North by Northwest host Sheryl MacKay is mediating the inaugural Gabriola Reads on Oct. 3. (Photo courtesy CBC Vancouver)

Gabriola Arts Council presents first ‘Gabriola Reads’ literary showdown

Event to be hosted by Sheryl MacKay of CBC’s North by Northwest

A quintet of Gabriola Island readers are convening to determine the quintessential Canadian novel.

On Oct. 3 the Gabriola Arts Council presents Gabriola Reads, a book discussion in which five panelists will argue that their chosen book is quintessentially Canadian, with the winner to be selected by audience ballot. The event, being held at Gabriola Island Community Hall, is modelled on the CBC program Canada Reads.

Artist Carolyn Bell will be championing Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, Gabriola Sounder publisher Sarah Holmes will defend past Canada Reads winner A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, photographer Chris Straw will promote Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse, photographer Steve Struthers is championing The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by Wayne Johnston and Megan Wurster, who works in higher education, is defending Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart. Each panelist will speak about their book and have the chance to offer rebuttals of other books. The event will also feature a book raffle to benefit the Gabriola Elementary School library.

“We’re really hoping that this will be the first of an annual tradition,” GAC executive director Michelle Benjamin said.

Sheryl MacKay, host of CBC arts and culture program North by Northwest, will serve as the Gabriola Reads host “or perhaps referee,” Benjamin said.

“I don’t know if there’s anybody who knows the arts scene in the province as well as Sheryl MacKay and she’s such an articulate and just strong advocate for all of the arts – literary and otherwise,” Benjamin said.

MacKay said she was “immediately on board” when she was approached to participate in Gabriola Reads and she expects an interesting discussion.

She said many criteria come to mind when it comes to defining a book as quintessentially Canadian and that “it’s a tall order” for any one novel to be broad enough to capture all the elements that speak to the Canadian experience.

“There’s also, perhaps, a Canadian point of view,” MacKay said. “And how would you go about clarifying that or identifying or characterizing that? I’m not really sure, but maybe it’s one of those things that you know when you read it: ‘Yes, this has a Canadian voice,’ as opposed to a British voice or an American voice.”

MacKay said the books are all provocative choices and she doesn’t envy the panellists their job of proving that their choice is the most Canadian. She said the audience has a tough job as well.

“All those people I know are very compelling speakers so I think the audience is going to have a hard time choosing,” she said.

While MacKay is on Gabriola next week she’ll also be visiting and interviewing artists in their studios and workshops for a special all-Gabriola episode of North by Northwest on Oct. 6.

WHAT’S ON … Gabriola Reads takes place at Gabriola Island Community Hall, 2200 South Rd., on Thursday, Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at North Road Sports and

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