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CBC Canada Reads 2014 - The Halfway Mark!

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CBC Canada Reads 2014

Spoilers ahead for CBC Canada Reads!

Three books still standing — after two days of intense discussion, spoken word poetry as debate and surprising votes, two books have been ousted from the 2014 CBC Canada Reads competition.

First to go was Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood, a fan favourite that left many viewers and listeners shocked at the CanLit icon's early removal. Defended by humanitarian Stephen Lewis, the book draws attention to the issue of climate change via its dystopian vision. It was nearly a split vote, with panellist Wab Kinew forced into the decision maker's role. After deliberating, he eliminated The Year of the Flood (rather than Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues, defended by Olympian Donovan Bailey), saying he didn't believe it to be as strong as its competitors in terms of literary merit.

Day Two kicked off with last year's victorious panellist, Trent McClellan, warming up the crowd. As he welcomed the panellists and host Jian Ghomeshi it seemed that this year's panel has gelled well. They sat bantering before the taping began, with comedian Samantha Bee, who is championing Montreal author Rawi Hage's Cockroach, saying "Advertsity brings us together". Kinew agreed, wryly echoing her sentiment: "Through conflict comes closeness".

Bee also pointed out that her mother had come to Toronto to attend the debates and was in the audience, at which point Ghomeshi said, "Now I want you to win because your mom is here," prompting actress Sarah Gadon (who is defending Kathleen Winter's Annabel) to quip, "My mom is here too!"

"Our moms will fight it out," said Bee.

Each panellist was given 30 seconds to explain why his or her book is the book that all of Canada should read. Kinew, who is defending Joseph Boyden's bestseller, The Orenda, once again employed spoken word (as on Day One) to get his point across, using the refrain "If you're an environment defender, you must choose The Orenda".

As the talk turned to debate, Kinew admitted, "I feel like I painted a big target on my forehead [on Day One]." And indeed, it does seem as though The Orenda is a front-runner, with Kinew tackling various criticisms through the morning, including Lewis' concern that the novel's important message might be lost in or muddled by the book's extreme violence, which Lewis referred to as "tortuous pornography". Gadon raised questions about the attention paid to Boyden's female characters and the missed opportunities there.

Lewis also expressed polite disbelief that Kinew's decision to vote off heavy-hitter The Year of the Flood was not strategic. Gadon for her part admitted that strategy is part of the process, saying "It's a competition".

Gadon's own chosen title, Annabel was placed in the crosshairs too, with Kinew criticising Winter's choice to use the word "hermaphrodite" rather than the preferred "intersex" to describe the main character. Gadon returned that the term was appropriate for the novel's historical context, being set in Newfoundland in the 1960s and 1970s. Gadon was also grilled on the novel's "tidy" ending. "Change can come from a positive place," she said, and she got an unexpected ally in Bee, who agreed that the novel's hopeful close worked for her too. "It's a tidy package, yes," she said, "But a message of positivity is so necessary. I needed it [as a reader]."

Cockroach was taken to task for the opposite issue, with some panellists feeling its darkness could read as relentlessly negativity. Bee was set to passionately defend the criticism when time ran out. Bailey also called into question Cockroach's selling point in the debate, which is its unflinching depiction of the immigrant experience. "I don't think it's a true depiction of the immigrant experience," he said, leaving many guests eager to hear Bee's response tomorrow.

When casting her vote, Gadon said she didn't vote against Cockroach because she wanted to hear Bee's defence. "I want it to be fair," she said. In fact, Cockroach was the only title that didn't receive a single elimination vote.

Day Two Final Votes:

Wab Kinew voted to eliminate Annabel by Kathleen Winter, defended by Sarah Gadon

Samantha Bee voted to eliminate Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, defended by Donovan Bailey

Stephen Lewis voted to eliminate Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, defended by Donovan Bailey

Sarah Gadon voted to eliminate Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, defended by Donovan Bailey

Donovan Bailey voted to eliminate The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, defended by Wab Kinew

The remaining titles going into Day Three are:

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, defended by Wab Kinew

Annabel by Kathleen Winter, defended by Sarah Gadon

Cockroach by Rawi Hage, defended by Samantha Bee

We'll be back with coverage of the final two days later this week! Stay tuned to Open Book for Canada Reads news, or visit the CBC website for more information and to cast your own vote as to which book should be bumped off next!

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