What a better way to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial than reading some great CanLit suggested by a few authors, my family and friends from the Canadian Content Goodreads group? It was a difficult task to narrow down to one favourite book so I was given some great lists of impressive CanLit. Here are 150 suggestions to enjoy, by province (either set in or written by an author from this province or territory) on this long weekend:
All Families are Psychotic (Douglas Coupland) – this author was born in Germany on a Royal Canadian Airforce base later moving to B.C.
Between the Meridians (Jim Christy) is “a book that I love. He has written many good books mostly set in BC” (Magdelanye)
Birdie (Tracey Lindberg) “I would have to say Birdie!” (Bruce Poon Tip, who defended Birdie in Canada Reads 2016 and generously donated #100000Birdies to schools across Canada)
Celia’s Song (Lee Maracle)
Cereus Blooms at Night (Shani Mooto)
Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Madeleine Thien)
Embers: One Ojibway’s Medition (Richard Wagamese) is a unique book. Along with beautiful photography, Wagamese shares his own meditations and learnings from elders. Intertwined with the art and words the reader will understand the author as he shares an intimate side of himself.
Griffen and Sabine (Nick Bantock)
Indian Horse (Richard Wagamese) is the tragic tale of Saul Indian Horse who had lost his family and lost himself after years of abuse in a residential school. I have great respect for the author, Richard Wagamese who has drawn from his own experience with family who had been incarcerated in residential schools. He has lived with abuse and has drawn on his own history with alcohol when writing this poignant story. Again, I will share that the author “may never have become a writer, were it not for the kindness of a group of librarians in St. Catharines, Ontario, where he stumbled into the public library at the age of 16, seeking shelter and refuge from a life on the streets” (CBC Radio interview).
Love in the Northern Rapids (Freda Mellenthin) is written by an author originally from Latvia who moved to BC in 1958. It was added since “I think travel and adventure is an important category” (Magdelanye)
Monkey Beach (Eden Robinson) tells the tale of Lisamarie, a First Nations girl, living in the Haisla territory of British Columbia. She is searching for her brother Jimmy. He had vanished after setting out for a job on a fishing boat. As she looks for her brother, Lisa reflects on her childhood experiences and her family history. Lisa’s close knit family has been impacted by residential schools, addiction, abuse and the early demise of many loved ones.
Obasan (Joy Kogowa) describes the author’s experience in a way that helps readers understand the terrible treatment of Japanese Canadians during the time of Pearl Harbour. It is important for Canadians to understand the “wartime wrongs” which Prime Minister Mulroney acknowledged 43 years later providing compensation packages of only $21,000 (CBC’s Canada: A People’s History).
Ragged Company (Wagamese) provides gritty insight into the lives of homeless people. It provides a different perspective on how individuals may end up living on the street. As I walk by homeless people, I will think of this novel and feel that the novelist’s own experience living on the street, dealing with his abusive foster family and own addiction challenges have provided a true reflection on the difficult lives of homeless individuals. I admire Wagamese who, despite his own difficult past, is able to share this understanding through his beautiful prose which he attributes to libraries. It tells the stories of four homeless individuals, their street names – One For the Dead, Digger, Double Dick and Timber – who have all run away from their lives after tragedy and despair, who support each other and come together each day looking out for each other like family and are impacted by finding a winning lottery ticket.
Station Eleven (Emily St. John Mandel) seems like a plausible situation when a flu epidemic drastically changes the world. It is set in multiple North American cities including Toronto when the Georgian flu attacks its victims quickly and with deadly consequences, leaving 99% of the population dead. This leaves the world devoid of modern conveniences such as electricity, cars and air travel.
Taxi!: A Novel (Helen Potrebenko) which was written by “a feminist pioneer of the 60’s and 70s who wrote short stories, most famously Taxi! A Novel and died way to young” (Magdelanye)
The Cellist of Sarajevo (Steven Galloway) captures the devastation of the city, the fear of the residents trying to keep alive and the desperation to keep their families safe. These residents were touched by the cellist of Sarajevo as he played Albinoni’s Adagio 22 times in 22 days to honour the 22 individuals killed by shelling as they waited in line to buy bread.
The Concubine’s Children (Denise Chong)
The Cure for Death By Lightening (Gail Anderson-Dargatz) – although this novel remains in the depths of my TBR pile, it was terrific to meet Gail in Grimsby and have enjoyed both Turtle Valley and A Recipe for Bees.
