They’re back. After a three-year hiatus, St. Albert Public Library's in-person version of Canada Reads returns Friday, March 24.
It’s a riff on CBC Canada Reads, where five Canadian celebrities debate the merits of five books. This year’s theme is “one book to shift your perspective.” The CBC book debates will be livestreamed from March 27 to 30.
St. Albert Public Library has joined the debate since 2016, with CBC's choice of five books and homegrown celebrities to fuel the literary discussion.
“St. Albert readers haven’t always picked the same winner as CBC listeners. That’s why we do ours first — so there’s no influence,” said Michelle Steinhusen, the debate host.
This year's local panellists are Paul Shamchuk, an English teacher at Paul Kane High School; Curtis LeBlanc, poet, novelist, publisher; Kelsey Robbins, Outloud organizer; Celin Caruso Dixon, author; and Celina Loyer, visual artist.
Shamchuk will defend Kate Beaton’s graphic novel, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, a beautifully illustrated book of loneliness, isolation and the harsh realities of working in Alberta's oilsands.
“It’s in graphic novel format, but it’s quite a meaty book. Katie worked in Fort McMurray for a couple of years, and it chronicles her experience. It’s about how people from the East Coast come to Alberta to make money and what they encounter,” Steinhusen said.
LeBlanc selected Michael Christie’s futuristic Greenwood, where Jake Greenwood is a tour guide to super-rich tourists on a British Columbia island that serves as the world’s last remaining forest after an environmental collapse.
“It’s one of two dystopian novels this year and moves backwards and forwards in time.”
Robbins has chosen a book that documents Canada’s immigration past. Dimitri Nasrallah’s relatable novel Hotline is a story detailing the difficulties of finding a good job and making the best of difficult circumstances.
“It’s fiction, but it’s inspired by the author’s mother. She came to Canada in the 1980s. In the book, Muna has left Lebanon during the civil war for Montreal and the only job she could find is at a hotline for weight loss. There she hears personal stories from strangers.”
Caruso Dixon opted for Silvia Moreno-Garci's Mexican Gothic, a feminist Gothic novel that takes place in 1950s Mexico. Through the tale of horror, Morena-Garcia explores a world of corruption, racism, colonization, class disparity and abuse of women.
“The author writes about unilateral change at a time when women didn’t have the vote. She gives it a horror framework. It's very creepy and scary and reminds me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.”
And Loyer, a three-time panelist and two-time champion, chose Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, a tale of a post-apocalyptic world where a flu virus has wiped out large swaths of population.
“It starts with a Shakespearean play when an actor collapses onstage and dies. The flu takes out a lot of the population and it shows how separate characters are connected afterwards and framed through a troupe travelling across the country performing Shakespeare.”
The one element Steinhusen believes will help win the debate is a panellist’s passion and presentation in defending their book.
“I’ve been hosting it every year except for one. It’s a lot of fun. The debate is quite witty. It can get snippy, but it’s all good fun. There’s ribbing and teasing, and best of all, the audience gets to participate.”
The 2023 champion will be decided by an audience vote on paper ballots. The event is on Friday, March 24 at St. Albert’s Public Library. Doors open at 6:40 p.m. and the debate starts at 7 p.m. Registration is recommended at www.sapl.ca.