Books·Gift Guide

20 books for the music lover on your holiday shopping list

Here's a wide range of reads for the person on your shopping list who loves all things related to music.

Here's a wide range of reads for the person on your shopping list who loves all things related to music.

Coke Machine Glow by Gord Downie

Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie released Coke Machine Glow to accompany his first solo album in 2001. (Chris Wattie/Reuters/Knopf Canada)

The poetry book Coke Machine Glow by the late Canadian musician and author Gord Downie was first jointly released in 2001 with a solo music album of the same name. Coke Machine Glow features images, song lyrics and original poetry. In 2021, Coke Machine Glow was reissued with an accompanying audiobook version read by Canadian figures such as singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer and actors Dan Aykroyd and Bruce McCulloch.

Downie was the lead singer of the Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip. He was a singer-songwriter, poet, actor, philanthropist and activist. He died at age 53 in 2017. Downie's music album Coke Machine Glow was originally released in 2001, in between the ninth and 10th albums by his band The Tragically Hip. The album was released with an accompanying book of poetry of the same name that featured poems about his work, life and music. The reissue marks the record's 20th anniversary.

In this special excerpt from the CBC archives we go back to Shelagh Rogers 2001 interview with Gord Downie on the release of his book of poetry Coke Machine Glow. 9:39

Begin by Telling by Meg Remy

Begin by Telling is a book by Meg Remy. (Book*Hug Press, Emma McIntyre)

Begin by Telling is a collection of essays from U.S. Girls' Meg Remy. The essays span Remy's life, from a young girl growing up in Illinois to becoming an experimental artist making a name for herself in Canada. Along the way, Begin by Telling deals with pivotal moments in American history, weaving together personal stories with reflections on contemporary American and popular culture.

Remy is a visual artist, performer, musician and writer, best known from the pop project U.S. Girls. She is originally from Illinois, but now lives in Toronto. Begin by Telling is her first book.

Back in 2007 in Illinois, Meg Remy started U.S. Girls, a one-woman experimental pop project built on electronics and other unusual sounds. When she moved to Toronto, she began collaborating with local musicians and packing subversive messages into catchy pop songs. Now, as the COVID-19 crisis continues to illuminate social inequalities, the songs on U.S. Girls’ latest album, Heavy Light, feel all the more relevant. Remy joined guest host Talia Schlanger to tell us more about her Polaris Prize-nominated album and to discuss the fine art of smuggling anti-capitalist critiques into danceable pop songs. 18:38

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire by Philippe Girard, translated by Helge Dascher & Karen Houle

Quebec cartoonist Philippe Girard's graphic novel is based on the life of Leonard Cohen. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Leonard Cohen: On a Wire is a graphic biography of the legendary musician and poet. Written with details and drawn with rich colours by cartoonist Philippe Girard, Leonard Cohen: On a Wire is an engaging portrait of a cultural icon. 

Girard is a comics artist from Quebec. He published his first comic in a children's magazine when he was eight and has since published more than 20 books. His comics have received awards such as the Joe Shuster and the Bedeis Causa Awards.

Music, Late and Soon by Robyn Sarah

Music, Late and Soon is a book by Robyn Sarah. (Biblioasis)

After 35 years as an "on-again, off-again, uncoached closet pianist," poet and writer Robyn Sarah called her old piano teacher, whom she had last seen decades ago. Music, Late and Soon is the story of Sarah's return to studying piano with the mentor of her youth. She also reflects on a decade spent at Quebec's Conservatoire de Musique, studying clarinet, preparing for a career as an orchestral musician, but already a writer at heart.

Sarah is the author of 11 collections of poems, two books of short stories and a book of essays on poetry. Her collection My Shoes Are Killing Me won the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. Her poetry has appeared in several anthologies. She lives in Montreal.

How to Fail as a Popstar by Vivek Shraya

How to Fail as a Popstar is a book and threatrical production by Vivek Shraya. (Arsenal Pulp Press, ECW Press)

How to Fail as a Popstar is Vivek Shraya's debut theatrical work, which premiered in Toronto in 2020. The companion book by the Canadian author and multi-media artist looks at the nature of fame and personal transformation and chronicles an artistic journey from singing in shopping malls to "not quite" pop music superstardom.