The Dancehall Years (Joan Haggerty) “was terrific” (Magdelanye)
The Jade Peony (Wayson Choy)
The Medicine Walk by the late Richard Wagamese “made me see how trauma can harm multi generations and taught me to not write a person off just because they are an alcoholic and it was inspiring to meet a young man who was so wise, fiercely independent and believable!” (Christine)
The Nest (Kenneth Oppel)
The Sister’s Brothers (Patrick DeWitt)
Unless (Carol Shields)
How to Be Canadian (Will Ferguson)
Icefields (Thomas Wharton)
Salamander (Thomas Wharton)
The Goat Lady’s Daughter (Rosella M. Leslie) is “a super read” (Magdelanye)
The Inconvenient Indian (Thomas King) is still on my TBR list. I was lucky to meet this author who is originally from California, immigrated to Alberta and now lives in Ontario.
The Outlander (Gil Adamson)
The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel (Patti Laboucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings)
101 Letters to a Prime Minister (Yann Martel) is a collection of letters which were part of Martel’s mission to know the kind of literature that had nourished the imagination of the leader of Canada. Martel was frustrated that Harper declined to share his literary tastes and puncutated his feelings saying “people who don’t read are arrogant” and that “a paucity of reading means a paucity of imagination” since “literature makes you live many different lives”. He admitted that the book club likely would not have continued if Harper had responded quickly but he never responded and the book club continued for 4 years.
Children of the Earth and Sky (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Hot Apple Cider with Cinnamon (a collection of short stories) “because it talks about people finding love in surprising places around canada and i just found it interesting how they used multiple writers because it gives you a glimpse of authors lives and i really enjoyed the writing style” (Ashley)
Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
Nobody Cries at Bingo (Dawn Dumont) – “I just recently read this book and it blew me away. I have a new favourite author. Read this and you’ll know what I mean – funny, smart, self-deprecating humour, but with loads of compassion for her subject”. (Naomi who is the author of a terrific blog, Consumed by Ink).
Tigana (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Who Has Seen the Wind (W.O. Mitchell) – “I have though more about why I love Who Has Seen the Wind. I think I could relate to the innocence of childhood and experiencing a loss which leet to questioning the existence of God. I also love his descriptions of Canada that I knew next to nothing of. It made me want to see all of this great country. I’m fairly certain the prairies fall short of the majesty of the Rockies, or the dangerous roaring of the coasts, but his portrait of sun dappled poplars and the expanse of fields with wind touched wheat were so beautiful. I still think often of Brian’s description of R.W. God all grapes and bloody” (Deana).
A Thousand Farewells (Nahlah Eyed)
All My Puny Sorrows (Miriam Toews)
Franklin the Turtle Series (Paulette Bourgeouis) has been well enjoyed in our house!
In Search of April Raintree (Beatrice Mosionier)
The Break (Katherena Vermette) “powerful, heartbreaking and brave, this novel has so much to tell all Canadians” (Lynne Kutsukake author of The Translation of Love)
The Diviners (Margaret Laurence) was “published the year I was born” and “I don’t know why I waited so long to read this book” (Wanda)! I also enjoyed this book and find that Laurence was a beautiful storyteller, layering details and storylines while engaging the reader more fully into her text as the pages turn. She wrote about family, about love, about loss and about living in a touching way the describes the challenges of every day life.
The Flying Troutmans (Miriam Toews) was shared by Wanda who says “I love this author and this book is a wonderfully ridiculous tale that you cannot help but love (at least I couldn’t)”
The Gargoyle (Andrew Davidson) reflects “my loyalty to a Manitoba author whose story is so unique and haunting – i cannot describe my feelings but they were overwhelming” (Wanda)
The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
A Fine Balance (Rohinton Mistry) has been recommended many times and is sitting on my shelf waiting for me to enjoy.
A Number of Things (Jane Urquhart) is a literary celebration of Canadian history will be released in time to honour Canada’s 150th birthday! Urquhart’s narrative is combined with detailed illustrations drawn by Scott McKowen who also contributed by providing his own suggestions for the 50 things.
Alias Grace (Margaret Atwood)
Alligator Pie (Dennis Lee) – somehow I cannot type this without saying this poem in my head. This has been a lifelong favourite book of poetry which I have shared with my own family.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life (Chris Hadfield) shares inspiring leadership lessons blended with the stories Hadfield shares about following his dream to become an astronaut.
Anil’s Ghost (Michael Ondaatje)
Black Berry, Sweet Juice (Lawrence Hill) – “I was going to say The Book of Negroes, because I love it so much, but then decided to go with Black Berry, Sweet Juice. I read it this year and was riveted. This doesn’t happen easily with me and non-fiction. (But do you see how I slipped an extra recommendation in there?)” (Naomi who is the author of a terrific blog, Consumed by Ink).
