"I Was Genuinely in Love with This Little Creation" The 2023 Canada Reads Panellists on Strategy, Book Love, & Celebration Trees
Today is the day – this morning, the 2023 edition of CBC's book debate bonanza, Canada Reads kicked off. We'll be covering the debates at tomorrow's halfway point and after the winner is crowned at the end of Thursday's final debate, but to get into the spirit of things and celebrate this year's first day, we're speaking today with the hardworking panellists who make the beloved book battle possible this year: #BookTok/TikTok star and nursing student, Tasnim Geedi, defending Mexican Gothic (Del Ray) by fantasy, noir, and historical fiction writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia; bhangra artist and educator, Gurdeep Pandher, defending Hotline (Esplanade Books) by Giller nominee Dimitri Nasrallah; Canada’s most successful Jeopardy! champion, Mattea Roach, defending the graphic memoir Ducks (Drawn & Quarterly) by superstar cartoonist Kate Beaton; actor and filmmaker, Keegan Connor Tracy, defending Greenwood (McClelland & Stewart) by award-winning writer Michael Christie;
The remaining 2023 panellist, actor, director, dancer Michael Greyeyes, who is defending international bestseller Station Eleven (HarperPerennial) by Emily St. John Mandel, was unavailable for interview at press time.
The panellists tell us about their strategies for the debates (including whether they think "all's fair in books and war"), how they first discovered their chosen book, and what they'll do to celebrate if their title is voted as the big winner on Thursday morning.
The debates run this year from today, Monday, March 27 to Thursday March 30. Each day, one book will be voted off until a winner is declared on Thursday that captures the title of being the "one book Canadians should read this year to change your perspective".
To view the daily livestream at 10:00a.m. ET of the Canada Reads debates, or for more information on how to watch and listen via radio, online, and on television, visit cbcBooks.ca
What is your strategy going into the debates? Is “all fair” in books and war?
I don't know if it can be considered a strategy, but I am naturally a silent observer. I like to know everything and weigh my options before making a move so we will have to see on game day!
I don't think all is fair in books and war. First and foremost, we are all book lovers coming together to share our passion for reading with everyone. We all respect that reading is inherently subjective and more importantly, respect the authors and their work. That being said, I do love a good debate, and a little competition never hurts :)
I will listen to others. I think I am a good listener. When my turn comes, I will breathe deeply, and I will speak from the heart. I am not treating Canada Reads as a battle of books. We have many other battles to deal with in this world. For me, Canada Reads is a safe and creative space for book lovers to open the valve of their thoughts and let out the steam to refresh everyone, charm minds, and create positive enlightenment. No matter how well each panellist champions their book, I trust that the best book will make itself clear.
I don’t have a clearly defined strategy – I think much of how I strategize will be decided on the fly as I respond to the arguments being made by other panelists! I think all arguments that relate to the substance of the books up for discussion are fair game, but I think it’s important that we all operate with a baseline level of respect for one another as well as for the authors whose works we’re talking about. I’m a very critical person by nature, but there’s a way to deliver critique that respects the effort and craftsmanship that each of the authors have put into their works!
Keegan Connor Tracy:
Absolutely, all is fair in books and war and therefore I would be insane to give away my strategy beforehand... Never mess with a Sicilian when death is on the line! Oh, wait, that's something else, sorry, I just got back from Italy... In all seriousness though, my approach is simply to be as prepared as possible, to come in with an open heart and open mind, and to passionately defend a book that I really believe is a great book for all Canadians to read and enjoy, one that will make them think about their own families and about the nature of our country as a whole. I think a lot of what happens happens very much in the moment on the day, and I just hope that we have a genial and intelligent debate. It is a smart and thoughtful group of panelists and I look forward to the repartee!
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Where were you the first time you read your chosen book? How did it make you feel?
I found it randomly in a BMV bookstore downtown, and I was already familiar with the story since some of my friends from TikTok recommended it. I remember speeding through the first 20% of it on the train and devouring the rest that night. I was definitely late for school the next day, but it was completely worth it!
I was in my little cabin in the wilderness of the Yukon when I read this book for the very first time. When I read it, the story of the protagonist Muna just pierced me. I felt I was genuinely in love with this little creation of words.
I read Ducks all in one sitting – I was curled up in an armchair in my living room with nothing else to do that day, and I couldn’t put it down. I felt very “seen” by the book in a way that was quite emotionally overwhelming - the book opens with maps of Nova Scotia and Canada that point out some locations that are significant to characters in Kate’s story, and my dad’s hometown was highlighted (something that almost never happens in any context!).
Funnily enough, I had been given the book about a year prior to reading it, a friend of mine had recommended it – she's a true reader and so I'm always excited to read books that she hands me. However, for whatever reason I wasn't immediately able to get to it, and it had been sitting in a stack of books beside the fireplace for some time. Then, when I was voraciously reading in an effort to find the right book for this competition, I suddenly remembered that book and pulled it off the shelf. I dove back in and once I was in, I just didn't stop reading, I was so taken by the tale, irrespective of the competition. I just feel like it's really a story and a caper and a mystery that you want to find out more about, it's one of the beautiful things about the book that you fall in love with these characters, and really care about them and want to see what happens. I also really love the way that Michael describes nature and trees and the forest, a place I really truly love. He really makes the beauty of nature come alive and it's something that I know we as Canadians take pride in and a place a great many of us spend a lot of time in. I also loved the artistry of the woodcut design on the sides of the pages – I wish I'd had a hard cover of it!
If the book you’re defending wins the competition, how might you celebrate?
If Mexican Gothic wins, I predict a virtual screamfest with Sylvia, and then I will call my mom to scream some more. This win is entirely hers, and I am honoured to have a front row seat for it!
If this book wins (I mean wins the hearts of Canadians), then I will celebrate it with every Muna (every person facing similar struggles to Muna) in Canada. I may not be able to meet them in person, but I will make a Munas of Canada dedication video.
I’ll probably celebrate by taking a big nap! I’ve had a very busy March, and April is looking like it’ll be equally busy.
By planting a tree, of course!! Perhaps one for each of us who participated, a way of honouring the experience. I thought it would be wonderful to go and meet Michael somewhere, in a cathedral of trees, go for a hike and take time to contemplate the very beauty of the forests which surround where we both live and from which the book draws its soul. A way to give back to the trees which inspired the book! Also, if the gods are kind, perhaps to NYC to see the stage production of A Little Life, a book we both share a connection to, which affected us both deeply – I thought it would be a wonderful capper to this experience!