Shraya is a writer, artist and musician living in Alberta. Shraya's work includes the novel She of the Mountains and the poetry collection even this page is whiteHer other books include the essay I'm Afraid of Men, the comic book Death Threat, and the novel The Subtweet.

'The truth about the race card': Vivek Shraya asks the hard questions through poetry

3 months ago
Duration 3:06
Poets unflinchingly face the world in its complexity in Poetry on the Mainstage, part of the Frankfurt Book Fair where Canada is featured as the Guest of Honour. 3:06

Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, Volume 2 by Michael Posner

Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: From This Broken Hill, Volume 2 is a book by Michael Posner. (Etye Sarner, Simon & Schuster)

This second of three volumes in the Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories series follows Leonard Cohen from the conclusion of his first international music tour in 1971 as he continued to compose poetry, record music and search for meaning into the late 1980s. From This Broken Hill looks at Cohen's romantic relationships, his career stumbles and the start of his 40 year immersion in Zen Buddhism, which inspired some of his most profound and enduring art.

Michael Posner is a writer, playwright and journalist. He's the author or co-author of eight previous books, including Leonard Cohen, Untold Stories: The Early Years, Vol. 1, the Mordecai Richler biography The Last Honest Man and the Anne Murray autobiography All of Me

Five years ago, poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen passed away at the age of 82. He left behind timeless songs, such as Hallelujah and Suzanne. And as author Harry Freedman explains in a new book, Leonard Cohen: The Mystical Roots of Genius, Cohen's lyrics are timeless in part because their source material is so often found in religious texts and legends. Freedman walks us through some of Cohen's most beloved songs, illuminating the sacred underpinnings of so much of Cohen's work. 10:42

The Baddest Bitch in the Room by Sophia Chang

The Baddest Bitch in the Room is a memoir by Sophia Chang. (Submitted by Sophia Chang, Catapult)

If you've dug into the history of the Wu-Tang Clan, you may have come across a seemingly surprising figure — a petite Korean Canadian woman named Sophia Chang. Chang worked with the group on a number of projects, including running record labels and managing members RZA, GZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard (ODB). She's also managed D'Angelo, Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest and Raphael Saadiq. She tells the whole story in her memoir, The Baddest Bitch in the Room.

Chang grew up in Vancouver before moving to New York to work in music. The Baddest Bitch in the Room is her first book.

Saga Boy by Antonio Michael Downing

Saga Boy is a book by Antonio Michael Downing. (Viking)

Musician and writer Antonio Michael Downing shares his story in the memoir Saga BoyDowning was born in Trinidad and raised there by his grandmother until he was 11 years old. He is sent to rural Ontario to live with a strict aunt after his grandmother's death. 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 real life for himself 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.

Antonio Michael Downing on his memoir, Saga Boy: My Life of Blackness and Becoming. 22:08

The Science of Song by Alan Cross, Emme Cross & Nicole Mortillaro, illustrated by Carl Wiens

The Science of Song is a middle-grade book. (Kids Can Press, CBC)

What is music? How is it made? And what's changed — and what hasn't — about how we listen to it? The Science of Song is a blend of history and science, broken into readable chunks with colourful illustrations. It offers all the best stuff about the science and history behind our connection to music. 

The Science of Song is for ages 8 to 12.

Alan Cross is a broadcaster, interviewer, writer and consultant, and the host of the radio series The Ongoing History of New MusicThe Science of Song is his first book for children. He lives in Oakville, Ont.

Emme Cross is a  journalist currently living in Oakville, Ont. The Science of Song is her first book for children.

Nicole Mortillaro is an author, editor and journalist living in Toronto. She is a senior science reporter for CBC News.

Carl Wiens is an illustrator who has worked on everything from books and magazines to animation projects. He is also the illustrator of Wild Buildings and Bridges. He lives in Belleville, Ont.

Searching for Eastman by Charles C. Smith

Searching for Eastman is a book by Charles C. Smith. (Mawenzi House)

Searching for Eastman is a multidisciplinary performance in four acts, based on the interpretation of four of Julius Eastman's compositions through poetry, theatre, music, dance, video and digital. 

