Ready, set, read: CBC launches Canada Reads 2013

The CBC Broadcast Centre’s cavernous atrium was filled to capacity Thursday as fans gathered for the official launch of Canada Reads 2013.

Q’s Jian Gomeshi, who hosted the day’s events, introduced this year’s five panelists, conducting short, loose interviews with each of them.

In this, the twelfth edition of Canada reads, the entries and panelists have been selected by region . BC-born Olympic wrestler Carol Huynh representing British Columbia and the Yukon, and debating on behalf of Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.

Hockey Night in Canada icon Ron MacLean stands for the Prairies and the North, and chose to advocate for David Bergen’s The Age of Hope. Author and historian Charlotte Gray’s pick for Ontario is Away, by Jane Urquart. Montreal-born actor Jay Baruchel represents Quebec and is backing Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan. And Newfoundland comedian Trent McClellan is supporting Lisa Moore’s February on behalf of the Atlantic region.

Most of the authors were also on hand to discuss their works. Wagamese was working on a school literacy program in La Ronge, Sask., but sent his regards via phone message. Hugh MacLennan passed away in 1990, but was represented by his close friend, editor and publisher Douglas Gibson.

Gomeshi’s interview s with the panelists provided some compelling insight into why they chose their books from regional long lists voted on by CBC’s audience.

As the child of Vietnamese refugees who found themselves living in a new and strange culture, Huynh found personal resonance in Indian Horse, which tells the story of an Ojibway residential schools survivor dealing with cultural displacement in the 1960s. The main character’s love of hockey also spoke to Huynh’s own passion for sports.

Ron MacLean was drawn to the universal themes of aging and mortality in The Age of Hope. According to MacLean, the best asset of the book, which follows the everyday life of a Winnipeg housewife from youth to old age, is its relevance to people not just in Canada but all over the world. “We’re always probing for wisdom,” he said, especially when it comes to growing old and dying.

In Away, Gray found the “great Canadian narrative,” the immigrant’s story. “It captures the dream of so many Canadians,” she said. “That you can reinvent yourself and have a better life.” Telling the 140-year history of an Irish immigrant family living in Ontario in the 18th century, Away appealed to Gray by revealing little-known folklore, mythology and magic of Canada’s history.

Baruchel read Two Solitudes as a strong allegory for all the tension, and love, between Quebec’s French and English cultures. The novel, which won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction when it was published in 1945, tells the story of a young man of mixed Franco and Anglo parentage, struggling with identity and alienation in the early to mid-20th century.

McLellan remembers hearing about the 1982 Ocean Ranger oil rig sinking, around which February is based. But the novel appeals to a much broader experience as well. As McLellan explained, February asks questions about loss, obligation, grief and moving on. And it asks the reader to apply their own experiences to the story.

The Toronto Review of Books will continue its coverage of Canada Reads 2013 through the final decision in February. Stay tuned!

Peter Goffin is the Managing Editor of Chirograph.