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Joan McBride presents County Reads’ book of the year

UPDATE: And the winner is…Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr, presented by Joan McBride.

Story by Sharon Harrison
The County Reads Authors Festival 2020 looked and felt a little different this year. While the physical public event had to be shelved due to the COVID-19 outbreak, County Reads took place via the radio waves thanks to the Prince Edward County Public Library and 99.3 County FM who partnered for the event.

The popular annual event, which usually consists of several elements over several days leading up to, and culminating in, the live and lively debate, had to take a new direction due to the outbreak.

While the banter of friendly competition and live debate were missing this year, four personalities were able to present four book titles, which they each attempted to strongly and eloquently defend.

In its 11th year, the much-anticipated and much-loved event, hosted by County FMs Lynn Pickering, welcomed presenters Joan McBride, Duncan Payne, Shannon Coull and Richard Johnson.

There were a few similarities to previous years, not least welcoming back moderator, Ken Murray.

“In this new format, we are going to retain a lot of the old format that we do when we do this event in person,” said Murray. He invited the four presenters to imagine they were sitting on a stage in front of 200 or 300 people who want to hear everything they have to say.

“County Reads is the show by the Prince Edward County Public Library which asks, ‘What is the one book you should read right now, this year?’” he said.

This year’s titles included The Marrow Thieves written by Cherie Dimaline, presented by Duncan Payne; A Girl Named Lovely written by Catherine Porter, presented by Shannon Coull; Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr written by Grant Hayter-Menzies, presented by Joan McBride; and Bush Runner written by Mark Bourrie, presented by Richard Johnston.

Each contestant had five minutes to convince listeners why their book of choice is the book County readers should declare the winner. Murray then asked each presenter one question (the same question for each, but not known in advance), before allowing them one further minute for a final pitch of their book.

Names were randomly selected with Joan McBride first to begin.

Joan McBride

Murray described McBride as a professional actor who has lived in Prince Edward County since 2014. “She loves being in the studio for voice-over work almost as much as she loves being on stage,” he said. McBride creates and directs the annual Remembrance Day Jazz Vespers and the popular series Christmas Stories, Songs and Cookies at St. Mary Magdalene Church.

McBride describes Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr as a ‘fabulous biography’ and one that left her, ‘wanting to read the book again as soon as it was finished’. “Like a good theatre production or a concert, one can never fully absorb all that is meaningful and inspiring in the first experience of that artistic expression,” gushes McBride. “Hayter-Menzies’ writng, and indeed his captivating subject matter, leaves one wanting to know more.”

McBride describes Emily Carr (1871-1945) as a true visionary. “And, like her namesake, Emily Dickinson, a remarkable woman born out of her time. A post-impressionist and modernist painter, writer and thinker, a champion of First Nations’ peoples, an advocate for social justice and an environmentalist.”

“A Javanese macaque monkey called Woo whom Carr adopted in 1923 has become inextricably linked with Carr in the popular imagination,” explains McBride. “By welcoming the mischievous Woo into her life, Carr also welcomed a freedom that allowed a full blooming of her artistic expression.”

“If you are an animal lover, an artist, an environmentalist, a social justice advocate or simply a lover of a good read, this book is for you.” she says.

Shannon Coull

“Shannon Coull is the executive director of the Prince Edward County Memorial Hospital Foundation where she ensures on an on-going basis that our County hospital is equipped with needed medical equipment,” said Murray, as he introduced the second presenter. “And she oversees the $16.5 million fundraising campaign which will result in a new hospital in Prince Edward County.“ Murray said Coull’s career as a fundraiser began in 1986. Coull moved to Prince Edward County in 2008.

“Imagine the floor beneath you disappears and you are buried alive under rubble after falling four storeys,” explains Coull. “Everything goes black, you gasp for clean air through the dust and dirt; everything goes quiet, you are alone and it takes six days before you are lifted back into the light. You are only two-years-old.”

“Journalists are known to be good writers, but Catherine Porter, a foreign correspondent for the Toronto Star turned her experiences into a beautifully written novel about a two-year-old girl who survived after being trapped for six days following the earthquake that took place in Haiti in 2010.”

A Girl Named Lovely follows the journey of Porter on her first and subsequent trips to Haiti where she finds herself crossing the line from journalist to becoming a beloved member of a Haitian family in search of a child and the story that surrounds her, explains Coull.

