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Volume 40, Number 2 (2015)

“True Stories,” Real Lives: Canada Reads 2012 and the Effects of Reading Memoir in Public

May 11, 2016


For the 2012 instalment of the competitive reading radio show Canada Reads, the producers decided to feature what they called “True Stories,” with the winner declared as the nonfictional work all Canadians should read. This was the first year of Canada Reads to feature a theme, and the first to focus on nonfiction. However, the producers’ decision to switch from fiction genres to nonfiction genres had several unforeseen effects within the show and the public realm, including a controversy generated by panelist Ann France Goldwater when she called author Carmen Aguirre a terrorist and accused author Marina Nemat of falsifying details in her memoir Prisoner of Tehran. This essay proposes that the prominence of the memoir genre on Canada Reads 2012 created a series of effects on the show and in public which disrupted the usual “show business” of the program as public entertainment and economic catalyst, helping to create a controversy that spilled over into public discourse. The effects of reading memoir were very different from the effects of reading fiction on the show. Memoir’s effects as a genre helped to change the character of Canada Reads itself from an amusing game show about the implicit power and goodness of reading, to a serious debate about Canadian identity and citizenship.