15 books make Canada Reads 2023 longlist
The panellists and the books they choose to champion will be revealed on Jan. 25
Canada Reads is back! This year, the great Canadian book debate is looking for one book to shift your perspective.
The stories we tell, and the way we tell them, can shape how we see ourselves, our communities and the world. This collection of books is an opportunity to broaden our horizons, expand our worldview and think differently about the world around us and our place in it.
The 2023 longlist is:
- Ducks by Kate Beaton
- Revery: A Year of Bees by Jenna Butler
- Half-Bads in White Regalia by Cody Caetano
- Greenwood by Michael Christie
- Blood Scion by Deborah Falaye
- Hana Khan Carries On by Uzma Jalaluddin
- All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
- Dandelion by Jamie Chai Yun Liew
- We Were Dreamers by Simu Liu
- Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
- Finding Edward by Sheila Murray
- Hotline by Dimitri Nasrallah
- We Spread by Iain Reid
- Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice
- Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The five panellists and the five books they choose to champion will be revealed on Jan. 25, 2023.
The debates will take place March 27-30, 2023.
Hassan is an actor, comedian and host of CBC Radio's Laugh Out Loud and a frequent guest host of As it Happens and Q. He can also be seen in his TV roles on Designated Survivor, Odd Squad and the CBC shows Sort of and Run the Burbs. He recently became an author as well, publishing his comedic memoir Is There Bacon in Heaven? in fall 2022.
The year 2023 marks the 22nd edition of Canada Reads.
Canada Reads premiered in 2002. The first winning book was In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje, which was defended by musician Steven Page. In 2021, CBC Books put together a retrospective to look back at the show's biggest moments and its impact on Canadian literature.
LISTEN | Canada Reads celebrates 20 years:
Five Little Indians would go on to be the No. 1 bestselling Canadian book at independent bookstores in 2022.
Other past Canada Reads winners include Lawrence Hill's The Illegal, defended by Olympian Clara Hughes, Kim Thúy's Ru, defended by TIFF artistic director Cameron Bailey and Lisa Moore's February, defended by comedian Trent McClellan.
Learn more about the books on the Canada Reads 2023 longlist below.
Ducks is an autobiographical graphic novel that recounts author Kate Beaton's time spent working in the Alberta oil sands. With the goal of paying off her student loans, Beaton leaves her tight-knit seaside Nova Scotia community and heads west, where she encounters harsh realities, including the everyday trauma that no one discusses.
"Going out there, I knew that I wasn't going to have a good time. I knew I wasn't gonna like it, but I knew that I should be grateful for the job I was going to get. The fact that somebody was going to hire me and give me money was the good thing. Back home, they were calling it things like 'money jail,'" Beaton told Shelagh Rogers during an interview on The Next Chapter.
Going out there, I knew that I wasn't going to have a good time. I knew I wasn't gonna like it, but I knew that I should be grateful for the job I was going to get.- Kate Beaton on working in the Alberta oil sands
"It doesn't evoke a sense of enjoyment, right? But I didn't know the details in any way. What I expected was to work for money that I should be grateful to have. And I never expected a corporation to treat me nicely, but I also didn't know exactly what I was stepping into."
Ducks was named one of CBC Books' top Canadian comics of 2022 and was also one of two Canadian books on Barack Obama's list of favourite books of 2022.
Kate Beaton is a cartoonist from Nova Scotia who launched her career by publishing the comic strip Hark! A Vagrant online. The sassy historical webcomic gained a following of 500,000 monthly visitors and was eventually turned into a bestselling book. Beaton's success continued with the book Step Aside, Pops! and two children's books, King Baby and The Princess and the Pony.
LISTEN | Kate Beaton talks to Shelagh Rogers about Ducks:
Jenna Butler spent five years working with bees on her Alberta farm, and she chronicles this journey in the essay collection Revery: A Year of Bees. The essays reflect on Butler's personal story, the development of industrial farming in Alberta and the practical aspects of caring for bees and running a farm.
"Working with the bees has given me the sense that my own life is changing in ways that I don't really have a lot of control over, but I do have the ability to navigate and shift in these small ways," Butler told CBC Edmonton.
If you want to work with the bees, you want to work with the benefits of the bees. You have to learn how to let bad things go.- Jenna Butler on beekeeping
"If you want to work with the bees, you want to work with the benefits of the bees. You have to learn how to let bad things go. You have to be able to drop a bad energy day to go into the yard and work with the bees."
