The Crank & File

subT73_Crank 'n File_Firth



I should probably stretch first. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything meaty. I don’t want to pull a muscle, strain my back; end up on the sofa with a bag of frozen peas on my addled brain.

Or maybe I should just come out swinging? Catch the reader off guard. Land a quick left cross (I’m a southpaw) and watch you stagger, wobble, fall. Yeah, fuck it; I’m not that old that I should worry about hurting myself every time I throw a punch. Here goes: Canada Reads is farce, a sham—an absurd, conservative, insipid piece of CBC radio bullshit.

I’ve detested Canada Reads from the first time I heard of it. And even though I never really pay much attention to it, I can’t help but hear about it. Masochistically, I’ve glanced at the website, sussed out the books. Maybe listened in for a few minutes when I’m folding clean laundry. And then I hear it: all those earnest, CBC radio voices—mellifluous and erudite (sweet-sounding smarty pants, in other words). Quasi-somebodies bombastically saying they’ll valiantly defend this or that book, almost always something plucked off the Globe and Mail review pages.

It’s not only the choice of books that bursts my buttons, but also the limited choice: five books, with one grand “winner” that then gets a sticker smeared on the cover to boost sales via its CBC anointing. Really? One fucking book needs to be foisted to the top? The heavyweight CanLit champ? Lightweight, more like.

In boxing I get it: cut the rest down, bloody and bruise them. Stand over their fallen bodies, sneering, mouthguard dangling. “I’m the champ, motherfucker! I told you you were going down and there you are: knocked down, knocked out, no good to nobody. Stay on your fucking back, chump!” That I get. That makes sense. But in CanLit? Maybe I’d be okay with it if the Canada Reads champ showed the same moxie as Ali, punched with the same brutal power as Hearns, oozed with the same bulldog guts and determination as Chuvalo. But these are books, people. These books should not be crowned the champ of anything.

Canada Reads should be about all the books we read: great books, average books, shitty books—a huge, long list, like those “500 Best Albums of all time” type things. If the CBC wants to get in on the action, then, sure, they can broadcast the list. But it should be a big, random list, a mishmash of titles: one hundred, two hundred, five hundred. No eggheads, retired athletes, or quasi-celebs defending one book. Instead, CBC could get off its high horse and send some of its minions out onto public transit, into bars, coffee shops, talk to cab drivers, crane operators, nurses and hotel cleaners and just ask them one question: can you give me the title of one good book you read any time, anywhere, any place? Not in the last year. Not just a Canadian writer. Not only living. Dead, alive; male, female, shemale—whatever the fuck. Then make it all into a mashedup kind of blurry reportage: Nurse Miranda read Liquor and Whores by Chris Walter when she worked two weeks straight nights. Crane operator Francesco read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment over six months during smoke breaks perched thirty metres above the ground. Nancy devoured fanfiction on the #94 bus every morning and afternoon commute and loves anything to do with mythical Lego vampire people. Sales clerk Tristan hasn’t read anything—not a single book since high school. Tristan doesn’t read books. Oh, the horror!

This sorta shit would be interesting. This would truly represent Canada. Canada Reads in its current form is a contrived, controlled, manipulative charade that desperately tries to tick all the boxes. It is so eager to be inclusive it is blindly exclusive—because it fears to ask the actual question it purports to answer: what do Canadians read? CBC doesn’t ask this question because it’s likely terrified—like with Tristan—that the answer might be: “Uh, nothing. I read nothing. I only read texts …”

But it’s probably not always as dire as this. For all the Tristans out there who read nothing but truncated, vacuous messages, there will be lots of surprises, too. So who gives a toss what a former Olympic cyclist tells me to read. I’d rather know what Nancy reads on the bus. And, hey, look at that old dude in the Habs toque with the yellow beard, strap-hanging to Nancy’s left; wonder what’s on his eReader? »


Matthew Firth is the editor/publisher of the gritlit magazine, Front & Centre. He is also the author of four collections of fiction, most recently Shag Carpet Action. He lives in Ottawa.


from subTerrain #73


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