Canada Reads 2024 In Review

Mattea-Roach-holding-the-graphic-novel-Ducks-above-her-head-in-victory.
Credit: cbc.ca

It’s over! The yearly competition to determine which book penned by a Canadian author is ‘the one that all Canadians need to read right now’ has concluded and a victor has been chosen. If you’re not familiar with the format, here’s how it breaks down. Five luminaries on the Canadian cultural scene decide to “champion” one of 15 longlisted books in a debate that’s broadcast over radio and televised across the country. Between March 4-7, daily debates took place, with a round of voting to eliminate one of the books at the conclusion of each discussion. Long-running host Ali Hassan was at the helm, acting as moderator and throwing in a few puns along the way. The theme for this year was an interesting one: Which work is the “one to carry us forward.” Carry us forward to where, you might ask. Fans of Jeopardy (such as myself), may be familiar with last year’s Canada Reads winner and overall excellent human, Mattea Roach. Roach was a formidable competitor on the classic quiz show and now holds the title for “most successful¬†Canadian competitor” in the history of Jeopardy. Roach selected Kate Beaton’s graphic novel, Ducks, as their fighter in the ring. The true account of Beaton’s time working in the oil sands of Alberta and the complicated relationship the writer had with her gainful employment are conveyed through skilled illustrations. It was the first graphic novel to be honoured by the Canada Reads title. Check out one of Roach’s epic wins on Jeopardy here for a taste of their excellence. Turning to this year, the ‘great Canadian book debate’ was in its 23rd iteration, and this year’s contenders chose some intriguing reads. Here are the titles with their corresponding champions:

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Bad Cree

To borrow the parlance of the sporting world, Dallas Soonias is an ‘all-rounder.’ Former athlete on the Canadian National Men’s Volleyball Team, current contributor to CBC Sports broadcasts, filmmaker, actor, writer, and supporter of Indigenous athletes and youth. His title of choice is Bad Cree by Jessica Johns. By all accounts a powerful and intense novel with horror elements that had a good shot at winning in my mind. For those that are planning to binge all five episodes of the filmed debates online, I won’t spoil any of the votes. I’m somewhat surprised by the results, however. In the first round of debate, Soonias used self-deprecation and humour in a bid to convince his fellow champions of Johns’ skill with the written word. I will leave it up to you to catch up with the results.

Denison Avenue

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You might be familiar with this next panelist from his role as Mayor of Calgary for over ten years. Naheed Nenshi has been a fixture of the Canadian political discourse scene for a while and is now dipping his toe in the literary world. He selected the innovative graphic novel/fiction text Denison Avenue by Christina Wong, pictures by Daniel Innes. As evident from the title, the book focuses on the specific neighbourhood of Chinatown-Kensington Market and the subtle and not so subtle impacts of gentrification. Wong Cho Sum has recently lost her husband. Instead of being comforted by the familiar surroundings of her home, even her neighbourhood is changing on her. I have heard this one packs an emotional punch — a wallop, one might say. Sometimes the most memorable stories are the ones that create an emotional response in the reader. I am definitely intrigued by the hybrid format: ink illustrations with pages of prose. This one has yet to arrive from our vendor, but when it does I’d love to take a look.

Meet Me at the Lake

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The first romance novel to be in contention for the Canada Reads title, the immensely popular and in-demand work from author Carley Fortune was championed by Mirian Njoh. The latter is a TikTok brand influencer, fashion designer, and model. Discussion around the merits of the romance genre during the first debate was interesting. Personally, I believe the dismissal of romance stories often stems from some level of misogyny. Stories about women and their desires are often relegated to the bottom of the genre hierarchy, even within the field of ‘genre fiction’ (science fiction, mystery, romance, and westerns). I don’t believe the panelists dismissed the book out of hand, but I do think the odds were stacked against it from the get go. The premise centres on Fern and Will and the day they spent together in Toronto many moons ago. A promise made and broken. Ten years later, both of their lives have drastically changed and a summer at the lakeside resort Fern runs might be the perfect opportunity to make amends. That sounds like a compelling story to me.

Shut Up You’re Pretty

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The only short story collection on the list was taken up by a rising star on the Canadian film and theatre scene, actor Kudakwashe Rutendo from Alberta. Shut Up You’re Pretty was written by Tea Mutonji, a Scarborough local from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The word used in the debates to describe the stories in this collection is “interconnected.” The main through line that connects each of the stories is that they’re all focused on the character of Loli, a Congolese woman living in (funnily enough) Scarborough. The short story format allows the reader to dip in and out of the character’s life, catching glimpses here and there and finding clues as to what’s happened in between. I’m curious about this one as well.

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The Future

The Future‘s looking good for this book. As I watched the first debate from March 4th, I was struck by how practiced Heather O’Neil is at describing the merits of Catherine Leroux’s text. Using words like “syntax,” “metaphor,” and “imagery,” she knows how to accurately and effectively summarize the strengths of prose. One way to learn this skill is through literature classes, another is creative writing workshops. Most likely, she’s been in both, from what I can see. In The Future, Detroit never changed hands from the French to the British in the 18th century. More than that, “Fort Detroit” is part of a post-apocalyptic, fantasy world where children rule over the wilderness on the edge of the city. The most literary-sounding of the bunch, it’s an interesting concept for a novel. When it arrives from our vendor, I’d love to take a gander.

With the winner announced, it might be hard to avoid spoilers, but I would encourage you all to check out some or all of the debates, regardless. It’s interesting to hear the contenders advocate for their books and to see which tactics are employed by whom. To put any of the five books on hold, you can always click on any of the images or check out the list of ten books from the longlist I created below. Sound off in the comments if you agree or disagree with the votes, and I’ll see you in a month!

About Claire

Claire is an Information Assistant at Vaughan Public Libraries. Avid cooker, concertgoer, coffee drinker, TV and movie watcher, washi tape enthusiast, and unabashed fan of romance in all its varieties (even Hallmark movies).  |  Meet the team