Jenna Butler is a writer and farmer currently living in Alberta. Her other books include the poetry collections Seldom Seen Road, Wells and Aphelion; the essay collection A Profession of Hope and the travelogue Magnetic North. Butler was a juror for the 2022 CBC Nonfiction Prize. The 2023 CBC Nonfiction Prize is currently accepting submissions until Feb. 28, 2023.
Half-Bads in White Regalia traces Cody Caetano's unique upbringing living in a rural house with his siblings after his parents split up and left them behind — his mother trying to discover her Anishinaabe roots after finding out her Sixties Scoop origin story and his Portuguese immigrant father drifting aimlessly.
"I think it's important to learn about my family and where we come from, because it allows me to be a human being in a good way. It allows me to have a sense of belonging," Caetano told Shelagh Rogers in an interview on The Next Chapter.
It's important to learn about my family and where we come from, because it allows me to be a human being in a good way.- Cody Caetano on learning his family's history
"It is an ongoing, lifelong thing. It's a commitment that you can't lose sight of. A part of me feels how important it is to know who my family is, as someone who's both Azorean and Anishinaabe. It keeps me in check."
Half-Bads in White Regalia was written as part of Caetano's MA in creative writing at the University of Toronto, under the mentorship of the acclaimed late Sto:lo writer and academic Lee Maracle. Excerpts from Half-Bads in White Regalia won the 2020 Indigenous Voices Award for Unpublished Prose.
Cody Caetano is a writer of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation. Caetano has also published a short collection of poetry, Pleasure Dome Poems and his work has appeared in publications such as Prism International and the Hart House Review.
LISTEN | Cody Caetano discusses Half-Bads in White Regalia with Shelagh Rogers:
In the novel Greenwood, it's the year 2038 and most of the world has suffered from an environmental collapse. But there is a remote island with 1,000 year-old trees and Jake Greenwood works as a tour guide there. From there, the novel takes you back in time as you learn more about Jake, her family and how secrets and lies can have an impact for generations.
"I was thinking of the idea of a bloodline and wanted to complicate the idea of a family tree. The whole book is an extended metaphor of a family tree," Christie told CBC Books in 2019.
The whole book is an extended metaphor of a family tree.- Michael Christie on Greenwood
"Genealogy isn't a simple story. In my own personal life and experience, families are built much more than they are born. Looking back into your ancestry, all those people have a name and story of their own. There are so many stories to be told in family history so the narrative in the book is structured in that way."
Michael Christie is a novelist currently living in Victoria. His 2011 short story collection The Beggar's Garden won the Vancouver Book Award and was a finalist for the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize. His 2015 novel If I Fall, If I Die won the Northern Lit Award and was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
In the YA fantasy novel Blood Scion, a teen named Sloane discovers she is a superpowered Scion, a descendant of the ancient Orisha gods. But when she is forced to join the army under a brutal warlord, Sloane realizes she has an opportunity to use her magical powers to defeat the enemy from within.
"Though the first spark of inspiration for Blood Scion came as a celebration of my Yoruba culture, it wasn't until 2014 that the story itself became fully formed. At the time, 276 young girls were abducted from a school in Chibok, Nigeria, which began the global hashtag campaign known as #BringBackOurGirls. Even with so many of them still missing, I was devastated to learn about the horrors endured by the girls who had survived. The ones who were forced to become child soldiers, child brides," Falaye told CBC Books via email.
Their stories really hit home for me, and I thought a lot about those girls as I wroteBlood Scion.- Deborah Falaye on how #BringBackOurGirls influenced Blood Scion
"Their stories really hit home for me, and I thought a lot about those girls as I wrote Blood Scion, about what it meant to have their childhood forcibly and brutally stolen from them, the terror so many of them felt in those moments, and that determination to one day escape, survive, return home. A lot of those questions informed the conflict in Blood Scion, and it especially helped me to fully understand my main character's journey as the story progressed."
Deborah Falaye is a Nigerian Canadian YA author based in Toronto. She grew up in Lagos. Blood Scion is her debut novel.
Hana Khan Carries On is a romantic comedy from Uzma Jalaluddin. It's a "meet-cute" story set against the backdrop of the immigrant experience. Hana is an aspiring radio host who is working at her family's halal restaurant. When her aunt and a cousin come to town, and a rival restaurant opens in their neighbourhood, Hana's life is upended and family secrets are revealed. Fighting for her family is a big battle, one that will put all of Hana's skills to the test. It's a battle that gets more complicated by Hana's growing attraction to the rival restaurant's attractive owner, Aydin.
