Wednesday, February 05, 2020

I read Canadian

A very special day is coming up on February 19, 2020: the very first I READ CANADIAN day celebrating Canadian authors and stories coast to coast. Why this blatantly nationalistic hype? As a true Canadian, I apologize in advance. Canada is a modest, relatively unassuming but awesome country full of diverse regions and cultures. Proudly, it has many voices, but with the exception of Quebec, its literature is mainly in English. It is stuck between two English-speaking cultural behemoths – the UK and the US – which have a far larger readership and much larger budgets to reach that readership. The population of the UK is 67 million, and the US 328 million. Canada's is 38 million, of which 20% are French-speaking.

Canadians have many influences. In many ways we float midway across the ocean between the two powerhouses. A bit British, a bit American, with lots of other colours thrown in. American culture swamps our TV, our airwaves, our movie theatres, and our bookstores. UK culture acts as a kind of counterweight to this, providing another voice that seems familiar, at times nostalgic, to our ears. In this clamouring of cultural offerings, Canadian offerings find it hard to be heard. I have been doing book signings across Canada for over twenty years, and I am often discouraged that readers who express an interest in crime fiction often can't name a single Canadian crime writer. This despite the fact there are about 300 active published authors who are members of Crime Writers of Canada.

In the music industry, there are Canadian content requirements for radio stations that have nurtured a world-class Canadian music industry. Some Canadian content regulations also exist for TV and film. But sadly there are none for books. No requirement for Canadian writers to be included in school curricula, no requirement or even incentive that they feature prominently in bookstore displays, alongside the "Scandinavian Noir" or "James Patterson" piles. The big publishers are international businesses, and they don't make their money on Canadian authors, but rather on international best-sellers  Independent Canadian publishers don't have the money to compete with them for space.

Hence this grassroots social media campaign by authors, publishers, and literary organizations aimed at raising awareness. Hey, Canadian stories exist, and they're actually pretty good! Although the focus is on children's books and the campaign is aimed at school and library participation, the idea is gaining traction within the broader community. So with any luck, on February 19, there will be events in schools and libraries across the country, and blitzes on social media as well as traditional media. All authors are encouraged to wave the flag. If Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are suddenly awash in I READ CANADIAN slogans and stories, that's why. Please share them, and I hope they will inspire some of you to pick up a Canadian book from your library or bookstore.

As a lead-up to that big day, a more modest campaign will be held this upcoming weekend, February 7 - 9, to celebrate that subcategory of books called "High interest/ Low vocabulary". Although most of these books are aimed at struggling or emerging young readers including middle school and YA, some imprints are written for adults who for whatever reason are looking for a quick, easy read. Some are busy or have short attention spans, some just want a quick read for the airplane or the doctor's office, while others, such as ESL, LD, or the elderly, enjoy the simpler format. Orca Books is a leader in HiLo books for all ages, and my Cedric O'Toole series is from their adult Rapid Reads line. Their mission is to develop a love of reading that lasts a lifetime. So if you see a flurry of posts and conversations with #GetToKnowHiLo or @GetToKnowHiLo, please share and join the conversation. Spread the world.

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