With Canada Reads beginning just before university exams, there’s an easy opportunity to decide which of the contenders to put on your summer reading list.
The theme is ‘one book to open your eyes.’ The shortlist includes The Boat People, by Sharon Bala; American War by Omar El Akkad; Precious Cargo by Craig Davidson; Forgiveness by Mark Sakamato; and The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.
This year, several authors are people of colour or identify as Indigenous. The stories are all different but contain one central theme: they’ll open your eyes about a time period, contemporary issue, or group. Oh – and they’re all written by Canadian authors.
Canadian literature (#Canlit) sometimes falls to the wayside even for the people it’s intended for: Canadians. Competitions like Canada Reads eases that problem.
If you don’t know how it works, the formula is pretty simple.
Every year, five celebrity panelists choose one book that they want to defend over the course of several days. At the end of each show, they vote to eliminate one of the books, leaving one standing at the end.
Caitlyn Mearns is a senior writer at Celtic Life magazine. She’s written multiple articles about Canadian authors and literature, including about Newfoundland author Wayne Johnston and Giller Prize nominee Heather O’Neil. She believes there’s value in Canadians actually reading Canadian literature.
“Canadian culture is something that is kind of overlooked often. Or rather, put into a box with America, or you’re considered to not have any culture at all,” she says. “And I think Canadian literature is one way to really celebrate our own cultural identity.”
She also says that because Canadian citizens are people from all around the world, Canadian literature offers a unique opportunity to draw from other people’s experiences as they’re weaved into the existing Canadian canon of literature.
“I think we have a great swath of writers from all different parts of the globe, and I think it’s important to celebrate them,” she says.
Mearns also works as a bookseller and says that Canada Reads encourages sales.
booknetcanada.ca referred to the sales boosts from Canada Reads as “phenomenal” and said that the average increase in sales once the shortlist has been announced is 355 per cent.
canlitguides.ca says that while promoting literary works is one of Canada Reads aims, it also encourages Canadians to buy books and support the Canadian book industry.
Mearns also believes there’s something meaningful about this year’s theme.
“I think that’s what all books are striving to do, is open your eyes upon something,” she says.
The Canada Reads debates go from March 26-29 this year and will air on CBC Radio at 1:05 p.m, as well as livestreamed on CBCbooks.ca, YouTube and Facebook, a daily podcast will be released on CBC and iTunes, and you can catch it on TV on CBC at 4 p.m local time.