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Canada Reads Top 40 List and Literary Memory

The list is out, the list is out … and there are some awesome books on it. Are there critics of the process—upset about the perils of crowdsourcing and the myriad ways of introducing bias into the list? Of course, and many are completely justified. But any list-making exercise invites criticism, simply because no human-based selection process is going to be impartial.

In fact, we performed a highly complex mathematical analysis on the list to test out a hypothesis about a certain slant we thought we’d find: that of time, of recency to be exact. The list criteria stipulated books from the past decade. So we counted the number of books published before and after 2005 (it was arduous).

Findings: Two-thirds of the books on Canada Reads Top 40 Essential Canadian Novels of the Past Decade were published after 2005.

Conclusion: Readers are substantially more likely to vote for books they have just read than books they read a while ago.

Comments: No huge surprise. However, it does underline how short our literary memories are, and that there are probably a few more “essential” books from 2000 to 2005 that would have made it onto the list were this not the case.

Our little analysis made us think about what ways there might be to cast a stronger light on older—but just as brilliant—books written further back in time. One Twitter commentator exclaimed, “They should do a Canada Reads for every decade going back to Confederation. Bring on the pioneer diaries!” (via @la_panique).

What about you? Can you name five, even ten books, you’ve read in your life that have stayed with you? Is there a parallel with music, a la High Fidelity, in which Rob, Dick, and Harry compile musically inspired Top Five lists for every possible occasion, including Top Five Musical Crimes Perpetrated by Stevie Wonder in the '80s and '90s and Top Five Side Ones? (God I need to read that book/see that movie again. Right up there with another date with Big Night. Hey, Big Night was released in 1996! It is possible, then.)

Surely books can evoke times in our life, and vice versa, just as music can …

In the meantime, CBC wants your help in whittling the 40 down to 10. Go to to vote.


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