Book brawl in Canada

It's like "Survivor," but without the tiki torches or exotic locales. And members of the "tribe" vote off books instead of people.

Canada Reads, an annual book brawl now in its fourth year, features five celebrity panelists debating their favorite Canadian novels. CBC Radio One and CBC Newsworld will launch this year's episode next Monday.

"It's 'Literary Survivor,' " says senior producer Talin Vartanian. "The show is playful. It is not geared toward people who are academics or who follow book discussions. The people who I'm really excited to capture are those who gave up the joy of reading fiction."

This year's celebrity panel includes an acclaimed Canadian vocalist, Canada's top-ranked fencer, a Toronto city councilor, and two authors. At the end of each half-hour show, members eliminate one of the five books.

"It's sometimes very heated, it's rarely predictable, and we've often had really unusual twists and turns in terms of how people vote," says Ms. Vartanian.

A couple of years ago, for instance, panel member Justin Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, voted against the very book he was defending.

This year's contenders are diverse and far-reaching. "Rockbound," by Frank Parker Day, tells the story of a fisherman who tries to find his way off the coast of Nova Scotia. Margaret Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" is a work of science fiction. And Leonard Cohen's "Beautiful Losers" is the most controversial. "It's vulgar," Vartanian says. "It has a lot of sex in it. It's racy, difficult. It's about as far as you can get from the other stories."

The show does leave its imprint on the literary world. Soon after "In the Skin of a Lion" was picked as the winner in 2002, it sold 70,000 copies. In Canada, 5,000 copies is considered a bestseller.

"The goal of the show is to create excitement about reading, and I think we do that," says Vartanian. "People stop me in the halls and say, 'I can't believe he did that! What's going on?' "

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