2020 was a year like no other. As we start 2021 and look forward to the 20th edition of Canada Reads, we are reminded that books can be a safe place to go when times are tough. Whether you’re reading to escape your daily cares, to explore new perspectives or simply to lift your spirits, these stories of perseverance, discovery and resilience will transport you across Canada, around the world and to worlds beyond.
The 2021 longlist is:
The panellists and the books they choose to champion will be revealed on Jan. 14, 2021.
The debates will take place March 8-11, 2021.
Hassan has hosted Canada Reads since 2017.
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 recurring TV roles on Designated Survivor, Odd Squad and Cardinal.
2021 marks the 20th edition of Canada Reads.
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.
You can learn more about books on the Canada Reads 2021 longlist below.
Yiddish for Pirates is a nautical odyssey narrated by a wise-cracking, polyglot parrot. The parrot, who now lives in a nursing home in Florida, tells the story of Moishe, a boy who joins a ship’s crew in 1492. There, Moishe meets the parrot, Aaron. The two have an unforgettable adventure, following maps and hunting for treasure. But it’s the period of the Spanish Inquisition, and it’s a dangerous time to be Jewish. When Jews as expelled from Spain, Moishe ends up travelling to the Caribbean with Christopher Columbus, making his adventures grander than he ever imagained.
Gary Barwin is a multidisciplinary artist, composer and poet who currently lives in Hamilton, Ont. He has written more than 20 books, including poetry, fiction and books for children. His poetry collections include For It is a Pleasure and a Surprise to Breathe and No TV for Woodpeckers. Yiddish for Pirates is his first novel.
The Next Chapter3:26Gary Barwin on “Yiddish for Pirates”
Alan Doyle, the lead singer of Great Big Sea, is a proud Newfoundlander. He normally spends his time travelling the world, performing for fans, and catching up with pals. In All Together Now, Doyle tries to capture what it’s like being in a Newfoundland pub: having a laugh and telling great, winding stories with your pals. All Together Now is a collection of heat-warming and uplifting stories, which recount some of his biggest successes, biggest failings and best memories.
Doyle is a musician, writer and actor. He is also the author of the memoir Where I Belong. He lives in St. John’s.
q19:29Alan Doyle recounts some of his funniest and most cautionary tales from life on the road
Butter Honey Pig Bread is a novel about twin sisters, Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi believes she was a spirit who was supposed to die as a small child. By staying alive, she is cursing her family — a fear that appears to come true when Kehinde experiences something that tears the family apart, and divides the twins for years. But when the three women connect years later, they must confront their past and find forgiveness.
Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer, filmmaker and visual artist. Her writing has appeared in the Malahat Review, Guts and Brittle Paper, and she was longlisted for the 2019 Journey Prize. Butter Honey Pig Bread is her first book. She currently lives in Halifax.
The Sunday Edition10:53How food can be its own language with author Francesca Ekwuyasi
Autopsy of a Boring Wife is an unexpectedly funny novel about a woman named Diane whose husband of 25 years says she’s too boring to stay with, so he leaves her for a younger woman. Diane dreams up ways to get her husband back, torture his new girlfriend and move on with the support of her best friend and three children.
Autopsy of a Boring Wife was translated from French by Arielle Aaronson.
Marie-Renée Lavoie is the author of three books, including Mister Roger and Me (La petite et le vieux in French), which won Radio-Canada’s Les combat des livres in 2012. She lives in Montreal.
q6:26Jael Richardson’s book pick: Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renée Lavoie
Two Trees Make a Forest is a nonfiction book that explores how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she traces his story while growing closer to the land he knew. Throughout her adventures, Lee uncovers surprising parallels between nature and human stories that shaped her family and their beloved island. In the memoir, she also turns a critical eye onto colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, and both relied on and often erased the labour and knowledge of local communities.
Lee is a British Canadian Taiwanese author and environmental historian. She won the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Author Award in 2019. Her first book, Turning, was longlisted for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors. Lee has a PhD in environmental history and aesthetics, and currently lives in London.
The Sunday Edition27:16Jessica J. Lee shares her family’s turbulent history in Taiwan’s lush landscape
Dirty Birds is a humorous coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of the 2008 global recession. A young man named Milton Ontario (yes, it’s also a place) leaves his small hometown in Saskatchewan to pursue fame and fortune in Montreal and to find his idol, the iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
Morgan Murray is a writer from Alberta who now lives in Nova Scotia. Dirty Birds is his first novel.
The Afternoon Edition – Sask10:00Dirty Birds: New book tells fictional life and adventures of Sask-born man
The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a historical tragicomic love story about two orphans hustling in Montreal’s underground who dream of opening a circus together. Despite it seeming like everything is against them, they eventually make their dreams come true — but at what cost?
