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: 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).

Reading Round Up: The Best in LGBTQ Literature for 2012

If I were to choose a theme to characterise my reading year in 2012 it would be the year of the debut and independent author. The majority of books I read either for my own pleasure or specifically for review were by first time and/or predominantly self-published authors. While self-publishing tends to get a bad rap in some reading circles, in general, my personal reading experience with self-published and independent press authors has been positive as I find that they are able to push creative boundaries not always readily achievable within the realm of more mainstream publishing. Works by several such authors have made the list of my reading best for 2012.

The list also features works by some of my favourite authors that have become staples in my reading life, they include Alex Jeffers, Erik Orrantia and Brandon Shire. Several new-to-me authors such as, Drake Braxton, Kergan Edwards-Stout, John Goode, Red Haircrow, Jeff Mann, Tom Schabarum, Lee Thomas and Arthur Wooten joined this list in 2012 and I look forward to reading their previously published and future books.

My reading best for 2012 includes a mix of novels, novellas, compilations and short stories across a variety of sub-genres and within the realms of LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction that were published in 2011 and 2012.

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Playing By The Rules by Justin Crockett Elzie

The military has lots of rules and they are all expected to be followed. United States Marine Corps Sergeant Justin Elzie, wanting to make a difference, followed a rule of integrity and came out publicly on ABC Evening World News in January 1993. He became the first Marine discharged under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and later reinstated, becoming the first Marine to challenge Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell with a federal court case and went on to serve four years openly gay.

In Playing By The Rules retired Marine Sergeant Justin Elzie takes the reader on an autobiographical journey of self-discovery from his early years growing up on a farm in Wyoming to joining the Marine Corps and finding an underground gay subculture within the military.


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Condor and Falcon by John Simpson

President David Windsor’s former Secret Service agent, Shane Thompson, is now a permanent partner in his life, and David is determined to see Shane receive the respect he deserves as the First Gentleman. Assigned the codename “Falcon,” Shane will be taking on the traditional duties of the First Lady as David, codenamed “Condor One,” continues his administration.

But the tests of the Presidency are still looming as David faces both domestic and foreign political challenges. Just doing his job could mean extreme danger for himself and Shane, the man he loves most in the world—the man David wants to marry, despite all the press and attention it will bring them and the possible repercussions on a run for re-election.

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Talons of The Condor by John Simpson

David J. Windsor, the first openly gay president of the United States, has his hands full. After surviving an assassination attempt, he’s now dealing with the fallout: finding all of the culprits is at the top of his list. Will his enemies give up trying to bring down the administration, or will they try again? In the meantime, he has to deal with fractious allies, hidden foes, the vice president’s kidnapped son, and secrets that tear at his heart – including his relationship with his lover, Shane Thompson, who is also his Secret Service agent.

While they want to live a more open life, it’s impossible while David is in office; the demands of the job and the constant spotlight would tear even the most devoted couple apart. Throw in David’s attempts to help gay teens and they’re living in a pressure cooker that threatens to boil over. Will David be able to get a handle on the intrigue and danger of his job and find a way to keep his lover as well? Or will Shane become a casualty of Condor One’s political decisions?

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Condor One by John Simpson

The Democratic Party’s 2012 nominee for President, David J. Windsor, and America are equally shocked when he is outted by his opponent just six weeks before the Fall election. Following his heart, David chooses honesty over media spin and overcomes the obstacle to win the election.

Despite that success, dark forces around the world begin to plot against him, and President Windsor’s security is a must. Inside and outside the White House, Secret Service Agent Shane Thompson becomes the President’s shadow, always present and silent, ever vigilant.

As the two men grow closer, Shane does far more than just his duty – he becomes as vital to David’s happiness as he is to the President’s health. Together they realize they must find a way to balance the President and the Agent against David and Shane before stress and responsibility tear them apart.

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Special Forces: Soldiers (1980-1989) by Marquesate and Aleksandr Voinov (Vashtan)

Special Forces - Soldiers It took me a little over a month to read Cycle I of Special Forces entitled Soldiers (1980-1989), by co-authors Marquesate and Aleksandr Voinov (writing as Vashtan), all nineteen chapters and almost five hundred pages. I read Soldiers very slowly. It is anything but a light read so I managed a couple of chapters at a time and then had to stop reading and think about things.

Special Forces: Soldiers (1980-1989) is not gay romance or erotica, but it is a story of love, hate, violence, revenge, devotion, friendship and loyalty between Dan McFadyen an officer in the British Special Forces (SAS) and Vadim Krasnorada a Spetsnaz (Special Forces) officer of the Soviet Red Army. The backdrop of this story is the Soviet invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, the USSR’s eventual withdrawal from Afghanistan and events beyond.

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