Essex County voted out for all the wrong reasons

I love that Canada Reads is now available in video format, and filmed in front of a live studio audience.  It was extremely enjoyable to watch the debates.  Here are a few things I noticed:

  •  Ali Velshi took notes while every panellist was speaking.  He’s very serious about this!  I’d love to see what his notes look like! 
  • I also enjoyed seeing Sara Quin’s copy of Essex County filled with sticky notes. 
  • I wish Georges Laraque would stop ending almost every sentence with “and stuff” (this happens to be a pet peeve of mine).    It makes it difficult for me to take what he’s saying seriously.

Sara Quinn defended Jeff Lemire's Essex County. Image courtesy of CBC.

I was disappointed but not surprised that Essex County was the first one voted off.  While I’ve mentioned before my love for all of the books (I don’t have a favourite to win since they’re all good), I was very disappointed in the reasoning behind voting Essex County off.  A lot of the panellists seemed to be thrown off by its format and most of their arguments for voting it off didn’t make sense to me.  Debbie Travis complained about its “lack of words.”  That to me, is not an argument.  I think the way Jeff Lemire used his words is very important to the story and the way he used them in combination with the art.  Lorne Cardinal felt that it wasn’t a “novel” but more of a “collection of short stories.”  I also don’t agree with that argument because of the books that have been featured on Canada Reads in the past.  Did he forget about Whylah Falls by George Elliot Clarke from the 2002 Canada Reads?  Whylah Falls is a collection of poetry  which came head to head with the eventual winner (and one of my favourite books), Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion.

It was just unfortunate that so much of the debates around Essex County focused on the format and not the content.  It’s a beautiful book and I am going to recommend it to all of my friends.  I thought Sara Quin was an excellent panellist.  She’s intelligent, articulate and makes excellent arguments.  She’s probably right in that Canada is just a little behind.  In the United States they’re already recognizing graphic novels as a legitimate form of novel and she cited several examples including Persepolis, another of my favourites.  With that said, she was very graceful about the book being voted off and I agree that it was a huge step just having it make it to the top 5.

The confessionals were also interesting.  I didn’t like what Georges Laraque had to say about Sara Quin.  He seemed to think she voted for The Bone Cage because she didn’t understand it, whereas I think it was just strategic.  The Bone Cage and Essex County were the two underdogs so it makes sense to me why she would vote for The Bone Cage.  I was also disheartened by Laraque’s insistence that Essex County should never have even been on the list.  I strongly disagree.  Canadians voted it onto the list and this is Canada Reads right?

Finally, I’m interested to hear which book Debbie Travis didn’t finish because it “wasn’t well written.”  Even so, as a panellist I still think she should have finished it.  It makes it hard to argue against a book when you don’t know what you’re talking about.  Anyway, we’ll see how today’s debates go!

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