Books

20 moving Canadian memoirs to read right now

Looking for a good book? Here are 20 great true stories worth your time.

Looking for a good book? Here are 20 great true stories worth your time.

Talking to Strangers by Marianne Boucher

Talking to Strangers is a comic by Marianne Boucher. (Doubleday Canada)

Marianne Boucher's graphic memoir Talking to Strangers describes how, in the summer of 1980, she moved to California to follow her figure skating dreams and ended up joining a cult. Boucher details how the group's sophisticated brainwashing techniques overpowered her free will — until she managed to escape.

Boucher lives in Toronto and has covered major criminal trials as a court reporter and illustrator.

The artist and illustrator Marianne Boucher on her graphic memoir Talking to Strangers, about being lured into a cult as a teenager. 16:17

The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole

The Skin We're In is a nonfiction book by Desmond Cole. (Doubleday Canada, Kate Yang-Nikodym)

In The Skin We're In, journalist and activist Desmond Cole looks at what it's like to live in Canada as a black person. In The Skin We're In looks at one year, 2017, and chronicles Coles's personal journalism, activism and experiences alongside stories that made the headlines across the country, including refugees crossing the Canada-U.S. border in the middle of winter and the death of Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi at the hands of the Ottawa police.

Cole is a journalist, radio host and activist based in Toronto. His writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, Now Magazine and the Walrus. The Skin We're In is his first book.

"The Skin We're In" has serious impact on how we are treated by police, and award-winning journalist Desmond Cole has written a book about it. He came by for a conversation with Ismaila Alfa. 15:08

To the River by Don Gillmor

To the River is a memoir by Don Gillmor. (Ryan Szulc, Random House Canada)

When David Gillmor disappeared more than 10 years ago, his truck and cowboy hat were found at the edge of the Yukon River. His body was recovered six months later, just as his brother Don Gillmor journeyed to Whitehorse to canoe through the waters his brother had departed from. To the River explores how survivors of suicide cope with a loved one's decision to take their own life and examines the larger social, cultural and psychological questions surrounding suicide, especially among middle-aged men.

To the River won the 2019 Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction.

Gillmor is a Toronto journalist and author of novels and nonfiction books like Canada: A People's History. He has twice been nominated for the Governor General's Literary Award in the young people's literature — text category for The Fabulous Song and The Christmas Orange.

Toronto's Don Gillmor has won the Governor General's Award for his novel "To the River: Losing My Brother." He tells us about the inspiration behind the story and what this award means to him. 7:58

We Have Always Been Here by Samra Habib

Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

Samra Habib's memoir We Have Always Been Here is an exploration of the ways we disguise and minimize ourselves for the sake of survival. As a child, Habib hid her faith from Islamic extremists in Pakistan and later, as a refugee in Canada, endured racist bullying and the threat of an arranged marriage. In travelling the world and exploring art and sexuality, Habib searches for the truth of her identity. 

We Have Always Been Here will be defended by Amanda Brugel on Canada Reads 2020.

Habib is a journalist, photographer and activist based in Toronto. CBC Books named Habib a writer to watch in 2019We Have Always Been Here is her first book.

Samra Habib talks to Shelagh Rogers about her memoir, We Have Always Been Here 12:13

Still by Emma Hansen

Still is a book by Emma Hansen. (Greystone Books, Aaron Vandenbrink)

Emma Hansen was almost 40 weeks pregnant when her baby died. But since she was so far along in her pregnancy, she had to carry her son to term and deliver him. After she gave birth to her son Reid, and said goodbye to him, she wrote an essay online about her experience, and the complicated grief that came with it. The essay went viral, and inspired Still, a memoir about the same experience, and an attempt to start a conversation about a devastating loss that two million women experience annually, but is rarely talked about.

Hansen is a blogger, model and doula who writes and speaks about stillbirth and child loss. Still is her first book.

Emma Hansen's stillborn blog draws worldwide support 2:57

Nerve by Eva Holland

Nerve is a book by Eva Holland. (Eva Holland, Allen Lane)

Eva Holland explores fear in her first book NerveAfter losing her mother suddenly, Holland decides it's time to face her fears and dives headfirst into tackling them. Along the way, she explores the science of fear and tries to get answers to questions like: Can you really smell fear? What causes fear? Is it possible to be truly fearless?

Holland is a writer and editor based in Whitehorse. Her work has appeared in Outside, Wired, the Walrus and Canadian Geographic.

Yukon author Eva Holland talks about her new book Nerve: A Personal Journey Through The Science of Fear. 11:24

Boy Wonders by Cathal Kelly

Cathal Kelly is a sports columnist and the author of the memoir Boy Wonders. (CBC)

Cathal Kelly's memoir, Boy Wondersreveals a hardscrabble upbringing in a single-parent household during the 1970s and 1980s in Toronto. Kelly shares that he found refuge in popular culture — Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings, to name a few things — which shaped his identity in various ways.

Boy Wonders won the 2019 Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour.