Charles C. Smith is a poet, playwright and performer based in Toronto. He has published four books of poetry, edited several collections of poetry and his writing has appeared in several journals and magazines, including Poetry Canada Review and Quill & Quire. 

A Little Devil in America by Hanif Abdurraqib

A Little Devil in America is a book by Hanif Abdurraqib. (Megan Leigh Barnard)

In the nonfiction book A Little Devil in America, American writer Hanif Abdurraqib reveals how a long history of performances by Black Americans — from Aretha Franklin to the Soul Train dance line — has shaped American culture. The collection of essays use humour and observation to explore how the music and culture of Black Americans was informed by emotion, pain and race. 

Abdurraqib is an American poet, essayist, and cultural critic. His books include They Can't Kill Us Until They Kill Us and Go Ahead in the Rain which was on the long list for the 2019 National Book Award. His essays and criticism have been published in The New Yorker, Pitchfork, The New York Times and Fader.

The poet reveals how a long history of performances by Black Americans -- from Aretha Franklin to the Soul Train dance line -- has shaped American culture through his latest book, A Little Devil in America. 25:46

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner

Crying in H Mart is a book by Michelle Zauner. (Knopf, Barbora Mrazkova)

Michelle Zauner is an American author and musician who performs under the name Japanese Breakfast. Zauner's coming-of-age memoir Crying in H Mart explores her life, her music, her complicated relationship with her late mother, and how cooking Korean food helped her cope with profound grief.

Zauner is best known as a singer and guitarist who creates dreamy, shoegaze-inspired indie pop under the name Japanese Breakfast. Crying in H Mart is her debut book. Her music includes albums such as Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet.

Musician Michelle Zauner (also known as the indie rock artist Japanese Breakfast) spoke with Tom Power about her new memoir, Crying in H Mart, in which she opens up about losing her mother to cancer in 2014. In the book, Zauner explores her complicated relationship with her mom, and how cooking Korean food helped her cope with the profound grief of losing her. 20:17

Major Labels by Kelefa Sanneh

Major Labels is a book by Kelefa Sanneh. (Penguin Press)

Major Labels is a nonfiction book that looks at the differences and shared connections between musical genres. The book explores rock, R&B, country, punk, hip-hop, dance music and pop and looks at how they have been shaped and defined over the decades. 

Kelefa Sanneh is an author, journalist and critic who is currently a New Yorker staff writer. He spent six years as a pop music critic at the New York Times and his writing has appeared in a number of magazines and books, including Shake It Up: Great American Writing on Rock and Pop from Elvis to Jay Z and Da Capo Best Music Writing.

Pop Song by Larissa Pham

Pop Song is a book by Larissa Pham. (Catapult, Adalena Kavanagh)

Pop Song is a collection of essays that uses art and music to comment modern life, feminism and sex. The book critically explores the nature of love and how artistic expression, such as from a song lyric or melody, can offer solace and shape mood, feeling and emotion.

Larissa Pham is an American writer, journalist and critic based in Brooklyn. She has written for Adult, Guernica, The Nation and Nerve. 

Run as One by Errol Ranville

Run as One is a book by Errol Ranville. (Great Plains Publications)

One of 12 siblings, Errol Ranville grew up in rural Manitoba, where he dealt with poverty, racism and addiction. Ranville went on to have a successful music career, releasing 20 albums, getting nominated for Juno Awards and scoring some #1 hit songs. He shares his story in the memoir Run as One.

Ranville is a musician and writer from Manitoba. Run as One is his first book, and he is also working on an album and a screenplay based on his life story.

Errol Ranville tells guest host Stephanie Cram about his new book, that explores his career, and that life changing accident. 12:16

One and Half of You by Leanne Dunic

One and a Half of You is a book by Leanne Dunic. (Talonbooks)

One and Half of You is a poetic memoir by artist, musician and writer Leanne Dunic. One and Half of You explores Dunic's biracial upbringing on Vancouver Island, her connection to music, her relationship with her brother and how she finds connection and community that helps her understand who she is and who she wants to be.

Dunic is an artist, musician and writer from B.C. She is the fiction editor at Tahoma Literary Review and is in the band The Deep Cove.

