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Whistler readers up for Chesley Challenge?

It seems we are back to winter… and real reading weather. Nothing like a snowstorm to put ideas of skiing and reading (hopefully curled up by the fire) in your head.

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For a real escape, pick up the book Rockbound, by Francis Parker Day and get set to immerse yourself in the world of east coast fishermen battling the sea and each other back in the early 1900s. Further away from a powder run you cannot get.

The book is this year’s choice for Canada Reads, a project of CBC radio (who else?) whereby five sort-of famous people bring forward their choice of reading material, debate the merits of them all on radio, and choose one book to be the Canada Reads book of the year.

Rockbound beat out other such worthies as Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, and Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen, and a good thing too. It is a roaring good read, filled with the physicality of brutally hard work, the heartlessness of the sea, and a variety of stalwart characters. Stuck by choice on a hardrock island off the coast of Nova Scotia, the characters grind against one another in constant conflict, trying to make a life and a living for themselves. Emotions run high throughout the book, especially the sin of pride; but love takes the upper hand in the end.

The characters speak in the dialect of isolated island fishermen and women, but it is not difficult to understand (just picture Mary Walsh and Rick Mercer speaking and you’ll be just fine). This book is an adventure story (complete with a big storm at sea) as well as a love story, so it should appeal to readers of any gender. Sailors will be happy to soak up the descriptions of the challenges of fishing in vessels from the humble dory to a sleek Grand Banks schooner such as the Bluenose.

Though this book was written in 1928, it has a timelessness to it which keeps the story fresh and adds to the escapism so enjoyable in reading. It seems destined to become a true Canadian classic.

Now, if you do beg, borrow (the library has two copies), or buy (Armchair Books has it in stock), the book and read it, the next thing you need to do is to go into the library and put your John Henry on the sign up sheet there. Whistler is part of the Chesley Challenge, a contest to get the local population reading Rockbound. The challenge has been put out by a rural library system in Saskatchewan, and being the competitive types we are, Whistler has signed on. The library with the greatest percentage of population reading the book wins.

What does the winner win? Well, actually, nothing… or perhaps a mention on the CBC radio or website. But here in Whistler, where we pretty well all read anyway, we certainly don’t need prizes to rise to a challenge. So get your hands on a copy of Rockbound, and join in with others across Canada in reading about this intriguing corner of this vast land of ours… and then head on into the library to sign up and be counted in the Chesley Challenge.

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