Canada’s Essential Reads

Last week CBC released their contenders for the 2011 Canada Reads competition. I am very pleased with 4 of the 5 picks; the only one that is a disappointment is Essex County by Jeff Lemire. I am not going to lie, I have a biased against graphic novels being included in a literary competition. It is not because I think they are not a valid form of artistic expression, it is that I feel they are more representative of the visual arts as opposed to literary arts. Many Canadian readers’ only exposure to CanLit is events like Canada Reads and the Scotiabank Giller Prize; what I wanted to do is give you, my lovely readers, a list of what I think the essential books are that shed light on our culture. I have six lists of five books each: English fiction, short story collections, poetry, drama, non-fiction, and French literature in translation. Obviously this is not inclusive, but if I was stuck on a desert island, and could only bring 30 books along with me, these would be the titles. Feel free to comment and put in your own two cents. These lists are 100% subjective to my own personal tastes:


The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz – Mordecai Richler

The Diviners – Margaret Laurence

Surfacing – Margaret Atwood

Bear – Marian Engel

Last of the Curlews – Fred Bosworth


The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro

Island – Alistair MacLeod

Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures – Vincent Lam

Home Truths – Mavis Gallant

Literary Lapses – Stephen Leacock


Whylah Falls – George Elliott Clarke

The Collected Works of Billy the Kid – Michael Ondaatje

Let Us Compare Mythologies – Leonard Cohen

Nobody owns th earth – bill bissett

The Journals of Susanna Moodie – Margaret Atwood


Blood Relations – Sharon Pollock

The Damnation of Vancouver – Earle Birney

The Rez Sisters – Tomson Highway

The Harps of God – Kent Stetson

Elizabeth Rex – Timothy Findley


Roughing It in the Bush – Susanna Moodie

Oh Canada! Oh Quebec! Requiem for a Divided Country – Mordecai Richler

Survival – Margaret Atwood

The Bush Garden – Northrop Frye

The Prophet’s Camel Bell – Margaret Laurence


The Cashier – Gabrielle Roy

Next Episode – Hubert Aquin

La Guerre, Yes Sir! – Roch Carrier

A Season in the Life of Emmanuel – Marie-Claire Blais

Thirty Acres – Ringuet

2 responses

  1. I share your disappointment at the inclusion of a graphic novel on this year’s Canada Reads list – I don’t think that’s what Canada Reads is all about. Amused to see no Frederick Philip Grove or Sara Jeanette Duncan on your list). No Roughing It In the Bush? No As For Me and My House? No Barometer Rising or Two Solitudes? 😉 As for me, very glad I’ve been there already and done that; I’m far more interested in contemporary CanLit than I ever was in colonial or, shall we say, ‘birth pangs of a nation’ lit. 😉

    1. Thanks for your comment. I do have Roughing It In the Bush on my non-fiction list.

      With some of the other titles you mentioned I did consider them all. I love As For Me and My House and anything by Hugh MacLennan, but ultimately the five fiction titles I choose are my arbitrary choices, and they are just that, 100% arbitrary. 🙂

      As for Duncan and Grove, none of the books of theirs I’ve read made me jump for joy. On my last blog I had a list of the 99 must read Canadian novels, that was a much easier list to compile.

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