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County Reads kicks off weekend of literary events

County Reads presenters Bernie Finkelstein, Bill Roberts, Trevor Brookes, Sally Keefe-Cohen and Elizabeth Etue.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Following spirited presentations and debate, a compelling story of lost lives of Indigenous youth, their families and communities was lifted above competitor books Thursday night as the must-read book of the year.

The 10th annual County Reads event kicked off three days of literary events Thursday evening at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Picton. Hosted by the Prince Edward County Public Library, the event changed location this year to better accommodate increasing audience sizes.

Author Ken Murray returned for the fourth time as host, moderator and tambourine shaker to introduced the five presenters and their books and to be defended.

“This is a meeting place,” said Murray, referring to St. Mary Magdalene. “It’s a place where stories are told. There are places where people meet to share stories and it doesn’t happen by accident.”

The five titles were:
– Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City written by Tanya Talaga, presented by Bernie Finkelstein;
– Dear Evelyn written by Kathy Page, presented by Sally Keefe-Cohen;

-Women Talking written by Miriam Toews, presented by Trevor Brookes;

-A Matter of Malice written by Thomas King, presented by Bill Roberts

-Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones written by David Moscrop, presented by Elizabeth Etue.

Murray introduced each title and background on the presenters, who each had five minutes to convince the audience why their particular chosen title should win. With his red tambourine close to hand, should any presenter go beyond their allotted time, Murray threatened to ring a warning bell.

Murray further asked each presenter two questions, and gave a further minute each to present final thoughts.

Introducing Bernie Finkelstein first, Murray noted how he has been involved in the music industry, both in Canada and worldwide, for more than 50 years. He was elected into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2003, where many awards followed, included the Order of Canada in 2007. Finkelstein’s memoir, True North: A Life in the Music Business was released in 2012. A Toronto resident, Finkelstein lives part-time in the County.

“The reading of this book is a must for every Canadian,” said Finkelstein on Seven Fallen Feathers. “In 1966, 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack froze to death on the railroad tracks after running away from a residential school,” he said. “More than a quarter of a century later, in 2000-2011, seven Indigenous high school students died in Thunder Bay.”

Finkelstein said the book uses a sweet narrative focusing on the lives of the students.

“The most important thing to note is that we keep on making the same mistakes over and again with Canada’s Indigenous people.”

Sophiasburgh councillor Bill Roberts championed A Matter of Malice written by Thomas King, which Roberts described as an extraordinary book.

As a former television executive, Roberts said that figured in his choice of book.

“This book’s quirky TV show as a special book, detailed research and actual commitment to bringing real and new facts and real conditions.”

In response to Murray’s question of what moment in the book had the greatest impact, Roberts said, there were many moments.

“The wonder of a book is the richness of all the characters,” he said.

Presenter Trevor Brookes grew up in the County and said Women Talking, written by Miriam Toews, is one of his favourite books.

“It asks questions,” he said.

Sally Keefe-Cohen has been a literary consultant for more than 25 years and is a now a full-time County resident. She defended Dear Evelyn written by Kathy Page, describing it as a mindful tale.

“It’s great to see a room full of people celebrating Canadian books,” began Keefe-Cohen. “The writing and material in her novel is so rich and tense, sometimes I have to put the book down and simply reflect on what I’ve just read.”

In response to Murray’s question about what moment in the book had the greatest impact, Keefe-Cohen said there were surprises in the book.

A writer, author and producer, Elizabeth Etue has co-authored several titles. She defended Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones, written by David Moscrop.

Her choice on democratic decision making takes the reader on a journey of respect and trust, which is essential for democracy, community and our country, said Etue.

“If you want to understand the social and political psychology decisions about the way political decisions are made, this is an essential book to read,” she said. “It changed the way I listen to people and it made me look at my own political decisions with fresh eyes.”

During a refreshment break in the upstairs hall, the audience had the opportunity to vote for their favourite book.

