Canada Reads is an annual "battle of the books" competition organized and broadcast by Canada's public broadcaster, the CBC. The program has aired in two distinct editions, the English-language Canada Reads on CBC Radio One, and the French-language Le Combat des livres on Ici Radio-Canada Première.
During Canada Reads, five personalities champion five different books, each champion extolling the merits of one of the titles. The debate is broadcast over a series of five programs. At the end of each episode, the panelists vote one title out of the competition until only one book remains. This book is then billed as the book that all of Canada should read.
CBC Radio producer, Peter Kavanagh, proposed the general idea of a national radio book campaign during the fall of 2001. Later that year, Talin Vartanian conceived Canada Reads and created the essential structure of the program: an annual campaign to select a book for the nation to read. She proposed the idea of five panelists, each championing a different title in a national on-air debate. Vartanian was producer in the first edition (with Kavanagh), then she became executive producer from 2002 to 2007. In 2007 the program was an "All Star Edition", a reunion of the winning panelists from the first five years. From 2007 to 2017, Ann Jansen produced the program.
Canada Reads was first broadcast on CBC's Radio One in 2002, and has aired annually on radio since then. The third and fourth editions also were broadcast on television, on CBC Newsworld. Broadcast dates were February 16 to February 20, 2004, and February 21 to February 25, 2005, respectively. The seventh edition was also broadcast on Bold TV, broadcasting from February 25 to February 29. Beginning with the third edition, the daily debates could be heard online as well as on Radio One. The fifth edition was broadcast from April 17 to April 21, 2006. The sixth edition aired February 25 to March 2, 2007. The seventh edition of Canada Reads was broadcast on February 25 to February 29, 2008 and for the first time it was available as a podcast.
The books in the running for each edition of Canada Reads are announced several months before the programs are broadcast. Titles must be Canadian fiction, poetry or plays. They are promoted in bookstores, in the hope that the Canada Reads audience will purchase and read them all before the programs air. In some cases, publishers have published special editions of the nominated titles.
The publisher of the winning Canada Reads title donates a portion of sales proceeds from the winning book to a charitable organization working in the field of literacy. Recipients have included Frontier College, the Movement for Canadian Literacy, ABC Life Literacy Canada (formerly ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation) and Laubach Literacy of Canada.
Beginning in 2004, Radio-Canada, the French-language service of CBC, produced a French version of Canada Reads entitled Le Combat des livres ("Battle of the books"). It was broadcast on Première Chaîne until 2014, following which it was discontinued for three years until being revived in 2018.
Both the English and French programs sometimes, but not always, include one personality more commonly associated with the other language community, who champions a translated work. One advocate, Maureen McTeer, appeared on both programs in the same year, championing the same novel in both its original English and translated French editions. Several other novels have also been chosen for both programs, although their English and French versions were not chosen by the same advocate or in the same year; one novel to date, Lawrence Hill's The Book of Negroes (French title Aminata) has won both competitions.
Canada Reads 2003 aired from April 21 to 25, 2003. Bill Richardson was the moderator.
Canada Reads 2004 aired on both CBC Radio and CBC Newsworld from February 16 to 20, 2004. Bill Richardson was the moderator.
Canada Reads 2005 was broadcast from February 21 to 25, 2005. Bill Richardson was again the moderator.
Canada Reads 2006 was broadcast from April 17 to 21, 2006. Bill Richardson was again the moderator.
Canada Reads 2007 aired from February 26 to March 2, 2007. Bill Richardson again moderated the competition. For the 2007 competition, each of the five winning advocates from past series returned to champion a new title in an "all-star" edition of the series.
Canada Reads 2008 aired from February 25 to 29, 2008. Jian Ghomeshi moderated the competition.
Canada Reads 2009 aired from March 2 to 6, 2009. Jian Ghomeshi moderated the competition.
Canada Reads 2010 aired from March 8 to 12, 2010. Jian Ghomeshi moderated the competition.
Canada Reads 2011 aired from February 7 to 10, 2011. The producers announced a slightly different format for the 2011 contest. Throughout the month of October 2010, an online vote was held to determine the books that listeners consider the 40 "most essential" Canadian novels of the past decade, and the panelists made their choices from within that list. Only novels, not short story collections, were eligible; however, novels which have previously been included in a Canada Reads competition were still eligible for renomination.
The books for this edition were all non-fiction. A list of 40 non-fiction books were announced as being the shortlist finalists in October 2011, including And No Birds Sang by Farley Mowat, Shake Hands with the Devil by Romeo Dallaire, The Last Spike by Pierre Berton, The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs, and Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan. Listeners could vote on up to five books they wanted to be shortlisted. The debates aired from February 6 to 9, 2012. Jian Ghomeshi moderated the competition.
On the first day of discussions, panelist Anne-France Goldwater "caused shock and outrage among literary types" (according to The Globe and Mail) by calling Carmen Aguirre "a bloody terrorist" and alleging that Marina Nemat "tells a story that's not true". In response, Marina Nemat posted on Facebook, "I hope [Goldwater] can produce evidence to back up her claims. If not, I would like to receive a public apology from her." Nemat's Prisoner of Tehran was the first voted off, with Stacey McKenzie casting a tie-breaking vote. Arlene Dickinson (the panelist defending Prisoner of Tehran) called McKenzie's vote "the wrong choice for the wrong reason".
