What book do you recommend for Checkup's winter list of good reading?

On Cross Country Checkup: books!

'Tis the season to curl up by a crackling fire with a good book.

We want to hear about the books you couldn't put down,  ...fiction, non-fiction, classic or

modern ...for our winter list of good reading.

With guest host Anne Lagacé Dowson.


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The 18-wheeler negotiated the snow banks piled high on our Montreal Street and pulled up in front of our red brick flat. It was carrying our library, 23,800 volumes. A team of four movers began the prodigious task of unloading six metric tons of books, carrying the boxes into our home. We began to fill the shelves that lined every wall of our once spacious residence. Picked at random the first box contained some old favorites. The Secret Garden. Huckleberry Finn. Hamlet. The Count of Monte Cristo. Pride and Prejudice, Treasure Island, the St. James Bible, Anne of Green Gables, Wuthering Heights, the Communist Manifesto, the Prelude by William Wordsworth, Tom Jones, The Oxford Dictionary of English, Barney's version...

wait a minute, stop the train ...there is no truck, there are no boxes, there are no groaning shelves...in the interest of the fullest kind of disclosure, this entire library is contained in an electronic device that weighs perhaps 400 grams. It's shaped about the size of a largish soft cover novel and it's incarnating a revolution in reading comparable to what Gutenberg sparked -- or not.

The device is not cheap. And already there's a profusion of choices. And prices. To name but three: At Indigo you can pick up a Kobo for $149 plus tax. Or at Amazon, order a Kindle 3 with 3G and Wifi for $189 plus tax -- or if you are willing to bust the bank, there is the jewel from Apple -- the iPad. The apple version with a carrying case can set you back $625 taxes in.

Is it revolutionary? I was immensely skeptical at first, but now, I don't know. This morning I came across an APP as it's called, that allows me to access every book in 13,000 of the world's libraries. It's called Overdrive and it's free. . For someone whose entire life has been bound up in the magic and mystery of books this new technology is hard to fathom.

Much to the relief of my parents I spent every Saturday as a kid at the George H Locke Library, and in the school library during the week...I read everything-books with all the wonder and joy they can unlock, were a refuge and a great school.

For me this sudden promise of a global library available at the touch of a button is exhilarating.... and a bit off putting. I do love a book-the way it looks, the cover art, the type face, the heft of it...but if you've every had to pack and move them, well they are a back breaking thing to love...

But love them we do- The latest figures show that e-book sales are out pacing hard covers. According to CBC.ca e-book sales for the Kindle digital reader have surpassed hard covers at Amazon. The founder and CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos says hard cover sales continue to grow but more books are being sold electronically... the times they are a changing, but the love of reading is not...

So these are some of the ideas we would like to explore this Boxing day afternoon... And we want to hear about your favourite books- Perhaps there's a book you loved so much you gave it as a Christmas gift this year, Maybe book that you have read more than once, one that has stayed with you....that you might say has changed you or your thinking in some way.

We would like to hear your thoughts about books.

What book do you think we should add to Cross Country Checkup's winter reading list?

I'm Anne Lagacé Dowson ...on CBC Radio One ...and on Sirius satellite radio channel 137 ...this is Cross Country Checkup.


  • Camilla Gibb
    Award winning novelist of Mouthing the Words, The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life, Sweetness in the Belly and The Beauty of Humanity Movement. Winner of the Trillium Book Award, a Scotiabank Giller Prize, the City of Toronto Book Award and the recipient of the CBC Canadian Literary Award for short fiction in 2001. Her books have been published in 18 countries and translated into 14 languages and she was named by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize as one of 21 writers to watch in the new century.

  • John Steckley
    Anthropologist who teaches at Humber College in Toronto.



    My choice for your list is A Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban, a skillful well read articulate author who documents his trip up the inside passage from Seattle to Juneau. It is a personal oddessy juxtaposed with historical facts of Vancouver's voyage and Native history.

    Cathy Snyder
    New Westminister, BC


    I bought an iPad this summer to use in my teaching. I was skeptical that it would change how I read. Imagine my surprise when my use of the thing was the opposite of my intentions! I am more of an avid reader now then ever. My iPad carries around over 200 graphic novels, today's Globe and Mail, and dozens of books from Kobo, Kindle, and the Calgary Public Library.

