CBCBooks on  Twitter CBCBooks on Facebook

Flannery introduces us to yet another offshoot: Civilians Read

It's fair to say that Canada Reads 2010 has both inspired and provoked debate. It has even spurred a few other sites to put their money where their mouth is and join the fray. Over at the National Post, you'll find Canada Also Reads, a rejoinder to our bestseller-friendly selection. Back in January, writer Kerry Clare kicked off Canada Reads Independently, a site that also seeks to bring lesser-known works to the foreground by using the same select-then-debate model.

You can now add a third site to your bookmarks: Civilians Read. But Civilians Read isn't entirely independent. I'm happy to call it a sister site. An offshoot of the Keepin' It Real Book Club, Civilians Read is giving average readers like you and me the opportunity to debate all five of our books.

The site's founder, Jen Knoch, is no stranger to Canada Reads. She created five one-minute video pitches for the site (watch them here). When I contacted her earlier this week she told me that it was while she was preparing for the videos that she came up with the idea for Civilians Read.

"Stranded bookless one morning on my TTC ride, I must have been musing about all things Canada Reads, when this audacious little idea appeared." By the time she'd reached her destination, she set the wheels in motion.

After casting the net wide among her friends in the publishing industry — she's a full-time associate editor at ECW Press — Jen came up with her eager panel of "book lovers." Everyone had read the books and pairing panelist to book was pretty simple. (Meet the civilian panelists here.)

"I was ready to draw an order for selection, but we actually managed to work it out so that everyone had a book they were comfortable defending. Hopefully that wasn't the last vestige of civility before we all get competitive and start gnashing our teeth," she jokes.

Knoch is passionate about the emotional and intellectual merit inherent in literary debates. Part of the appeal for her is seeing how the Civilians Read debates will differ from Canada Reads, if at all. "I'm really curious to compare the two debates when they're both over. How did different panelists champion the same book? Is the outcome the same? What kinds of discussions developed even if they started from similar questions?"

One niggling thing is keeping her on her toes, though: how to top Jian's performance as host of Canada Reads? It's no secret that she's an avid fan of the Q host. But the quandary remains: how to out-Jian Jian?

Knoch calls the notion "unthinkable," but she acknowledges some pre-show jitters.

"I assumed the role since I was organizing the competition and it made the most sense, but now I'm getting a tad worried. It'll be hard to remain neutral since I have many of my own opinions I'd like to share, and as to keeping the panelists in line? It'll be a big task."

One of those opinions is her unabashed affection for Ann-Marie MacDonald's Fall on Your Knees, which she credits with "helping me relinquish my deeply ingrained bias against CanLit." Her heart may lie with FOYK, but her head is rooting for Nikolski.

"The publishing side of me wants to see a lesser-known book get its chance in the spotlight. So then I'd have to go for Nikolski, which was a wonderful surprise and a complete delight..."

Personally, I'm looking forward to seeing how the battle plays out. The first Civilians Read debate podcast kicks off on March 1, a week before our own debates and podcasts begin.

Until next week,


Comments are closed.