Canada Reads 2020

The theme: One book to bring Canada into focus.

The five contenders for Canada Reads 2020, in order in which I read them:


Son of A Trickster by Eden Robinson

I read this book when it was shortlisted for the 2017 Giller prize. I loved how funny it was, and had every intention of reading the sequel when it came out but I haven’t done that yet.

From my review:At first, I didn’t know how I was going to feel about the magic realism in the book. But Eden Robinson is skilled at combining the real with the supernatural. And humour. Humour might be her secret ingredient. Jared uses humour as defence against his friends, his dysfunctional family, himself, and the mind that he thinks he’s losing. And it all works; so well that I was sorry to see it end and happy to hear there’s more coming.


Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Gail Coles

This book was on the 2019 Giller shortlist, so it’s fresh in my mind. This is my personal favourite, but I’d be surprised to see it win. It’s a challenging read and challenging reads don’t tend to do well on Canada Reads.

From my review: “This is a humdinger of a book. Not so much the length, rather what’s found between the covers.

Megan Gail Coles gives us warning before the narrative begins: “This might hurt a little. Be brave.“

And it does hurt. But it’s also brilliant.

Maybe the hard truths in this book will go some way into bringing about the change Coles is fighting for in the province she loves.”


From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way by Jesse Thistle 

I have a lot of admiration for people who can hit rock bottom and still claw their way back up. For Jesse Thistle, rock bottom meant a serious, years-long addiction to drugs and alcohol, living on the streets, and doing anything it took to feed his addiction.

Jesse and his two older brothers ended up in a foster home when he was just three. From there, they were shipped to their paternal grandparents in Brampton, Ontario. Their grandparents loved them, but for Jesse it was too little too late. He longed for his parents and felt responsible for their abandonment.

Jesse started stealing at a young age: “Now I had a strange and satisfying feeling of control – control I’d never had before.

Going to school, for Jesse, was like a form of torture: “Going to school was like entering a battleground full of feral gangs, chanting and scheming and beating the shit out of one another.”

It wasn’t like he wanted to live this way: “I’d tried accessing treatment before, many times, but the places all had long waiting lists, or needed insurance, or were outpatient only – there was always some kind of restriction.

Jesse had to spend time in jail in order to detox: “If the physical symptoms of alcohol delirium tremens just about killed me, the ever-increasing psychosis of withdrawal from crack broke me into shards of shame and pity and guilt that burned under my forehead like napalm watered with gasoline and lit by a blowtorch.”

But it wasn’t until he was starving and puking up blood and considering suicide that he knew he had to get help or die.

Jesse Thistle is now an assistant professor of Métis studies at York University and an inspiration to many.


We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib

Not only is this a personal account of Samra searching for her identity, it also highlights the ways in which being a queer Muslim is unique.

As an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, Samra learned to hide her identity at an early age in order to avoid being a target of discrimination and violence.

After moving to Canada with her family, Samra continued to oppress her authentic self to appease her parents and their traditional beliefs and customs, as well as to try and fit in with her new country. She experienced bullying and racism on one side, and an arranged marriage to her cousin on the other.

Samra spent the next two decades trying to untangle the unhappy mess her life had become, and try to figure out who she really was.

Maybe this identity – this label I wear that defines me – is my house. And my voice was in here all along. My siblings have the keys, and my parents are finally regular visitors here. Maybe the roof opens on a hinge to show that there are no rigid limits, no boundary between this house and the sky, the rest of the world. What luck, to have this house, with its solid foundation, this home that supports me as I refine my perspective, over and over and over again.

Samra Habib is the creator of  Just Me and Allah: A Queer Muslim Project: “What I didn’t realize at the time was that through listening to other queer Muslims’ stories and asking questions, I was trying to find the courage to share my own.”

“We have always been here, it’s just that the world wasn’t ready for us yet.” — Zainab


Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

This is the book I was most curious about, not knowing anything about it or about Doctorow’s writing style. I knew it was made up of four stories/novellas, and was considered to be dystopian. Considering the theme, I kinda think they could get some relevant discussion out of this book… it got me thinking.

Unauthorized Bread: “The way Salima found out that Boulangism had gone bankrupt: her toaster wouldn’t accept her bread.” Because the companies that make the appliances control what products you put into them. Before the company went under, Salima’s toaster would not accept just any bread, and her dishwasher would not accept just any dishsoap, etc. But, as Salima tried to get them going again, she discovered that she could change the computer inside them, shifting control to the user.

Salima went on to help change the appliances in the whole apartment building. Until she found out what would happen if they were ever discovered.

I didn’t love this story, but I found it interesting – it got me thinking about capitalism and power.