Kelly is a national sports columnist at the Globe and Mail. Boy Wonders is his first book.

Cathal Kelly talks to Shelagh Rogers about his memoir Boy Wonders. 16:03

In My Own Moccasins by Helen Knott

In My Own Moccasins is a memoir by Helen Knott. (Tenille K. Campbell/sweetmoonphotography.ca, University of Regina Press)

Helen Knott is a poet and writer of Dane Zaa, Nehiyaw and European descent. Her memoir, In My Own Moccasins, is a story of addiction, sexual violence and intergenerational trauma. It explores how colonization has affected her family over generations. But it is also a story of hope and redemption, celebrating the resilience and history of her family.

Knott is a social worker and writer. In My Own Moccasins is her first book.

Helen Knott on In My Own Moccasins: A Memoir of Resilience, which she calls "a book of healing." 15:50

I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder by Sarah Kurchak

I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder is a book by Sarah Kurchak. (Jenna Marie Wakani, Douglas & McIntyre)

Sarah Kurchak has autism. While she was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, she realized she was different from her peers — and did everything to overcome it. She changed everything about herself to fit in. It worked, but along the way, she developed anxiety and depression. I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder is a memoir about how Kurchak became an "autism" success story, how it almost ruined her life, and what she did to reclaim her identity and her health.

Kurchak is a writer whose work has appeared in the Guardian, CBC, Vox and Electric Literature. I Overcame My Autism and All I Got Was This Lousy Anxiety Disorder is her first book.

Sarah Kurchak was diagnosed with autism at 27 years old. For her, it answered a lot of her own questions. But it also raised a new one: Were all those years of pretending to be "normal" really worth it 9:40

Resilience is Futile by Julie S. Lalonde

Resilience is Futile is a book by Julie S. Lalonde. (Taylor Hermiston, BTL Books)

For more than 10 years, Julie S. Lalonde kept a terrifying secret: she was being stalked by her ex. At 20 years old, Lalonde left an abusive relationship, and he would go on to stalk her for the following decade. While Lalonde rose to national prominence as a women's rights advocate, writer and speaker, she would ask herself the same question at every event, rally or conference: Was he here? Resilience is Futile is about this terrifying experience, and also about how we handle trauma and find the strength to not only survive, but thrive. 

Lalonde is a women's rights advocate and public educator. Her writing has appeared on CBC, Wired and Flare. Resilience is Futile is her first book.

Julie Lalonde was stalked by her ex-partner for a decade. Although she's an outspoken advocate for women's safety from violence, she didn't speak about it publicly (and seldom even privately) while it was happening. Julie tells Piya why she doesn't think stalking will ever have a #MeToo moment, and what changes she wants to see among law enforcement and in our culture at large in order to take its effects more seriously. 16:58

Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End by Liz Levine

Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End is a book by Liz Levine. (@thelizlevine/Twitter.com, Simon & Schuster)

In 2016, Liz Levine's sister Tamara committed suicide. In the memoir Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the EndLevine tells the story of her sister alongside the story of another death that had a huge impact on her life: that of her childhood sweetheart Judson to cancer. Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End is a book about grief, and it's messiness, but it's also a book about life and its beauty. 

Levine is a television and film producer who has worked on Story of a Girl and jPod. Her writing has appeared in the National Post, The Walrus and the Vancouver Sun. Nobody Ever Talks About Anything But the End is her first book.

They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis

They Said This Would Be Fun is a book by Eternity Martis. (McClelland & Stewart, eternitymartis.com)

Eternity Martis was smart, bookish and excited to go to university. But once she got to campus, life wasn't what she imagined. She was often the only student of colour in classes, at parties and in dorms, and had to face racial slurs, students in blackface at parties and more on a regular basis. They Said This Would Be Fun is a memoir about the difficulty of navigating through white spaces as a student of colour and asks us to confront the systemic issues that define the college experience for racialized and marginalized students.

Martis is a Toronto-based journalist, author and senior editor at Xtra. Her work focuses on issues of race and gender and has been featured in Vice, Salon, Hazlitt, TVO.org, The Walrus, Huffington Post and CBC. They Said This Would Be Fun is her first book.

Eternity Martis on her memoir of university life, They Said This Would Be Fun: Race, Campus Life and Growing Up. 4:03

The Cure for Hate by Tony McAleer

The Cure for Hate is a memoir by Tony McAleer. (Carlos Taylhardat, Arsenal Pulp Press)

Tony McAleer chronicles how he went from being an angry kid in an affluent family to becoming the leader of a neo-Nazi group in his memoir The Cure for Hate. The birth of his child, and the overwhelming sense of love he felt, was a turning point for McAleer. He ended up leaving the neo-Nazi group and, through his book, makes a case for how understanding and compassion can bring people together.

McAleer is a speaker, activist and co-founder of the nonprofit organization Life After Hate. He lives in Vancouver. The Cure for Hate is his first book.

