March Reading Challenge

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March Reading Challenge: Read a book that has won or been nominated for Canada Reads

Canada Reads will be taking place at the end of this month! CBC’s Canada Reads is a battle of the books, where prominent Canadian personalities and citizens ‘defend’ and discuss some amazing Canadian books, all of which have been chosen to meet a specific theme.

This year’s theme is “One Book to Connect Us”. Given the past two years of isolation, this theme resonates strongly, and all of the books nominated this year will speak to this important theme. The book topics range from residential school survivors living in Vancouver, to the story of a Toronto community that grapples with poverty and crime (and has recently been adapted into a critically-acclaimed movie), to a novel that tells the story of the global refugee crisis through the eyes of two children – among others.

I distinctly remember following along with Canada Reads in 2020, when it had been postponed from March to July due to COVID-19. It was my first year watching/listening to the debates, and that collective experience definitely made me feel more connected to other readers across Canada, even though that’s not what the theme was! I’m very much looking forward to the discussion this year about how these books will help connect Canadians, especially since many of the choices this year explicitly focus on marginalized communities.

Scarborough the novel by Catherine Hernandez

Given the popularity of Canada Reads, you can expect to see very long waitlists for the current nominees. Some of them (like Scarborough!) are available to borrow instantly on Hoopla. But this month’s reading challenge is to read a book that has won or been nominated for Canada Reads for any year, not just this year, so this is a great chance to check out some of the previous years – like this list or blog post for 2021. The list of nominees for 2022 also includes some of the titles that were longlisted, many of which do not have many holds on them either.

Here’s a small selection of some standouts from Canada Reads over the years that are available right now.

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson. This is the first book in a trilogy (with the last book in the trilogy having been published last year). The main character, Jared, will stick with you for a long time – he’s 16 and he has his issues (with his family, and with easy access to drugs and alcohol) and he has a total heart of gold – the kind of kid who everyone in his community relies on. His life gets more complicated when he learns he can communicate with ravens, and it seems his heritage isn’t as straightforward as it once seemed. This was nominated for Canada Reads in 2020.

American War by Omar El Akkad. Omar El Akkad is also the author of What Strange Paradise, nominated for Canada Reads this year and also the winner of the 2021 Giller Prize. In this debut novel which was nominated for Canada Reads in 2018, a second Civil War has broken out in the United States over fossil fuels and climate change, and refugee camps have been set up for Americans caught between the North and South.

The Midnight Bargain by C. L. Polk. This Canada Reads 2021 nominee will sweep you into a world of magic and fantasy. Beatrice Clayborn has ambitions to be a great Sorceress, but her family instead plans to marry her off for greater riches – which would mean cutting Beatrice off from her powers, as all women who marry must consent to wearing a collar that blocks women from access to their magic.

Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre. For a true backlist recommendation, look at some of the nominees and winners from over 10 years ago. The debate around Something Fierce (which ended up winning Canada Reads 2012) made headlines when one of the panelists accused Aguirre of being a ‘bloody terrorist’. According to this interview with Something Fierce’s defender, the musician Shad, that panelist ended up voting for Something Fierce to win in the end – which speaks to the importance of the debate Canada Reads encourages. Something Fierce is Aguirre’s memoir about her life growing up as the daughter of a Chilean revolutionary during Pinochet’s regime, and her own decision to join the resistance as well.

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje. This was the very first Canada Reads winner, but would have been a Canadian classic even without this superlative. Ondaatje’s lyrical and poetic novel is about Toronto in the early 20th century, and the immigrants and labourers who made it into the recognizable city it is now. It can also be read as the predecessor to The English Patient, as several of the characters appear in both novels.