Books·Gift Guide

18 Canadian books for the memoir lover on your holiday shopping list

Here are some Canadian books for your memoir-loving friends and family this holiday season!

Here are 18 Canadian books for the memoir-loving friends and family on your holiday list!

Peyakow by Darrel J. McLeod

Peyakow is a book by Darrel J. McLeod. (Douglas & McIntyre, Ilja Herb)

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 Mamaskatchwhich won the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction

Darrel J. McLeod talks to Shelagh Rogers on Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity

Persephone's Children by Rowan McCandless

Persephone's Children is a book by Rowan McCandless. (Dundurn Press)

Persephone's Children tells the story of Rowan McCandless escaping the stranglehold of a long-term abusive relationship and rediscovering her voice and identity. Through a series of thematically linked and inventive essays, including a contract, a crossword puzzle and a metafictional TV script, she explores the relationship between memory and trauma. 

McCandless is a writer from Winnipeg. She has won the Constance Rooke Creative Nonfiction Prize and has been longlisted for the Writers' Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. 

The Girl from Dream City by Linda Leith

The Girl from Dream City is a book by Linda Leith. (University of Regina Press, Linda Leith)

Linda Leith is an influential figure in the Canadian literary landscape. She finally shares her story in the memoir The Girl from Dream City. Leith grew up in Europe, where her father — suffering from manic depression — moves the family around constantly, before finally coming to Canada and settling in Montreal. Leith returned to Europe as a young adult to pursue her education and writing dreams before returning to Montreal.

Leith is a writer, translator and book publisher who lives in Montreal. She founded the literary festival Blue Metropolis and the publishing house Linda Leith Publishing. She is a member of the Order of Canada.

Linda Leith on why she wrote her memoir, The Girl From Dream City.

Nishga by Jordan Abel

Nishga is an autobiographical book by Jordan Abel. (Penguin Random House Canada/Submitted by Writers' Trust Canada)

In Nishga, Jordan Abel grapples with his identity as a Nisga'a writer, being an intergenerational residential school survivor and 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.

Abel is a Nisga'a writer from British Columbia. He is the author of the poetry collections The Place of Scraps, Un/inhabited and Injun, which won him the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2017.

Jordan Abel wants you to know that you don't have to read his new autobiographical book Nishga if you're not ready. The subject matter — residential schools, dispossession and intergenerational trauma — might be too much to handle. But he hopes that readers will find it when they need it.

Dad Up! by Steve Patterson

Dad Up! is a book by Steve Patterson. (Penguin Canada, CBC)

Dad Up! is a humorous look at fatherhood from comedian and father of two Steve Patterson. It explores what it means to be a dad in today's world, offering up unexpected wisdom and funny anecdotes. Patterson also recalls his own childhood, growing up as the youngest of five boys in an Irish Catholic household, and reflects on the lessons his father imparted to him.

Patterson is the host of CBC Radio's comedy show The Debaters. He has taped numerous nationally televised comedy specials, toured his one-man show across the country and released a comedy album. He also wrote The Book of Letters I Didn't Know Where to Send.

Steve Patterson talks to Shelagh Rogers about Dad Up! Long-Time Comedian, First-Time Father.

The Last Nomad by Shugri Said Salh

The Last Nomad is a book by Shugri Said Salh. (Algonquin Books, Shugri Said Sahl)

Born in Somalia, Shugri Said Salh was sent to live with her nomadic grandmother in the desert at age six. Even though the desert was a harsh place threatened by drought, predators and enemy clans, it held beauty, innovation, centuries of tradition and a way for a young Sufi girl to learn courage and independence from her fearless relatives. But when she came of age, both her and her country were forced to confront change, violence and instability. In The Last Nomad, Salh writes of trying to break free of her patriarchal culture, her forced female genital mutilation, the loss of her mother and her growing need for independence. 

Salh was born in the Somali desert and immigrated to North America. She lives in Sonoma County with her husband and children. The Last Nomad is her first book.

Missed Connections by Brian Francis

Missed Connections is a book by Brian Francis. (McClelland & Stewart)

In 1992, Brian Francis, a 21-year-old university student, placed a personal ad in a local newspaper. He was still in the closet and looking for love. He received 25 responses, but only responded to half of them. There were 13 letters that went unanswered and spent years forgotten in a cardboard box. Now, almost three decades later, he has written replies to those letters. Missed Connections uses these letters as a starting point to reflect on everything that has changed for him as a gay man, exploring body image, aging, desire, the price of secrecy and the courage it takes to be unapologetically yourself. 

Francis is the author of novels Fruit, Natural Order and Break in Case of Emergency. He is a writer and columnist for The Next Chapter on CBC Radio and lives in Toronto.

Brian Francis talks to Shelagh Rogers about his book, Missed Connections.

Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Muller

Life in the City of Dirty Water is a book by Clayton Thomas-Muller. (Allen Lane, Thelma Young Lutunatabua)

A memoir by Cree activist Clayton Thomas-Muller, Life in the City of Dirty Water covers his entire life: from playing with toy planes as a way to escape from domestic and sexual abuse and enduring the intergenerational trauma of Canada's residential school system; to becoming a young man who fought against racism and violence, but also spent time in juvenile prison; to becoming a committed activist. Along the way, Clayton remained tied to his Cree heritage and spirituality. This debut is a narrative and vision of healing and responsibility. 

Thomas-Muller is a member of the Treaty #6 based Mathias Colomb Cree Nation located in Northern Manitoba. He's campaigned on behalf of Indigenous peoples around the world for more than 20 years, working with numerous organizations. 

In an adapted excerpt from his newly-released book Life in the City of Dirty Water: A Memoir of Healing, Cree author and activist Clayton Thomas-Müller reflects on his own family's history with residential schools, and the path forward.

This Strange Visible Air by Sharon Butala

This Strange Visible Air is a book by Sharon Butala. (Freehand Books, Jennifer Chipperfield)

In the essay collection This Strange Visible Air, Sharon Butala reflects on the ways her life has changed as she's grown old. She tackles ageism, loneliness, friendship and companionship. She writes about dinner parties, health challenges, complicated family relationships and the pandemic. This book is an expansive look at the complexities and desires of aging and the aged, a stark contrast to the stereotyped and simplistic portrayals of the elderly in our culture. 

Butala is a Saskatchewan-based author of 19 novels and nonfiction books, including The Perfection of the Morning, Where I Live Now and Wild Rose. She is a three-time Governor General's Literary Award nominee and received the Marian Engel Award in 1998. She became an officer of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Sharon Butala talks to Shelagh Rogers about her latest book, Season of Fury and Wonder

Pluck by Donna Morrissey

Pluck is a book by Donna Morrissey. (Nicola Davison, Viking)

In the memoir Pluck, writer Donna Morrissey recounts her life from being a grocery clerk to oil fields, from marriage and divorce to working in a fish-processing plant to support herself and her two young children. She layers her account of her life with stories of people who came before her, such as iron-willed mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, teachers and mentors. Pluck shows that even when you're unravelling, you can spin the yarns that will save you.

Morrissey is the author of six novels, including Kit's Law and The Fortunate Brother. She has also written the children's book Cross Katie Kross, which was illustrated by her daughter Brigitte Morrissey. Born and raised in Newfoundland, she now lives in Halifax.

Donna Morrissey was born in Newfoundland and has written six national bestselling novels. Her new memoir, Pluck, is a deeply personal account of love's restorative ability as it leads her through mental illness, family death, and despair, to becoming a writer — all told with charm and inimitable humour. This week on Sickboy, the fellas speak with Donna about her journey through life in trying to find a way to heal her trauma and her process of documenting her life's story on the page.

Unreconciled by Jesse Wente

Unreconciled is a work of nonfiction by Jesse Wente. (Red Works/CBC Media Centre, Allen Lane)

Unreconciled is a memoir from Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader Jesse Wente. It weaves together Wente's personal story with a larger exploration of society and culture and examines sports, art, popular culture and more. He explores his family's history, including his grandmother's experience in residential school, and shares his own frequent incidents of racial profiling by police and argues that the notion of reconciliation between First Nations and Canada is not a realistic path forward.

Wente is an Anishinaabe writer, broadcaster and arts leader. He's spent more than two decades as a columnist for CBC Radio's Metro Morning. He has also worked at the Toronto International Film Festival. In 2018, he was named the first executive director of the Indigenous Screen Office and in 2020, he was appointed chair of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Jesse Wente talks to Shelagh Rogers about his memoir, Unreconciled.

Permanent Astonishment by Tomson Highway

Permanent Astonishment is a book by Tomson Highway. (Doubleday Canada, Sean Howard)

Permanent Astonishment is a memoir by acclaimed writer Tomson Highway. Highway was born the 11th of 12 children in a nomadic caribou-hunting Cree family. Surrounded by the love of his family and the vast landscape of his home, he lived an idyllic far-north childhood. But five of his siblings died in childhood, and his parents wanted their two youngest sons, Tomson and Rene, to get big opportunities. This memoir offers insight into the Cree experience of culture, conquest and survival.

Permanent Astonishment won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Highway is a Cree novelist, children's author, playwright and musician. Born in Manitoba, he is a member of the Barren Lands First Nation. His work includes Canadian theatre classics The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, novel Kiss of the Fur Queen.

Host Rosanna Deerchild speaks with Tomson Highway, a world-renowned Cree playwright, novelist, and concert pianist, about his new memoir Permanent Astonishment, which just won the 2021 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction worth $60,000.

A Tale of Two Omars by Omar Sharif Jr.

