Today on Twitter I posed what I thought was an interesting question, but I got no bites. What manner of beast is Canada Reads? I know it’s meant to be all in good fun, but does that mean it isn’t worth taking a closer look at it? Mr. Beattie thinks it is, and has once again enlisted Alex Good to help him provide commentary on the proceedings that goes a step beyond the Corky Sherwood coverage this sort of thing often attracts. Their banter is often the best coverage around. But it got me thinking: exactly what sort of journalism is Canada Reads, and book coverage in general? I’ve complained before that newspaper Books sections, and even the Ceeb’s own offerings, can come off like extensions of a publisher’s publicity department rather than a news gathering organization, recycling MadTV jokes about menstruation instead of covering real industry issues. All of it still, when we’re lucky, shares space with real, in-depth critical assessments of books and authors. Are we dealing with entertainment journalism, like Ben Mulroney and Tanya Kim, or is it—or, I suppose, ought it be—cultural journalism, serious inquiry into the soul of a time, a place, or a people? Right now literary journalists seem to be bipolar on this issue.
The reason I bring this up is because today, in the very first day of the debates (aside from learning from Samantha Nutt that The Jade Peony is meant to be good for us—quite the shock there), Jian Ghomeshi seemed dismissive of the idea that a reader might have to, or God forbid even want to, do some work in order to enjoy a book. That’s quintessential entertainment journalism, as far as I’m concerned. Not bad in and of itself, but not always good either. I’m with Harold Bloom in believing that “reading is the search for a difficult pleasure” (How to Read and Why), and I’m glad that Michel Vézina agrees. He took Ghomeshi to task, saying, “We’re not watching TV here, we’re reading books.” Vézina is representing Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski, my own choice for this year’s champion, were I given a say in the matter. Hearing him speak before the debates I was worried that his English wasn’t going to be good enough to hold up in the debates. He’s clearly an intelligent man with good ideas, but even in this officially bilingual country we sometimes find it second nature to look less favourably on an idea imperfectly expressed in our own language, regardless of its quality or the quality of the mind behind it.
I may or may not be posting about the debates every day; it will depend entirely on what’s said. I do hope they will be lively.