Canada Reads 2016

I know I’m entirely too late and Canada Reads finished in March, but I just got around to reading the 5 contenders for the prize. If you’re not aware, Canada Reads is a yearly competition where five Canadian books are chosen, defended by five Canadian personalities (athletes, movie stars, directors, entrepreneurs), and over the course of four days, a book is progressively eliminated. At the end of four days, one book is the champion of Canada Reads.

This year, the theme was “starting over” and here are my thoughts on which book should have won in order from least applicable to the one I think deserved it the most.

5. Minister Without Portfolio – Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio I was unable to finish this book. I gave up reading pretty soon because the writing style was terrible. I couldn’t get past how frustrating it was to read and understand. The whole book is written stream of consciousness style, which makes it very distracting to the plot and I found it very difficult to follow the story. There are no quotation marks around the dialogue either, which is another frustrating aspect to this book. I found this book boring, and I abandoned it because I realized I didn’t care about the plot, the characters, or anything else. I’m unsure whether the theme of “starting over” applies to this book, but I assume it would. In the Canada Reads competition, this book was the first to be eliminated.

4. The Hero’s Walk – Anita Rau Badami

The Hero's Walk This was another novel I didn’t finish. Once again, the problem was that the book started so slowly that it never had my attention. I didn’t care about the characters or the plot, which is really sad because it had beautiful writing. The writing was the best part about this novel, but the Indian slang and way the characters spoke grated on my nerves after a while. Yes, it’s very authentic to how Indians talk, but it didn’t appeal to me. Even though I’m an Indian born Canadian, I never connected to this family and I really disliked the book. I think the theme of “starting over” really did apply to this book. Sadly, I had high hopes for it because it was the runner-up in the competition, but it wasn’t for me.

3. Bone & Bread – Saleema Nawaz

Bone & Bread This book had beautiful writing, but that was all it really had going for it. Beena wasn’t a great person, and sometimes I wanted to shake her because she made some really idiotic choices. I never really related to any of the other characters, but I did understand their motivations. The biggest issue I had with this novel was that it didn’t fit the theme of “starting over”. I don’t think Beena really did start over. The other problem was the plot was so long and overwhelming at times that the main point of the novel was lost among all the other things. A lot of loose ends were left at the end of the novel, yet the book was too long for the amount of story it has. This book was the second book to get cut from the competition, and I understand why.

2. Birdie – Tracey Lindberg

Birdie This was the first of the Canada Reads books that I really liked. This novel was so beautifully melancholy, but I felt like it was leading to a very triumphant place. During the debate, some of the people brought up the use of the disjointed timeline, but I thought the use of it was masterfully done. My favourite part of the novel was the relationship between the four women of the novel. It showed the strength and companionship between women of all different types, and how that friendship can be redeeming. While I never fully connected with Bernice because her experiences were so far removed from my own, I sympathized with her. The writing had some well-written passages, but I don’t think there was anything spectacular about it. It was also brought up that sometimes, this book was confusing, which is true, but I still understood what this book was trying to achieve and I think it did. While it did fit the theme of starting over, it wasn’t in a very obvious way. This book was the third to get eliminated from the competition.

1. The Illegal – Lawrence Hill

The Illegal My favourite of the Canada Reads novels was the book that won the competition. It was the most entertaining, the most exciting, and the one I enjoyed reading the most. During the debate, everyone brought up how it was almost like a movie playing out, and it was. There were some very cinematic things about it, but I didn’t think it was to the book’s detriment. The plot was very gripping and there were so many threads that came together in very surprising ways. The characters were all vividly portrayed and they weren’t black or white characters, which I really appreciated. This novel was multi-faceted and while there was nothing spectacular about the writing, it was a cutting political commentary on the refugee crisis of today. I’m not sure if the theme of starting over applies to this novel, but I know it’s the novel I was rooting for.

This was the first year I’d paid attention to the Canada Reads competition, but I’m proud to live in a country where debating about books is a national pastime. I’m proud that we celebrate literature and Canadians of all different backgrounds. I really enjoyed this year’s competition, and I’m very much looking forward to Canada Reads 2017.


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