Canada Reads semi-short list (Or: me blabbing about 25 books)

Okay, so I started this blog to read the top 40 books from the Canada Reads Long List in 2011 – the year they did the “best of” edition. It has changed the way I read, and now I find myself reading almost solely CanLit, and now (gasp!) it’s Canada Reads time again! Thought I would take this opportunity to tell you a bit about which books I would like to see make it through and who I would like to see fighting for them!

For my celebrity picks: Clearly these folks should be repping books from the provinces they call home because, I mean, how can you argue for a turf if you aren’t from the turf, yo? (Was the “yo” too much? Felt like it was required because I said “turf” twice in a sentence.)

B.C. AND YUKON

Celeb pick: Michael J. Fox
Come on. Who doesn’t want to see Michael argue for a book? He’s MICHAEL J. FOX. I don’t care how unrealistic this is. My vote goes to him. (And you’re welcome, CBC Books, for the great idea.) (…And if he’s “busy” or whatever, okay, okay, I’ll settle for Jason Priestley.)

Bow Grip by Ivan E. Coyote
Know nothing about this book, but thought I’d share with you a gem of a comment from a 5-star Goodreads user review: “I didn’t want to read Bow Grip. It had a tough spine, and I hate books with a tough spine.” Curious.

Everything Was Good-Bye by Gurjinder Basran
I have heard a lot of really great things about this book from some friends, and from others I’ve heard that the writing style of Basran is predictable. (This always makes me wonder if people who say an author’s writing is “predictable” have simply read too many books… discuss!) My friend Sabrina has lived in Canada and India, as did the main character in Basran’s novel, and she adored the book, so that’s a pretty solid recommendation.

My pick: Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
I had a recommendation to read this book from a friend that was so stirring that I immediately put it on my TBR list. That was months ago. No idea who made the recommendation, unfortunately, but I have a feeling it was after I said I adored Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden. I’m making this my official pick from the short list for that reason – I really, really want to read it. It’s also a book that I think many Canadians would benefit learning more about.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson
Know nothing about this book! Looks interesting. I always find it really fascinating to read debut novels.

Obasan by Joy Kogawa
I understand that the issues dealt with in this book are important, but not quite sure if it has a place on the short list. This book is required reading, I think, for students in grade school so from what I imagine, there are a lot of us out there that have read it already.

PRAIRIES & NORTH

Celeb pick: Chad VanGaalen. Man is a MASTER when it comes to words, and we all saw how successful Shad was last year…

The Age of Hope by David Bergen
Haven’t read this, but sounds like a book I’d enjoy. It’s all over the best-of lists as the end of the year approaches. Hope to get around to reading it at some point. Nice to see a book on this list that’s about life in the Prairies, as I think that’s what this year’s Canada Reads should really be about.

The Diviners by Margaret Laurence
Can’t have a list like this without a Laurence! I had read this when I was too young and I remember struggling to get through it, which I know is crazy, considering the books I read and enjoy now. Looking forward to re-reading this in the near future.

The Garneau Block by Todd Babiak
I’ve been meaning to read a book of Todd’s as he’s another who’s very active on twitter and I have heard great things about his work. The opening lines on the goodreads summary say it all: “This sparkling novel has the warmth and wide appeal of Stuart McLean’s Vinyl Cafe and the wit of Will Ferguson.”

My pick: Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
Anyone that knows me knows how much I adore this book. It’s so brilliantly Canadian. When I read it, I was working at The Banff Centre in the Rockies as a podcast producer. I felt so similar to Gwen as she got a job at a radio station in a small Canadian town. Then she goes on a canoe trip, which I adore, and, well, I’ll leave the rest to you. The interesting thing about this book that I think would prove fascinating on the panel is that it’s one of the books I recommend most that gets either a really positive review, or really negative. For example, I think the first half of the book is really good, but I adore the last half. Many friends of mine feel the exact opposite. I love books like that.

The Trade by Fred Stenson
I haven’t heard of this book, nor even the author, but this books sounds right up my alley in terms of what I’m interested in at the moment. Can’t change my pick from Late Nights on Air, but from what I have learned about this book after researching it, I think I would be pleased to see it on the final shortlist. (Also, what a gorgeous cover.)

ONTARIO

Celeb Pick: Donovan Bailey! Saw him frequently this summer on various London 2012 panels and he’s a great public speaker.

My pick: Away by Jane Urquhart
This is one of my mum’s favourite books, and when I mentioned it made it to the Ontario shortlist, her hands flew to her chest and she gasped, “oh, I adore that book.” It seems that many other Canadians feel the same who have had the opportunity to read this book. I haven’t, yet – I’ve pushed it to the top of my TBR list because my father’s family came from Ireland to Canada, and I am fascinated by the portrait of Canada in the mid-1800s. Yes, seems bizarre to support a book I haven’t read yet, but I also haven’t read any of the other books on the Ontario short list either!

