Reading Round Up: My Thoughts on the Canada Reads 2015 Finalists and Debates

On March 16, Canada Reads 2015 kicked-off the debate of five books in search of the one book that can break down barriers. The five Canada Reads 2015 finalists and their champions are:

Intolerable Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee (HarperCollins Canada, 2013) championed by Kristin Kreuk, actor.

The Inconvenient Indian The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King (Doubleday Canada, 2013) championed by Craig Kielburger, activist and social entrepreneur.

Feels Like The Movies When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Reid (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2014) championed by Elaine “Lainey” Lui, entertainment reporter.

And The Birds Rained Down And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyn Saucier (Coach House Books, 2012) championed by Martha Wainwright, singer-songwriter.

Ru Ru by Kim Thúy (Penguin/Random House Canada, 2012) championed by Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival.

All five books are deserving of praise and each stands on its own merit, I cannot emphasize this enough. However, as I read each book through the lens of the one book that can break down barriers – that can challenge stereotypes, illuminate issues, open minds and change perspectives – I felt not all responded in equal measure to this year’s Canada Reads challenge. Of the five, The Inconvenient Indian and When Everything Feels Like The Movies emerged as the strongest contenders for me. I felt that Intolerable by Kamal Al-Solaylee was also a strong contender, until I read When Every Thing Feels Like The Movies. I was so impacted by this book that with the exception of The Inconvenient Indian, I found myself measuring the other books against Mr. Reid’s.

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Reading Round Up: Canada Reads 2015

What is the one book that can break barriers? This is the question that will be asked of the five Canada Reads 2015 book finalists and debated by their champions, as announced on January 20, 2015. Canada Reads 2015 is all about books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues.
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Reading Round Up: Winner of Canada Reads 2014 & Lambda Literary Awards Finalists

Each year I await the announcement of the Canada Reads nominees and the Lambda Literary Awards list of finalists to inform my reading list for the year and beyond.

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The Gift of Stories by George Seaton

4 stars

The Gift of Stories

On the high plains of northwestern Colorado, tales emerge near Yampa, up where the Bear River runs and the Causeway and Little Causeway Lakes nestle into the wilderness like curled cats lolling in the comfort of gracious laps. It is here within the purely black chill of night time when the pop and hiss of a campfire illuminates the faces of wide-eyed children hunkered with their backs to the deep, dark shadows of pine, spruce, and aspen; it is here where the telling of the tales commences from elders to youngsters.

Real or imagined movement within these night shadows is perceived by the children as bears, wolves, or maybe spirits of the White River or Yampa Ute Indian tribes. There is a sense that some malevolence lurks in the shadows, something that may rob sleep from the young who understand the thickness of a nylon tent is no defense against…well, imaginations do conjure a bleak inevitability in such circumstances.

George Seaton’s latest release, The Gift of Stories, is a stand-alone short story of some forty pages that is part of the “Average Joe Collection” published by MLR Press. It is a lovely and heartfelt tale within a tale of many themes including, the magic and importance of stories in our lives and the imparting of wisdom from one generation to the next.

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Reading Round Up: An Evening with Thomas King

“Stories are wondrous things. And they are dangerous.”

Thomas King Thomas King is one of my favourite authors and I was thrilled to learn that he was to give a reading and talk in Ottawa. On the evening of March 6th, a sold out audience of about 1,000 congregated at the Centretown United Church to listen to Mr. King read from his most recent book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (Doubleday Canada, November 2012) and to field questions from Waubgeshig Rice, author and broadcast journalist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), and from the audience. The event was co-sponsored by a host of organizations, among others: Octopus Books one of the only remaining independent bookstores in the city; Random House of Canada; and a number of local Aboriginal organizations, including, the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health and the Odawa Native Friendship Centre.

The Truth About Stories  My initiation to the work of this author, activist and academic was through his Massey Lectures, which he delivered in 2003. Mr. King was the first indigenous person to be invited to do so and in all he delivered five lectures under the title The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative (House of Anansi Press Inc., 2003) to different audiences across Canada. In keeping with the Native oral tradition of storytelling, Mr. King begins each of the lectures with a Native creation story of a pregnant sky woman who falls to the water world and with the help of various water animals builds the earth (Turtle Island) upon which she can deliver her twins. He uses this story in each lecture to weave through his own personal history as a Native American and that of the colonization of the Americas, illuminating upon the impacts of colonization on First Nations (or Native Americans in the United States) and of Canada and the United States’ relationship with its Native peoples. The Massey Lectures are eloquently subversive and they remain my favourite body of work by this author.

The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour a radio series that he wrote and produced, and which premiered in 1997 and ran for three consecutive years on the CBC’s Radio One is also a personal favourite. Characterised as irreverent comedy that pokes fun at Indian stereotypes, the Dead Dog Café borrows numerous elements from King’s highly acclaimed novel Green Grass, Running Water, including the fictional café of the same name which is set in the equally fictional town of Blossom, Alberta, but with different characters. In Dead Dog Café, Mr. King plays himself and is the straight man and third wheel to Jasper Friendly Bear (played by Floyd Favel Starr) and Gracie Heavy Hand (played by Edna Rain). The CD box set of Dead Dog Café has become a listening staple during our annual road trips.

The Inconvenient Indian Over the years I have read Mr. King’s books for my personal knowledge, understanding and growth. It was an absolute pleasure for me to attend his reading from his latest book, The Inconvenient Indian, which has been described as both “a history and the complete subversion of history” and “a critical and personal mediation…about what it means to be ‘Indian’ in North America.” In his responses to questions from Mr. Rice and the audience on his experiences as a writer and activist and his views on First Nations issues, Mr. King was quite gracious and erudite and that rye sense of humour that is woven throughout his stories comes naturally.

Thomas Hunt King was born in 1943 in Sacramento, California. His father was Cherokee and his mother Greek, and he holds dual (American/Canadian) citizenship. Mr. King received a PhD in English Literature from the University of Utah and went on to teach Native Studies at the University of Minnesota, where he became the Chair of American Indian Studies. In 1980, Mr. King emigrated to Canada which has since become his adoptive home. He has taught Native Studies at the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) and Native Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Guelph (Ontario).

In addition to Green Grass, Running Water, which made a splash in Canadian literature and earned him his second Governor-General’s Award nomination, The Truth About Stories and The Inconvenient Indian, his other widely-acclaimed novels include Medicine River (Penguin Books, 1990), and A Coyote Columbus Story (Groundwood Books, 1992), a children’s book for which he received his first Governor-General’s Award nomination. He is the editor of All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction (University of Oklahoma Press, 1992) and co-editor of The Native in Literature: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives, in the academic journal American Indian Quarterly (University of Nebraska Press, 1992).