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Canada Reads 2013: The Panelists Speak at Thursday’s Big Launch

The books and panelists for CBC’s Canada Reads 2013—which will air its live debates February 11 to 14—were finally revealed on Thursday on CBC Radio’s Q, and also at a live event at the CBC Headquarters in Toronto, hosted by Jian Ghomeshi. For its 12th year, Canada Reads has added the new twist that each book, and the panelist championing that book, will represent a different region of Canada. Below are this year’s finalists, and the Canadian celebrities chosen to defend each title. Which one will you get behind?

British Columbia and the Yukon

Carol Huynh, an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, will defend Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese.

Carol Huynh on the competition: “I’m used to having an opponent I can get hold of and take down. This is going to be a little different — I’m going to have to learn to wrestle with my words instead. Although who knows what’s going to happen backstage!”

Carol on Indian Horse: “It’s a story of loss, survival, resilience, healing, and hope. And it touched me in a very real way. This is such an emotive book, and I think that page after page you’ll feel that spiritual connection to nature. You’ll feel the heartbreak of the experience of Saul, the main character in this book, as well as the joy and freedom playing hockey brings to him, and of course the hope he feels at the end of the book. I don’t want to spoil it, but I really want you to read it.”

The Prairies and the North

Ron MacLean, co-host of Hockey Night in Canada for 25 years, will defend The Age of Hope by David Bergen.

Ron MacLean on The Age of Hope: “It really spoke to me, and it’s beautifully written. […] The ultimate wisdom we all seek is how to deal with the trauma of growing old and dying, and this book is really about that. It’s about a really big picture item camouflaged in very simple life that becomes like Game Seven, to give you a sports analogy.”

Author David Bergen on his book: “Hope Koop’s life has a very minimal quality to it—she has a very regular life. […] She lives in a small town and is very timid, but she has a rich interior life, and it’s that interior life that comes through and resonates with the reader.”


Charlotte Gray, award-winning biographer and historian, will defend Away by Jane Urquhart.

Charlotte Gray on Away: “The wonderful thing about it is that it’s the Great Canadian Narrative; it’s about immigrants coming to Canada, but it’s about so much more than that. I’m so fed up with Canadian history being dissed because people think it’s sort of pedestrian and it’s all dates and men in tall hats making laws. In fact, what Jane tells us is we have folklore, we have mythology, we have magic, and we have a landscape that speaks as much to us as it did to the First Nations, and she just made me feel totally inspired and made me look at the country, the people, and the landscape with new eyes. Her book captures the dream that you can reinvent yourself and have a better life. And her characters, in fact, are thrown around by the winds of politics and change in the 19th century, but they’re such contemporary characters. On the first page, the author says, ‘These are women of extremes.’ Well, what’s not to love about extreme women?”


Jay Baruchel, actor (Knocked Up, The Trotsky, Goon), will defend Two Solitudes by the late Hugh MacLennan.

Jay Baruchel on his regional pride: “I come from the cultural kiln that is Quebec, and everything we do there is extreme, and spicy, and awful, and exciting, and beautiful, and all those things at once. I’m very, very proud to be here representing my favourite place and my favourite country. […] I firmly believe in a lot of ways that Quebec is the cradle of Canadian civilization, from the first settlement to the Plains of Abraham to today. It’s impossible to separate one from the other, in my opinion.”

Jay on Two Solitudes: “It’s a Canadian masterwork. He brilliantly produces this allegory for all tensions, positive and negative, Anglo and Franco in Quebec, and he lets it play out as a family drama. He has this incredible way of capturing the grey area. If you don’t live there, it’s easy to assume that we’re constantly at each other’s throats, and it’s just not like that. Our love and tension all stems from the same place, and they’re part and parcel with each other. I’ve yet to see somebody come half as close to describing what it is to be from Quebec. People throw words like ‘timeless’ around very, very easily, but this book is, because it’s as truthful today as it was the day it was written, I suspect.”

Jay on the competition: “I’d be lying if I said I was intimidated, to be honest. With the exception of Ron MacLean.”

The Atlantic Provinces

Trent McClellan, comedian, will defend February by Lisa Moore.

Troy McClellan on why he chose February: “There’s a fine line between comedy and drama and pain. Comedians take painful things and shift them a little bit to make them humorous. There isn’t a lot of funny in this book, but it’s something I think is going to relate to a lot of people. All of us are going to go through this in our lives, if we haven’t already. […] People might have expected me to choose a funny, silly book, but I wanted to tackle this one, so I’m really excited about it. I wanted something that kind of hit me in the heart, and this book definitely, definitely did that.”

Author Lisa Moore on her book: “The story of the Ocean Ranger is one of a tragedy that could have easily been avoided. The oil rig sank because there was a terrific storm that grew in power over February 14, on Valentine’s Day. But the real reason it sank was because people hadn’t taken care of safety precautions, and there is a list of small things that could have been taken care of. Right now, 30 years later, the oil industry is booming in Newfoundland, and it’s really important we keep in mind that those are people working on those oil rigs, and we must keep safety in the fore of our brains, rather than profit. But at the same time this is really a book about love, and it’s about what it means to lose someone irrevocably, which is what death is, and how they come back. And I think that’s always important.”

All photos by Laura Godfrey.

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