The Canada Reads competition is little known outside Canada. It is a shame because it is one of the most valuable tools to both inspire writers to produce great works and to recognize their efforts.
Canada Reads competition began in 2002. It is produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). It is a televised competition of what is often referred to as “the battle of the books”. The format is simple. The books to be read for the battle is announced in advance in order for the public to have a chance to buy and read the books by the time the competition begins. Each panelist choose a book to defend around the table. In each program, a book is eliminated until one is left–the winning book.
The theme in 2016 was “Starting Over”. The five books defended were Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter, Bone and Bread by Saleema Nawaz and Birdie by Tracey Lindberg, The Hero’s Walk by Anita Rau Badami and The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. At the end, The Hero’s Walk earned the runner-up position and The Illegal won the competition. The Illegal is about a man who lives under a dictatorship and decides to go into hiding. This is Lawrence Hill’s second book to win first place. In 2009, his now famous book, The Book of Negroes was chosen as the best book to read in Canada.
This competition is not without controversy. From the writers’ point of view, the biggest issue is that a book can only be chosen to participate if it is published in a traditional manner. This means that Indie books are not welcome. The second problem with the competition is that the panelists are usually made up of celebrities, some of whom are not experts on the field. The television viewers often complain that the discussions are sometimes superficial.
Still, it is wonderful to have battle of the best books in Canada. It helps both readers and writers. In a world where less people read and more people are fascinated by cheap, meaningless reality shows, it is valuable to have a meaningful and inspiring program on national television.