Alexandra Bake and Ken Murray congratulate Bernie Finkelstein

Finkelstein, was pleased Seven Fallen Feathers took the win.

“You learn a lot from the book,” he said. “We are all going to have to live with a little less so we can solve this Indigenous problem. It’s going to take money and very talented people to fix, and it’s going to take a long time, but it’s not impossible, and I’m optimistic as the future unfolds that we can solve some of this.”

Finkelstein said he felt a little intimidated having to present the book.

“Not because of the quality, but because, like everybody else, I like a little humour. This book is so amazing, and there’s no room for joking because it’s not a joking matter.” he added.

This year, the DiscARTed Art Show unfolded at County Reads and will run in conjunction with the Authors Festival this weekend. The show and sale features curious and innovative creations from discarded books – recycled into new works of art, fun and clever objets d’art, and even furnishings. The People’s Choice Award from DiscARTed will be presented Saturday afternoon.

A number of County writers, authors and publishing companies displayed and discussed their books which were also available for purchase. Among them were Brain T.W. Way, Brian Flack of Point Petre Publishing, Gilles Rheaume, Robin Timmerman and Peter Blendell of Cressy Lakeside Books.

The junior segment of County Reads, involving local elementary and high school students, returned again this year. With a new twist for 2019, students could pick any book to read provided it was written by Eric Walters.

Each defender recorded a video explaining why they think their choice is the best, and several of the videos were shown on the big screen. All videos are posted on the library website, and the public was invited to vote for the title they liked best.

County Reads Junior 2019 participants were: Alice Graham, Easton Lester, Mallee Paxon, and a handful of Sophiasburgh Central School students, from Kindergarten and Grades 1-3.

Alice, a Grade 8 student at St. Gregory’s Catholic School, who was present at Thursday evening’s event, defended Batcat and the Seven Squirrels; Easton, a Grade 1 student at Prince Edward Collegiate Institute, defended The Wild Beast; and Mallee Paxon read From the Heart of Africa: A Book of Wisdom. Sophiasburgh Central School students, Lincoln, Troy, Chloe, Avery, Finley, Logan, Mia, Henry, Emily and Willem defended Surfer Dog.

The County Reads Junior winner for 2019, announced at County Reads, was Easton Lester with his book choice, The Wild Beast.

The Grade 1 PECI student gave the following reasons on his video clip for why he thinks it is the best book.

“When the world has been created, the creator of the world, which is the big bang, has the leftover pieces, to make the wildebeest,” said Easton.

Seeing all the animals, like the lions, zebras and gazelles was cool, he said. “I think Wild Beast is the best book and everyone should read it.”

Friday and Saturday, book lovers are invited to return to the church hall to hear from authors such as Wayne Grady, Debra Komar and Camilla Gibb.

Debra Komar’s event is scheduled for Friday, April 26 at 7 p.m. Her books have won numerous honours, including the Canadian Authors Award for History. A Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, she investigated genocides for the United Nations, testifying as an expert witness at The Hague and across North America. Her latest book, The Court of Better Fiction, examines the 1921 court case in which the Canadian government, in its rush to establish dominion over the North, executed two innocent Inuit men. Tickets $10

An Author’s Festival Panel is set for Saturday, April 27 from 1:30-4:30 p.m. at the church hall. Tickets $20

Camilla Gibb will be doing a reading and discussion from 1:30 – 2:30 p.m. She is the author of four novels – —Mouthing the Words, The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life, Sweetness in the Belly and The Beauty of Humanity Movement—and has been the recipient of the Trillium Book Award, the City of Toronto Book Award and the CBC Canadian Literary Award and shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Following an intermission with refreshments, Ken Murray will moderate an author panel with readings and discussion, from 3-4:30 p.m. Featured are:
Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall, author of Hungover: The Morning After
Brian Flack, author of When Madmen Lead the Blind
Cornelia Hoogland, author of Trailer Park Elegy
Brian T.W. Way, author of The Prince of Leroy, and
Samra Zafar, author of A Good Wife

The full schedule can be found at

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