Model Minority: When I realized that the protagonist in this story was a superhero I was put off – I prefer my stories to at least have the possibility of reality about them. But I read the story anyway feeling ho-hum about it most of the way along, until I got to the last paragraph… which blew me away, and I realized what he had done with this story.

Radicalized: This story begins one way and then veers off in a completely different direction.

Joe learns that his wife has cancer with only three months to live. Just as he was overcoming his anger to live out his wife’s days in as much love and peacefulness as they could, they found out that their insurance wouldn’t cover the cost of any “experimental” therapies that might give Lacey a chance. Joe’s rage came back. Taking a cue from his wife, he searched online for a support group of men in the same situation and found one that he became a part of. It helped. But it also sucked him into something he didn’t see coming.

This was probably my favourite of the four stories.

The Masque of the Red Death: Martin is prepared for the apocalypse that he knows is coming – it’s just a matter of time. He has his fortress in the hills stocked and ready, and “the Thirty” – the people he’d invited to join him – awaiting his cue.

At first, all is well inside the fortress. But once they start running out of supplies, and have to go out, things get panicky. It’s hard to hide from a virus.

One thing had been very clear to Martin all his life: the takers were steering the ship, and they were going to crash it.


Are you watching the debates? Any thoughts, favourites, or predictions?

You can find more information about Canada Reads and the debates here – the books, the authors, the defenders, and how to watch.

A new and wonderful thing this year… Jael Richardson is re-capping each show on her Instagram page. Check it out!

Canada Reads 2019

Canada Reads 2018

Canada Reads 2017

Canada Reads 2016

23 thoughts on “Canada Reads 2020

  1. lauratfrey says:

    Sitting out again this year, I just have to many troubles with the format. Same as you, I liked Son of a Trickster but haven’t read the sequel. And really do need to get back to Hunting Club one day. Wasn’t in the right mood.

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    Several of these appeal (especially your favourite), but I’d be lucky to find them outside of Canada. I recently read one essay from a queer Muslim perspective in the anthology The Book of Queer Prophets and found it fascinating. You’re doing really well at reading whole prize lists this year!

    • Naomi says:

      I actually had this post ready for the original March Canada Reads, but it was cancelled along with everything else, so decided not to post it until they figured out the new CR date. Which is now! I was happy to get them all read this year. It helps when you’ve already read a couple!
      Radicalized might not be too hard to find – it was published in the US.

      • buriedinprint says:

        Doctorow also has a habit of making his fiction available in epubs without DRM on them, so he might be the easiest of the bunch to find!

  3. Laila@BigReadingLife says:

    Son of a Trickster and the two memoirs sound appealing. I still love the notion of this country-wide read. I don’t think it could ever happen in the US – and if it did, it certainly wouldn’t get television coverage (maybe on PBS, but that would be it.)

    • Naomi says:

      I love it, too. It doesn’t always make me feel comfortable, but that’s part of the appeal, I think. Anything that gets people talking about books is a win, in my opinion!

  4. ilovedays says:

    From the Ashes would be a great read for people who work in social services, or young people navigating through the. When I was a volunteer working with foster children, I found those kinds of memoirs very grounding.

    I’m also intrigued by Small Game Hunting…will look into that one.

  5. Susan says:

    Well it appears Samra has taken it but you liked the Coles book better. I’m curious about the Samra book a bit … just all she went thru in Pakistan and why she wants to keep with being a Muslim. She seems quite brave in this world. Stay well.

    • Naomi says:

      Samra’s book is great, too! And I would agree with you that brave is a good word to use to describe her and her book. I loved all of these books – it was a good year!

  6. Karissa says:

    I haven’t read any this year, though I intended to read Small Game Hunting when it was shortlisted for the Giller.

    I’d forgotten this year’s theme. I wonder if the choices would be different if they were being picked now.

    • Naomi says:

      Oh, great question! I don’t know the answer, but they did manage to discuss issues happening right now. And, of course, many issues are on-going, pandemic or no pandemic. Radicalized actually has a story about a pandemic, as well as one about police brutality.

  7. buriedinprint says:

    This year, I’ve only read the first two books, but the other three are on my TBR. I’ll probably watch the debates when I’m done reading, but of course I already know who won, so there’ll be no suspense there.

    I know I’ve probably mentioned this in every post you’ve had about CR, but I preferred it when there were authors/writers/publishing folks discussing rather than celebrities. The idea of it being more about winning and less about celebrating seems so much more obvious when celebrities are presenting arguments…which is possibly a little unfair as obviously everyone would have wanted their own chosen book to get even more attention…but, still, I enjoyed those discussions more (generally speaking, not always).

    • Naomi says:

      The nice thing about this year is that I really felt I’d be happy with any of the books winning (even though I also had my favourites). It was a good selection, and I’m happy to have read them!

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