Heather O’Neill is a writer from Montreal. Her books include the novels Lullabies for Little Criminals, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, the short story collection Daydreams of Angels and the nonfiction book Wisdom in Nonsense. She the first back-to-back finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize: The Girl Who Was Saturday Night was a finalist in 2014 and Daydreams of Angels was a finalist in 2015.
Sunday Edition26:00Heather O’Neill on finding magic in dark places
In the fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain, Beatrice is making her debut at “bargaining season” — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages. But she harbours secret plans that will upend society. Rather than get married, Beatrice plans to bind a greater spirit and become a full magician. Performing the secret ritual goes against the rules of her world, which prohibits women from practicing magic while they can still bear children. With the help of the wealthy Lavan siblings, fiery Ysbeta and her handsome brother Ianthe, Beatrice searches for a way to change old patriarchal traditions.
Tatouine is a novel about what life would be like on another planet, one of your own making. In his humorous novel, the unnamed narrator dreams of a life on Tatouine, instead of his mundane one in Montreal. Instead of writing poems and working at a grocery store, he would be making sand angels and playing video games.
Tatouine was originally published in French in 2018. It was translated by Katherine Hastings and Peter McCambridge.
Jean-Christophe Réhel is a writer from Quebec. He has written several collections of poetry. Tatouine is his first novel, and it is his first book available in English.
Gregory Scofield is a poet who has helped shape contemporary Indigenous writing. But the path to getting to becoming an accomplished writer wasn’t easy. Scofield’s father left him when he was five years old and he grew up surrounded by violence and poverty. But he had the love of his mother, the support of a kind neighbour and a desire to figure out who he was and what he wanted. Thunder Through My Veins is a memoir that recounts Scofield’s early life and his experiences defining his identity and place in the world.
Thunder Through My Veins was originally published in 1999, when Scofield was 33, and was re-released with a new foreword in 2020.
Scofield is a Red River Métis poet, writer, academic and activist. In 2016, he received the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize, a $25,000 award given to an accomplished mid-career poet. His other books include the poetry collections Love Medicine and One Song and Witness, I Am.
The Next Chapter13:35Gregory Scofield on Thunder Through My Veins
In the comic Wendy, Master of Art, Wendy is a serious art student at the University of Hell in a small Ontario town. As she works toward her Master Fine Arts, Wendy confronts her ever-ballooning insecurities, fears and doubts with therapy, excessive drinking and partying.
Walter Scott is a Kahnawá:ke-born artist who lives in Toronto. He’s published two other Wendy books, including Wendy’s Revenge, and has appeared in The New Yorker and the Best American Comics anthology.
q9:34Walter Scott: The acclaimed graphic novelist on how his identity influences his art
You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a surreal novel about a translator who travels the globe with his lover. Along the way, they tell each other stories, pose philosophical questions and share their ideas about the world. It’s glamorous and stimulating, but the lover often disappears without explanation.
Sheung-King is a writer born in Vancouver, raised in Hong Kong and currently living in Toronto. You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is his first book.
Tilly and the Crazy Eights is a novel that follows a woman named Tilly, as she impulsively agrees to drive eight elders on a life-changing road trip to Albuquerque for the Gathering of Nations Pow Wow. The eight elders, who call themselves the Crazy Eights, each choose a stop on the way to check something off on their bucket list. Each new place unearths old stories and offers healing to ancient scars.
Monique Gray Smith is a writer of Cree, Lakota and Scottish heritage who currently lives in Victoria. She is also the author of the novel Tilly: A Story of Hope and Resilience, the nonfiction middle-grade book Speaking Our Truth, and the picture books When We Are Kind and My Heart Fills with Happiness.
The Next Chapter3:38Monique Gray Smith on Tilly and the Crazy Eights
Hench is a novel about Anna, a woman who pays the bills by doing administrative work for villains. But then an incident involving the world’s most popular superhero leaves her injured and gets her fired. Anna realizes what happened to her isn’t unique — and she might have the means to take down the so-called hero who hurt her. How? With every office workers’s secret weapon: data.
Natalie Zina Walschots is a writer and journalist from Toronto. She is also the author of the poetry collections DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains and Thumbscrews.
Jonny Appleseed is a novel about 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.
Joshua Whitehead is a Two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation, currently pursing his PhD. He is also the author of the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer and is the editor of the anthology Love After the End. Jonny Appleseed is his first novel.
The Next Chapter6:20Joshua Whitehead on Jonny Appleseed