Reality TV Meets Literary Marketing

For once the Canadians are beating us in the race to the bottom:

As an inciter of excitement about our literature, Canada Reads is inarguably a phenomenon. The show’s triumph has come during a difficult decade in which both CBC and the Canadian publishing industry need all the success stories they can find. In a time of rising flood waters, Canada Reads has been a life raft for both public broadcasting and literature. Given how necessary Canada Reads has become to writers and publishers, it seems churlish to question the show. But the very power of Canada Reads, now a national public institution on many levels, demands that we give it greater scrutiny.

Those who work on Canada Reads tend to wave off criticism by offering a dismissive account of their own achievements. When I interviewed Jian Ghomeshi, who has hosted since 2008, he said it’s wrong to take too serious a view of a show that was, after all, modelled on Survivor. But despite its origins as pure and unabashed entertainment, Canada Reads has become something larger: a harbinger of a changing literary landscape that the program has done no small part to transform.

If Canada Reads is an essential life raft, we need to ask who gets to make it on board. And where, exactly, is this shaky boat taking us?

Say what you will of Oprah, at least she spares us the spectacle of authors publicly begging us to vote for their books on a national TV show modeled on Survivor.

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Everything is spectacle in this country. Nothing has intrinsic worth unless it screams for attention. Sick.

Back up a step: Canada Reads is overdue for critique, especially on the publishing industry’s relationship with a public broadcaster, but be clear: the authors themselves don’t “beg” for votes, their books are defended by third parties, by musicians and celebrities (such as you get ’em in Canada), and it’s a radio show, not a TV spectacle.

I guess this is what happens when the marketing department takes over and runs the publishing house. Indeed, where have all the editors gone ?

I came here to say the same as Tom. It’s a radio show, the books are nominated and defended by third parties, and while I agree it’s overdue for critique, the program is also sometimes good at opening up the discussion of what we should read and why. Not to mention, it (at times, not often enough) helps bring attention to Canadian authors who might otherwise be overlooked.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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