16 February 2011
This was the first year ever that I have had the distinctly puzzling experience of listening to all the episodes of CBC Radio’s Canada Reads, the national public broadcaster’s well-intended attempt to cultivate a broader consumer base – er, I mean readership – for Canadian authored novels. To my ears, Canada Reads bore a closer resemblance to the CBC’s comedy program The Debaters than to anything I would consider an engaging discourse on books (other than the fact that it wasn't funny); that is, it was simply light entertainment.
I’d have no problem with this fact had the celebrity panelists actually succeeded at being entertaining, or had they had not, with every other breath, made such embarrassingly earnest and self-congratulatory declarations about their important role picking ‘the essential book’ which might tempt our nation of non-readers (really?) back to reading Canadian novels (graphic novels need not apply). First off, I can tell you with some degree of certainty that this is a flawed, foolish notion. This ‘essential’ book does not exist in any culture; a literature is built from many books. I can also tell you that if the nation’s literature (as distinct from its book trade) were ever actually in real peril, I hope to God that we could muster a better rescue squad to send to its defense than these five celebrities.
Is this the best we can hope for from the CBC with regards to its coverage of literature on the radio? Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers & Company is an excellent program that may point the way, and while I’d be the last to complain about its largely international focus, its contribution to the discussion of Canadian texts is slim. So where is its domestic equivalent? Do Canadian books not also merit this level of engagement, or will they forever be relegated to the fluffy coffeebreak chit-chat of Shelagh Rogers’ The Next Chapter and the gameshow nonsense of Canada Reads? Afterall, shouldn’t the CBC’s coverage of this important aspect of our culture aspire to be more than a vehicle for light entertainment and commercial book promotion?
Let's go, CBC. Step up your game.
ANDREWS STEEVES ¶ PRINTER & PUBLISHER