News and Interviews

CBC Canada Reads the Halfway Mark: And Then There Were Three

(If you aren't caught up on CBC Canada Reads, this post contains up to date information on the competition, aka spoilers!)

Today marked the halfway point for CBC Canada Reads 2018. In a tie-breaking upset, Craig Davidson's memoir Precious Cargo (Knopf Canada), defended by storm chaser and weather expert Greg Johnson, was eliminated from the competition, joining Sharon Bala's The Boat People (McClelland & Stewart), which was knocked out on Monday despite a robust defence from its champion, Mozhdah Jamalzadah, host of The Mozhdah Show.

The remaining books in contention are: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline (Dancing Cat Books) defended by Juno Award winning singer Jully BlackAmerican War by Omar El Akkad (McClelland & Stewart) defended by Battlestar Galactica actor Tahmoh Penikett, and Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto (HarperCollins) defended by fashion icon Jeanne Beker.

The discussion today covered each book in turn before asking each panelist to make a final "lightning round" plea for their chosen book in just 40 seconds.

Beker took issue with what she referred to as the "overpowering" fear present in The Marrow Thieves, worrying aloud that the book might "instil anxiety". There was also discussion of whether a dystopian tale like The Marrow Thieves is the most effective way to bring attention to issues of reconciliation and Canada's appalling record of mistreating Indigenous people. The book's champion, Jully Black, argued that the fantastical world of the novel was an excellent metaphorical exploration of issues facing Indigenous peoples and didn't need to be a literally true story to have impact, noting "fiction opens people's eyes" and likening the lessons of the book being delivered in a gripping plot to "hiding the kale in the smoothie".

Penikett stepped in to defend the young adult novel along with Black, noting his own mother was removed from his grandparents and forced to attend one of Canada's infamous residential schools. He praised The Marrow Thieves, saying "You've got a young Indigenous protagonist - that's a beautiful thing." Now a free agent, Jamalzadah also went to the book's defence stating she felt it should be "mandatory in schools."

Precious Cargo got points for Davidson's comedic chops. Jamalzadah called it "a breath of fresh air" noting that she planned to re-read the book, and praising Davidson as "a brilliant writer". However, she and several other panelists almost mentioned the book left them "wanting more," while Penikett questioned whether a book as light-hearted as Precious Cargo fulfilled the competition's mandate of a "book to open Canadians' eyes".

For Mark Sakamoto's Forgiveness, the panelists debated about the way in which the memoir has been summarized and positioned, with a focus on one of Sakamoto's grandfathers despite the memoir devoting significant time to both his paternal and maternal grandparents. All the panelists agreed on the book's impactful storytelling, but some claimed to struggle with the structure, which is divided between the two sides of the author's families. 

The most contentious debate centred around Omar El Akkad's American War, a dystopian story of a second American civil war, set some sixty years in the future. Jamalzadah had good things to say about the novel, praising its ability to incorporate global themes. "This book is very political," she said. "People need to think about the world [outside north America]." Beker took umbrage at the book's dark tone, saying it "celebrates the idea of revenge". The darkness of El Akkad's vision was also an issue for Johnson, who felt it painted too bleak a picture. In contrast, Black praised it as "a pageturner". 

When it came time for votes, they fell as follows...

Day Two Canada Reads Elimination Votes:

Jeanne Beker voted to eliminate The Marrow Thieves 

Jully Black voted to eliminate American War

Mozhdah Jamalzadah voted to eliminate Precious Cargo

Greg Johnson voted to eliminate American War

Tahmoh Penikett voted to eliminate Precious Cargo

The tie between Precious Cargo and American War meant Jeanne Beker was responsible for making an on-the-spot decision between the two, which she struggled with, joking "Don't make me do this - I'm a pisces!" and noting strengths in both books. She eventually chose Precious Cargo, a surprise to the studio audience, given that her criticism of American War had seemed more pointed during the debate. Johnson was disappointed but noted he knew Davidson would understand. He also reiterated his support for Precious Cargo despite its removal from the contest, noting "I am still so much in love with this book." 

There are two more days of Canada Reads goodness left! They will continue to be broadcast on CBC Radio One, CBC, and online at Each day of the competition, one book will be eliminated by the panellists, until a winner is voted the must-read book for Canadians in 2018. That final debate and announcement will take place this Thursday, March 29.