be content avoiding books by unpleasant individuals knowing that any insights I may glean from their work may be lost to me?

Definitely not.

Still, in some cases I have no desire to show my support for reprehensible authors even if I’m curious about their work. So I generally don’t buy their books. This means they don’t have my financial support. I’ll take out a copy from the library. While this does ensure that the book in question will remain in circulation, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If I find that I absolutely have to have a copy, to write in or to re-read, I’ll get it from a second-hand store. That way I’m supporting local business and the author still doesn’t get my financial backing.

The benefits of reading work by authors I disagree with are plentiful. I tend to view their work through a more critical lens if I know about their personal views before diving in. It’s also helpful to be informed of the context in which any work is written, and that certainly includes the author’s beliefs and character, along with the time period, political climate, and place in which they lived. Right there is research that I wouldn’t have otherwise undertaken.

If the work is fiction, I can see how their views influenced the plot, characters, or setting. In non-fiction there is much less deductive power necessary to examine the thoughts of the author.

Still, reading things written from perspectives differing from my own is always a learning experience. You gain so much more to think about than you would reading something by someone who agrees with you on an ethical or rational level. It encourages you to form counter-arguments, debate skills (if you discuss it with others, or take notes), and will possibly help inform you in your interactions with other literature in the future.

I’ll continue to read books by authors of questionable morals in the future, and would be interested to know what you think of the subject. Do you read or buy books written by authors that you disagree with? Do you find any merit in them? Let me know in the comments below!

 

Choosing Books for Kids & Teens

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I’ve noticed an unfortunate trend among adults who come into the store to buy books for kids and teens in their lives. Whether it be for their own kids, their nieces and nephews, or the kids of their friends, there seems to be a strange laisser-faire attitude when it comes to picking out books.

I’ll ask them about the person they’re buying for, and what they’ll tell me is the person’s age and gender.

Cool.

That tells me absolutely nothing about them. Guess what? Kids are people. Tell me if they like animals, or planes, or if they talk so fast they don’t seem to have time to slow down and read. Tell me if they’re already lifelong readers, and if you know their current favourite reads. Tell me if they only read comic books, of if they’re too busy watching TV to make time for a book.

A person’s age and gender does not determine what they will enjoy reading. 

Even then, when I know their likes and dislikes, when you tell me if they like to read and I make the best recommendations possible – even then they may hate my choice. They might look at the book you bought for them and know that it will spend its life gathering dust under their bed.

So here’s what you do: get kids and teens excited about reading.

Want to get them a book for their birthday? Give them one of your favourites from when you were a kid or teen. Sit them down and talk about how this book changed your life, or how it was so fun it helped you keep your mind off your parents’ divorce or your failing grades. Give them something that they’ll connect to you and attribute meaning to. And just maybe they’ll love it too.

If you’re a parent or someone who is often there at bedtime, make bedtime stories a thing. Graduate from picture books with beautiful illustrations, to fun school-time tales, to family friendly epics like Harry Potter, The Hobbit, Pierce’s Tortall books, and His Dark Materials. Instill a sense of love and wonder, and eagerness in reading.

Get them a gift card to your favourite bookstore. Whether it be a big box store, your local used store, or the small indie store halfway across town, get them a gift card.

Now – don’t just give them this gift card and leave it at that. Make it an event. Take them out on a fun bonding day – take them to the movies, and then to lunch, and then to the bookstore. Take them for a window shopping walk with the bookstore halfway through. Let them take their time in browsing.

Let them make their own reading choices, even if it’s something you think is too complex or too simple for their reading level. Let them choose comics, or poetry, or early readers books. Let them read books aimed at girls or at boys. Let them choose audiobooks, or e-books if they have access to a tablet.

Set up a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly library date with them. Most libraries have really interesting programming for kids and teens. Again, give them time to choose what they want to read. Let them just pick one, or pick several. Don’t malign or make fun of their reading choices, or suggest that they’ve chosen something too easy or too silly.

Let them learn to love reading. Let them choose to love reading.

What are your strategies to get the kids in your life to enjoy reading? What do you think makes a lifelong reader? Let me know in the comments below!

A Baffling Encounter, and a Realization

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As a fairly eclectic reader, I try to set reading goals for myself to try and avoid waffling when choosing a new book to dive into.

There was a time when I read simply for pleasure alone, diving in and out of books of paranormal romance, fantasy, and sci-fi at will. I would have five or six books on the go at time, my bag heavier than a bowling ball, my back suffering, but perfectly happy that I could choose to dip in and out whenever I wanted.

I also read a great deal of fanfiction. Starting with Harry Potter, and delving into other fandoms, I found both short and novel-length stories to whet my appetites. I loved reading about my favourite characters in new scenarios, or deeply thought out character studies, or alternate universe stories in which a single change rippled down the narrative to alter it completely.

These days, I read for more than pleasure alone. I’m a professional reader, using NetGalley and Edelweiss to read and review books before they come out, giving feedback to authors and publishers where applicable.

I also read to learn – new skills, new viewpoints, new ways of looking at the world. I read classics to learn more about the context in which they were written. I read memoirs and biographies to learn about people’s lives. I read non-fiction that can teach you how to perfectly make a bed, or forge a painting, or worship a new deity.

I was at work the other day, helping a customer, and a scenario happened that surprised and dismayed me. I work at a bookstore, and a young woman maybe a little older than me came in with a friend. They wandered the shelves aimlessly for a bit, and I overheard her say ‘it’s so hard to find something’. It was at that point that I asked if they were looking for anything specific.

Looking a bit abashed, she asked if I had any recommendations. I replied that my recommended shelf was built mostly of Young Adult books, but if she was willing to give them a try we could probably find something. She replied that she loved the Sookie Stackhouse books and would like to try and find a long series that was similar.

