Canada Reads gets underway Monday with five celebrity panelists set for literary combat as they champion five fictional reads in the annual CBC book battle.

Moderated by Q host Jian Ghomeshi during a four-day period, the books and their celeb crusaders are:

  • The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, defended by philanthropist Stephen Lewis.
  • The Orenda by Joseph Boyden, championed by award-winning journalist Wab Kinew.
  • Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan, defended by two-time Olympic gold medallist Donovan Bailey.
  • Cockroach by Rawi Hage, defended by The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee.
  • Annabel by Kathleen Winter, championed by actor Sarah Gadon.

The novels selected this year were chosen according to specific criteria — books that have the ability to change minds, lives and even Canada itself.  All Canada Reads novels must be written by Canadian authors, available in English and have been released by a traditional publisher. 

Bailey, ever the competitor, argues Edugyan’s novel --  about the disappearance of Hiero, a talented young black German jazz musician at the hands of the Nazi Party during the Second World War --  is “quintessentially a Canadian book.”

“You see the racism from so long ago, and then you look at the racial divides and the black on black racism that exists today in our society. It is essentially a helpful comparison to make. It has something to say to Canadians as a whole because we are the biggest melting pot in the world."

Bee picks up on the diversity angle by saying that Cockroach, about the darker experiences of Montreal’s immigrants, reflects that immigrant experience which Canada is about.

“It's comedic and it's dark and it's very interesting. It's a book about what it feels like to be other, what it feels like to be invisible or alien. I think anything that gives you the opportunity to draw back the curtain on what it feels like to be invisible is valuable."

The current five books were selected from a massive list of online submissions in the fall. The first submissions were whittled down to 40 titles and later, through public voting, to the current top five.

Last year’s winner was February by Lisa Moore.

The debates will air on CBC Radio at 11 a.m. local time (except in Newfoundland where it will air at 1:30 p.m.), CBC-TV at 4 p.m. local time (4:30 in NL) and online at CBC Books at 10 a.m. ET, March 3-6, 2014. 

There will be a one-hour recap special on CBC Radio One on March 8 at 4 p.m. (4:30 in NL) and a broadcast special on CBC-TV at 1 p.m. (1:30 in NL)