Oh, Canada

Mar. 5th, 2014 08:00 pm
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I've been pretty busy this week, so this evening is the first chance I've had to catch up on the 2014 Canada Reads debate which everybody on my Twitter feed has been going on about lately. It's an annual show where five panelists champion five different books - every day they debate the books' merits and one is eliminated, and then the one that's left is the winner. It is a revelation. Here are the things that are brilliant about Canada Reads:

- It is a programme about books on the television. Real books are discussed on television for their literary merit. People get super-involved in the discussion on Twitter and argue about the books in non-book-related podcasts (I was surprised when Joe told me he knew about the programme - this is a man who is disinterested in the literary establishment to the extent that he had never heard of this year's Booker winner until I mentioned it last week, but he knew Canada Reads because all the Toronto Living podcasts he listens to had been talking about it). Over here we don't even have the Richard and Judy Book Club on TV any more.

- It is so incredibly, beautifully earnest. This year, the theme of the contest is 'a novel to change our nation', and the panelists are asked to consider the books not just on their literary merit, but also on how they feel they might contribute to 'a better Canada'. These people want to build a better Canada! And they take it for granted that literature can play an important role in making this happen!

- That kind of rhetoric ('building a better Canada' etc) has not been hijacked by the right wing and used mainly as an excuse to make life worse for the most vulnerable members of society. These books are about the immigrant experience, about relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, about climate change and mental health care and recognising diversity in sexual and gender identities. Canada doesn't always get this stuff right, and sometimes they get it so wrong that it's painful (examples abound: Avery Edison, the Albertan tar sands, virtually anything the current government has done concerning First Nations people...), but at least they're having the conversation, you know? And it seems to be taken for granted that the concept of 'Canada' is something everybody truly cares about and wants to improve, rather than being just something that right-on PC types and flag-waving xenophobes talk about while everybody in the middle kind-of ignores them.

- One of the panelists (a DJ/journalist called Wab Kinew who seems super-cool) introduced 'his' book with a 60-second rap about colonialism and First Nations-related issues in Canada. There is nothing about that that is not awesome.


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