The Deep Cove frontwoman Leanne Dunic shares why she's fascinated by the nonfiction book Vanishing Twins by Leah Dieterich. 1:58

Green Glass Ghosts by Rae Spoon, illustrated by Gem Hall

Musician Rae Spoon, left, is the author Green Glass Ghosts, a YA novel with illustrations by Gem Hall, right. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Rae Spoon, Gem Hall)

Green Glass Ghosts is a YA novel about gender identity and seeking a better life. When a queer young person leaves behind a troubled home situation, they arrive in downtown Vancouver with a dream of becoming a successful musician. But the protagonist must navigate jealousy, abuse and trauma to reach their desired outcome in life — playing live music in front of a crowd.

Rae Spoon is a musician, producer and author from Calgary, who currently lives in Victoria. Their other books include First Spring Grass Fire and Gender Failure, which was co-written with Ivan Coyote. 

Gem Hall is an interdisciplinary artist currently based on Coast Salish lands.

The Spectacular by Zoe Whittall

The Spectacular is a novel by Zoe Whittall. (HarperCollins Canada, Ali Eisner)

In The Spectacular, it's 1997 and Missy's band is touring across America. Every night, she plays the song about her absent mother that made the band famous. As the only girl in the band, she wants to party just as hard as everyone else, but a forgotten party favour strands her at the border. Carola is just surfacing from a sex scandal when she sees her daughter Missy for the first time in 10 years — on the cover of a music magazine. Ruth plans on returning to the Turkish seaside but then her granddaughter Missy crashes at her house. Ruth decides it's time the women in her family try to understand each other again.

Zoe Whittall's three novels have won her a Lambda Literary Award, the Dayne Ogilvie Prize and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize. Her novel The Best Kind of People is currently being adapted for a limited series by Sarah Polley. Her other novels are Holding Still for as Long as Possible and Bottle Rocket Hearts. She has also written for Schitt's Creek and the Baroness Von Sketch Show

Zoe Whittall talks to Shelagh Rogers about her new novel, The Spectacular 16:39

In Singing, He Composed a Song by Jeremy Stewart

In Singing, He Composed a Song is a book by Jeremy Stewart. (Invisible Publishing, University of Calgary Press)

In the novel In Singing, He Composed a Song, John, the teenage terror of his northern industrial town, is involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward after an altercation with the police. When he finds himself in the hospital Quiet Room with time to think, he reflects on who he is, how he got here and how to move forward. As a successful musician, John looks for lyrics in the noise. He sifts through his life, searching for himself in his psychiatric records, in the voices of the people around him and in his own memories, and tries to find a true account of himself. 

Jeremy Stewart is a writer and musician who lives in Vancouver. He's the author of flood basement and Hidden City. Stewart is the founding Artistic Director of Casse-Tête: A Festival of Experimental Music.

Set the Night on Fire by Robby Krieger with Jeff Alulis

Set the Night on Fire is a book by Robby Krieger with Jeff Alulis (not pictured). (Little, Brown and Company, Rebecca Sapp/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Set the Night on Fire is nonfiction book that is a behind-the-scenes look at the life of the legendary rock bank The Doors, as told through the eyes of the band's guitarist Robby Krieger and co-author Jeff Alulis. The Doors are one of the most influential groups in American music history; Using a vignette approach, Set the Night on Fire examines Krieger's childhood and life after getting his first guitar, his musical relationship and connection with Jim Morrison and an infamous life of rock, drugs and superstardom.

Krieger is a Los Angeles-born author and guitarist for the legendary rock band The Doors and the songwriter behind some of the band's biggest hits, including Love Me Two TimesTouch Me and Light My Fire.

Alulis is an American musician, filmmaker and author. He is the co-author of the New York Times best-seller NOFX: The Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, has directed several award-winning music-based documentaries, and has toured as the vocalist for seminal punk bands Dead Kennedys and Reagan Youth. 

The Doors are one of the most mythologized bands in rock history. In Robby Krieger’s new memoir, Set the Night on Fire: Living, Dying, and Playing Guitar with The Doors, the guitarist tries to separate fact from fiction. He joined Tom Power to tell us more. 19:09

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