July 12, 2012

Do You Watch the CBC More Often than Say 10 Years Ago? Here’s Why

Gosh I remember the fun times I had watching The Friendly Giant, Mr. Dressup and Sesame Street while growing up in a typical 70’s suburban home in Montreal. With its lively characters and amusing stories the CBC programs taught me English without any inkling on my part that I was being educated.  I can’t say I watched the CBC during high school and afterwards.  Other than the Olympics and hockey games, I don’t have any nostalgic CBC recollections.  I was hooked on American offerings like All in The Family and Mary Tyler Moore. Why was that I wondered? 

The answer dawned on me after reading “The Tower of Babble” by former CBC executive Richard Stursberg. I devoured this book in a weekend and it's my favourite read so far this summer.  I loved it for 3 reasons. First, it’s one of the best memoirs for an insider’s view of executive decision making in a large bureaucratic corporation. I was shocked by how candid he was.  There’s no sugar coating here. I know there are 2 sides to every story but the conflicts, frustrations and reflections seemed sincere and well balanced. The clarity with which the author presents the issues at hand and his strategic proposals to turn the CBC around is top notch.  Memoir? Cripes I’d recommend it as a business book for lessons on change management.  
Second; it deals with Canada and its culture. I don’t live in Quebec anymore but as a French Canadian I’m always fascinated by the ongoing French/English battles in the media and how political parties use it to their advantage.  It’s no secret that there’s been a rise in public opinion questioning the CBC’s existence.   The author recaps the key turning points in Canada’s media landscape within the last 15 years and does not hesitate to explain their root causes. He even takes a stab at predicting its future. It’s a very timely book considering how quickly the media business is changing these days. 
Lastly, it’s well written and an entertaining read. I was stunned to read in his acknowledgments that it’s his first book.  Any reader with an interest in Canadian cultural identity, the CBC or politics would appreciate it. I’ve read many memoirs from former business executives and unfortunately many of them bear a resemblance to a resume dressed up by a ghostwriter with a passionate divorce or love affair thrown in for good measure. This one feels authentic and sticks to the topic of business. Bravo for that!
Nowadays I regularly watch George S., Rick Mercer and even get sucked into Heartland every once in a while. My CBC viewing is a lot more than it was 10 years ago, a substantial increase considering I have access to hundreds of channels instead of the four I grew up with.  What can I say? I enjoy stories based on Canadian lives and landscapes.  I can’t get that on HBO.  It’s remarkable to discover that these programs exist due to plans drawn up by the author and implemented under his leadership.  His approach was simple really. Put on shows that Canadians want to watch but the US doesn’t deliver. Let’s hope his vision will continue despite his voluntary exit from iconic cultural institution. Otherwise I’m switching channels and hanging on to my tax dollars!
5 stars out of 5 (*****)

April 17, 2012


Yes! I won a contest from the good folks at Book Club in a Box. My review of A Visit from the Goon Squad beat all the others. I was pleasantly rewarded with a guide for The Paris Wife.
Here's my winning entry; 


February 27, 2012

The Book Thief Steals Our Hearts

Several of us couldn’t find “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak. We didn’t realize that it was categorized as young adult literature. One had to head towards the teen section at the library or bookstore to get a copy.  That’s what’s wonderful about book clubs. They expose you to books you don’t usually consider. The Book Thief was a pleasant surprise to most of us however some readers thought the blurbs on the back cover didn’t serve it well and it tainted their experience. Although the story is set in Germany during WWII, it’s not fair to compare it to The Diary of Young Girl by Anne Frank. If your expectations is a detailed historical account of the struggles faced by innocent German villagers during WWII you will be disappointed. The book is much broader in its themes of love, hate, conflict and death.

The writing style is unique throughout. It starts with the narrator’s voice. To explain further would ruin it for you so you'll just have to trust me. The layout of the words is peculiar and there are drawings throughout the text. The extensive use of imagery is breathtaking. I still look at the sky differently now. Many passages were so beautiful I had to take a break and reflect for a few minutes. The book club members doubted that a teenager would enjoy reading it because the pace is slow and the subject is quite depressing.  No shirtless vampires here.  Since the meeting however many moms have told me their kids loved it! For its unique style and great storytelling we gave it a 4 out 5.
Overall Rating (*****)

February 17, 2012

Canada Reads - Final Day - All the Books Are Winners

I know I know, I'm late posting my comments on the finale for Canada Reads. A dear relative passed away this week and my mind was left numb and my heart filled with sadness. My relative loved books but due to illness she was no longer able to read. During her stay in hospital I read newspaper articles out loud for her to keep her abreast on the world's activities. I'm not sure why one cares about news when one is dying but the distraction was providing her some comfort so I proceeded with the readings, carefully omitting articles on miracle cures and nuclear war. The first to avoid false hope, the latter to avoid losing hope altogether. I scanned the pages quickly and focused my attention on trashy gossip and celebrity clippings. 

The Canada Reads debates were particularly controversial this year so there was lots of material for me to play with. Frankly it was more interesting than my recaps of Coronation Street. You see, TV watching had ceased as well, mostly due to the abhorrent fees for televisions in hospitals, slightly less than the ridiculous parking fees. Who knew parking in Ajax could cost more than central Toronto? But I digress. Together my relative and I decided our favourite panelist was Arlene Dickinson. She was articulate, classy and smart throughout the debates. Her book didn't win but she sure won our respect. The winner was a book called "Something Fierce" which was brilliantly defended by Shad. I haven't read it yet but the title describes my relative perfectly. She was fierce till the end.

February 07, 2012

Canada Reads Day 2 - Dignity Restored

Yesterday's broue ha-ha at Canada Reads made headlines in today's national papers. Fortunately a sense of calmness was restored in today's session largely in part to Alan Thicke's folksy humour and Shad's pragmatic "enough with the drama and let's talk about books" refrain. The Tiger was voted off today because Siberia is not in Canada, it had too many detailed passages irrelevant to the story and works that include tigers expressing thoughts and feelings shouldn't be considered non-fiction.

This skeptic thinks it was payback for yesterday.

February 06, 2012

Canada Reads Day 1 - Artists as Ruthless as Wall St. Bankers

A surprising result at Canada Reads today. The most popular book according to a CBC poll, Prisoner of Tehran, was voted off on Day 1. Arlene's passionate and articulate defense failed to ensure a spot through the next round. What happened? The initial vote was a tie between The Tiger and The Prisoner of Tehran. Stacey held the cards. Since she had voted for neither, she would decide which one was to go. She chose to remove her biggest competitor in order to save her book. I'm sure Kevin OLeary would have done the same. Will her strategy backfire? We'll see.

January 30, 2012

2012 Kickoff

The year 2012 promises to be an exciting year for the book club.  First there's the CBC CanadaReads competition in a couple of weeks. I'll be attending the live tapings and posting pics.  I haven't picked a favourite yet among the finalists. The selections are all non-fiction books and I'm having difficulty being honest with my feelings. Is it OK to prefer a book on hockey instead of a young girl's account of her imprisonment? I'm curious to see how the celebrity panel will handle these types of questions.

The next big news is the club picked its January read. We'll be discussing The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak in mid February. Look for a review by Valentines Day.