    The first books I downloaded were a combination of favourites and childrens' lit that my students love.  I recommend The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for those who haven't read it, and the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series by Rick Riordan for those parents who love to point out constellations and recount Greek myths to their kids.

    Dan Grassick
    Calgary, Alberta


    I have a Sony book Reader that I received for Christmas a year ago. I love to read and it has been wonderful to have access to new books 24/7. I borrow regularly through the Okanagan Regional Library on-line and have read more books in this past year than ever before in my life, and that's saying something! This is definitely the way of the future. One slim binder can contain more books than a person could carry!

    I am currently reading The Good Father by Marion Husband - what a well-written, engrossing book. The plot is interesting, the characters are well developed and I am enjoying it immensely. 

    I look forward to the day that all books are available through the Library in all the various formats (e.g. audiobooks, Ebooks, .pdf, etc.)

    Nancy Steele
    Coldstream, BC


    I re-read recently the Crisis of Civilization by Rabindranath Tagore, one of the foremost intellectuals India has ever produced. He was the first non-European to have been awarded the Nobel Prize (Literature, 1913). This is an essay he wrote in 1941, when the world was devastated by the war.  The West, to which may looked for a message of civilization, had transformed into something else. As Tagore wrote:

    "The spirit of violence which perhaps lay dormant in the psychology of the West, has at last roused itself and desecrates the spirit of Man. As I look around I see the crumbling ruins of a proud civilization strewn like a vast heap of futility. And yet I shall not commit the grievous sin of losing faith in Man. I would rather look forward to the opening of a new chapter in his history after the cataclysm is over and the atmosphere rendered clean with the spirit of service and sacrifice. Perhaps that dawn will come from this horizon, from the East where the sun rises."

    It seemed profoundly visionary, as are many writings of tagore. A lot of his work is avaiilable online and many in English translation. I strongly recommend The Myriad-minded Man by Andrew Robinson and Krishna Dutta. 
    Ananya Mukherjee-Reed
    Toronto, Ontario


    About a month ago I read the novel God's Bits of Wood by the late Senegelese author Ousmane Sembène, (1923-2007). I worked in Zambia on a railway management team for several years in the mid-Seventies, so I was drawn to this story of a railway strike in colonial French West Africa in the 1940s. The strike is a backdrop for the author to develop a handful of African characters in a most captivating and gripping style.

    Derek Wilson
    Port Moody, British Columbia


    I would like to recommend the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by award winning journalists Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. The book is both shocking and inspiring in that it describes the indescribable atrocities that poor women are still subjected to around the world. The facts that struck me the most was that 3 million women and girls are incontinent due to fistulas or ruptures of internal organs caused by rape, and childbirth injuries in the developing world, and the fact that childbirth in the developing world is as deadly as ever with one maternal death every minute due to inadequate rural health care in poor countries. The bulk of the book ,however, is inspiring because it details the work of individuals and organizations like the World Fistula Fund who are working to improve maternal health and repair fistulas. The book also tells what actions individuals can take to improve things for impoverished women.

    Barbara Witt
    Ottawa, Ontario


    My husband and I have been reading He Loves Me by Harold Jacobsen. It is about a father's love for his children. It shows how misunderstandings occur that wreck the relationship and what was done to repair it. We recommend it to everyone.

    Jill Hamming
    Prince Edward Island

    My winter reading suggestions include The Skating Pond by Deborah Corey and No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod.

    Lynn Braun
    Wellington, Ontario


    One of our greatest Canadian books, No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod, opens with a classic winter tale of the family tragedy on winter ice. The book is so beautiful to read - every sentence is exquisite. It is a very good read in winter - or any season. Our book club reads Christmas stories to each other at our December meeting, and a favourite is MacLeod's short story To Every Thing There is a Season - and that captures a snowy blizzard and all its fears and hopes at Christmastime.

    Juliana, McCaig
    Port Alberni, British Columbia 


    I was interested in anthropoligst John Steckely's choice of anthropologist Wade Davis' The Wayfinders. Wade is my second cousin, and I highly recommend this book, not just because of familial ties, but because it is such an informed and informative book about many cultures, some of them even Canadian!