"The origin story of this book goes way back in 2017, which feels like a million years ago right now! My husband and I were celebrating my birthday. We were at this upscale halal restaurant that serves American-style food — burgers, steaks, ribs, things like that," Jalaluddin told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter.
I thought this would be such a great way to explore the way that the changing dynamic of immigrants evolves over subsequent generations- Uzma Jalaluddin on the inspiration for the romantic comedy Hana Khan Carries On
"We were remarking that a halal restaurant like this simply did not exist when we were growing up in Toronto. I thought this would be such a great way to explore the way that the changing dynamic of immigrants evolves over subsequent generations."
- Uzma Jalaluddin's novel Hana Khan Carries On is a modern day meet-cute inspired by a love of rom-coms
LISTEN | Uzma Jalaluddin talks to Tom Power about Hana Khan Carries On:
All the Seas of the World is a historical fantasy tale of treachery, destiny, memory and power. Two people are set on an epic mission to destroy the balance of power in a region. What happens next is an atmospheric story of fate, vengeance and political intrigue.
"My readers have allowed me to write on different themes, different motifs, different things I've wanted to explore and have stayed with me," Kay told CBC Books in 2019.
Readers understanding what you're trying to do is a really intense form of success.- Guy Gavriel Kay on his literary success
"Readers understanding what you're trying to do is a really intense form of success. And on a mundane but fundamental level, success for a writer is being able to keep writing. It seems that what I do works for readers in now more than 30 languages, which is a lot of countries. That's a profound gift that readers give me because I'm able to do that, keep writing."
- Guy Gavriel Kay on why writing fantasy fiction about destiny, dominion and deceit will never go out of style
Guy Gavriel Kay is the author of 15 novels. His Fionavar Tapestry fantasy series has sold over a million copies worldwide since being published in the 1980s and has been optioned by the Canadian production company behind Orphan Black. Some of Kay's other titles include Children of Earth and Sky, Tigana, River of Stars and A Brightness Long Ago. In 2014, he was appointed to the Order of Canada.
LISTEN | Guy Gavriel Kay takes the Proust Questionnaire:
Dandelion is a novel about family secrets, migration, isolation, motherhood and mental illness. When Lily was a child, her mother, Swee Hua, walked away from the family and was never heard from again. After becoming a new mother herself, Lily is obsessed with discovering what happened to Swee Hua. She recalls growing up in a British Columbia mining town where there were only a handful of Asian families and how Swee Hua longed to return to Brunei. Eventually, a clue leads Lily to southeast Asia to find out the truth about her mother.
"I wanted to explore themes of belonging and place from an emotional place. I wrote about it academically in terms of how the law creates foreigners, but I wanted to explore how that feels — what that does to the psyche, how that affects someone's mental health," Liew told CBC Books.
I wanted to explore themes of belonging and place from an emotional place.- Jamie Chai Yun Liew on writing her debut novel Dandelion
"There are a lot of assumptions about why people are stateless and the first one is that they are foreigners or migrants. And some stateless people are, but a lot of stateless people — millions around the world — are living within their home countries and overwhelmingly people told me, 'I'm being treated like a foreigner in my own country.'"
Dandelion won her the Jim Wong-Chu Emerging Writers Award from the Asian Canadian Writers' Workshop.
LISTEN | Jamie Chai Yun Liew on how her legal career was inspiration for her debut novel:
In the memoir We Were Dreamers, Simu Liu details his journey from China to Canada to Hollywood, where he becomes the star of Marvel's first Asian superhero film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. Born in China, Liu's parents brought him to Canada when he was just four years old. As he grows up, he gets top marks in school, participates in national math competitions and makes his parents proud. But less than a year out of college and disillusioned with the life laid out for him, Liu is determined to carve out his own path.
"Around the time that I was writing this book, I was about 30. And there's an interesting parallel, because my parents were roughly the same age when they had me and when they first immigrated to Canada. And this idea of hitting that point in your life where you look to the horizon and you have a dream and you say, 'I'm going to go for it. I'm going to put thought into action and I'm going to pursue this. I'm going to risk greatly. And if I fail, I fail spectacularly. But, you know, I do so knowing that I gave it a shot,'" Liu told Piya Chattophadyay on The Sunday Magazine.
Even though … there's so many differences that separate our generations, that pursuit of a dream and that willingness to put it all on the line is something that really connected us.- Simu Liu on the parallels between his journey and his parents' lives
"And I feel like, even though … there's so many differences that separate our generations, that pursuit of a dream and that willingness to put it all on the line is something that really connected us."
