Good Arguments

Book Cover of Good Arguments by Bo Seo

Does that sound like an oxymoron? A good argument. Think of the last time you argued with someone: did the conflict get resolved, or did you both give up and/or agree to disagree*? (Or agree to cut ties, even?) When was the last time an argument or debate that you had actually ended with both you and the person you were arguing with coming to an understanding of what the other had said, both of you knowing that each understood what the other meant instead of just repeating your own point and trying to convert the other?

I’m reminded of one time I took up a debate just for fun in university with my friend while we were working away in the print studio. I think of it as one of the examples in my life of how good a good debate can go and how fun it can be: no ad hominem attacks, no tempers flaring, no voices raised. We took each other’s arguments into consideration and came back with counterarguments, and when we ran into a case where it seemed like maybe we had too vague a term in place (“morality”), we decided to define it together in order to make sure we knew what we were debating about (just think of the last time the term “political correctness” was brought up in an argument: wouldn’t we do better to define our terms?). In part, I think this was because both of us knew that whatever side we were arguing for didn’t actually say anything about us as people (i.e. we weren’t committed to our sides and didn’t identify with them**), so we took it in good fun and really listened. There was also I think an implicit agreement that we both understood this exercise to be a debate, and that we would both adhere to the unspoken rules of being respectful, not interrupting, and not making it personal. Mostly, it sticks around in my memory because another friend of ours also working in the studio at the time said to us as we wound down our arguments: “I don’t think I’ve ever heard an argument go like this before. You two were so respectful, didn’t attack each other, didn’t raise your voices, and you’re actually listening to one another! That’s amazing!” And it kind of was. But it also occurred to me that that shouldn’t have been amazing at all: is the bar this low?***

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Required Reading: School Curriculum & The Classics

School is back in session, and with that comes projects and, thus, increased demand for the classics. You know them. To Kill a Mockingbird1984The Great GatsbyLord of the FliesBrave New WorldAnimal FarmShakespeare with HamletMacbeth, and R&J being ubiquitous. Etc. These have been staples in schools for decades*1. If you’re a data-driven person, this Ontario Book Publisher’s Association report will confirm many of the above titles.

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An Evening with Michelle Good, Author of Five Little Indians

Michelle Good, author of the award-winning novel Five Little Indians, will be visiting Vaughan Public Libraries via Zoom on Tuesday, September 27, 7:00 pm, three days before the National Day for True and Reconciliation. I’m inviting all of you to join us for an evening of meaningful conversations. Please register now on Eventbrite!

Five Little Indians has received phenomenal success, for many good reasons. First, for a book that deals with such a painful, heavy topic, it is surprisingly readable and captivating. Michelle has chosen a unique focal point. The book does here and there describe the devastating suffering that the residential school children had to endure, but the horrific crime that happened in the residential schools is not the focus of the book. Instead, the book emphasizes the hardship that the five protagonists had to struggled through while they tried to make their way into the society after the residential school – the outright racism they still received despite they were finally speaking perfect English, the lost connection with their own family (both physically and emotionally), the mental trauma that continued to haunt them even after the cruel physical abuse had stopped … With precise and profound insights, Michelle has skillfully crafted five unforgettable characters, each with a unique story.

The five protagonists’ stories are all based on true cases. Michelle is a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. She had worked for Indigenous organizations for twenty-five years before she obtained a law degree. She has been advocating for residential school survivors for over fourteen years. This direct experience with the residential school survivors offers a firm ground of solid materials for Michelle to build her characters and tell their stories.

The traumatic residential school experience impacted all Indigenous communities collectively, but the damage done to each individual is specific and none are the same. There is no way to simply create an “archetype,” so Michelle choses to sculpt five protagonists instead, and the detailed, vivid portrayal of these characters has clearly touched many readers. Michelle’s wise choice of using fiction, as opposed to non-fiction, has made this dark era of the Canadian history much more accessible to other Canadians or even international readers.

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