Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

Special Feature! CBC Canada Reads Panellists Discuss Debate Strategy & The Books They Fell in Love With

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If you've ever tried to sell someone on reading a book you love (and who hasn't?), you got a small glimpse into the job of a CBC Canada Reads panellist. Except they're doing it while being broadcast into homes across the country, and while four other people try to prove them wrong. It would be enough to make anyone sweat, but these five book lovers are all confidence going into the 2016 edition of the beloved literary smackdown.

This year, the panellists are a diverse group from a variety of professional backgrounds, united by their passion for Canadian literature. Adam Copeland (known as "Edge" in his days as a champion heavyweight wrestler in the WWE) will defend Minister Without Portfolio (Penguin Canada) by Michael Winter. Olympian Clara Hughes chose Lawrence Hill's The Illegal (HarperCollins Canada), while activist Farah Mohamed is championing Montreal author Saleema Nawaz's Bone and Bread (House of Anansi). Innovative entrepreneur Bruce Poon Tip will defend Birdie (HarperCollins Canada) by Tracey Lindberg and finally, filmmaker Vinay Virmani goes to bat for The Hero's Walk (Vintage Canada) by Anita Rau Badami. Several of the panellists are published authors themselves, and each one will draw on his or her unique experience and background to debate not only which book is the finest work of literature but which one best exemplifies the theme of the year: "starting over". At the end of each day, one book will be voted off until a single winner remains.

After previously announced host Wab Kinew withdrew in order to run for a seat in the Manitoba legislature, CBC powerhouse Gill Deacon, host of Here & Now and frequent q guest host, stepped up and will referee the competition.

We had the chance to speak to all five panellists about how they're preparing for their big week. We got the inside scoop, from who's consulting The Art of War as preparation to who's got the coziest reading set up.

Canada Reads 2016 takes place March 21 to March 24. You can follow the action through the Canada Reads website, on CBC television and CBC Radio One. And be sure to stay tuned to Open Book for updates throughout the competition.

Open Book:

What is your strategy going into the debates? Is "all fair" in books and war?

Adam Copeland:

My strategy going into the Canada Reads debate is to speak straight from the heart. Way down from the cockles of it. Yep, both ventricles. I just plan on speaking about the fact that I think this book is the definition of starting over. Is all fair in "war and books"? Well of course!

Clara Hughes:

My strategy going into the debates is absolute preparation for battle. I always went about sport that way, with the mindset of a warrior. I read a lot of Sun Tzu The Art of War; Lao Tzu, for the philosophies; Bruce Lee, for his strategies on the perfection of physical movement. This is kind of like tailoring and tapering and training the brain, and the gut, and the instinct to react and respond and strike, when I need to win, to prevail, to have The Illegal as the ultimate champion! And Lawrence Hill celebrated as the great second-time winner of Canada Reads.

Farah Mohamed:

I am going to go with the friendly fire approach. Just kidding. We all got along so well so it will be easy to banter and tough to battle but at the end of the day I want to win this for Saleema so I will be bringing my best arguments and wit to win!

Bruce Poon Tip:

My strategy is to be prepared and make sure I let my passion for the book I am defending, Birdie, lead my way. I want to make sure I properly represent Tracey and her people with respect. At the same time this is the battle of the books so if I need to get down and dirty in the fight, I apologize in advance Tracey! It’s especially important for me to be aligned with Tracey as I feel like I am a vessel for her words so I need to be humble with a servant’s heart.

Vinay Virmani:

I have the honor of defending a timeless story. My strategy is simple: to speak truthfully and from the heart. I’d like to go beyond the surface and take a deep dive, not merely into my book, but also into the books my competitors are defending with just as much passion.


Where were you the first time you read your chosen book?


I first read Minister Without Portfolio while sitting in my den, feet on the ottoman, with the fireplace cracklin', and a cup of joe.


The first time I read The Illegal was in an airplane, from Toronto to Calgary. I basically read about half the book. I couldn’t put it down on that medium-haul flight. Then I was on to Winnipeg shortly after, at my mom’s house in Elmwood-EK. I stayed up until all hours to finish it. It was just such a wild read that I couldn’t wait to meet the next character and to see where the story was going to go. It took me on the wildest and funnest ride.


I was travelling back from China in December for the first time I did a full read. It was an amazing companion for what turned into a 22 hour journey (it was supposed to be a 13 hour plane ride).


I was in Barbados on the beach when I first read Birdie. I just had a few tough months of travelling and was resting on the beach. It took me by complete surprise. I was riveted and could not put it down. I found myself up late at night turning pages by the light of my phone because I wanted to know what was going to happen next.


I had heard great things about the The Hero’s Walk but never got around to reading it. I first read it a few months ago in Barbados when I was on vacation with my family over the winter break. I was outside on a terrace, soaking in the sun, listening to the waves. I couldn’t have asked for a better setting to read a good book.

I didn’t move until I’d finished the very last page. It had me moved deeply by stirring within me a range of powerful emotions — from joy to sorrow and from empathy to pathos. This book has not only captivated and entertained me but also helped me evolve, with its universal messages of tolerance, acceptance and hope, that transcend cultures and countries.


If the book you're defending wins the competition, how will you celebrate?


By making sure to let my wife know just how smart I must be. I kid. A glass of wine and a chat with Michael (Winter) thanking him for letting me defend his book and hopefully doing it proud.


If The Illegal wins Canada Reads, I will celebrate by knowing that so many Canadians are going to pick up this book and have a greater grasp on the struggle, and the humanity that will be brought to the struggle by every person that reads this book. The struggle that is a worldwide one of displaced people, of people who have been forced to flee. I’ll take such peace and gratitude in knowing that we are deeply connected.

I wouldn’t treat myself. For me, if The Illegal wins Canada Reads, it’s kind of like the day after winning an Olympic medal. You wake up, you look at the thing beside you — in this case it will be the book — and it’ll be like, whoa! I can’t believe we really pulled it off!


With a double toast first to Saleema for writing the book and then to CBC for giving me the opportunity to defend it.


I will travel up to northern Alberta to celebrate the win with the Cree people and Tracey’s
family. I would be so happy for them. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate. I’m trying to get up there before the competition to meet her elders and get their blessing.


Of course we are all playing to win. We each feel we have the book that all of Canada should read. However, the fact that we are celebrating these great literary works on a platform such as Canada Reads is a celebration in itself.

If I do win, I’d like to celebrate by trying my best to promote the book among new readers. I’d love to have an event with the author, Anita Rau Badami, where we can do a reading, interact with lovers of this book and get their take.

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