16 compelling true Canadian stories to read in summer 2021
If you love nonfiction, check out one of these great Canadian books!
This Is Not the End of Me is the story of Layton Reid, a young man who lived a life full of adventure and risks — until he was diagnosed with cancer. He changed his life, got married and started a family. And when the cancer returned, Layton did everything he could to find a cure, including risky alternative therapies. Eventually, he comes to terms with the fact that his life is going to end sooner than he'd like and focuses on making sure his young son is ready for life without his father.
Dakshana Bascaramurty is a reporter for the Globe and Mail. Her work has also appeared in the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen and on CBC. This Is Not the End of Me is her first book.
Sara Seager is an astronomer and planetary scientist, who was balancing a fulfilling and demanding career with raising a young family. But when her husband died unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their two children alone, she struggled with her grief, with handling the day-to-day tasks involved in managing a family and with her Asperger's. Her memoir The Smallest Lights in the Universe blends this story with Seager's professional work, searching for other worlds and planets in outer space.
Seager is originally from Toronto and currently teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was a MacArthur Fellow in 2013. She is also the author of the academic books Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes and Exoplanets.
Kazim Ali was the child of South Asian immigrants, who unexpectedly spent years of his childhood in the small Manitoba town of Jenpeg, a town that existed because of the hydroelectric dam nearby. As an adult, he found himself wondering about the town — did it still even exist? And if it did, what was it like? These questions sent him on a journey, one that looked at the environmental destruction the dam caused, and the local Pimicikamak community that fought against it. Northern Light is Ali's story, the story of the Pimicikamak community and the story of a town that no longer exists.
Ali is an academic, poet and writer who currently teaches at the University of California, San Diego. His poetry collections include Sky Ward and The Far Mosque. Northern Light is his first work of nonfiction.
Peyakow is a follow-up to Darrel J. McLeod's memoir Mamaskatch. The title is the Cree word for "one who walks alone." Peyakow tells the story of his childhood and youth. He was bullied by white classmates, lived in poverty, endured physical and sexual abuse and lost several people he loved. But the story is one of love and triumph, as McLeod goes on to become a teacher, the First Nations' delegate to the UN and an executive in the Canadian government.
McLeod is a Cree writer from Treaty 8 territory in Northern Alberta. Before his retirement, McLeod was chief negotiator of land claims for the federal government and executive director of education and international affairs with the Assembly of First Nations. His first book was the memoir Mamaskatch, which won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.
Perdita Felicien's mom Catherine was a poor young woman in St. Lucia when she was given a seemingly random, but ultimately life-changing, opportunity: to come to Canada with a wealthy white family and become their nanny. But when she gets to Canada, life is tougher than she expected, as she endures poverty, domestic violence and even homelessness. However, she still encouraged and supported her youngest daughter's athletic dreams. Felicien would go on to be a world-class hurdler and one of Canada's greatest track athletes. My Mother's Daughter is the story of these two women, and how their love for each other got them through difficult times and changed their lives.
Felicien is a 10-time national champion, a two-time Olympian and became the first Canadian woman to win a gold medal at a world championships. She now works as a sports broadcaster and was part of CBC's team covering the Olympics. My Mother's Daughter is her first book.
The Bomber Mafia is an exploration of the relationship between technology and ideology and how they come together during times of war. Malcolm Gladwell uses a range of anecdotes and stories to examine how societal structures shape human behaviour, decision-making and the spread of ideas. The Bomber Mafia looks at the deadliest night during the Second World War, and how it was caused by the collision of different approaches and beliefs about air bombing. The book builds on themes that Gladwell explored in a 2020 episode of his podcast, Revisionist History.
Gladwell is a bestselling author, journalist and staff writer at the New Yorker. His books include The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw and David and Goliath. His previous book, Talking to Strangers, was one of the top 10 bestselling Canadian books of 2019.
Marcello Di Cintio explores the role of the taxi cab in contemporary culture in Driven. Taxis are both public and private space, and their small dimensions mean strangers share an intimate closeness during the duration of a trip. Di Cintio interviews several taxi drivers from different backgrounds, and attempts to make sense of the role cabs play in our culture, while also shedding light on those who drive them, often silently and anonymously.
Di Cintio is a writer from Calgary. His other books include Walls and Pay No Heed to the Rockets. Walls won the 2013 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. His work can also be found in the International New York Times, Afar and Canadian Geographic.
Alison Dean is an academic and a boxer. In Seconds Out, she combines research, her lived experience and interviews to explore the world of women fighters. The book looks at how women are changing the sport, but it also explores how the sport changes the way women view themselves and their bodies.
Dean is a writer, educator and academic who currently lives in California. She competes in boxing and kickboxing. Seconds Out is her first book.