The theme for 2013 was "Turf Wars", with the advocates and titles chosen to each represent one of Canada's major geographic regions (British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces). Books and panelists for 2013 were revealed on November 29, 2012 on Q. The debates ran from February 11 to 14, 2013.
The 2015 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Wab Kinew, with the theme of the discussions being "One Book to Break Barriers". Panelists and titles were announced on January 20, 2015, with the debates taking place from March 16 to 19.
The 2016 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Gill Deacon, and conducted on theme of "Starting Over". Panelists and titles were announced on January 20, 2016, with the debates taking place from March 21 to 24.
The 2017 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Ali Hassan, on the theme of "The Book Canadians Need Now". Panelists and titles were announced on January 31, 2017, and the debates took place from March 27 to 30.
Note: Tamara Taylor was originally announced as advocate for Company Town but had to withdraw due to a conflict with the filming schedule of her Netflix series Altered Carbon. Measha Brueggergosman was announced as Taylor's replacement on March 9, 2017.
The 2018 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Ali Hassan, on the theme of "One Book to Open Your Eyes". Panelists and titles were announced on January 30, 2018, and the debates took place from March 26 to 29.
The 2019 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Ali Hassan on the theme "One Book to Move You". The books and panelists were announced on January 31, 2019, with the debates taking place from March 25 to 28.
The 2020 edition of Canada Reads was moderated by Ali Hassan on the theme "One Book to Bring Canada into Focus". The books and panelists were announced on January 22, 2020. The debates were originally slated to take place from March 16 to 19; however, as the debates normally take place in a theatre in front of a live audience, they were postponed to a later date in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in Canada. In the interim, the CBC produced a series of five specials, one profiling each of the five nominated books through interviews with both the writer and the advocate, to air in place of the original debates.
In July, it was announced that the debates would take place in the week of July 20 to 23.
The 2021 debates will take place in the week of March 8 to 11, 2021, moderated by Ali Hassan on the theme of "One Book to Transport Us".
Radio-Canada, the French-language service of CBC, aired a French version of Canada Reads, entitled Le combat des livres ("Battle of the Books"), from March 29 to April 2, 2004. It was moderated by Marie-France Bazzo.
The 2005 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from March 14 to March 18, 2005. It was moderated by Marie-France Bazzo.
The 2006 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from January 30 to February 3. It was moderated by Marie-France Bazzo.
The 2007 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from February 26 to March 2 and was moderated by Christiane Charette.
The 2008 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from February 25 to February 29 and was once again chaired by Christiane Charette.
The 2009 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from March 23 to 27, and was once again chaired by Christiane Charette.
The 2010 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from March 22 to 26. Christiane Charette moderated.
The 2011 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from March 14 to 18. Christiane Charette moderated.
Beginning in 2012, the production and broadcast of Le Combat des livres was transferred from Charette's program to the network's new literature show Plus on est de fous, plus on lit!, hosted by Marie-Louise Arsenault.
The 2014 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from March 31 to April 3. Marie-Louise Arsenault moderated.
The 2018 edition of Le Combat des livres, the first time the show has aired since 2014, ran from May 7 to 11, 2018. Marie-Louise Arsenault moderated. The books were selected to represent the regions of Canada, with one book representing each of Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Western Canada and the Indigenous peoples of Canada.
The 2019 edition of Le Combat des livres aired from May 6 to 10, 2019, with Marie-Louise Arsenault moderating. The books were selected on the same theme of regional representation as the 2018 edition, with one book selected to represent each of Canada's four major geographic regions and one book selected to represent indigenous literature.
As a vehicle to promote interest in reading and books and to increase sales, Canada Reads has been a signal success. Even already successful titles see increases in sales driven by their inclusion in the contest: sales of Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion increased by 80,000 in 2002, the year of its appearance on Canada Reads. Its publisher, Random House of Canada attributed much of this increase to Canada Reads.
The success for lesser known titles can be as marked. Hubert Aquin's Next Episode sold 18,500 copies in the year when it won Canada Reads.
For the 2005 edition, sales of Jacques Poulin's Volkswagen Blues, which usually are about 200 copies a year, increased to 7,500 between the time the nominations were announced and the shows began airing. During the same period, 7,000 copies of Frank Parker Day's Rockbound were shipped by its publisher, the University of Toronto Press.
There has been some criticism of Canada Reads. First, criticism has been made of the use of "celebrity" panelists. In 2007, a listener named John Mutford unsuccessfully attempted to become the first non-celebrity panelist. Critics have also taken issue with the game show format, and have contended that discussion of the books has often remained on a superficial level.
The choice of books has also been criticized. Originally each panelist provided a list of five books, from which the producers chose the final contenders. In 2005, this process changed, and the panelists submitted only one choice. Due to scheduling problems, Rufus Wainwright was not able to appear after selecting his choice, and singer Molly Johnson was chosen to defend his chosen book.