At On the Danforth, simply put, we believe in the power of books. Not just to entertain and inspire, but to shed light on some otherwise overlooked issues. That’s why we were delighted to hear the theme of this year’s CBC Canada Reads competition: “one book to bring Canada into focus.” But can one book really hold that much power? We’d like to think so, and what better way to figure it out than by celebrating the format of Canada Reads and arguing amongst ourselves? So we’re hosting a mini Canada Reads debate at onthedanforth.ca: the same five books, a few slightly less famous defenders. Read our arguments, and leave a comment. Which book do you think our entire nation should read?
Title: Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
Author: Megan Gail Coles
Defender: Emma Côté
If you’re anything like me, you find the far flung edges of Canada deeply captivating; the people, the scenery, the way life is both different and the same. Megan Gail Coles’ debut novel delivers all of that and none of it. Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club is a layered tale that takes place in St John’s, Newfoundland during a snowstorm. The book runs along multiple story lines and highlights the grittier side of life on the island, which would never make it into the tourism videos. As Meagan herself mentioned at the event launch at Indigo, it’s likely a book that many people didn’t want her to write. It’s not exactly the best press for Newfoundland. But that’s exactly why it had to be written. How can we bring Canada into focus if we don’t talk about what’s really going on? In our small towns, with our people, and especially within the relationships where we should feel safe. With its quick wit and a fast pace, you’ll find yourself racing to finish, while bracing the entire time for the impact that you know is coming. At the very least, do yourself a favour and watch an interview with Meagan. She’s as delightful and hilarious in person as she is on the page.
Title: From the Ashes
Author: Jesse Thistle
Defender: Aldijana Halilagic
True to the theme of bringing Canada into focus, Jesse Thistle’s debut memoir, From the Ashes, shines a light on the part of Canada that has been out of focus for far too long: its Indigenous history. Thistle’s remarkable memoir follows his life as a homeless Métis-Cree man, struggling to overcome childhood trauma, poverty, homelessness, and alcohol and drug addiction. Equal parts emotional and eye-opening, Thistle brings a fresh and raw perspective to the troubling realities faced by Indigenous people in Canada; realities that are too often overlooked by the powers that instilled them in the first place. Through his beautiful and evocative storytelling, Thistle reminds us all that in order to bring Canada into focus, we must bring the darkest moments of our history to light in order to find the love that can overcome it all and give the possibility of growth and happiness a second chance.
Title: We Have Always Been Here
Author: Samra Habib
Defender: Joseph Cicerone
If there is one trait we as Canadians most proudly identify with–its kindness. Kindness fueled by empathy, and generated by diversity–our greatest strength. In the world of literature, writers hold the power to shape our interpretations of these traits and create a unified sense of respect and embrace toward them. This is, without a doubt, the case of our third Canada Reads contender.
In her debut memoir, Samra Habib exemplifies the power of kindness, empathy, and diversity. In a rhythm that seems effortless, she fills every page with a sense of truth and vulnerability– further defining the complexities of identity and power. We Have Always Been Here addresses how often times–we compartmentalize our identities as a means of survival. Through a retelling of her upbringing as a persecuted Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, as well as a marginalized queer woman of colour in Canada–Habib encourages her readers to confront their own assumptions about conflicting identifications, and embrace the intersection of various nodes of being.
The uniqueness of this novel does not only bring Canada into focus, but reminds us as Canadians the value of our stories and why we choose to share them with the world.
Author: Cory Doctorow
Defender: Jen Turner
I’ve always loved a good dystopian novel, one that makes me look to the future and question whether things could really become so dire in real life. However, I’ve never read a book so distinctly dystopian that also took place in the here-and-now. Radicalized is a collection of four stories, each tackling widely debated issues in the global atmosphere. Racism, police brutality, immigration, individual rights in the age of advancing technology, health care, and so many more. Cory Doctorow takes each of these issues and makes you look at them for the grey areas they sometimes introduce. Is there always a “good guy” and a “bad guy”? Maybe, but not necessarily. And when we find ourselves stuck in these grey areas, what’s the most morally correct way of reaching a solution? It’s a book that brings both Canadian and global issues into the spotlight in an intelligent and entertaining way. Radicalized is honest, thought-provoking, and relevant, and still somehow manages to be an entertaining science fiction novel (and not just because of the authoritarian kitchen appliances, and superhuman caped crusader).
Title: Son of a Trickster
Author: Eden Robinson
Defender: Alyssa Kerslake
Son of a Trickster follows an Indigenous teenage boy named Jared, living in the Haisla Nation reserve in Kitimat Village, a small town in British Columbia. His parents are divorced; Jared’s mother is a drug addict and his father left their family for another woman. Sometimes, Jared feels like he’s the only functioning adult in his immediate family, which is a point of concern considering he has a drinking and drug problem. Although Jared cannot seem to catch a break, there is a resilience to his character that keeps on going. What starts off as a slow-burn of peculiar occurrences eventually transforms into a magical coming-of-age story that is equally dark as it is humorous. I believe this book brings Canada into focus because Robinson draws from real life inspiration of Indigenous culture and folklore. Also, Robinson depicts what living on a reserve as an adolescent is truly like, without sugarcoating it. It is a raw account that shines a light on real issues Indigenous youth face living in this country, whether that be broken home life or societal pressures. Robinson’s writing style will have readers sucked in from the get-go.