Canada Reads, the annual CBC literary competition, has pitted novels — with a short story collection or a book of poetry mercilessly thrown in on occasion — against one another for years. Now, in true 2012, “fuck it the world’s ending” fashion, things are getting out of hand.
For this edition, five non-fiction books were chosen, along with five folks to defend them over the course of this week. One of these defenders, Anne-France Goldwater, has made the cage match so much bloodier than it probably needs to be.
For one, she’s accused Marina Nemat of lying in her memoir Prisoner of Tehran, citing a group of Nemat’s fellow Iranian prisoners who said her book included fabrications. It’s a claim that’s largely been discounted from what I’ve seen.
Even worse, though, was what Goldwater had to say about Something Fierce, Carmen Aguirre’s story of her early life escaping Augusto Pinochet’s Chile and then eventually returning to join the Chilean resistance. The Globe and Mail captured one of the more tense interactions after Goldwater had called Aguirre a terrorist. From their story on this incident:
During the debate, hip-hop artist Shad, who is defending Ms. Aguirre’s memoir, told Ms. Goldwater: “If you consider her a terrorist, you have to consider Nelson Mandela a terrorist.”
Ms. Goldwater responded in the affirmative: “Damn straight. Blood on his hands.”
Goldwater’s acting like a pouty child, saying things to provoke controversy and get attention. It’s not a strategy that works particularly well in Canada Reads, as evidenced by the so-quiet-you-practically-want-to-spell-his-name-in-lower-case John K. Samson’s two victories or even by the fact that, as of today, Goldwater’s book, John Vaillant’s The Tiger, has been voted off.
I can’t say whether CBC would’ve been better served by not going down the non-fiction route, but they’ opened themselves up to conversations like this when they veered away from make-’em-ups. Arguing which real-life account is the more important story for Canadians to read is tricky territory and forces people to make rank their values. That’s true with the fiction competition, too, but at least there you can always defer back to which one is the funnest or prettiest or has the nicest cover.