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Canada Reads 2013: Region Fights Region for Literary Supremacy (or Something)

Brenna Clarke Gray

Staff Writer

Part muppet and part college faculty member, Brenna Clarke Gray holds a PhD in Canadian Literature while simultaneously holding two cats named Chaucer and Swift. It's a juggling act. Raised in small-town Ontario, Brenna has since been transported by school to the Atlantic provinces and by work to the Vancouver area, where she now lives with her stylish cyclist/webgeek husband and the aforementioned cats. When not posing by day as a forserious academic, she can be found painting her nails and watching Degrassi (through the critical lens of awesomeness). She posts about graphic narratives at Graphixia, and occasionally she remembers to update her own blog, Not That Kind of Doctor. Blog: Not That Kind of Doctor Twitter: @brennacgray

Canadians — rejoice! Our nation’s handsomest book club is back in earnest, and it’s (once again) mixing up the format. And this time, it’s regional war!

For those non-Canadians who read Book Riot (I had no idea!), Canada Reads is our national fight-to-the-death held annually on the CBC to determine which book the whole country should read. Celebrities (the Canadian kind) stump for their book of choice in a week-long series of panel discussions on our national arts-and-culture radio show, Q. (Many of you American readers might be Q listeners now, as we’re doing a reverse manifest destiny thing with our favourite radio show lately.) The host, Jian Ghomeshi (pictured left) is what makes this Canada’s handsomest book club — and it doesn’t even matter that it’s on the radio. You can hear him being handsome. And talking books. Is there a reader among us who doesn’t love that?

This year, the format change makes it a regional competition. Each of the five books will represent a different region of Canada: Atlantic, Quebec, Ontario, Prairie/North, and BC/Yukon. It’s an interesting way to approach national literature in a country that really is, much of the time, more a Notion than a Nation. There are some obvious problems (the Prairies and the North have next to nothing in common and I think have been grouped together mostly because there needed to be five and they were less likely to whinge, I’m not sure why Yukon is separate from the North, and I have all sorts of feelings about the constructed notion of Atlantic Canada that I won’t bore you with), and maybe we’ll all just separate over the whole thing… but I doubt it.

It’s going to be interesting to see who the nominees are, not least because we get to do the nominating, Canada! That’s right — nominations for the book to represent each region are open now. So of course I thought I’d tell you mine. I hope you’ll come argue with me down in the comments — or at least read these five fantastic novels.

BC and the Yukon (#canadareadsBCY): Douglas Coupland’s Hey Nostradamus!, my favourite of his novels, which tells the story of a school shooting in North Vancouver and its rippling aftermath many decades out. It’s also a novel about loss and family and fatherhood. It’s compellingly readable and the Vancouver suburb it brings to life becomes a sympathetic character in the text.

Prairies and the North (#canadareadsPraN): Richard Van Camp’s The Lesser Blessed, which I just talked about this week in Buy, Borrow, Bypass so I’ll just link you there instead. A startling, stunning novel.

Ontario (#canadareadsON): Rabindranath Maharaj’s The Amazing Absorbing Boy is one of my favourite novels about immigrant experience in Canada, and specifically in Toronto. In this moving and clever novel, our protagonist Sam has to leave Trinidad after his mother’s death to live with his father in poverty in Toronto. He escapes into the world of comics to cope with and make sense of his new surroundings and the result is truly charming and lovely.

Quebec (#canadareadsQC): Michel Rabagliati’s Paul in the Country, first published in French but available in English, is a graphic narrative (and I know, graphic novels do no do well on Canada Reads, but that is a damned shame) of an middle-aged man looking back on his life with some regret and disenchantment. It’s steeped in pathos and the stark, understated drawings really amplify that.

Atlantic Provinces (#canadareadsATL): Michael Winter’s This All Happened is one of my favourite novels (or thinly veiled memoirs) ever and is as much a love letter to St. John’s as anything else. If you love apathetic and aimless dude narrators who will frustrate and infuriate you at every turn, this is the book for you — but it’s also funny and loving and lovely and sweet, too.

So that’s my Canada in five easy novels. What’s yours?