It's that time of year again, Canada's annual reading reality show, Canada Reads, is back! Next week, March 16-19, the battle of the books, hosted by last year's defending champion, Wab Kinew (who defended Joseph Boyden's The Orenda), is on and more controversial than ever. Before controversy, let's talk about what books we can expect to see this year.
The 2015 shortlist books are: And the Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucie (translated by Rhonda Mullins), Intolerable: A Memoir of Extremes by Kamal Al-Solaylee, Ru by Kim Thúy (translated by Sheila Fischman), The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King, and YA novel When Everything Feels like the Movies by Raziel Reid.
This year's war of the words, battle of the books is being fought on mutliple fronts. So here is some information to arm those who plan on tuning in:
1) The Jian Ghomeshi Scandal
"I'm not one to ignore the elephant in the room," Wab Kinew told the CBC. And neither am I. As anyone who has followed the news in the past year would know, Jian Ghomeshi, who was slated to host Canada Reads this year (as he had numerous times in the past), was fired from CBC as a result of numerous allegations of sexual assault.
Bringing up societal issues with sexual assault, violence and consent, the Ghomeshi scandal sparked much needed dialogue around a topic that is seldom spoken of.
On the lighter side of things, some positive changes have been made with respect to Canada Reads. Wab Kinew, acclaimed Aboriginal broadcaster, musician and soon-to-be author, I think, will serve as a better moderator than Ghomeshi ever did. Although some might miss Ghomeshi's velevety radio voice, it will ultimately be more positive to have a host who is more respectful, more endearing and more representative of a host than Ghomeshi could ever be.
Kinew is dealing with the scandal like a champ, addressing the issue in a really positive way, saying, "I think the best way we could deal with it is if we have a great book that deals with either gender violence, or sexual assault or all the issues around consent that our society still seems to be grappling with," he said on CBC.
Over next week, I hope that the Ghomeshi scandal is addressed at Canada Reads, acknowledging the elephant in the room in front of a national audience.
2) Controversy surrounding Raziel Reid's When Everything Feels Like the Movies
Raziel Reid's When Everything Feels Like the Movies, inspired by real stories of violence against young gays like Matthew Shephard and Larry Fobes King, has come under fire by other authors who believe that it deals with inappropriate content for a YA novel. Vancouver's Reid, 24, is the youngest person to ever receive the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature. However, his reciving the prestegious award has upset some critics and other YA/Children's authors. Columnist for The National Post, Barbara Kay, criticized the book, referring to it as "wasted tax dollars on a values-void novel."
In the same vein as Kay, an online petition was created calling for Canada's Council for the Arts to strip Reid of his Governor General's Award for the "vulgar" and "inappropriate content in his book. The petition states in its preamble, "We feel that this book damages the high standards we have come to expect of the Governor General's Award. It is not what we as parents, grandparents, educators and fellow authors consider good literature for teens." The petition currently has over 1900 signatures.
Ottawa YA author Kathy Clark, was very vocal about her distaste for the novel, telling the Ottawa Citizen that while some subjects like homosexuality and violence are sensitive and make for good topics to write about, "it’s very possible to write about them in an appropriate way without resorting to vulgar language,” something she thinks Reid should have been more cognizant about.
Much of the issue, at least from my understanding, stems from When Everything Feels Like the Movies being marketed toward ages 12-18 (the average readership of YA novels). This, to me, is hard to understand. By the time children reach pre-teenage years this sort of content is not new to them. While it may still be shocking to some, it likely is not the first time someone in this age bracket has heard about sex, violence or swear words.
This serves to promote censorship of important issues that young people probably already know about anyways. Luckily, Canada Reads is not about that, and it looks as if Reid will be keeping his Governor General Award. However, the controversy surrounding the book might spark further debate next week.
3) The limitations Canada Reads can put on Canadian Literature.
The national narrative that Canada Reads creates is not as inclusive as it could be. The slogan "one book to break barriers," is perhaps more fitting in a place like Middle-earth than Canada. Even so, the book that breaks barriers for, lets say, the Orcs may not be as poignant for Hobbits.
No one book can break the various barriers that all Canadians face. This assumption creates an exclusive dialogue that many Canadians are not a part of. While Canada Reads brings many really important issues to light with these year's selections (and the circumstances around the event itself), it does not give an accurate representation of how vast Canadian literature is. That being said, for one week and only five books it would be impossible to address all forms of Canadian literature. Even with more time and more books, it would still be unmanagable. I understand that this is a difficult task.
Perhaps it is the seemingly all-inclusive name, "Canada Reads" or the Tolkien-esque slogan "one book to break barriers" that rubs me the wrong way. Not all of Canada can relate. There is not just one book that can break barriers, as there are many barriers to be broken. Which barriers? Which one book? These questions all serve to put limitations on who can get involved with the conversation, whether intentional or not.
It's the universal assumption that all Canadians can relate that I am skpetical of. Canada Reads is a great event, and the books selected are fully deserving of recognition, but none are the one book that will be universal. There is no one book that will appeal to all Canadians.
Great literature is subjective. The most important thing is to read and enjoy. Either way, I know I will also be watching and enjoying Canada Reads, but I will remain mindful of certain limitations it can pose.
Over Canada Reads Week, I will be live blogging the event on Twitter, so you can get in on the conversation. Watch Canada Reads with me, and let me know what you think! What do you think of all the issues surrounding this year's Canada Reads? What book do you think should win, will be "the book to break barriers"? If you have thoughts, let me hear them!
You can follow me at @laurenscawt or follow the hashtag #RabbleReads
I will also be posting daily recaps in the babble book lounge to continue the conversation there.
Here's how you can watch Canada Reads with me:
• 10 a.m. ET. video livesteam on
• On-demand video will be available each afternoon
• 11 a.m. local time (1:30 p.m. in NFLD) on CBC Radio One
• 8 p.m. local time (8:30 p.m. in NFLD) on CBC Radio One
• A podcast will be available to download each afternoon
• 4 p.m. local time on CBC Television (4:30 in NFLD)
• 7 p.m. ET on documentary Channel
• 9 p.m. PT on documentary Channel
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