    I read nonfiction mainly, and would like to recommend a chilling read for winter. Any friends who have read it, as have I, use the term alarming. It is The Armageddon Factor by journalist Marci MacDonald, and tells you much more about the Harper government than you want to know. A really scary book for a long winter night.

    A light read, and a delight is Dick Cavet's Talk Show: Confrontations, pointed comments etc from Cavett's NY times column. It is a book of short essays on all the celebrities and writers he had met on his many years on his talk show. He is a very witty and erudite writer and I highly recommend this one - a light read for a dark winter's night. There are some laugh--out-loud lines.

    Gail Benjafield
    St. Catherines, Ontario

    I'd like to recommend Home, by Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer Prize winner for Gilead.

    Home is a wonderful story of the relationship between two adult siblings and their aged father, a minister.  The brother and sister have each returned home for a brief time, in part to recover from difficulties in their respective lives away.  They two are strangers to each other, by virtue of their independent lives and difference in ages, yet intimate, because of their shared family history.    The story explores the relationship from the sister's point of view - what she thinks and would like to express, what she actually says, and how it is received and interpreted by the brother - all in the context of their shared and separate histories.  The two perform an amazingly nuanced dance as they form a new bond.  Layered on top of the relationship of the two siblings is the father's history with the two. 

    It is a book that has stayed with me since I read it early this year, and one that is bound to have meaning for every adult with sensitive past or current sibling relationships.

    Marilyn Meyer
    Richmond, British Columbia 


    The two books that I loved and recommend the most are The Road by Cormack McCarthy and The Girls by Lori Larsens
    The Road is actually a great winter read because the story takes place in a kind of bleak, wintery landscape in a post-apocolyptic world.  It will chill the reader to the bone!
    And The Girls is such a fresh, imaginative look at the life on conjoined twins, who lived right here in Southwestern Ontario.  I was very engrossed in their story, and moved to joy and tears within the same page.  I love this book, and would suggest everyone add it to their winter reading list.

    Sookie Mei
    London Ontario


    The book I would like to recomend for winter reading is a book called Elom by William H Drinkard. It's a fiction book that is a cross between Close Encounters and Clan of the Cave Bear. It's a great read.

    Dave Nagal
    Kamloops, BC


    My suggestion is a small gem by Truman Capote, A Christmas Memory. It is actually three novellas, two of which were inspired by his childhood being raised by distant relatives in 1930s Alabama.  For those people who think only of Capote's later years, when he became a bit of a wag, and a caricature of himself, I invite you to go back to his earlier works, like this one, which is one of the most tender books I've read.

    Nancy Greenwood
    Duncan, BC


    I read a minimum of two books per week. I have read more than 50 books on my kobo since I bought it in May. My kobo isn't backlit, it has no hyper-links, no clock, no music.  I just read with it and I love it. I read in bed, in the hammock, on planes and even in the tub with my kobo in a freezer bag.  My love of beautiful books has not diminished. And I bought even more books this year than last. I still go to bookstores. I could go on and on, but I won't.

    My recommendation is Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese.

    Laurie Stephenson
    Halifax, Nova Scotia


    I discovered Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay this summer and it is one of the most beautiful books I have every read -- exquisite descriptions, great narrative and fabulous characters.  There is an element of fantasy in this book that I am glad I didn`t know about ahead of time because I might have turned up my nose and missed a great read.  I have since bought all his books and find them to be truly great reads.

