Goodreads has a a CanadianContent group that focuses Canadian books. While I’m not an active member, I love to use their reading challenges to diversity my reading while also supporting authors (and publishers) from Canada. One of their active challenges is reading all of the Canada Reads winners. Canada Reads is an annual “battle of the books” challenge. While the debates and outcomes are sometimes a bit questionable, the books are good and every now and then I challenge myself to try to read the shortlist (5 books). But, I’ve never gone back to read past winners.
I’ve listed all of the past winners below (as of 2019 – the 2020 battle has been postponed, but the shortlist was announced). I won’t be reading all of them and I may not even read most of them. But, I’m going to try to read more of them. All of the winners and contenders (the shortlists) are listed on the CBC Books site.
2002 In the Skin of the Lion by Michael Ondaatje: This is a love story and mystery set in Toronto in the 20s and 30s.
2003 Next Episode by Hubert Aquin, translated by Sheila Fischman: Considered a classic of Canadian literature, this story is about political dissent.
2004 The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe: A frontier tale centered around the search for a missing brother.
2005 Rockbound by Frank Parker Day: A story of ambition and conflict set on a harsh island off the coast of Nova Scotia. (How have I not read this yet?!)
2006 A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews: A coming of age story set in a town ruled by fundamentalist religion.
2007 (read) Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill: This is a story of life on the streets in Montreal, as seen through the eyes of a young girl. I enjoyed this story, but it’s definitely not my favourite O’Neill novel.
2008 (read) King Leary by Paul Quarrington: A once-great hockey hero looks back at his life. I have zero interest in reading about hockey and only read this because of the 2017 Book Riot Read Harder challenge. It was a slow read for me, but it’s a good book and I loved the ending.
2009 The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill: This is an historic epic centering on an African girl who was kidnapped from her village and forced into the slave trade.
2010 (read) Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler: This story looks at the invisible links between strangers and at fate. I loved this book and wrote a review a couple years ago.
2011 The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis: This is a political satire centering around an engineering professor who agrees to run in an election he’s sure to lose. It was made into a CBC TV miniseries in 2014.
2012 Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre: This is about two young girls and their parents fleeing to Canada after a violent coup in Chile.
2013 (read) February by Lisa Moore: A story of grief after a Newfoundland woman’s husband dies in an oil rig disaster (based on a real tragedy). This was a beautiful and heartbreaking story full of love, grief, and hope.
2014 The Orenda by Joseph Boyden: Set in the 1600s, this is about a young Iroquois girl, a Huron elder and a Jesuit priest. I’ve heard wonderful things about this book, but I won’t read any of Boyden’s work because he claimed to be Indigenous, even though he isn’t. You can read about the controversy around his claims of being Indigenous on Wikipedia. Personally, I’m inclined to listen to the Indigenous community, and the majority of what I saw was people being offended and hurt that he claimed kinship, told their stories and took advantage of accolades and programs meant to promote Indigenous voices. There’s a plethora of authentic Indigenous authors that you can read instead: Richard Wagamese, Thomas King, Eden Robinson, Katherena Vermette, Cherie Dimaline, Richard Van Camp, Drew Hayden Taylor, Tanya Talaga, Waubgeshig Rice, Tracey Lindberg, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, and so on. Here’s a list of 108 Indigenous authors that CBC compiled in 2017.
2015 (read) Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman: Travelling back and forth in time (and place), this tells the story of a woman who flees the Vietnam War and settles in Canada. It’s a beautifully written account of being a refugee and struggling to settle in a new country.
2016 The Illegal by Lawrence Hill: A story about a refugee who risked everything to start over in a country that doesn’t want them.
2017 (read) Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis: The story of 15 dogs who are given human consciousness by Hermes and Appollo. I’ve read this twice and it’s a fascinating look at human behaviour and the way we “other” people through fear and a false sense of being unique, special or better.
2018 Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto: This book intertwines the story of a white Canadian soldier captured by the Japanese and a Japanese Canadian family sent to an internment camp after the attack on Pearl Harbour.
2019 By Chance Alone by Max Eisen: This is about the author’s survival of the holocaust.