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.