    Connie Brownell
    Montreal, Quebec


    First, the Kindle. I love it. I'm an avid reader and bought the first generation of Kindle and have never regretted it. In addition to storing hundreds of books, it's great on an extended vacation. Aside from that, I love it because I have repetitive stress injury in my hands from years of typing. The Kindle is lighter than most books and also I can keep my cold hands under my blanket while I read because I don't have to hold a book open.
    As for a great winter read, if it's not already been mentioned, I absolutely loved The Help by Kathryn Stocket. It takes place in 1960s Mississippi and is narrated by 3 different women, 2 black maids and 1 white woman. The author did a wonderful job making each character have a unique voice and the story was not your usual civil rights story. This was really about these women and their lives and how they intersected. It was beautifully written and I meted out the pages each day so as not to finish it too quickly.
    My other favorite recent book is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. It takes place in a small town in Germany during the war. The story is mostly about a young girl living in a foster home. It is not a horrific holocaust book but a sweet story of love, family and loyalty. It too is beautifully written and I tried to read it slowly as well.
    Last but not at all least, anything by Barbara Kingsolver, especially Prodigal Summer and The Poisonwood Bible. They remain among my favorites of all time.
    And a word about Marc Helpren. I've read all his stuff and Winter's Tale is truly magical and the only books I've read three times (over two decades).

    Amy Glatzer

    An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. He is an amazing storyteller and wordsmith with a constant, subtle humor. I'm "reading?" it on my iPod Touch.

    Carl Meinzinger
    Anacortes, Washington


    February by Canadian author Lisa Moore.

    This title was my latest "staff pick" at the Powell River Public Library where I work.

    A beautifully written story of Helen O'Mara, the widow of one of the 84 workers of the oil rig Ocean Ranger that died during a storm Valentine's night. It's not depressing or sentimental at all.

    Her writing is so wise, intimate, exquisite and, well, amazing that I found myself continuously looking at the author's picture on the back jacket--astounded to see how young she was. I find it difficult to believe she could describe the personal thoughts and emotions of her characters without having lived either their lives or her life for a very long time.

    Sandra Tonn
    Powell River, BC


    My wife Judy and I retired two years ago and hopped on our sailboat Sea Sharp to head to the Bahamas.  My office bought me a Kindle and it has turned out to be an amazing device on board a small boat.  In the past two years, I have read over 140 books; everything from Carl Hiassen to Mark Twain.  Imagine having to store this number of books on board a small 37 foot vessel?  Well, I have only one device, the size of one paperback.  Since, I have purchased another and now have converted my wife to eBooks. 

    Incidentally, I am in the Exuma Land and Sea Park tonight at anchor with twenty other boats weathering a storm and listening to CBC on Siruis,

    Mike McKendy
    S/V Sea Sharp


    I have been a fan of the book for a very long time, and at one time, had a library of over a thousand books, consisting of Science, Speculative Fiction, and Computer manuals predominantly. Then I lost almost all of them in a fire, and thus became less enamored with physical books. I initially used a small early "tablet" computer, a Nokia N800 years before Apple brought out their larger tablet. In the Spec Fic field, Baen Books was a pioneer with ebooks, including giving away many free books. These days, it is easy to get virtually any new book, and good parts of the back catalog for many authors.

    As for a book I would recommend, that would be Anathem by Neil Stephenson. It is a fascinating study a culture that is has turned the whole religious vs secular society debate on it's head. In this book, what we describe as Scientists , which we stereotype as a bunch of balding men in lab coats in classrooms and labs doesn't exist, instead, Science is practiced and explored by monks cloistered in monasteries. Religion is practiced only in the Secular world. Neil Stephenson has created a whole vocabulary for this book that is similar, but different from what we have today, and lends this book to either being read out loud, or listened to as an audio book.

    I am quite enamored with this book, having bought it in Hardcover when it first came out, then recently as an ebook, but I had been given the audio book of this novel, and it is a joy to listen to. Like Shakespeare, it is a work that sound very differently when spoken as opposed to silent reading it. The greatest crime I think in schools is that they don't read things out loud, and many authors, like Shakespeare, become magic when done so, something that is lost reading it silently to yourself.

