Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

CBC Canada Reads Interview Series: Samantha Bee

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Samantha Bee

As Toronto begins to thaw, the literary scene is heating up too, with the year's hottest book competition, CBC Canada Reads, just around the corner.

Open Book is thrilled to host Q&As with Canada Reads panellists and authors once again this year. Today we are speaking with panellist Samantha Bee, who chose Montreal writer Rawi Hage's dark and decorated novel, Cockroach (House of Anansi) to defend in the competition. Cockroach is one of only a handful of books to have performed a Canadian literary hat trick, having been nominated for each of The Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Samantha, who has achieved international success as a fan favourite on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, has also worked as an acclaimed actress and stand up comedian. Today she tells us about where she likes to read, her strategy for the debates and what meeting Rawi was like.

Hosted by CBC personality and author Jian Ghomeshi, Canada Reads pits five fantastic Canadian books against one another in a (mostly) friendly competition, with each book championed by a Canadian celebrity in a series of broadcast debates. The 2014 debates run from March 3-6 and are centred around the theme of "What is the book that could change Canada?".

Stay tuned to Open Book: Toronto for interviews with more of the Canada Reads panellists and authors as the debates approach!

Open Book:

Tell us about why you chose this particular book as "the book to change Canada".

Samantha Bee:

I chose this book as a book to change Canada because I think change can happen in the smallest of ways. I think it's a really interesting exercise in drawing back the curtain and exploring the otherness of people who would otherwise be kind of invisible in our lives.


What is your strategy going into the debates? Is "all fair" in books and war?


I'm not really like that – I'm not really cutthroat about stuff like that, so I'm just going to try to roll with it. My strategy is go with the flow.


Where were you the first time you read your selected book?


I was in my bed. I really only read on airplanes and in bed.


What was it like meeting the author of your book? Did you know one another previously? How would you describe the author?


I had never met my author before. We met on the day that Canada Reads launched. I would describe him as shy — I found him shy. I found him very enjoyable, he's a very interesting person; he's had a very interesting life. And it was fun to work on drawing him out. I don't think he often likes to talk about his work and his books — that's my general impression. So it was interesting drawing that out.


Apart from your chosen book and the others in the competition, tell us about another book you'd love to see all of Canada reading.


Everyone should read a George Saunders book. Pick whichever book you like, they're just fantastic. First of all, is a great book. He is phenomenal. Civilwarland in Bad Decline is great. It's just a great book of short stories — it's very contemporary, a totally contemporary voice. They are perfect short stories. The first story in The Tenth of December — because I read in bed — it woke me up so hard. It was so gripping and horrifying and hilarious. Mostly horrifying. It woke me up, I couldn't sleep. I was so unsettled by it…. It's an incredible short story, it's unstoppable. He's the master at the craft. He's the current reigning world champion short story writer.


If your writer wins the competition, how will you celebrate?


I will celebrate by going home to my kids! I don't think [Rawi] will be [at the debates], will he? [CBC rep: 'We fly him in if you win']. Oh! Maybe we would get lunch then. That's what I like to do, I like to eat. Or maybe we would just bask in our own glory.

Samantha Bee was born and raised in Toronto Canada and understands that, yes, it's very clean there. Having no appreciable skill set or professional aspirations, she turned to acting and found it compatible with her lazy lifestyle. She began her career by doing numerous commercial campaigns, as well as participating in the all-female sketch troupe The Atomic Fireballs. In 2003 she joined the cast of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" and now holds the title of Most Senior Correspondent, having systematically eliminated all those before her.

In addition to her work on "The Daily Show," Bee can be seen opposite her husband Jason Jones in the feature film "Cooper's Camera," in the upcoming feature "Motherhood," and has most recently filmed a tiny part in a Woody Allen film, which she is praying won't be cut. Bee is the recipient of the 2005 Canadian Comedy Award for "Pretty Funny Female," but nobody ever thought to send her the statue.

For more information about Cockroach please visit the House of Anansi website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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