Polaris Music Prize finalists recommend their favourite books

The Polaris Music Prize celebrates the best Canadian album of the year. Watch the 2022 gala at 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 19. Seven of the finalists have recommended books to CBC Books. If you're looking for a good new read, check their picks out.

The $50,000 prize celebrates the best Canadian album of the year

The Polaris Music Prize annually celebrates the best Canadian album of the year, awarding the artist $50,000. There are 10 albums on the shortlist.

The winner will be announced on Sept. 19, 2022. The virtual event will be hosted by CBC Music's Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe and will be live-streamed on CBC Gem, CBC Music's FacebookTikTokYouTube and Twitter pages and globally at

Seven of this year's finalists have recommended books to CBC Books. If you're looking for a good new read, check their picks out.

Shad recommends Yes to Life by Viktor Frankl

Photo collage that includes a portrait of rapper Shad on the left side -- a man wearing a hoodie and baseball cap; and on the right side is a picture of the cover of the book Yes to Life, which features blue-coloured artwork of clouds and a bird.
Toronto rapper Shad recommends Yes to Life, a compendium of lectures by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. (Secret City Records, design by CBC Music; Beacon Press)

Shad says: "The book is an argument that life has meaning — which is an obviously massive and unresolvable question, but it's still always encouraging to hear someone bravely and strenuously argue for the inherent value and meaning of human life. Especially someone like Frankl, who had at that point lived through things — including losing his pregnant wife in the Holocaust — that would tempt anyone to the opposite conclusion.

Frankl argues that at every moment, there is the opportunity to give life meaning through either our action or attitude toward our circumstances.- Shad

"What stayed with me after reading Yes to Life was the idea that we shouldn't ask what we want from life as much as we should ask what life wants from us at any given moment — I like that reframing.

"Frankl argues that at every moment, there is the opportunity to give life meaning through either our action or attitude toward our circumstances."

Toronto rapper Shad (a.k.a. Shadrach Kabango) is known for his smart, thoughtful lyrics tempered with humour and heart — all amply showcased on his sixth full-length album, Tao. Shad is now the most shortlisted musician in Polaris history, with five nods to date since the prize was first awarded in 2006.

Tao closely examines the current state of the world — touching on everything from the increasingly dystopian digital reality to our complicated relationship to work and spirituality — and the related impacts on us as humans.

Charlotte Day Wilson recommends Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Toronto singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Charlotte Day Wilson recommends reading Bluets by American writer Maggie Nelson. (Othello Grey, Wave Books)

Charlotte says: "I had never read the type of poetry/prose that Maggie Nelson used in this book and it really opened my horizons to a different writing style — one that felt so relatable and similar to my own inner dialogue, yet one that would take left turns in places my mind would never fully allow itself to go to.

My creative brain felt seen and I felt inspired.- Charlotte Day Wilson

"Her obsessive desire to draw connections between inanimate objects, colours and life gave my imagination and my heart a real explosion.

"My creative brain felt seen and I felt inspired."

Toronto R&B singer-songwriter/producer Wilson's soulful voice has been entrancing listeners as far back as 2012, when she began releasing her first solo songs. But it wasn't until 2021 that she put out her debut full-length, Alpha.

Alpha showcases Wilson's signature sound that blends buttery-smooth R&B, soul, jazz, gospel and folk, with evocative lyrics that explore love and personal identity from a queer perspective.

Ouri recommends The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton

On the left, a black-and-white photo of musician Ouri, whose braids are flying out from her face. She is looking into the camera and wearing a white t-shirt. On the right, the book cover for The Ethical Slut, featuring black drawings of human figures with purple hearts on their chests.
Montreal singer, producer and instrumentalist Ouri recommends reading The Ethical Slut by Janet W. Hardy and Dossie Easton. (Hamza Abouelouafaa, Ten Speed Press)

Ouri says: "I love opening up my mind to versions of freedom and intimacy that people adopt in their lives. It is one thing to try to copy someone else's version of happiness and freedom, but there is nothing like actively pursuing your own version of it."

This book widened my perspective on belonging —the quality of communication on sensitive topics is what truly inspires me.- Ouri

"This book widened my perspective on belonging. Exploring is one part, but the quality of communication on sensitive topics is what truly inspires me. It also clarified some restrictions people have fixed into traditions to help avoid difficult feelings.

"I think everyone should read this book, just to take a step back and acknowledge the level of shame that was transmitted to them or that they imposed onto others. It is something everyone on this planet can relate to."

Montreal singer, producer and instrumentalist Ouri's 2021 album Frame of a Fauna brings together her classical roots with the electronic beats she later discovered on the city's dance floors. In many ways, it's a record that explores the cycle of life — the album begins in London, where she was by her sister's side as she gave birth and was completed a year later in Brazil as she said goodbye to her mother.

