CBC’s ‘Canada Reads’ Sets New Dates: A Shortlist Narrowed by Passion

In News by Porter Anderson

Coronavirus Updates: The typically arresting literature-debate show ‘Canada Reads’ now has new pandemic-era dates, and a strong lineup of five books in contention for no-holds-barred debate in July.

Image: CBC

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

New Dates: July 20 to 23 (Start Reading)
In January, which seems like a different dimension at this point, we announced the rollout of this year’s fine Canada Reads program, in which five issue-driven books are given extensive coverage and debate by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

The idea then, of course, was to get interested parties started reading the books ahead of the debates—in which well-known personalities “defend” their chosen books. And those debates were set for March 16 to 19.

Of course, the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic worked its woes on that schedule, as on so many, and things rightly were put on hold.

Now, Canada Reads has announced that its debates will go forward July 20 to 23—just enough warning for you to get these books read.

This year’s shortlisted titles are:

While not spelled out fully in the media messaging from Toronto, it seems clear that the usual studio audience can’t be present for the debates. This is not the drawback it might be in other cases. While the audience is lucky to be in on a live taping of these frequently impassioned discussions, it adds surprisingly little to the show for viewers on television and live streams. The sense of a communal witness is wonderful but the audience doesn’t impact the proceedings. The effect is Greek but not choral.

The essential element is the debate itself, which is to be led again this year by Ali Hassan, known to CBC Radio listeners as the host of Laugh Out Loud.

On each of the program’s four days, the show will air at 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on CBC Radio One and will be simultaneously streamed on CBC Gem and CBCbooks. (Yes, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has an entire site dedicated to books.) The debate is then aired on CBC television each day at 4 p.m. ET (2000 GMT).

‘To Foster Dialogue and Debate Big Ideas’

Author Megan Gail Coles’ ‘Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club’ is being defended by YouTube personality Alayna Fender. Image: CBC

An interesting factor this year is that in each case of a book written by a woman, that book is being “defended” by a woman. And those books written by men have male defenders. We’ve asked the network whether producers arranged it this way for 2020 or whether it’s just the way things have fallen out. As it turns out, it’s a “complete coincidence,” the program’s spokespeople tell us, the result of panelist’s choices this year of which books they’d like to defend.

It’s hardly a problem, of course, and it catches the eye in the same way that the British Book Awards on Monday (June 29) caught discerning eyes with their all-women awards for authors.

And the reason for the use of the term “defense” on Canada Reads is that as the debates progress, one of the five books is eliminated in each of the four days by the panelists themselves. At the end of the fourth day, one book stands.

Alil Hassan

The host, Hassan, is quoted in media messaging we’re using today (June 30), says, “Now more than ever, it’s important to find ways to bring people together to foster dialogue and debate big ideas, and while this year’s show will unfold a little differently, the core reasons why our passionate defenders want Canadians to read these books hasn’t changed.”

Not only has Hassan mercifully avoided saying “in these uncertain times,” but he’s also pointed up what makes this program so important.

Don’t be thrown by the “celebrity defender” factor. High-profile personalities are used as the defenders to draw the Canadian viewership (and it works). Outside of Canada, most of the defenders aren’t well known, but what’s impressive is that these are entertainment personnel, sports figures, etc., who are inevitably sharply articulate, well-read, and deeply fired up about “their” books and authors. When a session of this show works, it’s engrossing.

In fact, you may find yourself wishing that a lot of shortlists could be thrashed down to their winners this way—in a robust, public airing of truly important issues instead of in cloistered jury chats that result in people in tuxes and evening dresses handing each other shiny trophies.

And fundamental to why this show works each year is its choice of material. We’re not talking feel-good fables here.

One book this year is being called “blistering Newfoundland Gothic for the 21st century, a wholly original, bracing and timely portrait of a place in the throes of enormous change.” That’s Megan Gail Coles’ book, Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club.

Another, Radicalized by perhaps the best known of the authors on the international stage, Cory Doctorow, is “a story of a darkweb-enforced violent uprising against insurance companies told from the perspective of a man desperate to secure funding for an experimental drug that could cure his wife’s terminal cancer.”

Also in focus this time are topics of queer sexuality and a place in the world;

2020 ‘Canada Reads’ Shortlist

We’re embedding a CBC author interview’s audio for you with each listing.

Alayna Fender defending Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles (House of Anansi Press)

Akil Augustine defending Radicalized by Cory Doctorow (Macmillan / Tor Books)

Amanda Brugel defending We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib (Penguin Random House / Viking)

Kaniehtiio Horn defending Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson (Penguin Random House / Vintage)

Here’s an interview with author Eden Robinson

George Canyon defending From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way  by Jesse Thistle (Simon & Schuster)

About the Defenders
  • Alayna Fender who defends Megan Gail Coles’ debut novel is a YouTuber in wellness and sexuality.
  • Akil Augustine is known as a content creator for the National Basketball Association, the Toronto Raptors, the National Hockey League, the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Major League Soccer, as well as Chapters Indigo and Nike.
  • The actress Amanda Brugel has been seen in Orphan Black and Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, as well as, more recently, TNT’s Snowpiercer.
  • Another actor, Kaniehtiio Horn, is from the Mohawk reserve near Montreal named Kahnawake and plays Mari in the National Geographic series Barkskins, based on Annie Proulx’s 2016 book.
  • George Canyon is a country-music artist inducted into the Nova Scotia Country Music Hall of Fame. His debut album, One Good Friend, has been certified platinum.

Here’s a link at which you can fine information and background interviews on the selected works and their defenders.

From left, the 2020 ‘Canada Reads’ defenders are Kaniehtiio Horn, Akil Augustine, George Canyon, Alayna Fender, and Amanda Brugel. Image: CBC

More from Publishing Perspectives on book awards is here. More on ‘Canada Reads is hereAnd more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.