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Another book on my TBR list for the Canada Reads 10th Anniversary “best of” long list. (Plus, Cathy’s a doll on Twitter.)

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
This is a lovely book, and (brace yourselves), a better movie. I think this is the only example of a time where I’ve seen a movie and liked it not only as much as the book, but better than the book. (And Ralph Fiennes? My god.) Sure, lots of people should read this book, but it has enough fame already as a book and a movie. All Canadians should read a more Canadian book. I know that’s a hotly debated topic when it comes to Canada Reads, but it’s my opinion.

Far to Go by Alison Pick
I like books that take place during the First or Second World Wars because I find historical fiction fascinating. Another book that’s on my list for the Canada Reads 2011 10th Anniversary, I look forward to reading this book! A fellow Torontonian, Alison is also on twitter, and she’s always good for a laugh.

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies
Robertson Davies is another legend in the world of CanLit of whose work I have read very little. This books seems to get rave reviews (though I think the reprint of the cover with the deck of cards is rather hideous) and so I’m pleased to add it to my TBR list.

QUEBEC

Celeb pick: Nicole Lizée. So, maybe she’s not a celeb just yet to all you Canadians out there, but this girl is tearing up the new music scene. She’s a composer, and writes largely for solo turntable and orchestra, not to mention the awesome piece she had performed by the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra earlier this year, “Triple Concerto for Power Trio and Orchestra: Fantasia on themes by Rush.”

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny
I’ll admit – I have a terrible bias when it comes to mystery novels and, even more so, to books that are followed by “the ______ series, #__.” If I had more time, I would read the first book in this series so I could make an informed decision on whether or not I actually liked books like this or not. I don’t think it makes sense, however, to have all Canadians encouraged to read book 8 in a series.

My pick: Ru by Kim Thúy
I can’t wait to read this book. I saw Kim Thúy at the Scotia Bank Giller Prize panel at IFOA and she was, to my surprise, hilarious. She had energy, she was spunky, and she had a smile on her face the entire time. One of my favourite moments was when she shared that her aunt had complained about the book because Kim was forcing people to spend too much money on a book that “had only a handful of words on each page.”

Solomon Gursky Was Here by Mordecai Richler
This is that moment where I admit that as a fervent supporter of CanLit, I have never read a book by Mordecai Richler (as an adult). Throw your tomatoes at me, folks. Since this was the one book by Richler that made it to this shortlist, I’ve added it to my TBR list. (I was sold when I read “… its bizarre connections with the North and the Inuit…”)

The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy
Takes place during the Second World War? Like. A few three-star reviews from friends whose bookish opinions I trust? Like less. I think with some other heavy-weight contenders, this might not be in the running.

Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan
I’ve heard of this book for years and never had a chance to read it. Seems like it has a real place on the history of CanLit bookshelf. Seems like many people might have read it, but I suppose for those that haven’t, it would be a must. To the TBR list!

ATLANTIC

Celeb pick: Ellen Page. She’s young, feisty, and popular and she would definitely add some buzz to this year’s announcement. Plus, I feel like she’d be a fabulous debater.

Annabel by Kathleen Winter
My Bare it for Books partner in crime, Amanda Leduc, absolutely adores this book. If you’re on the fence about it, you should go and check out her review on goodreads which is so, so beautifully written that it makes you want to stop everything you’re doing and buy the book immediately.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Though I love this book, I don’t think it has a place on this list. Most Canadians have read it, and those that haven’t, have most likely had some other experience with the story (TV show, musical). This book is already so famous in Canada that I think other books in this category would benefit much more from the added spotlight of being a Canada Reads finalist.

My pick: February by Lisa Moore
I adore this book. It was one of the top 40 picks for Canada Reads 10th Anniversary in 2011, and I read it for that reason. I haven’t reviewed it yet, and it’s simply because I don’t know how I would be able to explain why it’s so special to me. Moore is such a gifted writer. She crafts sentences that seem plain as day; not difficult to comprehend or follow, yet use rich language that break the convention of traditional fiction I’ve read in the past. Simple ideas and thoughts that you realize you think about in your day to day life but have never put words to. Sigh. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s beautiful, heartbreaking, and chronicles the day-to-day in a way that’s anything but boring. Clearly, this is my pick for this year. It takes place around a tragedy that struck the east coast, and it’s a perfect selection for a maritime novel. All Canadians should read this book.

No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod
Haven’t read this, but also one on the TBR list. Alistair MacLeod is obviously a heavyweight when it comes to CanLit and this book is a favourite of many friends and family members. I think it stands a good chance of advancing.

The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason
Had seen this book on some lists in the past year and, though I’ve been curious, it hasn’t made it to my TBR list.

So, in closing (if any of you have actually made it this far): say what you will about Canada Reads, but I think it’s doing great things. Even writing this blog post, before the actual competition even begins, has introduced me to new authors, and added many Canadian books to my TBR list. For that, I thank the CBC Books team for their hard work. You have fans out there! Can’t wait to see the final list on Thursday.

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