Update: Ru by Kim Thúy has won Canada Reads 2015. Congratulations to the author and the book’s defender, Cameron Bailey.


I, like the panelists, must preface this by saying that all five books featured on Canada Reads 2015 belong on the show.

          That’s not up for debate.

What’s up for debate is this question:

          Out of the five, which book is the one to break barriers?

…over the others. Let’s be honest. In one way or another, these books break barriers or they wouldn’t be here. These barriers are social. Social constructions that are built up to help organize the world we live in but also act as a restraint. It prevents us from moving beyond the label despite being more than just one thing.

Islamophobia, Xenophobia, Homophobia, Ageism, Racism etc are ways in which barriers harm us, suffocate us and weaken us as a people and as a nation, whether in Canada or elsewhere in the world. However, context is the key and Canada Reads 2015 is in the Canadian context and is asking us about the barriers today.

I’ve been watching the debates and was even at the live taping of the Day Two show this past Tuesday. As I sit here writing this up before the finale commencing on Thursday, I can’t help but wonder if barrier breaking in the debate has been explored and challenged in its fullest.

Form and style are important, of course, because it helps dictate the individual’s experience in their consumption of ideas. It also informs how the author wants their message delievered whether it’s a quiet lullaby, an in your face demand or some humour to help soften some otherwise crushing blows.

Form is important.

Style is important.

This is why I thought attacking a book for its vulgarity, its graphic nature, because it would turn people off and make them feel un-com-fort-able, was surprising. When Everything Feels Like The Movies by Raziel Ried should be uncomfortable. It shouldn’t be easy or relatable to EVERYONE in Canada because not EVERYONE deals with the issues presented.

Barriers  s e p e r a t e.

An individual is a brick in a very large wall aka Society. So to break a barrier, you need to get through that pesky wall. There are ways to do it.

You can slowly remove a brick. Lull individuals into shunning the wall like a pied piper.

Or you can grab a sledge hammer. Punch through the wall until the bricks shake and quiver into understanding the role they play in keeping the wall erect.

Both are valid. Sometimes a lullaby is great. Punching through can get exhausting if the solutions aren’t appearing immediately.

Sometimes, there’s been 500 years of lulling the wall down that a sledge hammer will have to do instead.

URGENCY! is another point. It’s no longer breaking the barrier but the barrier itself. Which one is thickening? At what speed? Is the immigrant experience more important than homophobia than the treatment of aboriginal peoples than the of dangerous of othering of Middle East/Arabs/Muslims people? Is the mistreatment of the elderly too bland in comparison?

?IGNORANCE? is another aspect to the barrier.

do? canadians? even? know? it? exists?

It’s shameful how much we don’t know about the plight of the First Nations and aboriginal peoples. History should be known if we don’t want to be doomed into repeating it. Well, it’s hard to repeat something that hasn’t really ended and the treatment of Aboriginals is generational, ongoing and chronic. Yes, Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda won last year but should we limit the number of times “the Aboriginal issue” gets brought up?

Host and moderator, Wab Kinew, brought up Privilege on Day Three. It appeared that some of the panelists were ill equiped to unpack it and discuss it. It was called irrelevant. Political. It was to be swept away in this debate about books. About literature and beauty…


In a debate about breaking barriers, Privilege is the MOST important conversation to have. I described barriers as walls that close in on us…

…Privilege is being able to sit on top of these walls and watch those below scramble. Privilege isn’t physical materials unless we’re discussing economic privilege: held by the rich and out of reach for the poor. Privilege is in race (white), gender (man), sexuality (straight), gender identification (cis gender), abilities (able bodied), familial make up (heteronormative/both parent/biological) and so on.

Privilege is reaping the rewards of barrier building.


We all

have it.

You’re black but you’re straight. You hold Privilege over someone who is queer.

You’re aboriginal but you’re able bodied. You have Privilege over those who are disabled.

You’re a woman, you’re poor but you were born female and identify as female. You have Privilege over a transgender person.

To say that something is too political to be included in a discussion about books is hilarious given the debate is about barriers. Barriers are inherently political because politics is life. It’s issue we want to fight for because they effect us but the moment they don’t, we flee. T O O P O L I T I C A L in gritted teeth. Not for me.

Really? Then let’s break that barrier, shall we?