Sportswriter Dan Robson always admired his father — a loving blue-collar man who worked hard and knew how to fix things. When his father dies, Dan is hit hard. He not only misses his father, he realizes there is so much he never learned from him. So he decides to learn all the skills his father had — plumbing carpentry, basic electrical work and more. Measuring Up is the story of Dan's father, their relationship, and how Dan found ways to keep his father's memory alive.
Robson is the author of Quinn: The Life of a Hockey Legend, and the co-author of The Crazy Game with Clint Malarchuk, Change Up with Buck Martinez and Killer with Doug Gilmour. He is currently a senior writer at The Athletic.
Nishga is a memoir by Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel. In it, Abel grapples with his identity as a Nisga'a writer, with being an intergenerational residential school survivor and with his own Indigenous identity while consistently being asked to represent Nisga'a language and culture. Blending memoir, transcriptions and photography, Nishga is an exploration of what it means to be a modern Indigenous person and how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people engage with the legacy of colonial violence and racism.
Fred Sasakamoose was the first Indigenous hockey player with Treaty status to play in the NHL. He was sent to residential school when he was seven years old, and endured that horror for a decade. But he became an elite hockey player, joining the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954. He only played 12 games in the NHL, but the legacy he left would have a huge impact for decades to come. He became an activist, dedicated to improving the lives of Indigenous people through sport. He shares his story in the memoir Call Me Indian.
Sasakamoose was a member of the NHL Hall of Fame and the Order of Canada. He died in 2020.
Lorna Crozier is one of Canada's most beloved and accomplished poets, as was her long-time partner, Patrick Lane. They met in 1976 and built a life together, publishing more than 40 books between them along the way. But in 2017, Lane became ill and their lives changed forever, and eventually Lane died in 2019. Crozier writes about their relationship, their personal and creative partnership, and comes to terms with her grief, in the memoir Through the Garden.
Crozier is a Governor General's Literary Award-winning poet who has written more than 15 books. Her poetry collections include The House the Spirit Builds, God of Shadows and What the Soul Doesn't Want.
Christa Couture has lost a lot over the course of her life: her leg was amputated, her first child died when he was one-day old, her second child died as a baby after a heart transplant, her marriage ended in divorce and a thyroidectomy threatened her music career. But through it all, she has found hope, joy and love and maintains a perspective filled with compassion and understanding. She shares her journey, and what she's learned along the way, in her memoir, How to Lose Everything.
Couture is a writer, musician and broadcaster who is currently based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in CBC Arts and CBC Parents and she has been a columnist on CBC Radio's The Next Chapter. How to Lose Everything is her first book.
David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation, but grew up not knowing much about his Indigenous heritage. His father, Don, grew up on the trapline in northeast Manitoba, but lost his connection to his Indigenous roots, language and culture after his family was moved to a reserve, and Don wasn't allowed to speak Cree at school. David decides to go traplining with his father as an adult, as a way to connect to his own Cree heritage and the land, but to also better understand his father. Black Water is the story of these journeys: a father and son heading into the wilderness, and of a son connecting with his father, but also with heritage and, ultimately, himself.
David A. Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 28 books across a variety of genres. His picture books include his latest On the Trapline and the Governor General's Literary Award-winning When We Were Alone, both illustrated by Julia Flett. He is also the author of the graphic novel Breakdown, the middle-grade series The Barren Grounds and the memoir Black Water, which won two 2021 Manitoba Book Awards. Robertson is the winner of the 2021 Freedom to Read Award. He was also the host of the CBC Edmonton podcast Kiwew.
Missing from the Village is the story of serial killer Bruce MacArthur, and the eight men he killed over nearly a decade in Toronto's gay village. When the cases of three men who went missing in 2013 — Skandaraj Navaratnam, Abdulbasir Faizi and Majeed Kayhan — were left unsolved, journalist Justin Ling decided to investigate, believing the cases could be linked. What unfolded was a tragic story about a serial killer going undetected, a police investigation that failed, and about a community on edge and left to grieve when Bruce MacArthur was finally arrested in 2018, and his horrendous crimes became public.
Musician and writer Antonio Michael Downing shares his story in the memoir Saga Boy. Downing was born in Trinidad and raised there by his grandmother until he was 11 years old — after she dies, he is sent to rural Ontario to live with a strict aunt. There, Downing and his brother are the only Black kids in town. Creative and inquisitive, Downing tries to find himself and escape his difficult home life by imagining different personas. But when he hits rock bottom, and finds himself in jail, he knows it is time to build a life for himself, for real, and to embrace his heritage instead of trying to escape it.
Downing is a musician, writer and activist who now lives in Toronto. He published his first book, the novel Molasses, in 2010. In 2017, he was named one of five writers to participate in the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program.