The CBC has unveiled a new kind of reality show.
“Canada Reads,” CBC Radio’s annual literature debate show first went to air in 2001 to encourage people to discover books written by Canadian authors. For its 2012 campaign, the show has chosen to allow voters to choose solely from memoirs, biographies and literary non-fiction. Ann Jansen, senior producer for “Canada Reads,” said the show wanted to focus on something new.
“Fiction is really beloved by Canadian readers, but non-fiction is as well,” Jansen said. “There are some people who focus more on non-fiction and we felt we should give them a chance to enter the conversation.”
Non-fiction usually doesn’t get as much press as fiction, Jansen said. When it comes to awards, such as the Governor General’s Literary Awards, the media tend to gravitate to the fiction nominees. In allowing memoirs, biographies and literary non-fiction, “Canada Reads” will give national recognition to non-fiction authors.
Among the top 40 nominees announced Oct. 18, was Marina Nemat for her memoir Prisoner of Tehran. Nemat agrees with Jansen’s assessment.
“It is definitely encouraging. But here in the West people expect immediate remedies,” Nemat said. “Problems can only be fixed with little steps. The bigger the problem, the longer it takes to fix.”
Nemat believes not only do the media need to make non-fiction more popular, so do educators. When Nemat is in Canada, she speaks at an average of three high schools a week. She said she’s pleasantly surprised by the attention educators are giving non-fiction.
“I can see English and world studies teachers really pushing for non-fiction; especially memoirs,” Nemat said. “This is because literary non-fiction has the power to make history real and to make the problems of the world real.”
In the past, “Canada Reads” has received complaints that non-fiction was not included in the debates. Jansen said things are changing.
“It might have something to do with the kind of intense realities we’re living in. People are looking for ways to understand,” Jansen said. “It seems like non-fiction is doing well. We wanted to celebrate that and participate in it.”
With the top 40 non-fiction titles announced, Canada Reads will now ask Canadians to vote online to reduce the number to a short list of 10 non-fiction books. In November, five celebrity panellists will each choose a book from that list and defend them in a series of debates in February.