Examining the merits of Canada Reads in his Master’s Thesis, entitled Reading Canada Reads (2009), Doug Diaczuk points out a number of advantages to the program. First, Canada Reads helps the sale of valuable works that the public might not know about and otherwise not appreciate. Second, it has a clearly felt influence on Canadian literature. Third, it has a role in shaping the Canadian culture. Of course, there are many more advantages that could be cited. The program being very successful, most people assume that its values are clearly established and, therefore, celebrate its presence in Canadian life. Despite its success and advantages, I would like to be the dissenting voice and argue that Canada Reads may not be as helpful as many think.
There are a number of points I would like to bring up in my defense. First, Canada Reads is a television show. As all television shows, its number one aim is to be successful as a show. Thus, the show itself had to be designed in such a way that would keep the audience watching. In the case of Canada Reads, this means two things. Firstly, the producers needed to bring in celebrities that the public recognize. These celebrities may not necessarily be chosen because they are the best experts the show can use. Often times, their public image is more important than their ability to contribute. Secondly, the show needed to be designed in such a way that it would be exciting for the audience to watch. Hence, the show became a “voting-off-the-island” style of elimination process in front of the audience. Whether this is a good way to go about choosing the book everyone should read in the country is highly questionable.
Besides the theatrical value of a live show, the program also has a specific orientation. As it says on its main page, “Canada Reads 2015 is all about books that can change perspectives, challenge stereotypes and illuminate issues”. Maybe this is just my imagination, but this mission statement seems to be geared toward social and cultural concerns. Although these concerns are inarguably important, there are Canadian books written that do not necessarily fit the description but are still valuable. For example, a professor, Dr. W. J. Waluchow, whose classes I used to take in graduate school, has written and taught his extremely valuable book called, A Common Law Theory of Judicial Review: The Living Tree (Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Law), 2009. Dr. Waluchow defends a theory of a flexible and adaptable bill of rights; a theory, which can play an important role in the shaping of the understanding of Canadian constitutional democracy. Yet, his book would never make the list of Canada Reads because it does not have the type of social and cultural concerns that the program is oriented toward. This means that Canada Reads is very narrowly defined in its mission.
Finally, Canada Reads has too great an influence on the reading public. The program seems to have taken power away from the public to define what they think is a valuable book to read. Instead, Canada Reads wants to dictate to the public what books should matter. This attitude defies the essence of democracy and free thinking. The society people live in should not dictate to them the values they should be concerned about at a particular time in history. The social and cultural issues and values should be able to naturally surface, given the current challenges, so that they can be properly evaluated and addressed. It is the public that should take the power and let the leaders know what they are truly concerned about.
Although Canada Reads may be valuable to an extent, I seriously think that it has more disadvantages than advantages. The program is a celebrity television show, it is narrowly defined and it already has too much power. I wish that the cultural ministers in this country could get together and replace the show with something more meaningful to recognize great Canadian writers. At the same time, I have to congratulate to all contestants, since the books they wrote are wonderful and great additions to Canadian literature.
M. J. Mandoki