The stakes were high. It was only the first day of the Canada Reads 2013 debates but by the end of the first round, one of the five contending books would be eliminated by a panel vote. Between the presence of an Olympic wrestler, and Ron MacLean having shown up wearing Hell’s Angel-grade motorcycle boots, there was a sense the proceedings could get rough.
This morning, in a second floor studio at the CBC broadcast centre, this year’s five panelists met to debate the merits of their chosen books. Olympic wrestler Carol Huynh debated on behalf of Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Hockey Night in Canada’s Ron MacLean advocated for David Bergen’s The Age of Hope. Author and historian Charlotte Gray’s pick was Away, by Jane Urquart. Actor Jay Baruchel backed Two Solitudes, by Hugh MacLennan, and comedian Trent McClellan supported Lisa Moore’s February. Q’s Jian Gomeshi moderated.
Most of the debate focussed on Two Solitudes and The Age of Hope. Baruchel defended his pick, which is by far the oldest on the list, explaining that although it was written in 1945, Two Solitudes is still relevant to Canadians today. As a lifelong Montrealer, Baruchel said, he has seen the same religious, language, social and cultural divisions touched upon in the book persisting in the 21st Century.
MacLean, meanwhile, was challenged on how his choice stacked up against the other entries, which all featured more historically dramatic, nationally significant settings and events. The HNIC host debated passionately for the book, which he lauded for championing the travails of living with depression. But while MacLean had found Two Solitudes extremely moving, the other panelists were not so impressed. Gray observed that the book, which was written by a man, did not portray women’s friendships and family relationships accurately. McClellan cited the story’s long lead-up to too small a payoff as a serious problem. Most of the panel selected Two Solitudes as having had the least interesting writing style.
An online poll of CBC viewers turned up similar results. Less than five per cent of respondents voted to keep Two Solitudes. Indian Horse, meanwhile, received a whopping 55 per cent of public approval. The panelists do not have to vote according to the public poll but, in the end, MacLean’s chosen book did garner three of the five panelists’ elimination votes, and became Canada Reads 2013’s first loser.
The debates will continue Tuesday, Feb. 12, Wednesday, Feb. 13, and Thursday, Feb. 14. Each day’s debate will be aired on Documentary Channel at 7 pm, daily. Go to the Canada Reads web page to find out how to book tickets to see the debates live. And stay tuned to Chirograph for more coverage of the debates as they happen.