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St. Albert set to debate Canada Reads

Canada Reads is the CBC’s annual battle of the books but St. Albert has its own version with local celebrities defending the same five books.

It’s book against book against book in this battle royale. The good news is that the contest is pretty friendly and no pages will be torn.

Canada Reads is CBC Radio’s annual battle during which five books will be defended by five different Canadian personalities. The program whittles down the competition one by one over five programs until the last one is deemed the champion. Here in this city, the St. Albert Public Library is taking up the gauntlet for the fourth year and producing its own one-night-only version with five different local literary combatants.

This year’s theme is “One Book to Move You” and already the air is electric at the library.

“It’s getting very exciting. It’s one of my favourite programs,” said Michelle Steinhusen, the library’s adult services librarian and the host for the evening.

“We’ve had lots of people registered already and our panellists are very excited about their books.”

This year, these are the books and their respective defenders:

The Woo Woo by Lindsay Wong is described as a darkly comedic memoir about an extended but dysfunctional Asian family that deals as best as it can with the effects of some of them affected by serious psychiatric conditions. It will be defended by St. Albert-raised poet Curtis LeBlanc;

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen is the author’s account of his Orthodox Jewish family’s forced extraction from their home by Hungarian Nazis, and taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Strange and brutal circumstances saved him, leading him to Canada where he has spent more than 20 years teaching about the Holocaust, including donating portions of the proceeds from the book to institutions that promote tolerance. The book was a finalist for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize. It will be defended by Musee Heritage Museum’s Aboriginal programmer Celina Loyer;

Suzanne by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette is about the grandmother the author never knew. The titular Suzanne was a poet associated with the Les Automatistes movement during a tumultuous time in Quebec’s social and political scene. With the help of a private detective, the author reconstructed the events of her ancestor’s interesting life. It will be defended by Edmonton Public Library’s 2019 writer in residence Matthew Stepanic;

Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung is the non-fiction account of al Rabeeah’s story of his family moving from the unrest of Iraq to Syria, right before the civil war started. The story of finding stability in the midst of chaos was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction. It will be defended by Bellerose High School English teacher Stephen Womack; and

Brother by David Chariandy is the story of sons of Trinidadian immigrants in Canada. After their father disappears, their mother works ever harder to afford the realization of the dreams they originally sought, while they struggle with the challenges of a new country and the new cultural challenges that come with it. The book won the 2017 Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was on the longlist for the 2017 Giller. Look for it in film version with an upcoming screen adaptation. It will be defended by actor/activist and returning champion Jesse Lipscombe.

Stepanic is bringing his A game to the show having not only read his assigned title but also done tons of background research. Suzanne, he said, has much to teach us all.

“In one interview, she talks about how this book helped her work towards forgiveness because she spent most of her life wondering, ‘Why did my grandmother leave me? What was her life like? What was she inspired by?’ She’s hoping that in the same way that it’s allowed her to repair her story and fill in the missing holes that she thinks it’ll help readers start looking at their own minds and try to repair their stories and fill in those narratives or try to understand other members of their family better,” he said.

The writer himself looks forward to the challenge of defending his title while learning more about the others.

“The tough part of doing this is that I see value in all the books that are on the list this year. It’s a really good collection for Canada Reads.”

The great debate takes place starting at 7 p.m. on Friday, March 22. Attendance is free but spaces are filling up fast. Call the library at 780-459-1530 or visit to save your seat. Details of the five books can also be found on the SAPL’s Readers’ Blog, found under the Readers’ Corner tab on the library’s homepage.

Scott Hayes

About the Author: Scott Hayes

Scott Hayes joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2008. Scott writes about the arts, entertainment, movies, culture, community groups, and charities. He also writes general news, features, columns and profiles on people.
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