There have been plenty of Canadian TV shows in which contestants are showcased live on air, critiqued, and then voted off until a winner remains. Canadian Idol, So You Think You Can Dance Canada, and Canada’s Got Talent immediately come to mind.
CBC’s Canada Reads launched in 2001, and is an annual battle of the books in which five celebrities from varying backgrounds champion a book they believe Canadians should read. They promote, defend, and dispute the finer points of their selections in a series of live broadcast debates.The books are voted off one at a time until a winner is declared.
I arrived at the CBC on February 12 at 8:45 a.m., about an hour before the filming began. Being on time pays off. By 9:15 there was a line extending through the hallway. Foolishly, I forget to bring a book to read while I wait to be ushered into the studio. Luckily, a kind and chatty group of five female retirees who have come to watch the show are more than happy to give me a brief rundown of the books being featured, the spokespersons, and the format of the show. They are avid fans who have attended every taping since 2008.
The contestants are divided by geographical location (this has allowed CBC to attach the snazzy title “Turf Wars” to this edition of the competition.) They are:
At 10 a.m. we are ushered into a cramped elevator, then seated in a studio. Every seat is taken, and some latecomers are forced to stand. I am seated beside the five women I stood in line with.