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Book bloggers weigh in on the Canada Reads final five


There was a lot of conversation surrounding this year's Canada Reads campaign, both on and off our website. We love when people get into the spirit of Canada Reads and take to Twitter, Facebook and their personal blogs to talk about Canada Reads (even if it is to call this year's public ask "a monumentally stupid idea," as Steven Beattie, one of our most thoughtful and thorough critics did). Now that the books and panelists are revealed, we thought we'd ask five bloggers who followed the campaign closely to share their thoughts on involving the public, the final five and who they think is going to come out on top.

(We didn't ask for any accolades, but we appreciate them! We also appreciate the constructive criticism!)

Charlotte Ashley, blogger at Inklings

Charlotte Ashley InklingsThis year's Canada Reads experiment was controversial. I was among the early critics of the 10th anniversary format. Throwing so much of the book choice out to a vote seemed to be a recipe for mediocrity. I expected a final list of books that needed no introduction, recommendation and certainly not debate.

I should have had more faith! The magic of social media grassroots campaigns, Canada Reads' core (very literate) following and the celebrity panelist wildcard delivered something entirely unexpected. The final five books represent the best of what I think Canada Reads should be: under-read books by hard working, accomplished writers which have each been lauded in their own way, but were far from being household names (Carol Shields excepted, of course).

I could not call this race. My favourite is Essex County, but I've been itching to read Terry Fallis since I saw him on the long list (I find politics as hilarious as the next Canadian). The Birth House and Unless both command devotion from their supporters. And while Angie Abdou's The Bone Cage seems like an unknown, both she and panelist Georges Laraque came out of the Canada Reads launch with the most convincing rhetoric of the day. They will be hard to beat!

Mark Leslie Lefebvre, blogger at Mark Leslie's Blog and manager of Titles Book store at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario

Mark Leslie

Kudos to the folks at CBC for laying down a decidedly different way of getting to the top five. Opening the 10th anniversary of the competition to the general public to submit their own choices for the "essential Canadian novel of the past decade" has resulted in a truly unique shortlist.

Looking back at both the Top 40 and Top 10 lists, I'm impressed by the breadth of phenomenal Canadian novels presented -- these lists should be among the first place people go when looking for a yardstick to measure the Canadian literary landscape.

The final five includes books that many people will not have read, which is great for author exposure. And the shortlist is evidence of the changing and opening mindedness of the book world this past decade. We have three first novels, one last novel, one originally self-published book and a graphic novel all contending for the top prize.

While I'm partial to The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, I have to say that the real winners in this year's competition are the readers, who have been presented with some very fine books to discover.

Jennifer Knoch, blogger at the Keepin' It Real Book Club (and my Books in 140 Seconds co-host)

Jen Knoch Keepin It Real book Club

I've been a supporter of the crowd-sourced Canada Reads list from the get-go, and I'm glad to see that my faith paid off. This is a list as interesting and varied as any celeb-picked ones from the past. For me, it's a nice mix of books I've read and enjoyed, books I'd never heard of and books I might have avoided -- which is exactly the mix I'm looking for in a Canada Reads list. I've also been blown away by the authors' engagement online, they're all over Twitter and the blogs, which is quite admirable and exciting, and I'm curious to see what impact it will have on the online discussion (possibly my favourite part about Canada Reads). It's too early to pick a clear front runner for this year's debates, though for now my money's on Ali Velshi -- experienced broadcast journalist + funny book with substance, that's a powerful combination.

Chad Pelley, blogger at Salty Ink

Chad Pelley Salty Ink

Here's what I've always liked about Canada Reads: The idea of five celebrities picking a novel based solely on really loving it, and trying to convince the country to read it. To me, that approach is more meaningful than an award. So I have to admit that, initially, I was worried that trawling the public was only going to dredge up the obvious mega-hit books, which quite often are not the country's finest, but certainly the country's most read novels.

I was also sceptical of the idea that there is an "essential Canadian read," because we all want something different from a novel, and what a boring thing CanLit would be if we could all decide on our best novel. But in the end, I must say: I've never seen such an interactive and nationwide spotlight on Canadian fiction. Kudos. Seeing so many people -- one way or the other -- getting passionate about books, publicly, was great. And because of the public voting and the subsequent top 40 and top 10, many other novels got some time to bask in the spotlight. In the end, this year's final five are a healthily diverse assortment of books, including some new or under-read novels that will benefit from the spotlight and give the country's readers something new to read, like The Bone Cage. Also notable: the pairing of defenders and books seems ready-made (and I suggest everyone checks out Sara Quin's music, if they're unfamiliar Tegan & Sara and that band's universal appeal). Big congrats to each finalist and a pat on the back to CBC Books for all their hard work. I have no predictions on a winner, which will make it more exciting to watch the contest unfold.

Steph VanderMeulen, blogger at Bella's Bookshelves

Bella'As you know, CBC's Canada Reads program decided to shake things up this year. Thus, we have five books that, while ultimately chosen by the panellists, were initially voted in by readers all over the country. I admit my first reaction was surprise; though I was happy to see my expectations were satisfied in that we wouldn't see already debated or hugely popular volumes, I had been hoping to see Jessica Grant's brilliant and unusual novel, at least, which I don't believe has had as much recognition as it deserves.  

I hadn't heard of Angie Abdou's The Bone Cage before this contest. This right here is the Canada Reads goal coming to fruition -- to give stellar, significant writing the exposure and support it deserves.

Jeff Lemire's Essex County is the surprise of the bunch: a graphic novel, it's the cutting edge choice for a new Canada Reads. Are people ready for it? My approach might be to focus on the marriage of art and story.

Ami McKay's The Birth House has been extremely well received and promises some good competition.

I have my doubts Carol Shields's Unless will make it very far. It's an important contribution to CanLit and it asks significant Canadian questions, but it might be too stereotypical for Canada Reads, which is focused on breaking new ground this year.

Terry Fallis's The Best Laid Plans hilariously pokes fun at Canadian politics, a cue to stop taking ourselves so seriously. I can see a BLP win -- it's about time we Canadians showcased our sense of humour!

Images courtesy bloggers' websites.

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