Canada Reads is an annual book competition organized by CBC Books. It’s part debate and part entertainment. It’s also a great source for reading ideas – every book is sure to be well written, thought provoking or powerful. Many of them also take place in Canada, which is a nice treat.
Every year, I tell myself that I ought to read at least one of the short list contenders. And, every year, I have a hard time getting around to it.
That’s because it’s a relatively big deal in Canada. That’s not just evident when looking at the celebrities CBC seems to be able to round up each year (all cool to Canadians, at least); it’s also evident on library wait-lists. For example, 3 of this year’s contenders have over 5 people waiting per copy at my local library. That could mean having to wait up 3-4 months before you get the book. By mid-year, I’ve usually lost interest and moved onto other things. So, this year I planned to buy the contender that sounded the most interesting and read it before mid-March.
Well, Lady Luck was on my side – I’d already read two of the contenders before March (Fifteen Dogs and The Break). The others included two that looked really interesting (Nostalgia and Company Town) and one that I already planned on reading (The Right to be Cold). I decided to try to read all three, but I didn’t manage to read The Right to be Cold before other things got in the way.
This year’s question is “What is the one book Canadians need now?” It’s a bit ambiguous and, as evident by the diverse selection on both the longlist and the shortlist, “need” can be interpreted in many different ways. Each book can be seen as important reads for different reasons:
- Fifteen Dogs – This book looks at the results of 15 dogs being given human reasoning and language by Hermes and Apollo. It’s a very interesting and, at times, difficult exploration of community, power, and relationships. Through their lives and through the contrast between human values and typical canine social order, the author takes us on an exploration of what it means to be human.
- The Break – I’ve already talked about this book (twice!). It’s a look into the lives of Natives and some of the issues they face. It touches on the racism Natives face and the effects of colonialism on Native communities (something that’s important to consider given that this year is Canada’s 150th anniversary). It also reminds the reader of the power of trauma (ex: how it can affect more than just the victim) and of the importance of hope and love.
- Nostalgia – This book explores many different things, including the cultural and psychological effects of a society that has found a way to bypass the physical hurdles of immortality. It also explores the idea of whether or not we can really leave the past behind. While it leaves a lot of unanswered questions (ex: the morality of altering past memories of state enemies just to keep them around) and has a few holes (ex: some of the people felt drawn to places or other people for dubious reasons), it’s still an incredibly interesting and thought provoking story. It also touches on the issues of the conflicts between countries and the issues of closed borders, which is quite timely.
- Company Town – This book is an exploration of what it means to be human. It looks at the personal and social effects of being free of any modifications and the consequences of being modified (think: privacy and security issues). It also includes some good, subtle comments on the value of unions for sex workers and has a female lead who could kick anyone’s butt, which is kinda nice.
- The Right to be Cold – This one is important not just because it highlights the issue of climate change, but also because it touches on how the Arctic and, subsequently, the Inuit culture is at risk. I can’t speak to the content, yet, as I didn’t get a chance to read it.
It’s hard to predict which might win, but I’m rooting for either The Right to be Cold or The Break. Of course, I never watch the actual show as I’m not particularly interested in the game show aspect – I just like using it as a tool to find new books and authors.
Do you have a favourite contender?