Monthly Archives: November 2012

Canada Reads 2013 virtual book club

The Canada Reads web site gives you everything you need to know about the recently announced finalist books for Canada Reads 2013, the debaters, what everyone else thinks about the books and the debaters and what their strategies should be … all ramping up to the actual debates, which will take place from February 11th to 14th, 2013.

Between now and February, many of us will be avidly reading and re-reading these fine books in preparation for some lively and passionate discussions. To help everyone get up to speed on the books, we’re offering this compendium of reviews and articles. If you have or know of any pieces that should be part of this collection, contact me via @bookgaga or add a comment below to get the relevant link added. Thanks!

Canada Reads Twitter book club

Starting January 3, 2013, CBC Books will be hosting a weekly Twitter chat to discuss each of the Canada Reads finalist books. Learn more here … and hope to see you there.


Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

Indian Horse
by Richard Wagamese
(Douglas & McIntyre)
representing the BC & Yukon region championed by Carol Huynh (@HuynhCarol)

Reviews and articles:

CBC books trailer for Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese:


The Age of Hope by David Bergen

The Age of Hope
by David Bergen
(Harper Collins Canada)
representing the Prairies & The North region
championed by Ron Maclean

Reviews and articles:

CBC books trailer for The Age of Hope by David Bergen:


Away by Jane Urquhart

by Jane Urquhart
(McClelland and Stewart)
representing the Ontario region
championed by Charlotte Gray

Reviews and articles:

CBC books trailer for Away by Jane Urquhart:


Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan

Two Solitudes
by Hugh MacLennan
representing the Quebec region
championed by Jay Baruchel (@BaruchelNDG)

Reviews and articles:

CBC books trailer for Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan:


February by Lisa Moore

by Lisa Moore
(House of Anansi Press)
representing the Atlantic Provinces region
championed by Trent McClellan (@Trent_McClellan)

Reviews and articles:

CBC books trailer for February by Lisa Moore:

Debaters in place, strategies mapped out, challenges gearing up for Canada Reads 2013 turf wars

Canada Reads

After a bracing foray into non-fiction in 2012, Canada Reads 2013 returns to fiction. The framework for choosing the final books to be debated this time involved dividing the country (somewhat awkwardly) into five regions. Canadians were asked to recommend the novel they wanted to represent the place they call home. From a voted top 10 books per region to a second vote to narrow it down to top 5 books per region, the chosen debaters have brought it down to …

Canada Reads

  • Carol Huynh (@HuynhCarol) will defend Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese (Douglas & McIntyre), representing the BC & Yukon region
  • Ron Maclean will defend The Age of Hope by David Bergen (Harper Collins Canada), representing the Prairies & The North region
  • Charlotte Gray will defend Away by Jane Urquhart (McClelland and Stewart), representing the Ontario region
  • Jay Baruchel (@BaruchelNDG) will defend Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan, representing the Quebec region
  • Trent McClellan (@Trent_McClellan) will defend February by Lisa Moore (House of Anansi Press), representing the Atlantic Provinces region
    Read my review of February, by Lisa Moore

I hope to post reviews of or commentaries on the other finalist books in the weeks to come. I’m also hoping to speak to some of this year’s debaters/book advocates and will post about that shortly.

The Canada Reads web site gives you everything you need to know about the books, the debaters, what everyone else thinks about the books and the debaters and what their strategies should be … all ramping up to the actual debates, which will take place from February 11th to 14th, 2013.

Our Canada Reads challenge to you

Leading up to the debates, here’s a way to get some more sparks flying between you and your book friends and tweeps.

  1. Pair up with a book friend or tweep and challenge each other to two things: identify a favourite library, book or literacy cause, and predict the outcome of the Canada Reads 2013 debates. Speak aloud your favourite cause, but keep your predictions under wraps (for now).
  2. Write down your Canada Reads predictions – the order in which the 5 books will finish – and seal them in an envelope.
  3. Exchange your envelope with your book friend, who will also have sealed his/her predictions.
  4. Shake hands with your book friend, and commit to two things: to not open those envelopes until the Canada Reads debates finish in February, 2013, and to donate to your friend’s library, book or literacy cause if your predictions are the least accurate of the two.
  5. Tweet who you are pairing up with for the challenge and promote the library, book or literacy cause that will benefit when you win and your opponent must make a donation. Tweet to @ayoungvoice and/or @bookgaga, and we’ll keep track of everyone who is taking the challenge.
  6. When all is revealed in February, you and your book friend/challenge partner open your envelopes and determine whose predictions were closest. Whoever predicted closest to the final Canada Reads results asks their challenge partner to make a donation as the “loser” (no one’s really a loser, though) of the bet.
  7. Tweet your results and mention again the cause that benefits from your challenge.

