Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Canada Reads

Am I the only one who finds the list of contenders for CBC Canada Reads 2010 particularly uninspired?

I was pretty jazzed this morning when I was not only awake, but also semi-conscious as Jian Ghomeshi introduced this year's novels and their defenders. For those who may be unfamiliar with the contest, here's the jist: Five Canadian personalities of relative degrees of notariety pick the novel they think every Canadian should read, and debate head-to head until a winner is crowned. The novel that outlasts all others is the Canada reads winner, and is rewarded with a shiney pink sticker on its cover and a sudden spike in sales.

Now, I'm not debating the fact that the novels selected this year are good. In fact, some of them are downright amazing. But as I was listening to Jian introduce the competition this morning, I noticed that he kept mentioning how the competition in the past has served to bolster the popularity of the novel, causing unprecendented pickups in sales. For some reason, the fact that he was emphasizing this aspect of the competition made me think there would be a focus on new talent this year.

I was wrong.

I think the only nomination that is the least bit unexpected is Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, as defended by Michel Vezina. The CBC usually likes to leave the franco stuff to Radio Canada, so the inclusion of a French-Canadian work in translation this year is refreshing.

The rest of the list reads like a Can Lit 101 syllabus.

Okay, that might be an overstatement. A Can Lit 101 syllabus would probably be too stuffed full of the usual Atwood/Munro/Ondatje/Ricci that was nominated for last years (and every years) Giller and Governor Generals. The Canada Reads 2010 list is more like the syllabus for a Can Lit 101 class taught by an overeager grad student during the summer semester. Except, wait! Marina Endicott has been nominated for the Giller before.

I'm not gonna lie: I've read a lot of Douglas Coupland. I've even seen him read live, and he was pretty entertaining. But Generation X was published NINETEEN years ago, and shows its age. Cadence Weapon is going to have to fight an uphill battle.

Anne Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees was published in 1996. Not only has it been a Giller nominee, it Was an OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB SELECTION for God's sake.

And I don't know about Jian Ghomeshi, but anybody who went to high school in BC has had their fill of Wayson Choy.

My point is this: if Canada hasn't already read these books, they've had their chance. There are no first time novelists on this list, so how is the competition supposed to be even a little bit exciting? There's no point of even pretending that its about promoting Canadian fiction when clearly, its just reinforcing the value of the canon.

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