Four or Five Paragraphs

This week marks the beginning of Canada Reads, where (in Canada, at least) a roundtable of (celebrity) defenders will argue on the radio for a single book that should be read by the entire country. I have a polka-dotted history with this show, having both (successfully) defended a book (“King Leary”) and had a book of mine (“On a Cold Road”) defended (unsuccessfully). Conceptually, and culturally, Canada Reads is a (Canadian) invention that hoists literature into the public’s viewing (and listening) sightlines for a week. During last year’s CR, I hopped three city cabs, and all were reefed with the sounds of First Nation’s defender Wab Kinew debating world Aids’ advocate Stephen Lewis. It made Canada seem like a smart place, however fleeting the impression. I had a torturous time listening to my book being argued over– “On A Cold Road” was, alas, defended by a young model who struggled against more debate-savvy panelists– but arguing for “King Leary” was fun, partly because I knew from the moment the show started that the book would win. Showing up to tape the program, one of the other defenders, the actor Zaib Shaikh, told me how much he liked my choice, and I told him how much I liked his, “Not Wanted on the Voyage,” by Timothy Findley. Most of our time off-camera was spent getting to know one another, and because Canada Reads– for all of its intellectual grist and lively debate guts– is a game show, we were, more or less, aligned. Not intentionally– but not not intentionally– we picked off the other books so that ours would reach the final, and, in the end, “King Leary” won by a single vote. In advance of the “On A Cold Road” edition, producers asked me to choose a set of music to play as bumpers during the show, and I made a list of songs, but, in the end, they were looking for something less conceptual. Still, I realized that there are lots of great songs about books: “Book of Love” by The Monotones, “Book I Read” by Talking Heads, “Books Are Burning” by XTC, “I Read Your Diary” by Johnny and the G-Rays,” “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles, and this one, “Every Day I Write the Book,” by Elvis Costello. It’s not the most artful of his songs, nor the most confessional, but there’s something about its minor key verses to major key choruses; its accents and cymbal shots before the storytelling continues; its falsetto vocal figure in the beginning and soulful lead vocal throughout; its tremolo guitar striking tight with the snare; its consecutive chapters lyric; its delicious bass line playing its own melody against the rest of the piece; and how the song thinks it’s about writing when it’s really about dancing, which means it isn’t about writing at all.

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