Allegra Young (@ayoungvoice) and I have already challenged each other to make our Canada Reads predictions. We have exchanged our sealed envelopes and revealed the causes we’re representing as part of this challenge.

Allegra has selected The Children’s Book Bank as her challenge charitable cause.

The mission of the Children’s Book Bank is to provide free books and literacy support to children who need them. Many Canadian families and organizations own quality children’s books that they have outgrown or cannot use. The Children’s Book Bank saves these books from the landfill or recycling system and distributes them to children who otherwise would not own their own books. Their organization:

  • Provides children with a safe and welcoming environment where they can experience the joy of reading
  • Offers literacy support in high needs communities
  • Supports the responsible recycling of gently-used books
  • Promotes community sharing through facilitating book drives by schools and organization

You can learn more about Children’s Book Bank via their web site (

As I did last year, I’ve selected Neighbourhood Link as my challenge charitable cause.

Neighbourhood Link Support Services is a non-profit social service agency working to help people primarily in the east Toronto community to live independently and with dignity. Since 1975, with the assistance of staff and volunteers, they have helped more than 20,000 people annually across a range of ages and groups, including seniors, new Canadians, children and youth, employment seekers and the homeless. Reading and literacy are vital components of many of Neighbourhood Link’s programs and services.

You can learn more about Neighbourhood Link via their web site ( and you can follow them on Twitter.

Joining us on the challenge are:

Carrie has selected STELLAA (Stella’s Training, Education, Literacy, Learning and Academic Assistance) as her challenge charitable cause.

STELLAA aims to promote literacy to the children and adults of Africa through providing donated books and needed educational resources. The organization’s goal is to help the people of Africa to realise their potential and create the new futures for themselves, their families and their communities that will eradicate poverty. In turn, they promote environmental responsibility through the re-use of books and educational supplies, saving thousands of pounds of books from polluting landfills.

You can learn more about STELLAA via their web site (

Jeanne has selected First Book Canada as her challenge charitable cause.

First Book Canada is a registered Canadian charity that helps provide new books to children who have none. Founded in the U.S. in 1992, it came to Canada in 2006 as First Book/Le Premier Livre. With the help of publishing partners, and working with community and school programs, First Book Canada supplies books to children who have no books of their own at home. Their primary goal is to help eradicate illiteracy by providing access to books and kindling an early interest in reading that will last a lifetime.

You can learn more about First Book Canada via their web site (

Care to join us?

Happy reading or re-reading of the Canada Reads contenders. Looking forward to all of the debates … the ones in February and the ones we’ll all be having before, during and after.

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy

Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy

Deborah Levy’s Swimming Home opens with a careering, hands-off-the-steering-wheel plunge down a perilous road. You’re given little opportunity from the outset to catch your breath from there to the framing repetitions of this same ride towards the end of this slender, gripping novel.

The story’s chronology commences with the startling arrival of an interloper and the even more startling invitation to the interloper to stay, amidst a group of vividly unhappy vacationers sharing a villa on the French Riviera. That intruder, Kitty Finch, makes her entrance as a mistaken dead body in the villa swimming pool. She proceeds via wiles combining Edie Sedgwick, Sylvia Plath and a mermaid to seduce or unsettle all of poet Joe Jacobs, his war correspondent wife Isabel, their teenaged daughter Nina, the Jacobs’ guests Mitchell and Laura, villa house staff Jurgen and elderly villa neighbour Dr. Madeleine Sheridan.

That Kitty claims to be, among many things, a botanist – albeit one with a particular fascination for beautiful, poisonous plants – fits perversely well with the hothouse confluence of characters with relationship, financial, emotional and psychological problems, and problems relative in some cases to lack or excess of age and experience. She also claims to be a poet, obsessed with getting Jacobs to read one poem of hers that could hold something potent and revelatory for both of them – and how that is or isn’t revealed is also perverse.

