Let the Games Begin: Alex Good and Steven Beattie on Canada Reads

The best part of Canada Reads for the last couple of years has not been the program itself, or (with one or two notable exceptions) the books themselves: rather, it has been the day-by-day commentary by CNQ editor Alex Good and regular contributor Steven Beattie over at the Shakespearean Rag.   This year’s Canada Reads list is so boring and predictable (with the exception of Dickner’s Nikolski, a title I’ve been meaning to read for some time, though I’ve yet to get to it) that I actually managed, blissfully, to forget that the grand event was finally upon us.  I appreciate the reminder: though I only listen to Q when traveling, I’ll make sure to stick to another station for the duration of the competition.  I’ve been working hard lately at keeping my blood pressure down, and Jian and company are unlikely to help (seriously: I can feel a pain in my arm just typing this).  I’d rather watch the Oscars (which is probably on as I write: legions of wits twittering away.)  Of course, should some brave soul choose to defend Ray Smith’s Century next year I would without any sense of shame sing the program’s praises.  Somehow, alas, I don’t expect that will happen.

But I will pay attention to the discussion all this week over at That Shakespearean Rag.  Today Alex and Steven offer their initial thoughts on the program, the list, and the jurists.


Alex Good: I guess this is the third year we’ve been commenting on the “irresistable, if hugely reprehensible” (Stephen Henighan, naturally) Canada Reads program. But the fact that we’ve kept at it for three years suggests that things maybe aren’t as bad as Henighan makes them out to be. Just criticizing the program serves an important function, I think. And then there have been all of the Canada Reads spin-offs this year, which are also worthwhile. It’s all part of our great national literary conversation, right?


Still, we have been critical in the past. Probably more so than most other write-ups I’ve seen. Which makes it all the more surprising that the CBC keeps encouraging us. I attribute this mainly to the social connections and general affability of one Steven W. (that’s “W” as in “Where’s the launch party?”) Beattie.

So here we are again. Leading off with some general introductory thoughts.

I’ll start by being nice. Whatever you think of the program, you do have to appreciate the effort CBC puts into it. It’s more than just a radio show. The website is also quite impressive. They’ve got a resident blogger named “Flannery” (who seems to be one of those unfortunate media types with no last name), and a whole lot of interesting extra features, from interviews to readings to book club coverage.

Yeah, most of it is pretty fluffy. But still.

The panel this year consists of the usual C-list of Canadian celebrities. Perdita Felicien was the only name I immediately recognized. Apparently Michel Vézina is big in Quebec literary circles, which only goes to show that the two solitudes are still going strong since I’d never heard of him. I’m wary of the ringers. Last year was particularly egregious with Avi (Mr. CBC) Lewis running the table, his only competition coming from fellow broadcast personality Jen Sookfong Lee. This year we have two people coming from similar backgrounds in Simi Sara and Michel Vézina. Isn’t that kind of like having dancers appear as the celebrities on Dancing with the Stars? I mean, radio isn’t easy. I know the others have all been on television and radio, but it’s not like they’re professionals.

The books have been pretty roundly criticized. In part for being titles that are already very well known (prompting cries of “Canada Re-Reads”), and also for being, in the words of more than one joyless critic, “unbelievably boring.”

Fair? Sort of. Blame The Book of Negroes. Serious, dull stuff has a leg up on the competition when it comes to contests like this. Looking back, King Leary seems more and more like an aberration.

For the rest of the discussion please visit here.  And check it out daily.  Should prove interesting.

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