Brief Thoughts on Canada Reads 2015

This evening I finished reading Jocelyne Saucier’s And the Birds Rained Down, the last of the five Canada Reads 2015 finalists I had left to read.  I read Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian some time ago. Over the last few days I’ve read, in order, Raziel Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies, Kamal Al-Solaylee’s Intolerable, and Kim Thúy’s Ru.  All five are tremendous books in their own way and deserve to be read.  The Inconvenient Indian is funny and deadly serious. Ru is shear poetry. Intolerable is an intensely troubling portrait of Islamist fundamentalism’s effect on a family over a single generation.  And the Birds Rained Down is a generous and gentle discussion of aging and “end-of-life issues” and memory and endurance. And When Everything Feels Like the Movies is a harsh and loving depiction of the plight of Generation Y, most particularly of the Gay teenager.

I’ll say right off the bat that I think When Everything Feels Like the Movies should win on the “Breaking Down Barriers” score.  The very fact that there is a campaign to strip Reid of his Governor General’s Literary Award makes clear that there’s a viscous barrier needing removal.  As I finished reading the book, I tweeted “I think When Everything Feels Like the Movies is the Generation X of our time” and I mean it strongly.  As Coupland’s strange-at-the-time and barrier breaking book gave a generation a name and its ennui a coherent description, Reid has written a brutally uncomfortable “Young Adult” novel that describes the deadly dangerous screen-filtered world facing today’s youth and the ennui they, too, are too often sucked into.  When Everything Feels Like the Movies is not a coming-age-novel like any previous generation’s.  It is a beautifully written, harsh, difficult novel for an “Old Adult” to read.  As a side note, Reid’s novel and Jordan Tannahill’s Age of Minority belong on the same shelf and I think any parent (or non-parent) would be wise to read them.

Again, all five of the Canada Reads 2015 finalists are tremendous, worthwhile reads.  An added bonus is that they’re all quite short.  I particularly think that Al-Solaylee’s Intolerable scores highly in the Barrier Breaking department, in this case, showing clearly that the shift to radical Islamicism among youth (and adults) in the Middle East is a result of political and economic conditions, not simply a function of Islam itself.  Al-Solaylee grew up with his many older sisters and brothers in Yemen, Lebanon and Egypt in a completely secular family in secular, multicultural communities. But as political corruption took over the governments and the economic disparities grew greater and unemployment soared, an older brother found support in the Muslim Brotherhood and, within a few years, the whole family was destitute, back in Yemen, the women veiled and the men more or less radicalized.  Al-Solaylee escaped the economic and political disasters, first to the UK and then to Canada and is today a successful Gay man in love with Toronto and freedom.

I found Thúy’s Ru far more poetic than any of the other four books, but I’m not sure that it is terribly successful at breaking down barriers. Certainly we see an immigrant’s experience, in this case, that of the Vietnamese Boat People. I don’t know.

Thomas King’s The Inconvenient Indian is, of course, about breaking down perhaps the barrier most in need of dismantlement in Canadian Society.  I think it is a very important book and should be required reading in Canadian Schools, but I’m not sure that it is, on its own, more than a single jack hammer when a battalion of battering rams are needed.

Jocelyne Saucier’s And the Birds Rained Down, is a beautiful, beautiful book, a joyous celebration of freedom to grow old and, ultimately, to die on one’s own terms.  Certainly, the “issues” of assisted suicide, elder care, elder abuse, and geriatric sexuality are still surrounded by conversational barriers, and the barriers need to be removed. Certainly, Saucier’s novel can open up that discussion to a great degree. But I’m not sure that it will be as successful at bringing change, on its own, as will, for example, Reid’s When Everything Feels Like the Movies, which has the potential to change a generation as it is coming of age.

Of course, I could well be wrong. When I was on my 20s in the 80s, I felt like my generation had outgrown the homophobia of our parents’ generation. I never imagined that in 2015 a novel such as When Everything Feels Like the Movies would be imagined, never mind vitally necessary. But, three decades after Jimmy Sommerville sang of a Small Town Boy, which song Reid references in his novel, Albertans, who overwhelmingly favour Gay-Straight Alliances in our schools, have been forced to suffer through a retrograde government’s offensive, reactionary, panicked “consultation” on the “issue”. It is beyond depressing that still today there is no place in Canada free from the violent barriers which keep this song being lived, and all too often died, by a Smalltown Boy or Girl:

 

 

I have a few more thoughts about Canada Reads 2015 here.

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3 comments on “Brief Thoughts on Canada Reads 2015

  1. Deb says:

    Thank you for your summary for Canada reads. I completely missed it this year. It seems as I tired of CBC constantly having an agenda I have turned to listening mostly to BBC radio 4. Which book won? Were any of those championing the books quite interesting?

    Interestingly my husband and I were talking about Bronski Beat the other day (we are a bit younger than you) and we were talking about how bands that used to have a gay identity were hip (think walking into Tower records in the very late 80’s), but now it is so everyday that the niche has been lost. It is kind of strange but general acceptance took away the coolness. Anyways just thought it was interesting the Bronski Beat mention.

    • Canada Reads debates haven’t started yet. The five dinalistss and panelists were just announcrd a few weeks ago.

      As I say in the piece, I feel so disappointed that my generation, which seemed to be so accepting of the Gay world, has grown up into a bunch of reactionary idiots who get terrified of GSAs and anything hinting of not-straight.

  2. […] This my second post about Canada Reads 2015. The first is here. […]

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