Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Canada Reads 2010

The line-up was announced yesterday. In the past I've found the process and broadcasts inane, but hey, anything that brings added attention to Canadian books is alright with me. The problem starts with who the panelists are and how they are chosen. I like the idea of having panelists who represent a multicultural and linguistic cross-section of the nation, an African-Canadian participant, an South Asian-Canadian, a Qu├ębecois, and from a variety of walks of life, but not at the expense of enlightened discussion. The panel selection has in the past undermined both the calibre of exchange and titles selected. Will the ultimate choice reflect, by any stretch of the imagination, the one novel that Canada should read this year, of course not. And if this lofty objective (admittedly an unattainable one) is not to be remotely achieved, can't the whole basis of the enterprise be called into question? I think so, and I believe listeners and readers know this and will lose interest, if they haven't already (as I have) which is a shame. I think the folks in charge at the CBC began to give up on what they aspired toward some years ago, and I suspect so will we. This year's books strike me as unimaginative (except for Nikolski, by Nicolas Dicknor) and backward-looking which, in and of itself, is not problematic. I thought the selection of King Leary in 2008 was positively inspired (in fact all the titles that year were interesting.) There is something dull and safe about choosing lauded, well-worn titles like Fall on Your Knees, Generation X and The Jade Peony. If we have to look back why not, go way back, to novels genuinely overlooked or ones long-forgotten that merit being discovered by new generations. The present panel reflects a narrow, youngish (20s-40s) age group which may account for the fact that their 'classic' selections only go back as far as the 1990s. Are these the novels that should truly matter to us today? There are so many outstanding young writers being published in this country (often with small presses) with prescient, vibrant voices. Why not discover one of them? Again, all of this says something about the quality of the panelists, not as accomplished individuals, though they may be, but as readers which is what really matters if this exercise is to be taken seriously by anyone.

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