Canada Reads: Five books, two eyes, one brain
We had a capacity audience this week at the McConnell Library for the taping of our local Canada Reads panel for CBC Radio’s Information Morning program. Bev McGee, Paul MacDougall and myself, moderated by Wendy Martin, discussed the five books in contention: The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy, Generation X by Douglas Coupland, Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, Good to a Fault by Marina Endicott, and Fall On Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald.
A trimmed version of our discussion (we are a talky bunch) airs on Information Morning this week. The week following, the celebrity panel’s discussion leading, Survivor-like, to the selection of the book all of Canada should read airs daily on the national CBC Radio service.
Of the 40 or more people attending the McConnell taping, one or two raised their hands when asked if they had read any of first four books. Almost everyone, on the other hand, had read Fall On Your Knees (including everyone on the panel) and most of them read it when it came out 14 years ago.
I remember reading it with excitement. It was a national phenomenon: a suspenseful page turner, a mythic soap opera, about the corrosive effects of family secrets, it took place in the Lebanese and AfricanCape Breton communities of Sydney (two groups, like others, not given their due in the culture of the island), and Oprah chose it for her book club.
This time around, it struck me as stagy, overwritten, and unrelentingly bleak.
Since then, it has been joined by a host of excellent novels about Cape Breton, often with strong narrative links to the past, by national selling authors like Beatrice MacNeil, D. R. MacDonald, Frank MacDonald, Sheldon Currie, and, of course, Alistair MacLeod.
And other authors, like Douglas Arthur Brown and Susan Farrell, have found ways to bring new perspectives, new ways of talking about being from here, that connect to the wider contemporary world.
Fall On Your Knees remains a powerful novel with legions of fans, and in 14 years time, I might re-discover it again.
Now onto the self-promotion. The Feast of Saint Nicholas, written by myself and Paul MacDougall, will be staged at the Dominion Italian Hall on Sunday, March 29. Along with the play, part of the series including O Night Divine and Ave Maria, a delicious chicken dinner will be served. For tickets, call Frank Canova at 849-2060.