O Canada: Citywide Reading Trend Reaches the Great White North

by Staff

It all started in Seattle: Starbucks, grunge, and ... the "one book, one city" program. In the four years since Nancy Pearl organized a Seattle-based reading of Russell Banks's The Sweet Hereafter, the idea has spread across the country. Cities in at least 18 states have tried similar programs. New York City, after much deliberation—not only over which book to read but also over the city's interest in standing on common literary ground—chose Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee for "One Book, One New York," which will be launched at BookExpo America in May.

What started as a simple concept to get Americans to read good books has become an international phenomenon: Canadians have decided to adopt and expand the idea. Rather than limiting the civic conversation to one city or state (or province as the case may be) Canada is planning a nationwide reading.

In April a book will be chosen from a shortlist of Canadian fiction that includes The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Whylah Falls by George Elliott Clarke, The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence, A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry, and In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. The books were chosen by a panel comprised of writers Nalo Hopkinson and Leon Rooke, former prime minister Kim Campbell, actor Megan Follows, and musician Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies.

From April 15 to April 19, during a discussion that will be broadcast by Canadian public radio, the panelists will vote off the list until one book remains. The title will be announced on April 23, Canada Book Day. A nationwide celebration will follow, including a broadcast reading of the book.