Full house for page-turning County Reads and County Reads More events


County Live

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison

Five well-known County residents enthusiastically championed their favourite Canadian book Thursday night in an exciting page-turning evening.

With a who’s who of County authors, writers, publishers and literary fans, The Waring Hall welcomed an impressively-large crowd with standing room only for any late-comers.

Now in its ninth year, The County Reads and County Reads More events replaced the County Authors Festival which is on hiatus this year. The revampe event featured the headline event, along with special events over the weekend and more to come throughout the year.

A new component to The County Reads this year was The County Reads Junior.

“Our librarian Whitney Shantz conceived this idea quite a few years ago, so we are grateful to her,” said John Ambrose, Chair of the Board of the Library of Prince Edward County.

In partnership with Saint Gregory Catholic School, students from Grades 7 and 8 recorded a short video defending a Canadian title they felt strongly about with the winning video shown during The County Reads event. Shortlisted were Angelina Bonato defending The Incredible Space Raiders from Space by Wesley King, Alice Graham with Speechless by Jennifer Mook-Sang and Joseph Spinosa championed Superbodies by Greg Wells.

Alice Graham was declared the winner of the first County Reads Junior event, championing “Speechless” by Jennifer Mook-Sang. Her Facebook video had more than 1,000 views. The videos are posted on the library’s Facebook page (facebook.com/peclibrary) and on the Youtube channel, select the County Reads JR 2018 playlist. – PEC Library photo

Alice Graham, Grade 7, was declared the winner with more than 1,000 views of her video defending ‘Speechless’ written by Jennifer Mook-Sang.

“It’s a great book for all ages as it relatable,” said Graham via video. “Every chapter is exciting. The author did a great job of creating it all – it’s funny and happy and sad and everything, I think that was a great job.”

Ambrose gave brief introductions and credited the event’s success to the many people involved with The County Reads including the organizing committee, the debaters and the moderator.

“It doesn’t happen by accident. There are a lot of people involved,” said Ambrose. “There is a special person here I want to single out for special treatment, Anne Preston. She has worked on this for seven years to see it grow to this level. It didn’t start out as successful or as populated, but this is what she created, so thank you.”

This year’s County Reads events was a fundraiser for the Picton branch library expansion project. Local businesswoman Alexandra Bake was introduced as the Honorary Chair of Fundraising for the project.

“After 110 years, we are on the brink of expanding our Picton branch and even with volunteers and donations, it comes with money,” said Ambrose.

Local author, radio presenter and teacher Ken Murray moderated the evening’s debate which began with a brief introduction of each author. Presenters were allotted just five minutes to persuade the audience why their book should be selected as the “must-read” book of the year. Murray kept his bell close at hand for anyone daring to go over the permitted time.

Sarah Selecky started the evening off with Son of a Trickster written by Giller short-listed author Eden Robinson. The book, the first in the trickster trilogy, blends humour with heart-break in a compelling coming-of-age novel. Everyday teen existence meets indigenous beliefs, crazy family dynamics and a cannibalistic river otter.

Writer, musician and playwright Conrad Beaubien debated Robbie Robertson’s Testimony and heard several dings of the bell, signifying the end of his allotted time. Testimony is about Robertson’s spell-binding story of the band that changed music history; his extraordinary personal journey, and his creative friendships with some of the greatest artists of the last half-century.

County-born and County-raised Ray Hobson championed The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron; lawyer Shelagh Mathers defended The River written by Helen Humphreys and artist Krista Dalby’s choice was Glory by Gillian Wigmore.

The Last Neanderththal speaks to the last family of Neanderthals who roamed the earth some 40,000 years ago and is a journey in an unforgiveable landscape where a girl attempts to save her people at some sacrifice to herself.

“This book was first published in spring 2017. Neanderthals were about 5 foot, 7 inches, 150 pounds; their brain was large and slow-growing like ours,” said Hobson. “They have been extinct for 40,000 years.” Believe me, The Last Neanderthal is thought-provoking and hard to put down and worth reading. The story is action-filled and spiritual.”

The River, defended by Mathers, is described as a moving meditation that uses fiction, non-fiction, natural history, archival maps and images to get at the truth.

