Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Canada Reads: What is the Best Canadian Novel?

Today is my day off and therefore I am at home catching up on my chores and listening to CBC Radio.  I particularly enjoy Jian Ghomeshi's pop culture program, Q.  Sadly, it is probably most famous for the controversial interview he conducted with Billy Bob Thornton last year.  Nonetheless, I was listening today and he announced a new twist in this year's Canada Reads.  For the uninformed, Canada Reads is put on every year by CBC Radio and this year is its tenth anniversary.  The idea is that a panel of Canadian celebrities, such as they are, choose Canadian novels that they feel all of Canada should read.  They debate the merits of their books and at the end of each show, a book is voted off Survivor-style until one book remains. 

The debates become quite lively and I look forward to listening to it every year.  This year the twist is that all the books must have been published within the last decade.  That got me thinking.  What is the essential book that I feel every Canadian must read?  It is far easier to look into the past and pull out the gems of yesteryear such as The Handmaid's Tale or The Stone Angel.  I feel it's a much bigger challenge to think of recent books which I passionately feel all Canadians should read.  My initial thought (without having much time to think about it) is that I would recommend Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as a work which continues to resonate in our collective consciousness and has been prescient in its predictions.  Unfortunately, it has already been on Canada Reads, and thus cannot be advocated this year. 

I think that what we have here is an embarrassment of riches.  There are many talented Canadian authors who have produced great novels over the past ten years and it is very difficult to choose just one for everyone to read.  Though books by Alice Munro and Margaret Atwood are perennial favourites and no-brainers during trips to the bookstore, there are many other great writers in Canada.  I would offer the example of Douglas Coupland, the Vancouver author who is always exploring the issues affecting my generation and generally pushing the envelope.  There are many other authors who have done excellent work during the last decade, and that makes this challenge all the more difficult.  

When I was in a Canadian Literature class, there was a huge debate involving the merits of Canada Reads. The idea of a group of Canadian elites who aren't professors or experts choosing a book for every Canadian to read, seemed to bother some people.  I personally feel that programs like Canada Reads are much like the Harry Potter phenomenon.  However people feel about Harry Potter, at least that wizard got children reading, as a gateway book, if you will.  Discussion about Canadian books is always good and may expose people to books and authors that they may not have otherwise heard of.  

If you have any suggestions as to what you feel is the quintessential Canadian novel published in the last ten years then feel free to comment on my blog, or nominate your selection formally on the CBC website (link provided below).  Happy pondering!


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