Last week, Sara Quin appeared on the CBC’s Canada Reads, a televised program in which panelists present a book they feel is the most important novel to come from/be about Canada. Sara chose Essex County, a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire. She had to make her case for the book, but the odds were stacked against her from the beginning, as the other panelists (Ali Velshi, Debbie Travis, Georges Laraque and Lorne Cardinal) couldn’t see past the fact that it was a graphic novel, thus having fewer words.
Despite being knocked out in the first round, Sara stayed on for the full week, giving her opinions on the other books, and casting her vote for the winner, The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. She talked with us about her experience on the show, her love of reading and her favorite graphic novels.
AfterEllen.com: How did you become part of Canada Reads?
Sara Quin: The folks at Canada Reads reached out to me and I jumped at the opportunity. Being an avid reader, I was excited to participate in a structured debate.
AE: Debbie Travis admitted that she didn’t read one of the books, but it was evident that you read them all. How did you prepare for the competition?
SQ: I took it very seriously that, as a panelist, I was expected to read all the books! And I did — twice! I wanted to be able to recall characters and plot lines easily and it was important to me that I know the strengths and weaknesses of the other books.
However, I will say this: I thought Debbie took a big risk admitting the truth and I respected her for coming clean about it publicly! She was a good sport.
AE: How did you decide on Essex County for your pick?
SQ: It was on the short list and it was something that I had already read and loved. thought it would be a terrific way to both defend a book I admired, but also a genre I respect greatly.
AE: Was part of your decision to include a graphic novel because you wanted to push that boundary a little bit; challenge people to consider the art form?
SQ: I absolutely hoped that my defense and the exposure around the show would push those people who hadn’t read a graphic novel before, to consider it. I also like being the underdog.
AE: How did you get into graphic novels?
SQ: I think it was a natural evolution from comic books to more long form comics — graphic novels/memoir/journalism — and eventually it took over my life.
AE: understand that you have quite the reading collection and you actually have gotten really into covers and things like that.
SQ: I take a lot of comfort in my collection of comics, books, magazines. I am a collector for sure — bordering on hoarding — and find that tangible sturdy presence of stacks of reading materials in my apartment ground me. I think that is why I have resisted moving to an electronic reading device. Besides what is between the covers, I actually do judge a book by its cover.
AE: Does reading inform the way you write songs?
SQ: It hasn’t in the past. It’s interesting. The two seem very separate to me. In fact, I sometime think of reading as a way to get relief from thinking about music.
AE: What are your favorite books besides Essex County?
AE: What would you say is your most favorite book that you own — or what book is worth the most?
SQ: I have a first edition vintage copy of Immortality by Milan Kundera that is likely worth nothing, but to me is very important. It was gifted by a friend at a time in my life when I needed a poignant existential crisis-type novel to ease me into my late ‘20s. That’s probably one of my favorites.
AE: I think it was really brave of you to choose a graphic novel to champion but also logical, considering Canada Reads is supposed to encourage literacy it made most sense to me that a book that was easy to digest and that absolutely everyone could enjoy would be picked. However now that you have finished with all three days and heard everyone’s arguments were you swayed at all?
SQ: Once Essex County had been knocked off, I did feel my opinion change about the other books. I still felt strongly about Carol Shields gorgeous novel Unless, but wondered if one of the other books, specifically The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, was a better choice for a wider spectrum of Canadians.
AE: You and Tegan put out a book set that had writing but was mostly photos. Did that experience give you any more insight or appreciation for what goes into the creative process of making/writing a book?
SQ: Yes, I was really struck by the similarities in the creative process. I was also very interested in the differences. When I write music, however personal it is, there is something vague enough about the content/lyrics that it can have a universal appeal. With the books, I felt like it was more focused on looking in on our world and less about the viewer looking into their own world. That made it a much more personal experience.
AE: Being that once something is printed it is there forever, unlike the Internet and even this interview we are doing, we can change it edit it at any time is that appealing to you?
SQ: I wish there was a giant red button that said “erase” on it and I could push it at any time and wipe the internet clean of all photos/interviews/videos. But there isn’t, so I’m learning to deal with the fact that once anything happens — no matter how you edit it — it remains.
AE: Do you think that you would ever want to write a novel yourself? If you did would it be autobiographical or some other genre?
SQ: I personally don’t seem myself writing a novel in the future. I can see some sort of short story collection or memoir when I’m old and bony but, for now, I’m sticking to what I know best.