Simu Liu is an actor and writer best known for his work on Marvel's Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the CBC sitcom Kim's Convenience. He lives in Los Angeles and Toronto. We Were Dreamers is his first book.
LISTEN | Simu Liu reflects on his path to superstardom:
Mexican Gothic is a gothic horror novel set in 1950s Mexico. It tells the story of a young woman named Noemí who is called by her cousin to save her from doom in her countryside home, the mysterious and alluring High Place. Noemí doesn't know much about the house, the region or her cousin's mysterious new husband, but she's determined to solve this mystery and save her cousin — whatever it takes.
"The year 1950 seemed just about right, in a Goldilocks kind of way, because women were going to get to vote in 1953 Mexico. So this is just before women get the vote, but it's after the Mexican Revolution. It's this interim period where some things have changed in terms of how women are perceived, and the rights and freedoms that they have," Moreno-Garcia told Shelagh Rogers on The Next Chapter in 2020.
The year 1950 seemed just about right, in a Goldilocks kind of way, because women were going to get to vote in 1953 Mexico.- Silvia Moreno-Garcia on setting Mexican Gothic in 1950s Mexico
"But there are still many constraints — the view at the time was that the woman, while she may 'waste' her time engaging academic pursuits, ultimately, the final goal is to get married and to have children."
- Silvia Moreno-Garcia subverts genre expectations with the spooky suspense of her novel Mexican Gothic
Mexican Gothic is in development to become a TV series for Hulu.
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a Canadian author, who was born and raised in Mexico. She is also the author of the novels Signal to Noise, Gods of Jade and Shadow, The Beautiful Ones, Velvet Was the Night, Untamed Shore and The Daughter of Doctor Moreau.
LISTEN | Silvia Moreno-Garcia discusses Mexican Gothic with Shelagh Rogers:
Finding Edward is a novel about a man, Cyril Rowntree, who discovers letters from the 1920s that reveal the story of a white mother who gave up her mixed race son, Edward, for adoption. Cyril has recently moved to Toronto from Jamaica and was abandoned by his own white father, so Edward's story intrigues him, and he begins to search for Edward, and the truth about what happened to him. This journey of personal discovery is also one of Canada's Black history.
"My overall intention was for people to understand that Black people have been in Canada for a very long time. I wanted people to understand there's been a Black experience, over centuries, in Canada. Cyril discovered Edward's history and in so doing helped readers to learn about this Black history in Canada," Murray told CBC Books.
My overall intention was for people to understand that Black people have been in Canada for a very long time.- Sheila Murray on why she wrote Finding Edward
"I want to engage people with this Black experience. It's not just what we've learned since the Black Lives Matter movement, which has been so important and remains so. But before that, there were lots of other moments — and a tremendous amount of Black experiences, contributions and accomplishments."
Finding Edward was a finalist for the 2022 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and was named one of the best works of Canadian fiction in 2022 by CBC Books.
Sheila Murray is a writer born and raised in England who now lives in Hamilton, Ont. Finding Edward is her first novel. Her short fiction has appeared in Descant, The Dalhousie Review and The New Quarterly.
LISTEN | Donna Bailey Nurse on why you should read Finding Edward:
It's 1986 and Muna Heddad has left behind a civil war in Lebanon and is living in Montreal in the novel Hotline. The only work she can find is as a hotline operator at a weight-loss centre where she fields calls from people responding to ads in magazines or on TV. These strangers have so much to say about their challenges, from marriages gone bad to personal inadequacies. Although her life in Canada is filled with invisible barriers, Muna is privy to her clients' deepest secrets.
"Hotline is loosely inspired by my mother's own story. My parents applied for immigration to Canada. One of the things that ended up moving them further up the list was my parents' French skills, specifically my mother being a French teacher by profession," Nasrallah told CBC Radio's Let's Go.
But now I see just how profoundly complicated it is for someone who just arrived in Canada — and in Quebec specifically — to navigate their way through this society in the first year or two.- Dimitri Nasrallah on how his mother inspired his novel Hotline
"I'm in my mid-40s now, and I find myself in roughly the same space that she was in when she first arrived here. Obviously, I have a much bigger head start because of how long I've lived here, but I understand better now what she had to go through. At the time, I don't think I saw that as clearly. I saw it more from the perspective of this child who was maybe being ignored, who was left to the side. But now I see just how profoundly complicated it is for someone who just arrived in Canada — and in Quebec specifically — to navigate their way through this society in the first year or two."