    Farrell McGovern,
    Co-Chair of the Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature
    Ottawa, Ontario
    I have been reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The author is an Australian ex-convict who escaped from prison and hid in India. His book is an autobiographical novel and because he was hiding from the authorities his experiences are totally different from any that I have read in other novels set in India. His open heart allows him to plunge into adventures that most of us would be wary of. This book has moved into the list of 10 best books I've read in my lifetime
    It is a thick book - what I call a 'dipper' - you can read a chapter and set it aside to prepare a big dinner and pick it up later without losing track.  
    My suggestion is award-winning Canadian historian Charlotte Gray's new book Gold Diggers - Striking it rich in the Klondike. It is a great historical read on the Yukon Goldrush during the years 1896-1901. She takes six characters who have left personal writings on their experiences and most of whom encountered each other while there. A couple are well known: Jack London and Sam Steele as well as Father Judge, a Catholic priest. But there is a miner, and a couple of women, one of whom was a business woman who built a couple of hotels (not a madam) and a woman journalist who travelled out from England to see if it was a worthwhile thing for English investors. The scene is wonderfully set - there is lots of ice, floods, fires, mud. etc. She compares gold then to oil now and at the time, the world was going through a recession just as we have been now, hence, a reason why so many came to try their luck. It helped, of course, since we travelled up there last year and have relatives who were there at the time, but it is such a Canadian story, and yes, so readable you can't put it down and yes, it was really really cold a good part of the time! 
    Janet Naylor
    Pemberton, B.C.


    My recommendation is Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday. I spent a career working in the federal public service alongside some very eminent research scientists both in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and at Agriculture Canada. The situation proposed by Torday relates to the juxtaposition of common sense real science, the imaginative dream of a wealthy Yemeni Sheik, and of course the efforts by the Prime Minister's Office to spin and exploit the opportunity presented to maximum advantage. It's both humorous and sad at the same time, and although it is set in the UK public service environment, it hits very close to home indeed. An interesting and relaxing read that is perfect for the holiday fireside.

    Ian Thomson
    Ottawa, ON

    My suggestion is Green Grass Running Water by Thomas King. I heard this book first, as the Dead Dog Cafe, in the late 90s, with Thomas King himself, 'telling the story'. And I have just learned that the CDs are available from the CBC shop. Nothing better than someone telling you a story as you lie on the sofa on a winter's afternoon.

    Suzanne Mooney
    Ottawa, Ontario 
    My favourite is The White Dawn by James Houston. It tells the story of an American whaling ship the gets caught in thge ice in the Arctic. The difference is that it is from the eyes of the Eskimo (as they were then called) and reflects the moral superiority of the whalers who would not take their advice.
    Malcolm Barnes
    North Vancouver, BC
    My suggestion is The White War: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1919 by Mark Thompson.

    This is a gripping history of the cruel war between Italy & the Austro-Hungarian Empire, fought to recover Italian lost territories in Italy's n-e corner. The men fought without food, clothing in freezing winter snows. The lack of care for the troops is shocking. Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, is about an ambulance driver in this war.
    Rita Griffin-Short
    Hamilton, Ontario
    Here's a good one.  The Clockwork Man, by William Jablonsky.  A bit of Victorian-era science fiction colliding with the modern world.  Excellent read, tenderly rendered.
    Don Masters
    Ottawa, Ontario
    For pure joy and the beauty of fishing in the ocean off the coast of BC htere is no better book than Fishing with John by Edith Iglauer. Written in the eighties by a journalist from the States and her life and finally love of a BC fisherman and his boat, humorous and spell binding!
    Janet Dysart
    North Vancouver, BC
    My book that I would like to suggest is The Reluctant Tuscan by Phil Doran. It's a great escapist read that takes you to Tuscany in Italy. It's a memoir, the story of a husband and wife who go to Italy - she wants to live there and remodel an old farmhouse. He resists all along the way and is frustrated by the slowness of life in the countryside compared to his life in LA. It's part travelogue, lots of descriptions of food and wine and is a very funny read.
    Cathy Barzo
    Vancouver, BC
    I would like to suggest two books whose main characters and  heroines are women.

    The first is The Mistress of Nothing by Kate Pullinger. A personal maid of an upper class Victorian mistress accompanies her to Egypt when the mistress must escape England's weather due to tuberculosis. The book details their adjustment to life in Egypt as independent women in a man's world.
    The second book, also fiction, will appeal to anyone interested in early Canadian history. The title is Marie Anne and she was Louis Riel's grandmother and the first white woman to travel to and settle in western Canada. The depiction of her adjustment to life in Canada's early west and her experiences there are truly amazing.
    Catherine Resentera
    Richmond Hill, Ontario

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