Canada Reads

Past Canada Reads contenders and winners

Get to know the past books, panellists and authors of CBC's battle of the books.

Here are the past books, panellists and authors of CBC's annual battle of the books.

2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018 | 2019 | 2020 | 2021

2021

Devery Jacobs won Canada Reads 2021 defending Joshua Whitehead’s novel Jonny Appleseed. (CBC, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead won Canada Reads 2021. It was championed by actor Devery Jacobs.

Whitehead's novel Jonny Appleseed is about Jonny, a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral. 

The other 2021 contenders were:

2020

Amanda Brugel defended We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib on Canada Reads 2020. (CBC)

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib won Canada Reads 2020. It was defended by actor Amanda Brugel.

Habib's memoir We Have Always Been Here is an exploration of the ways we disguise and minimize ourselves for the sake of survival. As a child, Habib hid her faith from Islamic extremists in Pakistan and later, as a refugee in Canada, endured racist bullying and the threat of an arranged marriage. In travelling the world and exploring art and sexuality, Habib searches for the truth of her identity. 

The other 2020 contenders were:

2019

Ziya Tong is defending Max Eisen's memoir By Chance Alone on Canada Reads 2019. (CBC)

By Chance Alone by Max Eisen won Canada Reads 2019. It was defended by science journalist and broadcaster Ziya Tong.

When Eisen was 15 years old, he and his family were taken from their home to Auschwitz, where Eisen worked as a slave labourer. He survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Canada in 1949. Eisen has toured the world, educating people about the horrors he survived during the Second World War. He has recorded his memories in the deeply moving memoir By Chance Alone.

The other 2019 contenders were:

2018

Jeanne Beker hosted the show FashionTelevision for 27 years. (CBC/HarperCollins Canada)

Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto won Canada Reads 2018. It was defended by fashion journalist and broadcaster Jeanne Beker.

Sakamoto's memoir Forgiveness tells the true story of how his grandparents survived two very different experiences of the war. His paternal grandmother was one of many Japanese Canadians forced into internment camps during World War II, while his maternal grandfather was a prisoner of war in Japan. These stories of survival and reconciliation shaped him as a Canadian, a man and a father.

The other 2018 contenders were:

2017

Humble The Poet is a rapper, author and spoken word artist. (Craig Cooper/Coach House Books/Fabiola Carletti)

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis won Canada Reads 2017. It was defended by spoken word artist Humble The Poet.

In the novel Fifteen Dogs, the gods Hermes and Apollo place a wager over pints in Toronto's Wheat Sheaf Tavern and 15 dogs are given the "gift" of human intelligence. It's the first book to win both Canada Reads and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

The other 2017 contenders were:

2016

Clara Hughes is a five-time Olympic medallist. (Simon and Schuster/HarperCollins/CBC)

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill, won Canada Reads 2016. It was defended by Olympian Clara Hughes.

The Illegal is a novel that centres on a marathon runner, as it examines the struggle of undocumented refugees in a dystopian future, with themes of race, discrimination and politics woven throughout.

The other 2016 contenders were:

2015

Cameron Bailey is the artistic director of the Toronto International Film Festival. (Vintage Canada/Frank Gunn, CP)

Ru by Kim Thúy, translated by Sheila Fischman, won Canada Reads 2015. It was defended by the Toronto International Film Festival's artistic director, Cameron Bailey.

In vignettes that shift back and forth between past and present, Ru tells the story of a young woman forced to leave her Saigon home during the Vietnam War and follows the woman's journey from childhood in an affluent Saigon neighbourhood to youth in a crowded Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec, where she struggles to fit in.

2014

Wab Kinew is a former broadcaster and current MPP in Manitoba. He hosted Canada Reads in 2015. (Hamish Hamilton)

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden won Canada Reads 2014. It was defended by journalist, broadcaster and musician Wab Kinew.

The Orenda is a novel about the early contact between a Jesuit missionary named Christophe and the First Nations people in what is now northern Ontario in the 17th century. The novel is told from the perspective of Christophe, a young Iroquois girl named Snow Falls and a Huron elder named Bird, who kidnapped Snow Falls, as the three cultures clash and a new world emerges.

The other 2014 contenders were:

2013

Trent McClellan is a stand-up comedian from Corner Brook, N.L. (House of Anansi Press)

February by Lisa Moore won Canada Reads 2013. It was defended by comedian Trent McClellan.

February was inspired by the true story of the sinking of an Ocean Ranger oil rig off the coast of Newfoundland on Valentine's Day in 1982. February is the story of Helen O'Mara, whose husband Cal was one of the crew members who died, and how the accident impacted her life and the Newfoundland community in the years that followed.

The other 2013 contenders were:

  • The Age of Hope by David Bergen, defended by Ron MacLean
  • Two Solitudes by Hugh MacLennan, defended by Jay Baruchel
  • Away by Jane Urquhart, defended by Charlotte Gray 
  • Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese, defended by Carol Huynh

2012

In addition to his time hosting q, Shad has also won a Juno Award and has been shortlisted for the Polaris Prize for his music. (Vintage Canada/CBC)

Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre won Canada Reads 2012. It was defended by musician Shad.

Something Fierce is Aguirre's memoir. Her family fled Chile after the rise of General Augusto Pinochet. Her mother later returned to Chile to set up a safe house for members of the resistance, and when Carmen grew up, she too joined the revolution.