For a book so lush in imagery – veering from plants and foliage to weaponry to water to real and toy animals – the overall effect of the book is still spare and spacious. There is much room to wonder what just happened and what will happen next between various troubled couplings and encounters, most of them provoked directly or indirectly by that maybe uninvited, maybe dangerously desired guest with the name combining predator and prey.

You won’t know until the very end if any of this largely unsympathetic but still fascinating cast of characters manage to swim home safely. As the story and voices linger long after you’ve finished this slim novel, you’ll continue to wonder if, in fact, you assessed correctly who did swim home … and even what is home, and if perhaps some found it instead by letting go and slipping under the surface.

Thank you to House of Anansi Press for providing an advance copy of Swimming Home, by Deborah Levy.

See also:

September 20, 2012
Deborah Levy: ‘It’s a page-turner about sorrow’
Booker-nominated writer Deborah Levy talks to Kate Kellaway about her dazzling novel and why repression is more interesting than depression

Deborah Levy speaks to a Waterstones interviewer at Waterstones Piccadilly bookstore about her story, Black Vodka, and novel, Swimming Home.

NW, by Zadie Smith

NW, by Zadie Smith

NW is not Zadie Smith’s best. However, it shows a writer at her finest and bravest exploring diverse terrain and experimenting with different methods and vocabularies with which to present those explorations. That makes Smith’s examination of intersecting worlds and lives in the northwest corner of contemporary London a still fascinating if sometimes frustrating read.

NW focuses – as much as the intentionally disjointed storytelling and multiple narrative voices overlaid with a range of stylistic syncopations can be said to focus – on the lives of two women who have known each other since a fateful childhood encounter: red-haired Leah Hanwell, a charitable lottery administrator of Irish descent and Natalie Blake (who selectively abandons her birth name of Keisha), a lawyer of Jamaican descent. Both struggle and flirt with ambition, identity and personal reinvention against a backdrop of societal and economic changes happening, at times very literally, on their doorsteps.

Smith propels the story with varying degrees of success via a carousel of styles and formats from stream of consciousness narration to numbered and labelled lists and paragraphs to even a touch of concrete poetry. In the end, plotlines dangle or simply deflate. What endures for this reader is that the two central characters seem able to pick up their sometimes suspended conversations and relationship, and continue caring for each other through revelations, attempted transformations and missteps. The foundation of their friendship is grounded on a recognition of the essential persons under the layers of time and circumstance. Likewise, this reader will wait for and seek out this author’s future literary transformations, recognizing the essential craft and character at the foundation of whatever she attempts next.

See also:

NW by Zadie Smith – review
Adam Mars-Jones finds himself stumbling on the cracks in Zadie Smith’s new novel
The Guardian

Zadie Smith’s new novel is filled with voices from everywhere
by Lisa Moore
The Globe and Mail

Celebrating the beautiful book object – At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy

Yes, I have another lovely book object about which I’d like to rhapsodize … as I’ve done recently here, here and here. As I mentioned, I’m going to try from time to time to showcase and celebrate the physical books I’ve read, reviewed, and/or from which I’ve gathered #todayspoem snippets of inspiration. Today’s treasure is At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published in 1977 by the storied Paget Press.

While it’s a zesty good read, Al Purdy’s At Marsport Drugstore is also emblematic of two great literary collaborations. This collection of largely love poems was the first publishing venture of Paget Press(1) of Sutton West, Ontario, lovingly operated by Peter Sibbald Brown as a distributor for California’s iconic Black Sparrow Press(2). Brown’s literary tastes and sense of book aesthetics and production values were very simpatico with those of Black Sparrow founder John Martin. As well, the collection boasts an appreciation by legendary US poet Charles Bukowski, with whom Purdy conducted a lively correspondence in the 1960s and 70s.(3) (The two never met, but their warmth and respect for each other is palpable, not only in Bukowski’s tribute here, but in a subsequent collection of their letters, also published by Paget Press.)

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

At Marsport Drugstore, by Al Purdy, published by Paget Press

Each poem is preceded by a woodcut-style illustration by artist Hugh Leroy. The edition shown here is part of a limited run of 75 that includes a tipped-in print by Leroy, and is autographed by both Purdy and Leroy.


1. Paget: a country creation with continental ties (PDF, ~87K)
from Quill & Quire, February 1984

2. About Black Sparrow Books
from Black Sparrow Books web site

3. Charles Bukowski, Al Purdy, Writers’ Friendship
by Robert Sward