Canada Reads 2015: True Confessions By Kirt

CR2015Today, rather belatedly, I was going to post something about Canada Reads 2015. You know, just one of those posts that say, “Hey. This is happening.” But, during my vigorous research, when I read this article I felt a dam burst. Time for Kirt to be honest.

Are you sitting down?

I don’t like Canada Reads. I never have. I don’t think I’ve ever pretended to like it, so I haven’t been misleading you. I don’t think I’ve ever offered any opinion on it either way. But now it’s out there.

When it comes to books I am an unrepentant snob, and an elitist. I know this isn’t an entirely admirable quality, and I try very hard to keep it in check, but it is an unavoidable fact. Almost everything about Canada Reads offends the book snob in me. The defenders of Canada Reads will say, “This show gets people reading and discussing Canadian authors, and important social issues are addressed by the show. How can this be a bad thing?” I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’m not saying that Canada Reads should be canceled, or that people shouldn’t listen to it, or watch it. Chacun a son gout, and all that. I’m just saying that my gout don’t like it.

The format of the show offends me. Over the years the game show ethos has invaded many quarters: So You Think You Can Dance (one of the most confrontational and condescending show titles I’ve ever seen), Canadian Idol (and all of its ilk), Canada’s Top Chef, etc etc etc. I don’t like seeing this sort of thing around my precious books. Books are not gladiators. Some will point out that The Giller Prize, and all other book prizes, are essentially competitions for top book. But the panelists for those prizes are book experts who know what they’re talking about and use sophisticated criteria to determine the winner. This is not the case with Canada Reads.

The panelists on the show offend me. They are just a random collection of celebrities from various spheres. Why do I care what Jim Cuddy thinks about a book (I’m sorry for singling you out, Mr. Cuddy. I just chose you randomly from all of the panelists over the years)? What expertise or authority does he bring to the table? I love me some Blue Rodeo as much as the next Canadian, and if the show was trying to determine the best Canadian song, I’d grant him his place at the table, but this is books. The panelists should be book experts.

The “themes” or goals of the shows offend me. Social issues are important to address, but why in this type of format? Does determining how well a book addresses these issues determine its value as a book? If a book “wins” at the end, does this indicate that that particular social issue is more important than the others? I think that it could do more harm than good to an issue.

The inclusion of non-fiction offends me. I’m seeing a wave of disdain out there towards fiction. People think it’s more important to read true stories than to read made up stories. The inclusion of non-fiction creates the potential for this attitude to be validated. And comparing fiction to non-fiction is totally an apples and oranges kind of thing. It makes no sense.

That’s it. I’ve said my piece. I feel unburdened. How do you feel?

– Kirt



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11 Responses to Canada Reads 2015: True Confessions By Kirt

  1. lauratfrey says:

    I watched Canada Reads for the first time last year. Before that, I was only dimly aware that it existed. I’m of two minds. I agree with all your points and definitely noticed a few last year – like panelists who were clearly not all that well-read, and the theme that didn’t make any sense. But, at the same time, I would challenge you that you have to be an “expert” to judge the merit of a book. I think the whole concept and popularity of of book blogging speaks to that.

    I guess it comes down to marketing. CBC is selling something, and it needs celebs to do that. Literary prizes are (less) dependent on people actually caring 🙂 so they can use whatever obscure experts they want. They get their funding from other sources (what sources? I wonder? Grants, donations?)

    By the way, I have a post coming about all the things I never knew existed till I started book blogging, like, being a regular reader vs. “a book person”. This is definitely one of them. A couple years ago I would have just scratched my head. Now, I’ll probably watch.

    • writereads says:

      I should have said “experts” (like air quotes). I don’t think you have to be an expert to judge a book, but in a format like Canada Reads they should be. Book bloggers usually have some background in the book business, or they’ve studied literature, or they are just avid readers (I’m not sure what the distinction between a book person and an avid reader is. Do book people just like the idea of books but never read them?). That makes you an expert of a sort, in that you’re immersed in the world of books and thinking critically about them, and learning to evaluate them (the good book bloggers, at least).

      I hope you enjoy the show. I got nothin’ against that.

