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County Reads 2023 returns live with four favourites

Book defender Mary Ann Farrell, County Reads Festival Committee member Janet Aston, PEC Library CEO Barbara Sweet, book defender Andrew Janikowski and moderator Ken Murray met to discuss County Reads 2023. – Sharon Harrison photos

By Sharon Harrison
Four Prince Edward County residents will defend must-read Canadian books as this year’s County Reads returns for a much-anticipated live and in-person event for the first time in three-years.

“I am very pleased we are going back to it in-person because the dynamics of the room are fantastic,” said moderator Ken Murray. “It’s a real joy to have the County Reads back happening again. We’ve got some good titles, so it should be fun.”

The County Reads was held online in 2021 and 2022 due to pandemic restrictions, with the 2020 version being aired on local airwaves.

Returning again to the seat of moderator, Murray revealed the four ‘brave’ defenders and their chosen titles at a media event Saturday morning, at the ‘under construction’ Picton branch of the Prince Edward Public Library.

Mary Ann Farrell will be defending Greenwood (written by Michael Christie), Andrew Janikowski will defend Operation Angus (written by Terry Fallis), Holly Kent chose Why Birds Sing (written by Nina Berkhout, and Dominique Jones’s selection is No More Nice Girls (written by Lauren McKeon). (As an aside, Lauren McKeon fans can see her at Books and Company on April 12 at 7 p.m. where an ‘in conversation’ event will be hosted by Alternatives for Women).

County Reads has a long, loyal and local following. For those new to the event, County Reads and the Prince Edward County Authors Festival are organized by the County of Prince Edward Public Library with a volunteer committee of book lovers.

Fashioned after the national Canada Reads annual literary event, the County Reads brings the fun down to a local level as four local residents champion a Canadian title of their choosing, where the debating and the winner are declared all in the space on one evening – actually, usually within about one hour.

“It’s like Canada Reads, except better,” quipped Murray, as he explained to two defenders present for the media launch what the goal is, the general format for the upcoming evening, and what they can expect on the big night. Kent and Jones were not present for the media event.

“You have been given the charge to come forward with the book everyone in this County should read, and you will present that book,” he outlined.

He added that while he is pretty laid back and easy going about this stuff, he provided fair, advance, and friendly warning that he isn’t laid back when it comes to time – and isn’t afraid to use his warning bell, as many can attest from years past.

“I think it’s only fair to everybody. You have six minutes and that’s your time.”

Each defender will have six minutes to talk about their book on the night, an increase of one minute for each presenter – a special compensation this year given there are only four presenters, not the usual five.

Murray’s words of advice were to not think of every reason why a particular book has to be read by everyone who hears the presentation.

“If you make a list of every one, find your best ones and lead with those,” he suggested.

“You are free to go wherever you want with that in terms of what it is, of why it matters to you, why it matters to life now, why it should matter to the people reading it, whether that’s looking at contemporary life or anything else, that’s wide open.”

Discussing how best to deliver individual remarks, Murray’s advice was to slow down the speech, and “let the thoughts land”.

“I think you really have to work at it,” added Andrew Janikowski. “If your tongue’s getting twisted, you are too fast.”

Mary Ann Farrell said she had an interesting experience as she listened to Canada Reads this week with book presenter Michael Greeneyes.

“When he was doing his first proclamation about his book, I was really impressed, he was really quite slow in his delivery, but he got to where he needed to be, and it was just an interesting style,” said Farrell.

Always a light-hearted and often humorous affair, the entertainingly fun night, which is usually a sell-out, does come with some seriousness as the presenters put every effort into convincing their audience why their chosen title should command the title of County Reads 2023 winner.

“We are so excited that it’s back live again this year, and I think we’ve got great participants,” said Barbara Sweet, Prince Edward County Public Library CEO. “People are so brave to do it, I just can’t imagine. I think it will be a very interesting program again this year.

“Ken always runs a really tight ship, so people can look forward to more enjoyment, the same as they enjoyed three years ago.”

The County Reads Debate, dubbed as ‘the County’s favourite literary debate’ is set for Thursday, April 20 at 7 p.m at St. Mary Magdalene Church, located at 335 Picton Main Street. Tickets are available in person at any library branch, and at the door on the night, and cost $5.

“Our thanks to the presenters and our moderator for taking the stage this year, as well as St. Mary Magdalene Church for hosting us,” added Sweet.

Presenters Andrew Janikowski and Mary Ann Farrell, with moderator Ken Murray (centre) in front of the new living green wall in the new Picton library area still under construction.

The County Reads Debate launches the Prince Edward County Authors Festival and is the first of a series of events taking place April 20-22. All other author events are free admission and will be presented virtually as Zoom webinars, unless indicated otherwise.

The first speaker event takes place April 20 with Sheila Murray with readings and discussion of her book Finding Edward, with an interview by Judith Burfoot.

Friday, April 21 welcomes Helen Humphreys who will read and discuss her book, And a Dog Called Fig: Solitude, Connection, the Writing Life, to be interviewed by Shelagh Mathers.

Also on April 21, Peter Blendell will interview David A. Robertson as he reads and discusses his book, The Theory of Crows.

On Saturday, April 22, Ian Reid will read and discuss his book, We Spread, to be interviewed by Ken Murray.

Mark Bourrie wraps up Saturday’s events with a reading and discussion of his book, Big Men Fear Me, and will be interviewed by Tom Harrison.

Sweet reminds that this year’s County Reads books are available at the library for those who want to read them in advance of the debate, and the titles are also available at Books and Company in Picton.

Click here for more information about County Reads and all Author’s Festival events. Register online, call 613-476-5962, or visit or call any library branch.

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