The other 2012 contenders were:

2011

Ali Velshi is the chief business correspondent for NBC News. (Emblem Editions)

The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis won Canada Reads 2011. It was defended by journalist and broadcaster Ali Velshi.

The Best Laid Plans is a humorous novel about engineering professor Angus McLintock, who agrees to run in a federal election because he knows he will lose. When he unexpectedly wins, he must navigate Canadian politics and his idealism and pragmatism makes him a unique character on Parliament Hill. The Best Laid Plans also won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for humour. 

The other 2011 contenders were:

2010

Defender Michel Vézina is an author, actor and clown from Quebec. (Roline Laporte/Vintage Canada/Penguin Random House)

Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner, translated by Lazer Lederhendler, won Canada Reads 2010. It was defended by writer and columnist Michel Vézina.

Nikolski is a playful novel about all the invisible and unexpected ways we are connected. It follows three people living in Montreal in the 1980s: a 20-something Acadian named Joyce, a traveller named Noah who is fascinated with garbage, and the unnamed narrator who is guided by a mysterious compass. Nikolski also won the Governor General's Literary Award for translation in 2008.

The other 2010 contenders were:

2009

Avi Lewis is a documentary filmmaker and former host on Al Jazeera and on the CBC. (CP/HarperCollins)

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill won Canada Reads 2009. It was defended by filmmaker and journalist Avi Lewis.

The Book of Negroes is a portrayal of the brutal realities of the slave trade told through one woman's life. Aminata Diallo is kidnapped from her village in Niger and brought to South Carolina to work as a slave at the age of 11. After eventually winning her freedom, Diallo goes on to face decades of struggle and adversity, but later becomes a driving force in the abolitionist movement in Britain. Its French translation version, Aminata, also won the French-language show Le combat national des livres in 2013.

The other 2009 contenders were:

2008

Dave Bidini was a founding member of the band Rheostatics. (Anchor Canada)

King Leary by Paul Quarrington won Canada Reads 2008. It was defended by musician Dave Bidini.

King Leary is the humorous story of Percival Leary, who was once a great hockey player but is now largely forgotten. Living in a nursing home and reflecting on his career as a professional hockey player, he decides to have one last go at being  the "King of the Ice."

The other 2008 contenders were:

2007

John K. Samson is the frontman of the band the Weakerthans. (Leif Norman/HarperCollins)

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill won Canada Reads 2008. It was defended by musician John K. Samson.

Lullabies for Little Criminals is a novel about a 13-year-old girl named Baby, who lives in Montreal. Baby's mother is gone and her father is a drug addict who pays little attention to his daughter. Baby catches the eye of a local pimp and ends up caught up in his seedy world. Baby soon realizes that if she wants to get out and build a better life, it's up to her — she has no one else to rely on and no one else to trust.

2007 was the "all-star" edition of Canada Reads, the five defenders were the previous champions.

The other 2007 contenders were:

2006

Defender John K. Samson was a bass player for the Winnipeg band Propagandhi. (Leif Norman/Vintage Canada)

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews won Canada Reads 2006. It was defended by musician John K. Samson.

A Complicated Kindness is a novel about a 16-year-old named Nomi Nickel. Nomi wants nothing more than to live in New York, hanging out with her idols like Marianne Faithfull. Instead, she's stuck in a small town in Manitoba, where nothing ever happens and no fun is allowed — thanks to Nomi's uncle Hans, who runs the town.

A Complicated Kindness also won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

The other 2006 contenders were:

2005

Donna Morrissey is an author from Newfoundland. (University of Toronto Press/Mount Alison University)

Rockbound by Frank Parker Day won Canada Reads 2005. It was defended by author Donna Morrissey.

Rockbound is a novel that was first published in 1928. Rockbound is the story of an island off the coast of Nova Scotia. The island is isolated, the weather is difficult and harsh, but the surrounding fishing is rich. Two families, the Jungs and the Krauses, live on the island but have been feuding for years. When David Jung returns to the island to claim his inheritance, the many conflicts that define the island clash fiercely.

The other 2005 contenders were:

2004

Jim Cuddy is a founding member of the band Blue Rodeo. (Chris Young, CP/Emblem Editions/Grant McConnell)

The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe won Canada Reads 2004. It was defended by musician Jim Cuddy.

The Last Crossing is about two brothers, Charles and Addington Gaunt, who set out to find their third brother, Simon. Simon has gone missing in the American West. Along the way, Charles and Addington must navigate a wild and unknown landscape, and encounter several unforgettable characters who join their quest.

The other 2004 contenders were:

2003

Denise Bombardier is a journalist and media personality with Radio Canada. (New Canadian Library)

Next Episode by Hubert Aquin, translated by Sheila Fischman, won Canada Reads 2003. It was defended by journalist and broadcaster Denise Bombardier.

Next Episode is a novel that explores the politics of contemporary Quebec. A young separatist has been detained for months in the psychiatric ward of a Montreal prison, passing his time by writing a story of espionage. Next Episode was first published in 1965.

The other 2003 contenders were:

2002

Steven Page was a founding member of the band the Barenaked Ladies. (Vintage Canada/CBC)

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje won Canada Reads 2002. It was defended by musician Steven Page.

In the Skin of a Lion brings together adventure, romance and history in a story about the immigrants that built Toronto in the 1920s and 1930s, working on projects like the R.C. Harris water treatment plant and the Prince Edward viaduct. In the Skin of a Lion weaves together true stories from Toronto's past with fictional ones to paint a compelling portrait of people who are often forgotten by history books.

The other 2002 contenders were:

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