Clara Callan (Richard B. Wright)
Crow Lake (Mary Lawson) was written in her 50’s, reportedly taking many years to perfect it before it was published. Although the novel is work of fiction, the author did share, in her notes at the end, that some of the characters were based on her family and is set in Crow Lake is a fictional, Northern farming community. The Morrison family is struck by tragedy when the parents were killed in a car accident leaving two teenage boys, a 7 year old girl and a toddler to cope with their loss. A well-meaning aunt visits with plans to separate the children with family in the East.
Elle (Douglas Glover)
Essex County (Jeff Lemire)
Far to Go (Alison Pick)
Fifteen Dogs (Andre Alexis) – “My latest fav Canadian book is Fifteen Dogs . I like being set in Toronto and the whole book I wondered what my English teacher, Ms. Plant at SJC would have made us write an essay on; what is happiness? Does being enlightened (able to talk in the Dogs case) make you happier” (Jeanne).
Fifth Business (Robertson Davies) is written in the form of one long letter from the retiring professor to the headmaster. It tells a life story impacted by guilt and responsibility which began at the age of 10 years and seven months old with an errant snowball.
Flint and Feather (Pauline Johnson)
Frog Music (Emma Donoghue)
Fugitive Pieces (Anne Michaels)
I Have to Go Pee (Robert Munsch) which is “super funny” (Ryan)
Lives of Girls and Women (Alice Munro)
Lost in the Barrens (Farley Mowat). I had to laugh that Wanda suggested this book saying “OK, I haven’t even read this book, but was supposed to in school, I just don’t think a Canadian list can be complete without Farley Mowat“. I have enjoyed this coming of age novel and this late author and environmentalist is reported to have sold 17 million books translated into 52 languages!
Mmmm Cookies (Robert Munsch) – I cannot say how many times that I have read this one out loud!
Mortimer (Robert Musch) – this story never really settled the kids down fro bed time when they joined in yelling “Mortimer, BE QUIET”!!!
Neuromancer (William Gibson) who although born in South Carolina, moved to Canada as a draft dodger in 1967.
Not Wanted on the Voyage (Timothy Findlay)
Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
Outline (Rachel Cusk)
Owls in the Family (Farley Mowat) was a great book to read together and the author shared some of his own experiences keeping wild animals as pets in this story.
Room (Emma Donaghue)
Runaway (Alice Munro) writes stories all had strong women characters who were struggling with their independence, questioning their feelings and trying to understand their roles and relationships. In many ways, they are ordinary stories but leave a reader pondering the details after finishing.
Still Life (Louise Penny)
Tell (Frances Itani)
The Amazing Self-Absorbing Boy (Rabindranath Maharaj) is a coming of age novel, telling the story of a boy named Samuel who moves to Canada from Trinidad after the death of his mother. He moves in with his estranged father, a dreamer, who had abandoned his wife and child and did not know what to do with a teenaged son. Samuel learns about Canada during his independent forays around the city. He spends time traveling on the subway and trains. He meets other immigrants in coffee shops. He attends programs at the Toronto Reference Library learning how to live in Canada.
The Best Laid Plans (Terry Fallis) is described as “quintessentially Canadian” by Natasha who is “a self-confessed political nerd”. This is a book that I would suggest is best listened to as the satire kept me laughing as I drove home!
The Deptford Trilogy (Robertson Davies)
The Edible Woman (Margaret Atwood)
The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
The Beauty of the Humanity Movement (Camilla Gibb)
The Book of Negroes (Lawrence Hill) was also catapulted to best seller status after being a choice of Oprah’s book club. It is a book that Kim liked because it is one of those “books that are a journey with struggles and happy and sad moments. I just remember being fascinated with the suffering people had to endure”
The Cider House Rules (John Irving who lives in Toronto but is an American)
The Day the Falls Stood Still (Cathy Marie Buchanan)
The Demonologist (Andrew Pyper) is shared by Wanda who says “I couldn’t shake this book after I read it, so for that sole reason, it is on my list”.
“Well, it’s gotta be The Handmaid’s Tale — Atwood’s writing is so presciently relevant right now to politics in my own country!” (Jodi Piccoult)
The Happiness Equation (Neil Pasricha) is a reminder on focusing on what makes the reader happy, finding ways to make time to recharge and relax and to be true to yourself. Life requires balance and we never regret time spent doing things we love.
