Canada Reads: it’s a rant.

I’ve got a bold statement that I need to share with you.

Canada Reads changed my life.

Let me explain. Since the theme was announced for this year’s Canada Reads, there have been the usual grumblings of people who really dislike the competition. Sure, these people were grumbling last year, and the year before that, and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I must say that I was surprised this year that these complaints persisted, however, as the theme was “a book that could inspire social change.” I was pretty jazzed about the theme. Important issues could be in the public eye as they had been last year with Indian Horse.

Today, the long list was announced. Sure, there are some books on the list that I found surprising, but I also saw some of my favourite books among the 40 chosen. I’ll be honest – there are more than half that I haven’t read. Even some I’ve never heard of. But in the hours following the announcement I certainly looked them up. In those hours, the grumbling started again about why Canada Reads is a waste of time.

So this year, I’d like to respond.

I get it. There are flaws. I’m not saying it’s a perfect competition. I’m not saying it should be a competition. There will always be a handful of authors who lobby people to vote for them, or treat it like a popularity contest. That’s certainly a shame, but it shouldn’t affect what Canada Reads is really about.

Two years ago, I happened to tune into Canada Reads and got a chance to experience Canadian literature outside of my grade 12 English class and you know what? It was different than I had remembered. The five books that made the finals seemed… interesting. The panelists were famous Canadians who I respected and they were talking about Canadian books!

After that Canada Reads, I realized that I had a problem. For some reason, I had “sworn off” Canadian literature after high school. That was not okay.

I set myself a challenge. I would try and read the 40 books that had been on the long list for that year’s Canada Reads competition. It happened to be the 10th year of the competition, so the 40 books were all selected from previous years. How could I go wrong? I started a blog (this one, though it looks very different from when it began) and I joined twitter.

Joining twitter was initially unrelated. I had started a new job having just moved back to Toronto and a few coworkers used it and told me I should get it. As the months went by, I realized that the bulk of the people I was following and interacting with were people who were readers, authors, and publishers of Canadian books.

The list grew, and despite my determination, I let the time get away from me and it was a new year of Canada Reads. At that time, I had only managed to read 24 books from the list that had originally gotten me involved in the community in the first place. To this day, my spare time has become so filled with Canadian book events, people and reading lists, that I’ve almost forgotten how it all began. It was Canada Reads.

Since 2011, I have:
– met amazing friends on twitter (like Carrie Macmillan)
– started a knitting/book club called #CanlitKnit (with another friend I met on twitter)
– met and got to know some of my favourite authors
– sat on a committee to choose Canadian books for new Canadians with the National Reading Campaign
– reviewed books for Random House Canada, HarperCollins Canada, CBC Books (surprise, surprise) and many more
– met the marvelous, talented, and inspiring Amanda Leduc and together we convinced 12 Canadian authors to get naked for PEN Canada for whom we’ve already raised over $4,000
– related: appeared half-naked in the Globe & Mail and the National Post

And it all began with Canada Reads.

Allegra and Amanda - Eden Mills

I feel blessed to have met so many other awesome people on twitter and then, gasp, in real life, and been inspired by them, learned from them, and most certainly, had my share of drinks with them (Jenna Illies, Kelvin Kong, I’m looking at you). I may work as a record label producer from 9-5, but I also feel that I can call myself a passionate Canadian reader, and I’m proud to do so.

So you know what? If you have a problem with Canada Reads, why not just let it go? It’s done something amazing for me, and I’m not even an author or a famous Canadian that’s actually been featured on the show. Think of how people are talking about Canadian literature who probably never do. People who don’t care even a half as much as I do are learning about new books, new authors, and, hopefully this year, talking about social change in Canada.

That’s fucking awesome.

So. Here’s a thought to anyone out there who’s a reader, a publisher, an author or all of the above: if people are talking about reading and/or literature of any kind, let alone work by Canadian authors, I think it’s pretty fabulous and at some point, it will benefit you/your industry, so maybe it’s time to lay off complaining about Canada Reads.



5 Comments Add yours

  1. Canada Reads sort of sailed by my consciousness but I did check out the long list after seeing your post. I have read exactly none of them – better get to the library.

    1. ayoungvoice says:

      Thanks so much for letting me know! I am thrilled to know that this post inspired at least one person to have a look at the long list. I would suggest Boyden to read first – he’s one of my favourite authors.

  2. Allegra! This. Is. Amazing. Just amazing. I was in the same sort of boat and it was Miranda and Project Bookmark that finally made me realize that there are some damn good Canadian novels (and short stories) out there. I’ll be posting the hell out of this blog post! Love it.

  3. lauratfrey says:

    What a story! I’ve been inspired by local books and authors, especially those from my own city (Edmonton) so I relate to that. I haven’t done quite so many cool things (yet?) but I understand the feeling, the pride, the excitement. Congrats to you for accomplishing so much in so little time!

    Canada Reads hasn’t really grabbed me yet, but it seems like a funny thing to get mad about.

  4. 🙂 This post makes me very, very happy. Thanks for writing it, lovely.

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