“This book is thought-provoking, sometimes dark, and filled with inspiration and hope,” she says. “It was so well written that I had to remind myself these are real people and the experiences Catherine writes about actually took place,“ Coull continues. “This book will have you grimacing, gasping with shock, laughing out loud; it may even bring you to tears as it did me.”

“It will make everyone who reads it a better person,” she adds.

Duncan Payne presented The Marrow Thieves by Métis writer Cherie Dimaline. Payne was born and raised in England, eventually became a teacher before arriving in Prince Edward County in 2009 upon retirement.

The Marrow Thieves is a dystopian novel and a coming-of-age story set in the not-so-distance future. “Unlike many dystopian novels where heroic white people save the world, the major characters in this story are Indigenous people, and they are not saving the world,” explained Payne. “It is set in Canada and deals with a world where climate change has occurred with devastating results.”

“Cities have been wiped out or crumbled in the sea as sea levels have risen, less migrations have occurred along with food shortages and starvation. Polluted water sources and extreme weather have resulted in millions of deaths,” describes Payne. “The people who have survived have experienced severe trauma and have lost ability to dream.” The only people who can still dream are Indigenous peoples. Government and scientists decided the key to dreaming lives in the webs of bone marrow printed in the Indigenous populations’ bones.

“The Marrow Thieves is a very relevant book in today’s world and serves as a warning to us all,” he says. It centres on a group of five First Nations children and teenagers, he explains.

He says it is, “A cautionary tale warning us of the possible consequences of climate change. It is also an emotional story of loss of family, friends, lovers and community.” Despite what has happened to the world, there is hope, he adds.

Richard Johnston

Last, but not least, Richard Johnston defends Bush Runner written by Mark Bourrie. Johnston is the owner of By Chadsey Cairns Winery and resided in Prince Edward County since 1995. “He was elected four times as the MPP for Scarborough West,” said Murray.

“As an ex-politician, I’m usually into fishing, never leading a life that was real,” says Johnston. “I have chosen a non-fiction book, because at the age of almost 74, I was shocked to have my views on Esprit Radisson totally changed by Mr. Bourrie.,” explained Johnston, who describes it as a most remarkable book.

“Survived being captured, tortured by the Mohawks, being present for the great fire of London, being captured by pirates, he also help formed the Hudson’s Bay Company.” Johnston says the book reveals so much about early Canadian life, and it gives an account of the early years of North America.

“It’s a hard read; I had to sit back and reflect upon it for a long time,” he says. “It’s a truly remarkable story, a must must read, brilliantly documented, a powerful powerful read.”

“I believe every good book has at least one moment that stands out, sometimes subjective to the reader: what stands out for you long after the book is done? said Murray. “It could be a moment that is joyful, sorrowful, what was that moment in this book for you?” he asked of each presenter. He then gave each presenter one final minute presentation to promote their chosen title.

Joan McBride said Woo, The Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr is a three–for-the-price-of-one bargain. “It offers a comprehensive and fascinating biography of Emily Carr that will set you wanting to learn more about her, “ she said. “And there are lots of great animal stories with the star character, the mischievous Woo.”

Shannon Coull’s final pitch for A Girl Named Lovely began: “Everyone must read this graciously written book, this book will move you.”

“We all need to be inspired especially right now, even though this book talks about hardship, it also speaks to the power of one’s actions and the proof each one of us can affect an outcome and change the direction of a predetermined destiny,” said Coull.

Duncan Payne

Duncan Payne says, “Climate change is an issue that has importance for us all. The Marrow Thieves makes the issue compelling. The book give us a somewhat exaggerated version of what could happen to the earth during climate change, the consequences of melting permafrost, ruptured pipelines, rising water levels and the result of government policies that do not protect the environment,” he said. “The book gives us a window into the Indigenous world, helping us to understand the traditional way of life which helps us along the way to come into r

Richard Johnston describes Bush Runner as a non-fiction that reads like it has to be fiction. “It really re-awakens your sense of what is means to be Canadian: you will feel totally different after you read this book,” he said. “It is quite a staggering story and you will feel quite changed after you’ve read it.”

The public can vote (one vote per person) for their favourite title up until midnight Thursday, May 28 at or by calling 613-476-5962 (leave your name and name of book you are voting for).

The winner of County Reads Authors Festival 2020 is to be announced on Sunday, May 31 at noon on 99.3 County FM.

Click here to listen to the broadcast, vote, and to borrow the County Reads books from the library

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  1. Liz says:

    Thank you so much CountyLive!

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