CBCBooks on  Twitter CBCBooks on Facebook

Exploring the Canada Reads Top 40: The big(ger) players

Looking to vote on the Canada Reads Top 40? You can do that if you click here!

Well, here we are. We've come to the end of a week of briefly introducing each novel on the Canada Reads Top 40. Some fit nicely into a single category. Some fit comfortably into two (or even three!), which meant we had to choose where to put them. The point is simply to give every book its moment in the Canada Reads sun.

Today's group features a collection of novels that rode high on the bestseller charts and won their respective authors a devoted following (not to mention the occasional award). So without further ado, here's our final round-up. Don't forget: the deadline to submit your vote for the Top 10 is Sunday, November 7, at midnight ET!

Clara Callan

Clara Callan (HarperCollins, 2001) by Richard B. Wright

Set during the Great Depression, this tale of two sisters who choose radically different paths in life captivated readers across the country, including Kathryn Sutherland, who wrote:

"I particularly enjoy epistolary novels and this book was exceptional in its depiction of two sisters who both challenged the conventions of their time in radically different ways."

Accolades: Clara Callan was a powerhouse on the awards circuit, taking home three major prizes: the:Governor General's Award, the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award for Book of the Year. Critics at home and abroad fell for it too — "Wright has accomplished an amazing feat by allowing his characters to emerge, fully formed and true, without authorial intrusion into their intimate psychological world," wrote the reviewer in Publishers Weekly.

Crow Lake

Crow Lake (Knopf Canada, 2001) by Mary Lawson

Mary Lawson's compelling story of the Morrison family, part of a close-knit farming community in Northern Ontario, had reader Alisa Groot singing its praises nearly a decade after its publication. She wrote:

"Amazingly written, this book is tragic without being obvious. The characters are real, their reactions to events are understandable but not predictable. The Northern Ontario setting reveals a place that I've never been but can now feel I've visited. It was heart-wrenching and shows what sacrifice for loved ones is truly about."

Accolades: This beloved bestseller took home the 2003 Amazon.ca/ Books in Canada First Novel Award and the McKitterick Prize. Critics across the country applauded, including the Globe and Mail reviewer, who predicted, "A lot of readers are going to surrender themselves to the magic of Crow Lake."

Late Nights on air

Late Nights on Air (McClelland & Stewart, 2007) by Elizabeth Hay

Late Nights on Air offers the story of an unforgettable cast of characters — outcasts working at a small CBC radio station in Yellowknife — set against the stunning backdrop of the Far North. It warmed the hearts of readers nation-wide, including Kitty Chavarie, who had this to say:

"A truly Canadian experience to read such a novel. As a person who moves books around by trading and sharing this is one that is mine and mine alone. Makes me wish I was a radio broadcaster with all these folks having this fresh new life."

Accolades: Late Nights on Air nabbed the coveted Scotibank Giller Prize and garnered rave reviews. The Toronto Star called it "Psychologically astute, richly rendered and deftly paced...a pleasure from start to finish."

Pattern Recognition

Pattern Recognition (Penguin, 2003) by William Gibson

Science fiction writer William Gibson broke out of the cyberpunk mould with this thrilling take on consumer culture and the quest for meaning in contemporary life. Sheila Barry was bursting with enthusiasm for the book:

"With Neuromancer, William Gibson invented cyberspace, and he has been imagining, and perhaps helping to create, our future ever since. His novels are inventive, exciting, scrupulously plotted, and full of unique and memorable characters. Even his darkest scenarios include a faith in the warmth and goodness of ordinary people, and his own warmth and empathy as an author come through on every page."

Accolades: Pattern Recognition picked up nominations for the British Science Fiction Association Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award and a Locus Award, along with plenty of critical praise, including from Kirkus Reviews, which noted its "laser-perfect cultural radar."


Room (HarperCollins Canada, 2010) by Emma Donoghue

Emma Donoghue's story of a mother and son living in captivity and (spoiler alert!) eventually breaking free has been shaking up the literary world since its publication earlier this year. Despite being relatively new, it scored enough nominations to crack the Canada Reads Top 40, including one from Tamara Van Horne:

"This book is a MUST read for any CanLit fan. Told from the perspective of a five year old boy, Jack has lived his entire life in Room with Ma. But when Ma and Jack try to leave Room for Outer Space, things will never be the same again. This book was just up for the Man Booker Prize, and for good reason. The storytelling is fresh, and the subject matter would be difficult to read through if not told from Jack's point of view. Everyone I have loaned this book to have been blown away by the story — and you will be too!"