The In-Between World of Vikram Lall (M.G. Vassangi) – “I didn’t love Nostalgia but I did love The In-Between Wold of Vikkram Lall. Thanks for triggering the memories, this book deserves to be on your list, in my opinion. I loved it” (Allison)
The Jugglers Children: A Journey Into Family Legend and Ties that Bind Us (Carolyn Abraham)
The Mountain Story (Lori Lansens) is a suspenseful and thought-provoking story told as a long letter from a man to his son, sharing his experience lost in the wilderness of a mountain with three women. It is a tale of the survival of a boy named Wolf who decides to make a final trip up the mountain to end his life.
The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep (Steven Heighton) is written by a “cross genre writer… who is an important addition to your list” (Magdelanye)
The Orenda (Joseph Boyden) “introduces the deep scar and tragedy of colonization in our country through some phenomenal story telling “(Wanda)
The Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell)
The Painted Girls (Cathy Marie Buchanan) reinforces how fortunate it is to born at a time when women have ample options to look after themselves and their families independently. This piece of historical fiction shares the tale of a poor family who struggle to pay the rent for their room after their father dies. Their mother cannot cope with her life and lives in a haze of absinthe. When she is able, she works at a laundry and otherwise leaves her daughters to look after each other.
The Paperbag Princess (Robert Munsch) is my all-time favourite Munsch book, it always had my kids giggling when I read that famous line “you are a bum!!”. He is an amazing story teller and we are glad to have seen him perform.
The Piano Maker (Kurt Palka)
The Retreat (Davide Bergen) “has stayed with me for years, the cottage setting and love story I want to read again soon” (Wanda)
The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
The Translation of Love (Lynne Kutsukake) is a beautiful novel set in Japan during the American post-WW2 occupation. Despite the devastation and despair of the war, the characters care for each other and make a difference in each other’s lives through kindness.
The Underpainter (Jane Urquart) tells the story of an artist who was able to paint the beauty around him yet struggled to appreciate the beauty and find happiness in his own life. In his seventh decade, he is reflecting back on his life and slowly tells the tales of other characters as he covers over the underpaintings with new colour, new feelings and fresh paint. The story is beautifully written, slowly savoured and would be perfect read at lakeside retreat!
The Wars (Timothy Findlay) is “a heartbreaking war story that should be in the Canadian curriculum” (Wanda)
This Can’t Be Happening at MacDonald Hall by Gordon Korman, a “middle grade novel was the first Canadian book I fell in love with, so I’ve chosen it as my ‘favourite’. I encountered Bruno and Boots in 2001, when my teacher read aloud from this first instalment in the series . I recognized that the stories were a bit dated (having been originally published in the 70s/80s) but they still garnered plenty of laughs from myself and my classmates for the relatable and hilarious tales of boarding school antics. Korman remains a well-respected and prolific middle grade author today, yet I will remember him for the MacDonald Hall books because of their humour and Canadian setting (something I didn’t see much in the books I read growing up)” (Jenna)
Three Day Road (Joseph Boyden) “shows the true horrors of WW1 and the important role played by young First Nations soldiers. Plus, it’s a truly horrific tale” (Mike).
Through Black Spruce (Joseph Boyden)
Wenjack (Joseph Boyden) is a novella that is a “pocket-sized” book with a striking black and white drawings of the spirit animals which followed Chanie Wenjack in the fictional story based on his escape from the residential school. Despite its’ small size, the book shares a large impact on readers who consider the terrible legacy of residential schools.
Whale Music (Paul Quarrington)
Barney’s version (Mordecai Richler), “a biting, funny, ultimately inspirational book of loss, love and life” (Neil Pasricha, author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome).
Common Ground (Justin Trudeau) is “not a 5 star read but I did enjoy learning more about him” (Allison)
Lullabies for Little Criminals (Heather O’Neill) – The story-line is like a train wreck, you can’t quite look away or put it down yet despite the sadness and despair there is hope.
Ru (Kim Thuy)
Sleeping Giants (Sylvain Neuvel) “is one of the few science fiction books I’ve enjoyed and it’s Canadian” (Allison)
The Secret of the Blue Trunk (Lisa Dion)
The Tin Flute (Gabrielle Roy)
The Vinyl Cafe Turns the Page (Stuart McLean)
And the Birds Rained Down written by Jocelyne Saucier is a thought-provoking, reflective story of aging, autonomy and choice. It shares the intimacy of friendship and the support necessary for living in the wilderness. The novel was originally written in French and then translated into English. It was a 2015 CBC Canada Reads Selection fitting the theme of Breaking Barriers and describes the lives of two elderly men who escaped the constraints of society by leaving their lives to inhabit cabins in the forest.
