ABSTRACT

For the 2012 installment of its popular competitive reading show Canada Reads, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) decided to feature nonfictional material for the first time, with the winner declared as the work all Canadians should read. But as books were nominated by the Canadian public and began to be defended by celebrities in a reality show elimination format on radio, television, and online, two unusual aspects of this contest began to emerge. First, three of the five finalists, including the eventual winning memoir by Carmen Aguirre called Something Fierce, were not about Canada. Of these books, two were by women who had endured political persecution in their home countries and who had migrated to Canada. Second, when Anne-France Goldwater said that Marina Nemat’s Prisoner of Tehran was untrue and then accused Carmen Aguirre of being a terrorist, Canada Reads stopped being a game-show about nationalist forms of reading and became the focus of a serious discussion about memoir, nationalism, and ethics. This chapter discusses the work of remediation of memoir and biography, which Canada Reads 2012 attempted to facilitate, with a reconsideration of Philippe Lejeune’s autobiographical pact. In this case, the appearance of the pact short-circuited the nationalist ambitions of the CBC program, and highlighted the transnational character of much Canadian writing. The result was an affirmation of the ethical dimension of memoir and biography, and an admission that memoir itself is a means of “identity transit” that can break down boundaries between national literatures.