I know it's not cool or anything, but I'm frequently proud to be a Canadian. Oh, maybe I have my moments of national shame... say when names like "Celine Dion" and "Cirque du Soleil" get bandied about, or when those dumbass "I am Canadian" commercials pop up on my TV, but that's part of being a citizen of this fine land, so I can suck it up.
No, my moments of chest-puffery come when I learn about things like the fact that BC men have the longest life expectancy in the world. (In your face, Japan. Boo-ya!) Or that Canadian parents are entitled to a full year of maternity leave.
And of course I'm proud of our national public broadcaster, the CBC (though Rusty would appreciate it if you'd call it The Ceeb, an affectionate nickname he's been pushing for years), when they run charming, ambitious radio programs such as Canada Reads, which airs every day this week.
Remember all those One Book community reading projects that were all the rage a few years book, when it seemed that all of North America had been electrified and Oprah-fied by the idea of book groups? Ranging from city-wide to state-wide to nation-wide, these diverse projects had one common goal: to get massive groups of people reading and talking about the same book.
Many of these projects have, sadly, fallen by the wayside. (Is there anything sadder than seeing an ambitious, idealistic project's website with the timestamp "Last updated on August 2, 2002"? Maybe a basket of three-legged kittens, but not much else.) But many projects have survived, and one of the lasting (so far) legacies of the One Book initiative is Canada Reads, which has aired every year since 2002.
Promoted as "Five books. Five panelists. Five feisty debates." Canada Reads is a week-long "battle of the books" pitting five Canadian celebrities against one another in a series of debates, wherein each one promotes their pick for the Canadian fiction title that all Canadians should read. It's sort of like literary Survivor, as each episode a book gets kicked off.
This year's panelists include The Weakerthans' John K. Samson (plugging A Complicated Kindness), author/lawyer Maureen McTeer (Deafening), filmmaker/writer Nelofer Pazira (Three Day Road), author Susan Musgrave (Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets), and Kids in the Hall alumni Scott Thompson (Cocksure).
The panel is moderated by Bill Richardson, and honestly? I don't know what the Ceeb would do without Bill. He is just totally fucking awesome, and programs like this just highlight his awesomeness.
Canada Reads actually started yesterday (I knew that string around my finger was there for a reason), but it's not too late to get on board for the debates. They run every day till this Friday, April 21st on CBC Radio One at 11:30 am and 7:30 pm. Readings from the books air this week on Between the Covers at 10:40 pm.
Much as I'd love to leave you with this rosy, maple-scented vision of millions of Canadians reading together in perfect harmony, I have to mention that our country still has lots of room for improvement. While our literacy rate is widely touted as being 97 percent, in actuality 22 percent of adult Canadians have serious problems dealing with printed materials. Taking literacy for granted as I do, I tend to forget that reading isn't just this fun, self-indulgent, escapist activity I indulge in for hours every week. Literacy rates are tied to unemployment, income, population growth, and the treatment of women and children. Personally and globally, we literally can't afford not to read.
Do I think that programs such as Canada Reads will have a direct effect on these problems? I'd love to say yes, and perhaps an idealistic part of me believes this is so. My more realistic side tells me that the audience that will tune in to watch Maureen McTeer duke it out with Scott Thompson are probably people much like me: educated, middle-class, and semi-privileged.
But any program that celebrates reading is a good thing, if only to keep the flame of the idea burning... and perhaps over the long run to illuminate the importance of books and reading in our country and around the world.