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Let the games begin! Canada Reads' 10th anniversary will explore the past decade in Canadian fiction

Can you believe Canada Reads has been around for 10 entire years? Ten years ago, I was an awkward high school student who captained my Envirothon team (don't ask) and was channelling my gangly limbs and sharp elbows into Nova Scotia Division III basketball dominance. (I wasn't that good, I just wasn't afraid to hurt people. They tell you basketball is a non-contact sport. They lie.) My entire future lay before me, I didn't know where I was going or who I'd become.

Ten years ago, the first-ever Canada Reads panel — Steven Page, Kim Campbell, Nalo Hopkinson, Leon Rooke and Megan Follows — sat down to debate the first-ever Canada Reads selections: Michael Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, George Elliott Clarke's Wylah Falls, Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel and Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance. The first year was a success, with Steven Page and Michael Ondaatje reigning supreme. But, like me, Canada Reads was young, inexperienced and full of hope. Who knew what Canada Reads was going to become?

Throughout the past 10 years, I went to university, I moved to Toronto, I got a real job and found a real place to live. Canada Reads flourished, with notables such as Will Ferguson, Measha Brueggergosman, Dave Bidini, Sarah Slean and Perdita Felicien defending the best bestsellers and undiscovered gems Canadian literature has to offer. Titans like Margaret Atwood, Miriam Toews and Yann Martel have all seen their works put forth on the Canada Reads stage, sometimes to triumph, other times to perish.

But Canada Reads has also brought unexpected others — like the almost-forgotten classic Rockbound, the nearly out-of-print comedy King Leary by Paul Quarrington and the small press publication Fruit by Brian Francis — to the forefront of the Canadian literary landscape. Canada Reads is a battlefield, a mystery, a comedy and a tragedy, but, most of all (and most important), it's a celebration. And who doesn't like a good party?

So, this year, in honour of the many milestones Canada Reads and Canadian literature have celebrated in the past 10 years, we're mixing it up. As Jian Ghomeshi announced on Q this morning, instead of giving the panelists free reign to choose whatever books they like, we're going to give them a few parameters: it has to have been published in the past 10 years, and it has to be selected from a list: the top 40 essential Canadian novels of the past decade.

Hmm, a list you ask? How will this list be populated? Who gets to determine which books are "essential?" This is where you come in! Throughout the month of October, we'll be soliciting people's choices for the "essential Canadian novel of the past decade." Again, it has to be a Canadian novel published after January 1, 2000, in English or translated into English. All books are game, even if they were already on Canada Reads!

We'll be asking Canadian personalities, authors, book bloggers, librarians, booksellers and regular readers this very question. Their choices will be shared on the Canada Reads blog. Readers will be able to vote on others' choices and submit their own selections. Every vote, video and submission, no matter how big or small, will be worth one point towards that book. On October 26, the 40 books with the most points will be named the "Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade."

But that's not all. We've got a great contest for you. If you submit a reader recommendation, you'll be entered in a contest to win one of three 40-book libraries. Pretty snazzy stuff, if I do say so myself. A winner will be randomly selected every Monday (that is, October 11th, October 18 and October 25) from all the reader recommendations sent in that week. You can find complete contest details here.

So what are you waiting for? Submit an essay, a video, a song, whatever you can think up — the more creative, the better! — to have your say in what books should make the essential list. Not the creative type? Don't worry, they'll be plenty of space for you to vote and comment on others' submissions.

After October 26, the panelists (a.k.a. the judges) will then select the 10 essential Canadian novels of the decade from this list of 40 based on four criteria: 1) commercial success, 2) critical success, 3) personal opinion and 4) Canada Reads worthiness. We'll announce the Top 10 on November 9. We'll also have pretty fantastic prizes and another cool contest for that round too, so you better stay tuned.

You'll have to wait until mid-November to find out who the five panelists are and what the Canada Reads five selections will be (which will all be from that Top 10 list).

Finally, in February, the panelists will duke it out in the debate-style we've all come to know and love.

Are you ready? Get set....go!

Erin Balser is an associate producer of Canada Reads.

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