Dalby debated Wigmore’s debut novel about a couple starting anew in a boom town dominated by a man-eating lake. She too heard the ringing of the moderator’s bell.

Following, each author was given a further 30 seconds to recount their book. Murray questioned the authors and wanted to know about their favourite book of all time and asked what book had they had read that had changed them.

Beaubien come up with the Life of Leonard of Cohen and Dalby picked a book from childhood, Charlotte’s Web.

“When I was a child, I actually read so much my parents grounded me from reading,” said Dalby to much laughter.

Murray asked “What would you ask the author of the book you are defending?”, then asked the presenters to share a question that ran through their mind when they read the books”

Dalby spoke to the resilience of the characters in her chosen book and her question was, “Are they [the characters] going to be OK? I felt it was very emotional high stakes for two of the characters and I wanted to know are they are to be OK. It’s a very haunting book so I did think about it a lot afterwards,” she added.

Mathers stated she had read her book four times “and still haven’t read it all.”

Hobson’s question was, “Is this real and how much of it is real?”

Selecky added, it was “not like anything else I’ve ever read.”

Beaubien said here’s the question that runs through the story: “How did four Canadian musicians from places like Windsor, Simcoe and Stratford, Ontario along with a player from Arkansas who in 1968, how did they come to influence the music?”

The presentations were interesting, engaging and humorous; some presenters quoted paragraphs from their book and all gave a personal plea of why their book is brilliant and must win.

With each author given one final minute to push, Selecky said of Son of a Trickster, “isn’t heavy, nor is not light. It crosses boundaries; it makes you laugh, teaches about the universe, makes you see things differently and tells a beautiful magical story. You will not be disappointed.”

Dalby’s final words on her book choice were, “Glory is a beautifully written compelling book and does what all great books do, it peers into the corners of the heart and mind revealing to us humanity in all its messy, complicated and redemptive worlds. It features imperfect and compelling female protagonists trying to find themselves and in reading their story, we find a piece of ourselves as well. It is a deeply Canadian book and there is no mistaking that this story could take place anywhere else and even when its characters are at their most forlorn, Wigmore reminds us that in a small town, you are never really alone.”

Shelagh Mathers championed the winning book – The River, written by Helen Humphreys

As the wine flowed, the winner of the 2018 The County Reads, decided by audience ballot vote, selected Shelagh Mathers’ book choice The River.

Two County publishers and several authors were also in attendance located at tables around the room showcasing their wares including Invisible Publishing, Cressy Lakeside Publishing, County Kids Read, Janet Kellough, Brad Turner, Roz Bound, Kristin Basso, Ken Murray, Karen Palmer, Laurie Scott and Robin Timmerman.

County Reads More events continued Friday with the Dorothy Speirs-Vincent Rendez-Vous Series presentation by Roch Carrier. Also on Friday was forensic anthropologist Debra Komar discussing her latest book, Black River Road, at the Picton Library.

Sunday, author Tim Falconer and singer-songwriter Tyler Ellis explored the culture, science, joy and the gut-wrenching fear of raising your voice in song.

Also on Sunday, authors Catherine Graham (The Celery Forest, Quarry), Brad Smith (The Return of Kid Cooper) and Rosemary Sullivan (Stalin’s Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliuyeva) spoke about their work and engaged in a panel discussion with moderator Ken Murray at the Picton Town Hall.

Proceeds from all events went to the Picton branch library expansion project. For those wishing to donate, visit peclibrary.org/expansion.

Graphic novelist Kean Soo had a rapt audience of students, teachers and members of County Kids Read for a special presentation for Grade 5 students at Queen Elizabeth Public School on Thursday. He explained how he came to be an author, and the mechanics of being a graphic novelist. Soo settled in Canada, where he planned to embark on a career in electrical engineering. However, he discovered that he’d rather draw comics instead. Kean began posting his comics on the internet in 2002, and later became an assistant editor and regular contributor to the all-ages FLiGHT anthologies. His online work has been nominated for several awards, including an Eisner Award nomination for Jellaby. His latest graphic novel is March Grand Prix: the Fast and the Furriest. The visit was made possible by County Kids Read and the County of Prince Edward Public Library.