Launched in 2002, Canada Reads is an annual battle of the books hosted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Each year five books are chosen, and five designated champions advocate for their title. A book is eliminated at the end of every day until there is only one left standing – the book every Canadian should read.
Canada Reads isn’t like other book awards. For starters, other awards judges don’t defend their picks on television in front of a live audience. Those judges usually aren’t celebrities outside of the literary community either. But past Canada Reads advocates included Alan Thicke, Stephen Lewis, Samantha Bee and Justin Trudeau. There’s also no rule that says the books need to be new releases. For example, in 2013, Jay Baruchel defended Hugh MacLennan’s Two Solitudes, which was originally published in 1945. You also see a number of diverse titles go home with the prize, such as The Book of Negroes and Ru. And when the winning book experiences the famed “Canada Reads bump” (sales of The Best Laid Plans jumped 695% the week after it won) the publisher donates a portion of those sales to a literary based charity.
The competition originally focused on any Canadian fiction, poetry and plays, but in 2011, the idea of a theme was introduced. Last year the theme was “One Book to Break Barriers” and here at WWAC we looked at how three of the contenders – And the Birds Rained Down, Ru & When Everything Feels Like the Movies – represented that theme. And when this year’s theme, “Starting Over” was announced, we decided to do it again. Next week Ardo will be writing about The Illegal by Lawrence Hill, Angel will be standing up for Birdie by Tracey Lindberg and Christa will finish out the week with Bone & Bread by Saleema Nawaz. But before we dive in, here are some preliminary thoughts about the competition this year:
What do you think of the five chosen books and their defenders?
Christa: I think all of the books sound really interesting this year, and it was nice to see a few “new-to-me” titles on the list, like The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami. The defenders are an interesting mix as well. They all come from such different backgrounds, that it should make for a fairly engaging debate. Although I am a little curious why some are paired up with certain titles – specifically why Adam Copeland (a.k.a WWE’s Edge) is defending Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter. Which is not to say I don’t think he’ll do a good job – I’m just curious what the reason is.
Angel: I was super confused by the choice of Copeland, but I do love that it brings a great mix of people into the debate. Canada Reads isn’t just for bookworms or the publishing industry, and it’s successful when it can bring together all different kinds of people from all different walks of life to talk about the literature that represents Canada.
Ardo: Exactly. I think some pairings fitting and some not will make for a great debate. It’s a great mix of people in terms of identities, age, and occupation but I’m more interested to see how they’ll interact and feed off each other. The books all sound fantastic.
What do you think of the chosen theme of the debates this year?
Christa: I like the theme this year, especially since the last two years felt a little repetitive – “A Novel to Change Our Nation” and “One Book to Break Barriers” don’t really sound that different to me. “Starting Over” also has a more personal touch to it as it’s something I think we can all relate to.
Angel: I really love this theme because I think it’s something that everyone struggles with at least once in their lives. Often, starting over is a challenge, and each time we do it, it’s different. We’re different. I like that the books this year offer a wide variety of interpretations for the theme, and that they don’t elevate one experience over the other.
Ardo: Starting over is hard. I think it’s a great topic especially when we’re a country of immigrants and helping people start over is something we’re used to. I think that along with the personal stories will make for an great debate.
What do you hope to see happen or addressed in the debate?
Christa: It’s always interesting to see what themes or ideas get addressed in the debate, so I don’t know if I’m hoping for anything in particular. Because they have such a short run time, they usually aren’t able to delve into anything too deeply, but it only prompts some interesting discussions online and in real life, which is more fun for the readers anyway.
Angel: I’d really like to see the discussions go into what happens when one’s attempt to start over doesn’t work out the way one thinks it will.
Ardo: I’d like it if they tackled obstacles in starting over. I was disappointed last year when the discussion of privilege was kind of dismissed as a topic or that it doesn’t exist during the theme of barrier breaking. I feel like this group won’t be shy about tackling the hard truths.
What book do you think will take home the win this year?
Christa: I may be biased but I really enjoyed Bone & Bread and I thought it spoke to the theme in a number of really poignant and emotional ways. But I also think Birdie could walk away with it.
Angel: Birdie would be my choice, but all four books are very very strong contenders. It’ll be interesting to see how Lawrence Hill’s previous work has informed The Illegal, and The Hero’s Walk gives us a character that we don’t often see in high-buzz literature, so I’m excited to hear about it.
Ardo: Ohhhhh this is our pre-debate smack talk because The Illegal will TOTALLY WIN and not because I’m its chosen defender. We never know who’ll take it home since the debaters will have to convince the others at the table to keep their book safe via votes. All of these books are great so it comes down to which contender is the most persuasive.
Look out for our Canada Reads coverage next week. The battle of the books begins March 21-24 on CBC.