Accolades: Room captured the Writers' Trust Fiction Prize and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. There may be more hardware to come: Donoghue is also up for the Governor General's Award — the winner will be revealed on November 16. An international bestseller, the book has been embraced by readers and critics alike; the Irish Times reviewer wrote: "Charming, funny, artfully constructed and at times almost unbearably moving... Room is above all the most vivid, radiant and beautiful expression of maternal love I have ever read."

Sweetness in the Belly

Sweetness in the Belly (Anchor Canada, 2005) by Camilla Gibb

The story of Lilly, an orphan whose remarkable life takes her from Ethopia to England, touched many readers. Lynne Inkster was one of them, writing:

"I admire Camilla Gibb's writing skills that transported me to an Ethiopian walled village (as well as an immigrant enclave in London) by invoking the sights, sounds and smells so well that I can still smell the dust and hear the squabbling. I highly recommend this novel to all Canadian readers."

Accolades: Sweetness in the Belly won Ontario's Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. The Ottawa Citizen loved it too, writing, ""A marvellous, highly absorbing read bound to strike up conversations at award time."

The Way the Crow Flies

The Way the Crow Flies (Vintage Canada, 2003) by Ann-Marie MacDonald

Ann-Marie MacDonald's story of an Ontario community shaken by a terrible crime (and inspired in part by one of Canada's most notorious murders) quickly became a bestseller and book club favourite. L.M. Afonso gave it a glowing recommendation:

"This is an awesome book, as is anything by Ann-Marie MacDonald. I love that it takes the Steven Truscott story and weaves it into her own fictional account from the eyes of a young girl on a Laval army base. Just the line, 'the crows saw the murder' is worth the read b/c it is sooo intriguing!!"

Accolades: The Way the Crow Flies walked off with the Canadian Booksellers Association Libris Award and made the shortlist of the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Critics also showered praise on the book, among them the Chicago Tribune reviewer, who called it "Remarkable...an engrossing, disturbing and layered tale."

Thumbnail image for The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood (McClelland & Stewart) by Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood's post-apocalyptic tale wowed many readers, including Laura Rochon, who wrote:

"This should be read by all Canadians as a cautionary tale of what may happen if we continue to stretch environmental patience and if we continue to flirt with what is ethical with technology and science."

Accolades: A runaway bestseller, The Year of the Flood was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Trillium Book Award. It also garnered critical acclaim at home and abroad, including from Publishers Weekly, which praised it as "a gutsy and expansive novel, rich with ideas and conceits."

Through Black Spruce

Through Black Spruce (Viking Canada, 2008) by Joseph Boyden

Joseph Boyden's haunting follow-up to Three Day Road follows Annie, a young woman hunting her for disappeared sister, and their aging and lonely uncle.Many readers, including Deb Powell, found it stirring:

"It is very moving, emotionally, geographically and historically. Touching an essential essence of Canadian identity, it deserves to be the must-read book of the last decade."

Accolades: This winner of the 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize also captured the CBA Libris Award. Fellow Top 40 author Zoe Whittall was one of the novel's admirers; in her review for NOW magazine, she praised it as "a complicated saga that is emotionally satisfying, suspenseful and well crafted."


Unless (HarperCollins Canada, 2003) by Carol Shields

Carol Shields's exploration of how a mother's life is turned upside down when her daughter drops out of university and becomes a beggar on the streets of Toronto may not be one of her most famous works, but it's certainly one of her most loved. Julie Buckley was one of several Shields fans showing the Canadian icon some love in the reader recommendation process:

"I read this book a number of years ago and the essence of it has remained with me all these years later. Whenever I see a teenager who appears homeless on the streets, I remember the character in this book. It reminds me that everyone has a story that has shaped them up to this stage in their life and they are not looking to be judged, rather to just be seen. This person on the street has loved ones who are often unable to understand why they have chosen this way to live."

Accolades: Unless won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and scored a place on the shortlist of numerous other awards, including the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award and the Orange Prize. It also won high praise from critics world-wide; The Guardian's reviewer called Shields "an elegist of the everyday," adding, "We should celebrate her achievement while we can."

There you have it, Canada. It's a wrap: all 40 of the novels you chose for the Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade are now accounted for. You have until Sunday, November 7, at midnight ET to cast your vote for the novel you think belongs in the Top 10. That list will be revealed on Tuesday, November 9. So vote here and be sure to head to Facebook, Twitter or the comments below to talk about the Canada Reads process, your favourite Top 40 reads and more!

Erin Balser is an associate producer with Canada Reads.

Comments are closed.