Sunday, February 12, 2012

Canada Reads: Oh What a Year

Every year I tune in to CBC's annual CanLit contest, Canada Reads just for the pure entertainment of listening to Canada's version of celebrities debate the merits of five books. For the uninitiated, I will give you a quick rundown of what Canada Reads is.  This is an annual contest put on by CBC Radio in which five celebrities champion books which are in turn voted off in the spirit of Survivor. Over the years, this competition has become a large factor in the Canadian publishing industry, with last year's winner, Terry Fallis, seeing a jump in sales of 700%.  Normally it is strictly a battle between fiction books, but this year was the first time that only non-fiction books were up for the crown. 

I think that the addition this year of non-fiction books brought a different level of discourse to the debate.  Particularly there was a war of words across the table and in the media, the focus of which was Anne-France Goldwater.  Her book, The Tiger by John Vaillant, was being pilloried by the other debaters for poor characterization and she launched an attack on the other books that was both scathing and ignorant all at once.  She accused Marina Nemat, the author of Prisoner of Tehran, of lying about the events which she claims happened during her incarceration in Iran.  Another author which drew Goldwater's ire was Carmen Aguirre, who she dubbed a "terrorist".  I found Goldwater generally off-putting in her quest to mix things up, and when she refrained from badmouthing the authors of her competitors' books, I found her long-winded rants more annoying than anything. 

Thankfully the quality of the debate outshone some of the more, and I was pleasantly surprised at how invested the other panelists became in the outcome.  Each of them brought a special perspective to the panel and were very diplomatic in the face of Goldwater's extremist notions and insulting comments.  This debate did become more personal due to the fact that four out of the five books were memoirs and the authors themselves drew most of the attention.  As I pointed out earlier, Canada Reads is a force in the publishing industry, and as such it provides a good platform for any author to increase their audience and sales.  The stakes are high for everyone involved, and that, coupled with the emotional nature of memoirs, made for a more lively discussion.  There were a number of issues brought up which shape our current landscape, and hopefully will propel more people to read the books discussed.  

As usual, the moderator, Gian Ghomeshi, managed to objectively referee the participants and elevate the conversation.  I really enjoyed this season and feel that it really allowed for some interesting questions to be posed through the works presented.  A dark part of me relishes the controversy that this installment has caused, but another, more dominant portion of my mind will look forward to next year when the biggest topic is whether or not the protagonist's husband is a jerk or the narrative plodding.  Those were the days.

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