Tony McAleer describes how he reinvented himself as a neo-nazi and his transformation out of the violent movement. 15:05

One Good Reason by Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon

Séan McCann and Andrea Aragon are the co-authors of memoir One Good Reason. (Nimbus Publishing, Megan Vincent)

Séan McCann spent 20 years of his life as a founder of Great Big Sea, the bestselling  Newfoundland folk rock band that was known as Canada's biggest party band. But all that partying was a convenient cover for McCann's alcoholism — and the drinking was his way to tamp down the trauma of abuse that he carried with him since his teenage years. It was only when his wife Andrea Aragon gave him the ultimatum, "Stop or I'm leaving," that McCann changed his life for good. McCann and Aragon chronicle their story together in the memoir One Good Reason.

One Good Reason is McCann  and Aragon's first book.

Sean McCann and Andrea Aragon on their co-written memoir One Good Reason: A Memoir of Addiction and Recovery, Music, and Love. 22:42

Shame on Me by Tessa McWatt

Shame on Me is a book by Tessa McWatt. (Christine Mofardin, Random House Canada)

Tessa McWatt was born in Guyana and came to Canada when she was three years old. She grew up in Toronto and spent years living in Montreal, Paris, Ottawa and London. Her heritage is Scottish, English, French, Portuguese, Indian, Amerindian, African and Chinese. Shame on Me is a memoir about identity, race and belonging by someone who spent a lot of time trying to find an answer to the question, "Who are you?" and who has endured decades of racism and bigotry while trying to figure out who she is and where she belongs. 

McWatt is the author of several works of fiction. Her novels include Dragons CryVital Signs and Higher Ed. She is also the co-editor of the anthology Luminous Ink: Writers on Writing in Canada. Shame on Me is her first work of nonfiction.

Falling for Myself by Dorothy Ellen Palmer

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is the author of Falling for Myself. (Wolsak & Wynn)

In her memoir, Falling for Myself, Dorothy Ellen Palmer makes a passionate case for disability justice. She was born with congenital anomalies in both feet. In Falling for Myself, she depicts her coming to terms with the past — and describes her discovery and embrace of activism.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer is a writer, educator, accessibility consultant and activist. She is also the author of the novel When Fenelon Falls.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer on her candid memoir Falling for Myself, about coming to terms with her past and overcoming her sense of shame at being a disabled person. 3:38

This One Looks Like a Boy by Lorimer Shenher

Lorimer Shenher knew he was transgender from a young age, but did not transition until later in life. He has written about the experience in his new book This One Looks Like a Boy: My Gender Journey to Life as a Man. (Greystone Books)

From childhood, Lorimer Shenher knew he was a boy, though he was being raised as a girl. In This One Looks Like a Boy, Shenher tells his story of struggling with gender dysphoria before finally coming to accept he is trans and undergoing surgery in his 50s.

Shenher is also the author of the book That Lonely Section of Hell, in which he describes his experiences working on the case of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Lorimer Shenher knew he was transgender from a young age, but did not transition until later in life. He has written about the experience in his new book This One Looks Like a Boy: My Gender Journey to Life as a Man. 25:29

From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle

Jesse Thistle is the author of From the Ashes. (CBC)

Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree academic specializing in Indigenous homelessness, addiction and inter-generational trauma. For Thistle, these issues are more than just subjects on the page. After a difficult childhood, Thistle spent much of his early adulthood struggling with addiction while living on the streets of Toronto. Told in short chapters interspersed with poetry, his memoir From the Ashes details how his issues with abandonment and addiction led to homelessness, incarceration and his eventual redemption through higher education. 

Thistle was a recipient of the Governor General's Silver Medal in 2016. From the Ashes is his first book. George Canyon will defend From the Ashes on Canada Reads 2020.

Jesse Thistle talks to Shelagh Rogers about his best selling memoir, From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way. 16:27

Moments of Glad Grace by Alison Wearing

Moments of Glad Grace is a book by Alison Wearing. (ECW Press)

When Alison Wearing's father, Joe, is diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, he decided to travel to Ireland to learn about his family's heritage, and invites his daughter along. Their trip ends up not only being an exploration of their family history, but also their own relationship as they grapple with Joe's declining health. Moments of Glad Grace is a memoir that chronicles this pivotal moment in both their lives.

Wearing is playwright, performer and author. Her other books include Honeymoon in Purdah: An Iranian Journey and Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter. Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter was shortlisted for the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and longlisted for the RBC Taylor Prize.

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. by Jenny Heijun Wills

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related is a memoir by Jenny Heijun Wills. (McClelland & Stewart)

Jenny Heijun Wills was born in Korea, but was adopted by a Canadian family and raised in a small town. When she was in her early 20s, she decided to travel back to Korea to meet her extended birth family and other young people who were adopted from Korea and raised abroad. Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. shares Wills's journey and also explores the impact of being raised by a family of a different ethnicity and culture.

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Wills is an associate professor at the University of Winnipeg. She has co-edited two academic books.

Jenny Heijun Wills on her award-winning memoir of reconnecting with her birth parents, Older Sister: Not Necessarily Related. 16:14

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