Perhaps you could call me old-fashioned. Yes, I think technology is awesome. I think it’s transforming the world of information in fascinating ways. But to be honest, a big reason why I decided to pursue a career in LIS is because I like to read. A lot. About many different things. And because I feel strongly about the importance of literacy skills and critical thinking, even – and especially – in the age of Google.
Those are also the reasons why I love listening to the Canada Reads debates on CBC every year.In case you’re not familiar with them, here’s how they work: Five Canadian celebrity panelists each pick a Canadian book to defend in a debate on CBC Radio. In recent years, they have been thematic, such as non-fiction books or “Turf Wars,” with different books representing different regions of the country. Each day, Jian Ghomeshi, the host, asks questions that promote debate among the panelists and require them to effectively defend their books. Based on what they hear, the public can recommend that the panelists eliminate a specific book, but it’s ultimately up to the panelists to decide which book they would like to see eliminated. Panelists whose books have been eliminated continue to participate in debates, supporting books they like or critiquing ones that they don’t, and they also continue to vote. On Day 4, the winner is announced as “the book that all Canadians should read.”This year, the theme is: One Novel to Change Our Nation. This year’s selections are: The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, Cockroach by Rawi Hage, and Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Respectively, they are being defended by Stephen Lewis, Wab Kinew, Donovan Bailey, Samantha Bee, and Sarah Gadon. The Year of the Flood was eliminated yesterday, and Half-Blood Blues was eliminated today.This year’s novels take on an impressive range of issues, including the environment, the aboriginal experience, the immigrant experience, racial profiling, and gender roles (you can read more about the novels and their defenders here). It may be down to The Orenda, Cockroach, and Annabel, but really, I believe that any of these books could help change our country for the better. I often wonder what, if anything, is capable of triggering international action on climate change. In the wake of the Loretta Saunders tragedy, with all of its cruel irony, a lot of Canadians are thinking about the plights of aboriginals, especially aboriginal women, and rightly so. Racism continues to limit human dignity and equal opportunity in just about every country, and Canada is no exception. Immigrants’ academic and professional credentials often go unrecognized, which I personally believe is a disgrace. The controversy over the “genderless” baby Storm in 2011 shows that there is still progress to be made when it comes to how we treat people who transcend the traditional male/female gender binary. So, any one of these books can play an important role in facilitating dialogue on a contemporary social issue. And I think that all of those issues deserve attention.This is why continue to need books, regardless of format. Books have ideas. Ideas are at the root of all progress. Even the most vile and hateful ideas are capable of facilitating progress because of the backlash that they promote. So, we need to keep ideas going. When the flow of ideas stops, human progress also stops. As long as we have books, humans will continue to mean something.So, I guess that in the end, I didn’t just decide to become a librarian because I love to read. I chose this line of work because I want to help people continue to be human – to read, to think critically, to create, to share ideas. In an age of rapidly evolving technologies, we can’t afford to surrender the qualities and capabilities that set us apart from machines. And so I say: Here’s to five Canadian books that help us to continue to mean something.