By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Issue-Driven Book DebateOur regular readers of Publishing Perspectives know that the CBC program Canada Reads may be the show that every national book market needs. It focuses on serious, socially impactful literature. It communicates the value of that literature through attractive, popular personalities. And its vehicle is articulate, meaningful, committed debate about books that bear on issues of the day: critical thinking.
The 21st season has been announced by CBCBooks today (January 26), the four days of broadcast and streamed book debates being set for March 28 to 31.
- Broadcast each day is set for 11 a.m. ET / 15:00 GMT / 16:00 BST on CBC Radio One and at 1 p.m. ET / 17:00 GMT / 18:00 BST on CBC TV and CBC Gem.
- Live streaming of each day’s show is set for 11 a.m. ET / 15:00 GMT / 16:00 BST on CBC Listen and CBCbooks.ca.
If you’re new to Canada Reads, here’s a quick rundown of how it works.
- Five books are put into competition for what this year is pointedly being called “One Book To Connect Us.”
- Each of those five books has a high-profile “champion,” who normally is known for accomplishments in fields other than literature.
- Each champion will argue why her or his book should be chosen as this year’s “One Book To Connect Us.”
- The debates take place in four one-hour round-table live sessions broadcast and streamed from Toronto, one session per day.
- On each of the four days, one of the five books is voted out.
- That leaves, at the end of the debates, “One Book To Connect Us,” the winner in what viewers come to know is actually a cohort of five powerful reads, each book valiantly defended by its “champion.”
The 2020 ‘Canada Reads’ Selections
While our usual practice is to link a book’s title to its publisher page (not to a retailer), in this case our title links go to CBCBooks’ preparatory material for Canada Reads, so our readership of industry professionals can see how the show positions its content. The five books chosen for this year are:
- Washington Black (HarperCollins Canada/Patrick Crean Editions) by Esi Edugyan, to be championed by Olympian and LGBTQ2+ advocate, Mark Tewksbury
- What Strange Paradise (Penguin Random House Canada/McClelland & Stewart) by Omar El Akkad, to be championed by entrepreneur and former Syrian refugee, Tareq Hadhad
- Five Little Indians (HarperCollins Canada/Harper Perennial) by Michelle Good, to be championed by Ojibway journalist and Vogue fashion writer, Christian Allaire
- Scarborough (Arsenal Pulp Press) by Catherine Hernandez, to be championed by actor and activist, Malia Baker
- Life in the City of Dirty Water (Penguin Random House Canada/Allen Lane) by Clayton Thomas-Müller, to be championed by forest ecologist, Suzanne Simard
As you can see four of the five books are from Big Five houses’ Canadian installations, two each from Penguin Random House Canada and HarperCollins Canada. One is from Arsenal Pulp Press, a Vancouver-based independent house.
For a sixth year, the moderator of the show will be Ali Hassan, best known to Canadians as an actor in the sitcom Run the Burbs and host of CBC Radio’s stand-up comedy show Laugh Out Loud. Hassan is an interesting choice, not least because on Canada Reads, his comedy background is not in play. He functions as a host, a moderator, and a sometimes-provocateur.
‘Canada Reads’ Books Become Bestsellers
In the 15-title longlist for 2022, as released on January 12, our links are to the program’s contextual material rather than to the publishers’ promotional pages, so you can see how CBCBooks sets up each book:
- The Spoon Stealer by Lesley Crewe
- Driven by Marcello Di Cintio
- Washington Black by Esi Edugyan
- What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad
- Book of Wings by Tawhida Tanya Evanson
- Satellite Love by Genki Ferguson
- Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch by Rivka Galchen
- Five Little Indians by Michelle Good
- Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez
- All the Quiet Places by Brian Thomas Isaac
- Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough
- Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Müller
- From My Mother’s Back by Njoki Wane
- We Two Alone by Jack Wang
One of the most interesting features of Canada Reads is that while it classifies as a publishing award program, it doesn’t work in traditional longlist-shortlist-winner format, and—most significantly—it doesn’t use a handful of publishing-industry jurors operating out of sight in cloistered discussions.
A longlist is announced early in January, followed just two weeks later by the shortlist of five books assigned to the show. After that, the program’s selective framework appears in real time onstage with the participation of a live audience in years in which coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic conditions permit. (In a non-pandemic year, the champions’ debates are ringed by audience members at close range, following and reacting to the discussion.)
The result is that Canada Reads doesn’t hand consumers the verdict of an unseen jury. It prompts readers to decide for themselves as they watch the five champions argue, often vehemently, for their respective books. The show uses strong on-air production, bolstered by extensive contextual material throughout.
Book marketing shops will want to know that for the past six years, every one of the five books in annual contention has gone to the Canadian bestseller charts as citizens read and discussed the titles. So those who think value book awards for sales and shiny stickers on dust jackets will be pleased to know that there’s revenue value here. Numbers do go up, yes.
Those who place equivalent or higher value on what literature means to a culture will quickly recognize the soft power of this approach. In its 20 years, the program has “influenced the way Canadians talk about and consume books,” as the network modestly puts it. Perhaps the way to say that in world publishing is that Canada Reads captures a national market’s attention with reliable and bankable intelligence.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.