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A novel approach to Canada Reads this year

fruit.jpg Image via Wikimedia Commons

Last year I had a dream in which I was describing the five Canada Reads books to someone who hadn't read them, and doing so in terms of fruit — maybe my subconscious was crunching along with Brian Francis's Fruit from the previous year. I said Good to a Fault is like an apple, very tasty and also good for you. The Jade Peony is like a kiwi fruit, they used to be called Chinese gooseberries and of course there are Chinese-Canadian characters in that novel. Fall on Your Knees is like a pomegranate, blood-red interwoven fruit with a (to me) exotic flavour. Nikolski had to be a lemon because that's what goes with fish, not in the sense that it was a lemon of a book but that it was zesty...but I woke up before I thought of something for Generation X.

Canada Reads is about five people debating their favourite books and somehow agreeing on one to recommend to a country. It's kind of like comparing apples and oranges and pomegranates and gooseberries, or some such fruity comparison. And that's just the novels. When you think of adding poetry and short stories, it's probably the equivalent of comparing a variety of fresh fruit with a set of bottles of icewine (that'd be the poetry) and maybe my favourite apricot-raisin buns from Cobb's Bakery (short stories, anyone?). More distilled language in poetry, different intentions, more characters to get to know in short stories, different numbers of journeys, a variety of locations, etc., etc. Though of course some novels are poetic and some short stories are more like novellas or...

Back to the plot...over the years, poetry and short stories have been on the Canada Reads list but they are tough for people to defend against novels. Not impossible, but tough. So since we're already leaving out non-fiction and plays and screenplays and so on, we decided to focus this year's campaign on novels. Pure and simple.

We're well aware that Canadians write and read great poetry and short fiction and that these, too, deserve to be celebrated. And hey, if we ever get funding for Canada Reads Poetry or Canada Reads Short Stories or Canada Reads Young Adult Fantasy Fiction, we would love to do those campaigns too. And who knows what will happen next year? For this year, it's novels in English or English translation (which leaves out a lot of wonderful books written in French too).

Another reason we opted for the "novels only" clause this year is that we were also thinking about the panelists. The logistics of finding panelists who would be at the ready to defend novels or poetry or short stories, when frankly, many avid readers have strong preferences, could become a long and difficult task. Considering we've already thrown the panelists for a loop with this year's format, we thought promising novels, novels and only novels, would make this tough task slightly less daunting.

So...knowing that you can't make everyone happy all the time, we wanted to engage Canadian readers in marking the first decade of Canada Reads by coming up with a Top 40 list, while leaving it to the panelists to pick the books they love the most from that list. It's not perfect, but it's something new.

That's my view anyway.

What's yours?

Canada Reads senior producer Ann Jansen is a self-identified poetry lover who adores short stories and and also admires and enjoys novels beyond what words can describe some days.

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