A Tale of Two Omars is a book by Omar Sharif Jr. (Catapult Press, Thomas Synnamon)

Omar Sharif Jr.'s name always protected him wherever he went, until he made the difficult decision to come out in the pages of The Advocate. He endured bullying, illness, attempted suicide, becoming a victim of sex trafficking, death threats by the thousands, and never being able to return to a country he once called home. Drawing on the lessons he learned from both sides of his family, A Tale of Two Omars charts the course of an unconventional life, revealing in the process the struggles and successes of a public journey of self-acceptance and a life dedicated in service to others.

Sharif Jr. is an Egyptian Canadian actor and model who lives in the U.S. He is the grandson of actor Omar Sharif. He is widely considered to be the first openly gay person in the Arab world.

Off the Record by Peter Mansbridge

Off the Record is a book by Peter Mansbridge. (Simon & Schuster, CBC)

Peter Mansbridge is one of the most recognized faces and voices in Canadian news, and he's finally sharing his story in a new memoir. Off the Record chronicles his 50-year career, from hosting a local late night music program in Manitoba to becoming the chief correspondent and anchor of The National. He shares never-before-told stories from his career, including reporting on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the horror of 9/11, walking the beaches of Normandy and talking with Canadian prime ministers.

Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent for CBC News, anchor of The National, where he worked for 30 years and host of Mansbridge One on One. He is also the author of the Peter Mansbridge One on One and co-author of Extraordinary Canadians.

In his new book Off The Record, Peter Mansbridge pulls back the curtain on some of the biggest moments in his 50-year broadcasting career. From his discovery as a baggage handler in the Churchill, Man. airport and covering the fall of the Berlin Wall, to anchoring countless elections and interviewing world leaders... these are the stories people ask him about all the time. The former long-time host of CBC Television's The National shares his front row take on world events with Piya Chattopadhyay, and some stories you've never heard before.

The Light Streamed Beneath It by Shawn Hitchins

The Light Streamed Beneath It is a memoir by Shawn Hitchins. (Jen Squires Photography, ECW Press)

Comedian and writer Shawn Hitchins suffered the loss of two great loves, five months apart, to sudden death. His memoir The Light Streamed Beneath explores his queer identity through the lens of love, death, pain and community. It is a personal look at emotion and how the loss of loved ones affect the people left behind.

Hitchins is a Toronto-based comedian, author, media personality and actor. He is also the author of the nonfiction book A Brief History of Oversharing. His one-man show Ginger Nation toured extensively before being filmed in concert and aired on television.

Shawn Hitchins on his latest book, The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration.

Nothing Will Be Different by Tara McGowan-Ross

Nothing Will Be Different is a book by Tara McGowan-Ross. (Dundurn Press)

Tara McGowan-Ross has a nice job, a writing career and a forgiving boyfriend. She has it pretty good and she should be happy. Yet, she can't stay sober and she's terrible at monogamy. She's always feeling sick and tired. In the autumn after she turns 27, an abnormal lump discovered in her left breast becomes the catalyst for a journey of rigorous self-questioning. She shares this story in her memoir Nothing Will Be Different.

McGowan-Ross is an urban Mi'kmaw artist and writer. She's the author of Girth and Scorpion Season and the host of Drawn & Quarterly's Indigenous Literatures Book Club. She's also a critic of experimental and independent Montreal theatre and an editor for Insomniac Press. 

Any Kind of Luck at All by Mary Fairhurst Breen

Any Kind of Luck at All is a book by Mary Fairhurst Breen. (Second Story Press, Maggie Knaus)

In the memoir Any Kind of Luck at All, Mary Fairhurst Breen details scenes from a life darkened by four generations of mental illness and addiction. Her sense of humour and willingness to practice "radical acceptance" help her cope with the chaos and lead a life full of friends, art and the joys of being a grandmother. Ultimately, Breen faces the greatest challenge of all when her daughter becomes one of the countless people each year to die of opioid poisoning. 

Breen is a writer and translator. She spent 30 years in the not-for-profit sector, managing small organizations with big social change mandates. Any Kind of Luck at All is her first book.

The news has been full of heartrending stories of people who couldn't be there to comfort a loved one dying of COVID-19 — people unable to grieve in the physical presence of family and friends to mourn the victims of the gunman's rampage through Nova Scotia. And other epidemics continue apace in these times, like the opioid epidemic. Mary Fairhurst Breen knows this all too well. Her essay is called Grievous Injuries.

This is My Real Name by Cid V Brunet

This is My Real Name is a book by Cid V Brunet. (Arsenal Pulp Press)

In the memoir This is My Real Name, Cid V Brunet chronicles the 10 years they spent working as a dancer at strip clubs, using the name Michelle. From Michelle's very first lap dance in a small town bar to work at high end clubs, they learn that they must follow the unspoken rules that will allow them to succeed in the competitive industry. Michelle and their friends rely on each other's camaraderie and strength in an industry that is both toxic and deeply rewarding. 

Brunet is a writer living in Montreal. This Is My Real Name is their first book.

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