Grads battle on CBC Radio’s ‘Canada Reads’

The ultimate battle of the books begins this week when CBC launches the next instalment of its popular "Canada Reads" program. Five celebrity panellists will defend their favourite Canadian works of fiction during the program, which combines the intensity and fun of reality television with fine literature.

Hosted by York alumnus Jian Ghomeshi (BA ’95), the show airs from Feb. 25 to Feb. 29, on CBC Radio One. The urbane Ghomeshi will do his best to play devil’s advocate as the panellists defend their selections. A broadcaster, writer and musical artist from Toronto, Ghomeshi has hosted various programs on television and radio and has interviewed a wide array of people including Woody Allen, Jane Fonda and Francis Ford Coppola.

Left: Jian Ghomeshi will host the 2008 instalment of CBC Radio’s ‘Canada Reads’

On "Canada Reads" books are voted off the list on a daily basis until the book for Canada to read in 2008 triumphs in the end. Think of Oprah’s book club meets "Survivor" – all the enjoyment of sinking into a great book with the excitement of primetime reality television wrapped into one.

In addition to Ghomeshi, "Canada Reads" features a distinct York presence. Alumnus and Canadian astronaut Steve MacLean (BSc ’77, PhD ’83) will defend Thomas Wharton’s Icefields, while alumna Nalo Hopkinson’s book Brown Girl in the Ring will be another contender. Hopkinson (BA ’82) will see her work defended by Canadian broadcaster and hip-hop artist Jemeni, effectively pitting two York grads against each other. And in earlier on-air promotions for the show, Ghomeshi and MacLean have already discussed their common York background, and may again. 

"The first space question the ‘Canada Reads’ team asked me was, ‘What was it like to read in space’?" MacLean wrote in a CBC Web posting. "There is no sense of up or down in space. There is a video clip on the Web that shows me floating in the mid deck of the shuttle reading a book. I am slowly rotating. If I close my eyes I will not be able to tell that I am rotating. If you focus on the book, and ignore your peripheral vision, the result will be the same.

Right: Astronaut Steve MacLean indulges in a little literary diversion while in space

"You really cannot tell that you are rotating. Just like on the ground, a good book can make you forget where you are," said MacLean. "However, the difference in space is that when you lift your eyes from the book, you will not be where you used to be."

Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring tells the story of a mother and her newborn in a future Toronto where traditional government ceases to exist and the wealthy prey on the helpless for organ transplants.

Left: Nalo Hopkinson will see her book Brown Girl in the Ring defended on ‘Canada Reads’

Brown Girl in the Ring won the Warner Aspect First Novel Prize in 1997. Jamaica-born Hopkinson has written three novels and serves as editor for a number of fiction anthologies. Her most recent novel, The New Moon’s Arms, was released in February 2007.

For more information about Canada Reads, visit the Canada Reads Web site or tune into CBC Radio One from Feb. 25 to Feb. 29 at 11:30am and 7:30pm.

By Jonathan Dolphin, alumni information officer.