Thrilled, as those are on my recommended shelf, I knew of several books that she might like. After a recommendation from my shelf, we found ourselves in front of the Young Adult section with a recommendation of a long vampire and supernatural series that I was sure she would love.

It was at this point that her friend interrupted her excited questions about the series.

“Excuse me, but don’t you think this is weird?”

Confused, I asked her what she meant.

“I mean for an adult to be reading about vampires and stuff. Isn’t it just a bit juvenile? Kid’s stuff?”

I laughed, a little shocked, and proceeded to talk about the merits of different fiction, and juvenile fiction – and how they’re totally accessible to adults. There isn’t a rule that you should stop reading certain books when you hit a specific age. She persisted.

“But what if people see you reading them on transit? What will they think?”

Baffled, I replied that I didn’t care what strangers thought of me, and that I doubted her friend did either. She had no comeback for that.

Her friend bought the books I recommended, and was excited about them.

But this encounter really shook me. Is this why people struggle to find books they enjoy?

I’ve never really cared what people thought of me, so I’ll read anything under the sun that I enjoy. Will I read erotica on public transit? Or kids books? Or comic books? Or romance novels? Heck yes I will!

Why?

Because they make me happy! Or they make me think.

You should never limit what you read because of the perceptions of others. You should never limit what you read because you think that you’re not the target audience, or that a book is too ‘young’ or ‘old’ for a person of your age to be reading it.

The joy of reading should be just that – a joy. Don’t let others ruin it for you.

How do you feel about reading? What influences your book choices, if anything? What would you say to someone afraid of reading what they enjoy? Let me know in the comments below!

Classic Book to Screen Adaptation

It’s Friday, and you know what that means!

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Classic Remarks is a meme hosted over at Pages Unbound. Every Friday they ask a question about classic literature. Participants are asked to discuss the themes, canon formation, the ‘timelessness’ of literature, and modes of interpretation.

The topic this week is:

Recommend a classic book that you think translated particularly well to screen (even if the adaptation was not entirely faithful).

First, I’ll get some honorable mentions out of the way: Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (truest in script, but not in setting or era), Pride and Prejudice (yes, the one with Keira Knightly – fight me), Oliver & Company (Oliver Twist but it’s an animated adventure with animal main characters… what more do you want?), and of course The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Nothing else has been so epic in scale, score, costuming, or cinematography as that last. The incredible attention to detail taken in every aspect of these films was about as breathtaking as the settings. So why didn’t I choose it as my answer?

I’m trying to branch out. I thought to answer something that maybe everyone hasn’t seen to give them something new(ish) to binge watch.

My pick is a television adaptation of a classic – one of many that have been made from this same source material, in fact. And most definitely not the most faithful adaptation.

I adore Elementary, and that’s my pick for today. This adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is my absolute favourite, standing far above the rest in my opinion. While Sherlock BBC and House are certainly enjoyable to watch, they can’t beat Elementary.

This modern take on Sherlock stars Jonny Lee Miller as our disreputable detective, and the setting is modern day New York City. I think he embodies the genius and rudeness of Holmes without going overboard – and it feels true and excellent. Sherlock is a former consultant to Scotland Yard, who now assists the NYPD in solving especially tricky crimes. He’s also a recovering drug addict.

Enter Dr. Joan Watson, played by the ever-talented Lucy Liu. She is hired by Sherlock’s father to be his live-in sober companion, following him and making certain he doesn’t have a relapse. She is quickly drawn into the strange madness that is Holmes’ life. She grows as a character throughout the seasons, and she is my favourite Watson.

I adored what this show did with Moriarty’s character, and I hope that you’ll love it too. Do NOT look it up and ruin it for yourself, you will have such regret.

Have you watched Elementary – do you agree or disagree with my pick? How do you feel about other Sherlock adaptations? Which is your favourite?

Let me know in the comments below!

Children’s Classic I Loved As a Kid

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Classic Remarks is a meme hosted over at Pages Unbound. Every Friday they ask a question about classic literature. Participants are asked to discuss the themes, canon formation, the ‘timelessness’ of literature, and modes of interpretation.

The question this week is:

What children’s classic couldn’t you read enough when you were growing up?

Before I answered this question, I frantically googled whether or not Harry Potter counted as a children’s classic. Determining that it did not, the answer became clear.

I adored Black Beauty as a kid.

I read it over and over again, often crying from the very beginning because I already knew what was going to happen. I was never particularly attracted to tragic stories, but this one absolutely captivated me.

I grew up on a farm, but to my chagrin we never had horses. I always wished for them and I loved visiting friends who had them. We had donkeys and a mule (who was the meanest creature ever), and I used to talk to the donkeys as if they could understand me while I brushed them. I’m still a little convinced that they could.

Black Beauty was a book that really affected the way I thought about animals. It was the first book I read with anthropomorphic characters, and I still to this day think of animals as beings with thoughts and feelings like my own. Objectively, I know that the human brain operates differently than animal brains, and that animals like snakes are incapable of love… but I can’t quite shake the feeling that animals can understand me and feel the way that I feel.

It also opened the door for me to other books with anthropomorphic characters. I went on to read and enjoy Watership Down, Narnia, Warrior Cats, and countless others.

Not only did Anna Sewell write an excellent story, she touched millions of lives as well. She died five months after its publication, but lived to see Black Beauty become a success. It sold millions of copies, and readers were so outraged at the treatment of horses that actual changes in law took place because of it. The punishing use of the bearing rein was outlawed in Victorian England, and taxicab fees for drivers were greatly reduced as well.

Black Beauty wasn’t written for children. Sewell wrote it so that people would understand the plight of horses – and she succeeded greatly.

If you’ve never read it you’re really missing out on a fantastic classic.

What children’s classic did you pore over as a kid?