Canada’s next top author

“It’s so Canadian.”

That, Jian Ghomeshi told an interviewer today, is how “somebody in the States” described Canada Reads to him in a Facebook message, after posing the telling question: “A reality show for books?”

Exactly. Canada Reads, the long-running literary series to which that somebody referred, is indeed so Canadian. A celebration of Canadian writing, the CBC Radio annual event has shone a light on many a fine book during its 11 editions. The concept is simple: each of five Canadians of moderate celebrity status champions a deserving book, the better to alert listeners to its presence and to celebrate this nation’s literary landscape. Since 2002, the informative and entertaining five-episode segment has given props to and alerted people to the existence of page-turners such as Lawrence Hill‘s The Book of Negroes, Paul Quarrington‘s King Leary and Yann Martel‘s Life of Pi (which lost the inaugural competition to Hubert Aquin‘s Next Episode). The choice of winner has been determined not so much by the merits of each work, as by the passion and persuasiveness of its corresponding celebrity.

A true triumph for CBC Radio. And faced with a triumph, the network in recent years has naturally tinkered with the formula in an unending and accelerating effort to fix what ain’t broke. Live audiences have been brought in, better-known titles submitted. Shouting matches and tears (yes, tears) have become an increasingly common part of the proceedings. The 2013 edition, heralded today on Q, the show that now plays host to Canada Reads, is being billed as “turf wars,” pitting region against region in an all-out geographic winner-take-all belles-lettres bloodfeast. (And for the purposes of Canada Reads let it be noted that Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut are now considered to be one humongous region.) It will all end in tears, folks. And shouting. And a suitable mix of applause and cat-calls from the live audience. Writers and Company, this isn’t.

So, as that canny American somebody noted, CBC listeners tuned in to a literary discussion and a reality show broke out. Fortunately, Ron MacLean will be present this time to offer commentary on the proceedings.

As for the books on offer, CBC has extended another nifty sop to would-be listeners, by dispensing with those elitist literary “people in the know” of previous years, and turning the selection-process over to online voters. Hence, regional shortlists that housed Anne of Green Gables, The English Patient and The Tin Flute. No Generation X, you ask? That was in contention for the 2010 prize, and is therefore ineligible.

Not that the five finalists are unworthy of praise and promotion. And if Montreal’s Jay Baruchel‘s solid assessment this morning of Hugh MacLennan’s landmark Two Solitudes as “a lot of good, fertile creative stuff” is anything to go by, we’re in for some pithy discussion come Canada Reads time. Joining Baruchel in the cage will be Charlotte Gray (talking-up Jane Urquart’s Away), comic Trent McClellan (on behalf of Atlantic Canada and Lisa Moore’s February), MacLean (who this morning described The Age of Hope by David Bergen as “like Game 7”) and — appropriately under the circumstances — wrestler Carol Huynh (with the projected 2013 Canada Reads winner, Richard Wagamese’s Indian Horse).

No word yet on whether we’ll be treated to panelists performing stunts while reading passages from the books, or to back-stabbing backstage interviews. Those may have to wait for the 2014 Canada Reads series. For, while Ghomeshi described Canada today as “a nation of readers,” CBC Radio knows a nation of reality-show enthusiasts when it sees one. It just takes time to properly stoop to the right populist level.

1 Comment

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One response to “Canada’s next top author

  1. pierre ringwald

    but will the kids dig it?


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