Mercy Among the Children (David Adams Richards) “is full of tragedy and resilience” (Wanda) and slowly draws the reader in and keeps them turning pages to find out what is next for the stigmatized, Henderson family in which 3 generations have been destined to remain underdogs in their community.
Amazing Grace (Lesley Crewe) is a “fun and easy read” (Diane)
An Audience of Chairs (Joan Clark)
Barometer Rising (Hugh MacLennan)
Fall On Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald) is a tale of family secrets beginning set in Cape Breton which was catapulted to a best-seller after being part of Oprah’s book club in 2002.
Island (Alistair MacLeod) is a collection of short stories to be savoured.
No Great Mischief (Alistair MacLeod) is wonderful book. Although this author was born in Saskatchewan, I am adding this book here due to the Cape Breton setting. The narrator, a successful orthodontist, tells the tale of a Scottish family, linked by history, blood and the Cape Breton landscape while reminiscing with his older brother, Calum who he visits and has lived a life of hardship and struggle. The love and support for his brother is obvious and he loves his brother unconditionally.
Shake Hands with the Devil (Romeo Dallaire)
The Birth House (Ami McKay)
The Bishop’s Man (Linden MacIntyre)
The Glace Bay Miner’s Museum (Sheldon Currie) is described as a love story set in the coal mining setting of N.S.
The Nymph and the Lamp (Thomas H. Raddall) “is the book that makes me sigh when I talk about it. A love story with a backdrop of 1920s Halifax, Annapolis Valley, and the isolation of life on Sable Island”, (Naomi who is the author of a terrific blog, Consumed by Ink).
Twenty-one Cardinals (Jocelyn Saucier)
Two Solitudes (Hugh MacLennan)
When the Saints (Sarah Mian)
Prince Edward Island
“Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery) has to be on any top list of Canadian favourites. It’s a world wide favourite in fact, especially in Japan. PEI has thousands of Japanese tourists visiting every year” (Diane). I would completely agree with this choice and admit to reading this book multiple times like Wanda, I would agree that this book is a “hands down top choice as it represents childhood to me”! This book was mentioned by many including Samantha who said it is “iconic Canadian”!
Rilla of Ingleside by L.M. Montgomery – “Whether you read the rest of the Anne series or not, it doesn’t matter; this book stands on its own. It has all the elements of L.M. Montgomery’s best stories, while also being a valuable fictional account of what it was like on the Home front during WWI” (Naomi who is the author of a terrific blog, Consumed by Ink).
Sleeping with One Eye Open (Mark Strand)
Newfoundland & Labrador
Annabel (Kathleen Winter) takes place in Labrador. Although it had a slow start, it is a very interesting read and a very unique topic. The story centres around a baby who is born with both male and female genitals. The decision was made by the father for the baby to be raised as a boy with his hermaphrodite features remaining a secret to the boy and the community leading to a lifetime of struggles for the boy.
As Near To Heaven by Sea (Kevin Major) – this author “is a well known Newfoundland writer who writes fiction and non-fiction books… as near to Heaven by Sea is beautiful” (Natasha)
February (Lisa Moore)
Galore (Michael Crummery)
Kit’s Law (Donna Morrissey)
Sweetland by Michael Crummery is a contemplative, reflective novel which makes a reader think about the vitality of life and the sadness of loss and death. It is the story of Moses Sweetland, who lives on an island named after his family – Sweetland. The government is persistent in their offers to buy up the properties, relocating the Newfoundlanders to another part of the province but only if each and every resident agrees. Sweetland draws the ire of his neighbours when he refuses to sign the deal. Sweetland is a character with fierce independence who lives his life on his own terms and Sweetland is an island with rugged beauty, unforgiving weather and hardship. Sweetland – the novel, the character and the island – combine to keep the reader thinking about the story long after finishing the book.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (Wayne Johnston)
A Promise is a Promise (Robert Munsch and Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak)
Grandmother Ptarmigan (Qaunak Mikkigak)
The Littlest Sled Dog (Michael Arvaarluk Kusugak)
Late Nights on Air is set in Yellowknife although author Elizabeth Hay lives in Ottawa, Ontario.
The Lesser Blessed (Richard Van Camp)
Exploring the Frozen North (Pierre Berton)
The Secret World of Og (Pierre Berton)
It was challenging to limit to 150 CanLit books. What is missing? Comment below for any books that you would add.
Thanks to those who participated and shared your favourites!!!