Adam Sturgeon of Ombiigizi recommends Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

Adam Sturgeon, right, of the Anishinaabe duo Ombiigizi, recommends reading Waubgeshig Rice's novel Moon of the Crusted Snow. (Rima Sater, ECW Press)

Adam says: "Waub Rice's book Moon of the Crusted Snow is a post-apocalyptic futurist book. It brings our journey full-circle with a return to the land, the teachings and the simple guidance of our cultural spirit. 

"Recently, I spent some time in the woods with my family. With a spring water hook-up and tiny roof over our head, we were completely remote from the world. We had to climb a mountain for cell service, so it was only fitting that we read Moon of the Crusted Snow aloud one rainy day. Though I wish it was Waub himself reading us the audiobook, I did my best to make an experience out of it."

    I am still preoccupied by certain images in this book, which have very strong evocative power.- Ombiigizi

    Daniel Monkman and Adam Sturgeon are no strangers to exploring their cultural history through music. Both Anishnaabe artists have in recent years released albums — Monkman with their "moccasin shoegaze" solo project Zoon and Sturgeon with his band Status/Non-Status — that directly reference their Indigenous heritage and personal stories.

    But in coming together as the duo Ombiigizi, the pair is drawing on the very sense of community that's at the heart of their culture, offering up their take on Indigenous futurisms on their 2022 debut album Sewn Back Together.

    Pierre Kwenders recommends All About Love by bell hooks and La plus secrète mémoire des hommes by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr

    Pierre Kwenders is a 2022 finalist for the Polaris Music Prize. (HarperCollins, Daniel Fummo, Éditions Philippe Rey)

    Pierre says: "I really enjoyed reading All About Love by bell hooks because it's all about love. [laughs] I like the fact that she went through all of her relationships to talk about love. I can relate, because it was my own relationships that is the main subject of my album.

    "It's all my experiences with love — either with my partner, or my parents or friends, or anybody I've met that I have a connection with — that's kind of the story I was telling, and it's those parallels that I really liked.

    "I've just started reading La plus secrète mémoire des hommes by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr. I was travelling in Europe, going to see my brother in Brussels, and I was at the train station and picked up this book there.

    I can relate, because it was my own relationships that is the main subject of my album.- Pierre Kwenders

    "The story is about this young writer who discovers a book that appeared in 1938 by a Black author who then just disappeared. So this young writer is going through the book, relating to it through his own experiences. I just found it very cool — it felt almost like a sci-fi movie to me, the mysterious aspect where the writer is trying to connect the dots in his life."

    Congolese-born, Montreal-based musician, singer, songwriter and DJ Pierre Kwenders (born José Louis Modabi) grounds his sound in the joy and abandon of dance, creating a unique blend of Afro-inflected electronic sounds inspired by Congolese rumba.

    His third full-length album, José Louis and the Paradox of Love, weaves together memories of the past and reflections on the future, all while exploring the intricacies of love.

    Hubert Lenoir recommends The Lyrics by Paul McCartney

    Quebec City singer-songwriter Hubert Lenoir recommends reading The Lyrics by Paul McCartney. (Supplied by Hubert Lenoir, WW Norton)

    Hubert says: "There are a lot of music books coming out every year, like biographies of rockstars and stuff. But this book is kind of special — I've never really seen this kind of thing before. You can really feel that McCartney put his heart and soul into it.

    "If you write songs, but also if you're just passionate about songwriting and also like the Beatles and his solo songwriting, it's a different kind of book — I don't feel like it's something that was just put out to buy at Christmastime, you know?

    You can really feel that McCartney put his heart and soul into it.- Hubert Lenoir

    "It's the work of somebody who's reflecting on his catalogue and being proud of what he's done, but he's also very humble throughout this book — just talking about songwriting as this thing he likes to do."

    On Pictura de Ipse: Direct Music, the follow-up to his 2018 breakthrough album Darlene, Quebec City singer-songwriter Hubert Lenoir draws on the concept of cinéma direct — a style of observational documentary filmmaking in Quebec that emerged in the late 1950s.

    Lisa LeBlanc recommends The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

    Acadian singer-songwriter Lisa LeBlanc recommends reading The Name of the Wind by fantasy writer Patrick Rothfuss. (Annie France Noël, DAW Books)

    Lisa says: "One of my favourites is The Name of the Wind. I had read The Golden Compass [the first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series] — I was so hooked on that book, and I had a little book hangover. After that, I stumbled on The Name of the Wind — I think it was either via a friend or through Goodreads.

    "From the first chapter, I was completely hooked — I don't think I really talked to anybody during the entire time I was reading it.

    What's interesting about the book is it doesn't feel at all hopeless. ​​​​​- Lisa LeBlanc

    "I thought the prose was incredible in this, and I felt so attached to the characters and the depth of the whole world surrounding them. I've never highlighted so many passages! It was really poetry in a book — I thought his writing style was absolutely beautiful and unique."

    Moncton-based Acadian singer-songwriter Lisa LeBlanc is a 2022 finalist after the success of her 2017 Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted album Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen? with the brash Chiac Disco — a tribute to the era of chic disco and funk, glittering with lively melodies and groovy percussion. 

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