Hotline was longlisted for the 2022 Scotiabank Giller Prize and was named one of the best works of Canadian fiction in 2022 by CBC Books.
LISTEN | Dimitri Nasrallah reflects on being longlisted for the Giller Prize:
In the thriller We Spread, Penny, an artist, finds herself in a long-term care residence after she's had one too many incidents. Initially surrounded by peers, conversing and painting, Penny begins to lose her grip on time and her place in the world.
"I like the idea of trying to think about aspects of society and culture that might be unsettling or we depict a certain way, and that maybe doesn't seem accurate to me. In the case of We Spread, my grandma, when she was almost 100, had to be moved to a care facility. I was involved with that and was there with her a lot and saw her there. It got me thinking about that environment and what it would be like to be at that stage of life, but also about the culture of how we perceive the elderly, how we fear aging and have an obsession with youth and wanting to stay young," Reid told Tom Power on Q.
I like the idea of trying to think about aspects of society and culture that might be unsettling or we depict a certain way, and that maybe doesn't seem accurate to me.- Iain Reid on the inspiration for his psychological thrillers
"The setting of a care home seemed to provide a great background for all these ideas."
Iain Reid is an author from Kingston, Ont. His debut novel, the 2016 psychological thriller I'm Thinking of Ending Things, was adapted into a film by American writer and director Charlie Kaufman for Netflix. He is also the author of the memoirs One Bird's Choice and The Truth About Luck and the thriller Foe.
LISTEN | Why Iain Reid turned to writing thrillers:
Moon of the Crusted Snow is a dystopian drama about a northern Anishinaabe community facing dwindling resources and rising panic after their electrical power grid shuts down during a cold winter. While the community tries to maintain order, forces from outside and within threaten to destroy the reserve.
"It's a world that I'm familiar with. It's set in an Anishinaabe community that's dealing with the impact of being displaced and the effects of colonialism. It's a dystopia that's already here. I could draw the personal experience of growing up in a community like this. But there's still some knowledge of being able to live on the land and use the resources of the natural world to survive," Rice told CBC Books in 2018.
It's set in an Anishinaabe community that's dealing with the impact of being displaced and the effects of colonialism. It's a dystopia that's already here.- Waubgeshig Rice on the inspiration behind the novel Moon of the Crusted Snow
"I wanted the events in this story to slowly unfold. In a community like the one in the book, a catastrophe like this isn't going to come on as quickly as it would in the city. Things wouldn't be as hectic immediately; it would be a slower burn. I didn't want the story to be dark immediately. I wanted the darkness to build."
- Why Waubgeshig Rice wrote a dystopian novel about the collapse of society from an Indigenous perspective
Waubgeshig Rice is an Anishinaabe author and journalist originally from Wasauksing First Nation. He is also the author of the short story collection Midnight Sweatlodge and the novel Legacy. He used to be the host of CBC Radio's Up North.
LISTEN | Waubgeshig Rice reacts to his novel becoming a real life plot line:
Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that takes place on an Earth undone by disease, following the interconnected lives of several characters — actors, artists and those closest to them — before and after the plague. One travels the wasteland performing Shakespearean plays with a troupe, while another attempts to build community at an abandoned airport and another amasses followers for a dangerous cause.
"I thought that it would be a book set in the present day. I knew I wanted to write about the life of an actor. I was interested in the idea of what it means to devote your life to your art. I thought it would be a quiet, literary novel about an actor in present-day Canada ... but there was something else that I have really been wanting to write about for a while. And that was the awe that I feel at this world in which we find ourselves. You read the headlines and, of course, a lot of things about this world are absolutely unspeakable and appalling," St. John Mandel said in an interview with The Next Chapter in 2015.
I wanted to write about this extraordinary place and time in which we find ourselves. and of course one way to write about something is to write about its absence.- Emily St. John Mandel on writing Station Eleven
"We are surrounded by a level of infrastructure and technology that at any other point in human history would have seemed absolutely miraculous. I wanted to write about this extraordinary place and time in which we find ourselves. One way to write about something is to write about its absence. I was thinking about Station Eleven as a love letter to the modern world, written in the form of a requiem."
Emily St. John Mandel is a bestselling Canadian author currently living in New York and Los Angeles. Her other novels include The Glass Hotel, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and Sea of Tranquility which was one of two Canadian books on Barack Obama's list of favourite books of 2022.
LISTEN | Emily St. John Mandel discusses her original fiction with Piya Chattopadhyay: