Canada Reads 2010: Day Four

Fall On Your Knees was voted out today! I wanted it to happen, and even I’m shocked. It never would have occurred to me that the panelists, these panelists anyway, would have been that strategic. Everybody in the studio and online were just as surprised as I was. Perdita Felicien was such a forceful advocate that I was worried her personality alone might carry the day.

Like Mr. Beattie I’ve found cause to slam my head against my desk more than once during this year’s debates. Seeing Nikolski criticized for being too difficult and requiring the reader to do too much work, but also for being “thin” is what’s given me my forehead welt. None of the panelists has mentioned Lazer Lederhendler’s translation as the cause of the difficulty, and a good thing too, because it was absolutely amazing. It’s not my idea of a difficult book, and part of me weeps that others find it so, but to hear it decried as too hard, and then almost in same breath as not substantial enough? My forehead and desk are now well known to one another. (And I can’t help but think that when the panelists describe Nikolski as “thin”, they mean that it isn’t very earnest; all the other books, with the possible exception of Generation X, have had earnestness dripping from their ears.)

After every day’s debate, the CBC holds a moderated chat on their website to discuss what was said. They’ve been held at 3pm, which is the single worst time of the day for me because of my work schedule, but I made a point of dropping in for the first half today. I think the chat is a great idea, but like a lot of these things run by large media agencies, they erred on the side of paranoia in their moderation rather than on the side of trust, and it wound up being mostly a way too chipper conversation between the two moderators. As a veteran of online chatting, I’ve seen it handled any number of ways. My preferred method is to put up clear rules of conduct and then allow folks to post freely, unless they say something that violates the rules, at which point moderation tactics like censoring or banning come into play. The CBC requires that every single comment be approved by a moderator, and only a handful make it through, which is pretty standard for media and “industry” moderated chats, but kind of disappointing nonetheless. The best way I’ve seen it handled so far is by the folks at The Agenda. What they do is require that every post be approved, but they approve all posts that do not contain offensive content, and eventually allow trusted commenters to post without restriction. In this way the show’s viewers actually wind up doing most of the talking, with the moderators steering the discussion rather than dominating it. Things may not work the same way with a greater number of people in the chat room, but it feels more like participation rather than just observation.

With only one day left to go in Canada Reads, it’s time to make predictions. I think Roland Pemberton will throw his lot in with Michel Vézina and the deserving Nikolski. Perdita Felicien, who has said more than once that she found Good to a Fault boring, will back The Jade Peony, leaving Simi Sara to cast the deciding ballot. I have little doubt that vote will go to Samantha Nutt and Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony, leaving Canada primed to read a dull book that’s clearly Good For Us.


Writer. Editor. Critic.


  1. Well, “dull,” like “thin,” I guess, is in the eye of the beholder. I didn’t find either Jade Peony or Good to a Fault dull (or for that matter Fall on Your Knees — I didn’t like it, but it wasn’t dull) because in those books, things happen. Events occur, and people are forced to interact and deal with them. Nikolski was an entire book about nothing happening, which is what I mean when I concur with panelists who found it “thin.” And GenX was even worse as (from the chapters I was able to force myself to read) it was about people standing around talking about WHY nothing was happening. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a certain amount of plot if you’re going to call it a novel. Nikolski was a beautiful, beautiful piece of writing (I too found it confusing in parts, and found myself flipping back and forth to figure out who was who, but I don’t mind doing that kind of work if there’s a payoff) but it didn’t pay off in the plot department. Setting up these characters and having them never interact in a meaningful way was a clever thematic device but in plot terms I just felt it was a major fail.
    But then, as I pointed out in my own blog post yesterday, I find that listening to the process of debating and voting is polarizing my own views, making me more vehemently opposed to the other books and more defensive of “mine.”
    I think the Jade Peony is going to take it by default, not because it’s good-but-dull, but because it’s managed to squeak by (so far) with the least vigorous debate.

  2. I totally agree with you August about the substantiality of Nikolski. Books that enable readers to make discoveries on their own are wonderful.

  3. I am so pleased that Nikolski was the chosen book for Canada Reads! I’m finding it’s become a book that has stayed with me, stirring my thoughts in all directions. I love that I’m re-discovering it and have really enjoyed Michel Vezina’s perspectives and opinions throughout the debates.
    Even though I’m from Vancouver (well, actually soon to become a Torontonian!), I didn’t want the Jade Peony to win. I found it too familiar and agree with some of the panelists that it didn’t feel complete.

  4. I’m pleased Nikolski was chosen as well. The Jade Peony definitely felt more like a half-finished story collection than a novel to me, and I’m getting to the point where I’m almost ready to say “if you’ve read one family drama, you’ve read them all” (almost).
    I really wanted this year to be about something other than A Serious Book About People Dealing With Issues, and since I hated Generation X so much, Nikolski was the only way to go on that front, though I think it was the most deserving anyway.
    Also: welcome (soon, I guess) to the Big Smoke. I’ve been here about three and a half years now, but I still feel like a newcomer. I love it, though. I hope your experience of the city is a good one.

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