  2. I’ve never watched Canada Reads. I’m aware of it but being a recently reformed CanLit non-reader, it never held much appeal for me. I hear what you are saying about all the things. Especially comparing fiction to non-fiction. That really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And I hear you with the prize committees being book experts and therefore worthy of making the judgements.
    But I do think that Canada Reads is meant to engage all the other readers. The casual book store browser, the folks that read only crime fiction, the teenagers that devour the YA stuff, book bloggers, and reviewers. And I think it does a good job at that. So if it gets people reading and talking about books, it’s probably pretty OK.

  3. Hey Kirt!

    I’m glad you aired this out. Most of what you hear about Canada Reads is positive (in my experience anyway), so hearing the other side is interesting. Even though I disagree quite a bit.

    The beauty of Canada Reads (CR) is that it ISN’T decided upon by the Margaret Atwoods of the world, or the latest Giller winner, or an editor or agent whose been in the business for forty years. There are times when I want their opinions, but what I like about CR is that it’s for the people, by the people. I think it takes in blog/Goodreads culture. The opinion of normal people is more relevant than ever before. And don’t think authors/editors/agents wouldn’t come in without biases. Do they champion their friends? Their publishing companies?

    I like that celebrities are on there. There have been years when the books alone weren’t interesting enough to make me watch the show (and I’m a reader … imagine a casual reader). But there were interesting personalities, so I tuned in. And they showed me that the books weren’t half bad. So the celebs give me 10 reasons to watch (5 books, 5 celebs).

    And I’ve been pleasantly surprised with the people they have on there. Sure, every year there’s probably a dud who shouldn’t be there, but overall I have found people to be interesting, and informed, and avid readers.

    Feel free to hate it all you want, that’s your call. I’m usually the curmudgeon, so it’s nice being on the other side for once haha. But as a book snob myself, this is one of the few “popular” avenues for books that I think has a really positive influence. I mean, we have a nationally televised show about the best books in our country. Where else do you see that? At the very least, I think it does more good than harm.

    Canada has a really vibrant reading culture. I love it. And Canada Reads is part of that.

  4. Naomi says:

    I have to agree with Rick. I like that the panelists are not ‘experts’, and I like that it is something the whole country can be part of if they choose. Sometimes there are things that annoy me (like the theme this year seems too much the same as the one last year), but mostly, I love it. I also have to agree that I don’t really like that the fiction is mixed with the nonfiction this year. I’d prefer it to be all fiction, but that’s probably just because I like to read fiction more than nonfiction. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with them mixed this year.

  5. I kind of have to agree with you. It seems like a big marketing ploy. I never ‘agree’ with the books chosen, though I must say I am sometimes intrigued by what the celebrities have to say. Ron McLean, for example, really surprised me with his insight and sensitivity. But overall, the past few years, I’ve been giving Canada Reads a pass.

  6. Wow, what a great discussion guys! Everyone made very good points about Canada Reads. I like the idea of promoting Canadian writing and it has brought authors to my attention that I may not have heard of otherwise. I’m not a huge fan of the “defend the book” format or attempt to pick books based on a theme, although I don’t mind the celebrities because I agree more people will be interested in the competition if they are involved.

  7. writereads says:

    Dammit, I wanted to just let Kirtles go with his Canada Reads post, but I have to say more. Curse my Italian heritage!
    Thank you to all who contributed – the sparked some good arguments pro and con. It sparked a good debate. I personally like Canada Reads, my complaint being not about the lack of book expertise of some the panelists, but about the lack of public speaking/debate expertise. I believe Kirt has a point about the weird themes and he is entitled to his opinions about not liking the format. But Canada Reads encourages not only reading, but debating, and I very much like a good debate. Listening to Wab Kinew and Samantha Bee go head to head last year was a pleasure. In my opinion, listening to poor Donovan Bailey be sans clue has less to say about whether or not he is a good reader, and more to say about the fact that he has no debating experience. I’m quite sure there are people Kirt would put on his book “expert” list that would bore us to tears as there are many good readers out there who just can’t speak that well publicly and under pressure. I say, let the great book debate continue!

    • Naomi says:

      Good point about the debating experience. I know I could never do it no matter how well I knew my book.

      • writereads says:

        I could never do it either. I’m just not that quick on my feet. I’d come up with the perfect thing to say in rebuttal about a month after the debate was already over 🙂 – Tania

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