Books·My Life in Books

5 Juno-nominated artists recommend their favourite books

It's the 50th anniversary of the Juno Awards, the annual celebration of Canadian music! Five 2021 award nominees (Tenille Townes, Emanuel, Laila Biali, Leela Gilday and Storry) spoke with CBC Books about the books they loved reading.

The 50th anniversary of the annual celebration of Canadian music airs live on CBC on Sunday, June 6, 2021

2021 Juno Award nominees Tenille Townes, Emanuel, Laila Biali, Leela Gilday and Storry. (Sony Music Canada, Norman Wong, Julia Hembree, Pat Kane, Jordan Oram)

It's Juno Awards time again! The 50th anniversary of the annual celebration of Canadian music airs live on Sunday, June 6, 2021 on CBC TVCBC Gem, CBC Radio OneCBC Music and streams globally at CBCMusic.ca/junos.

CBC Books asked five of this year's Juno nominees to share their favourite books. See what they picked below!

Tenille Townes recommends Quiet by Susan Cain

Tenille Townes recommends 2012 nonfiction book Quiet by Susan Cain. (Sony Music Canada, Crown)

Tenille Townes is a Canadian country music singer from Grande Prairie, Alta. Townes is nominated for a 2021 Juno Award in the country album of the year category for debut album The Lemonade Stand

"Reading this book felt like wrapping up in a cozy blanket of understanding. I was so grateful to feel seen and heard through these pages. I've always loved music, and I'm so grateful to get to do the thing I've always dreamed of doing, but I struggle with feeling uncomfortable sometimes in front of people, or getting exhausted in group settings, or struggling with creativity without time and space alone.

Reading this book felt like wrapping up in a cozy blanket of understanding.- Tenille Townes

"I love making up songs in quiet spaces, and I also love performing them for people on big stages. But as an introvert it can feel like separate pieces of my identity are struggling against each other on a daily basis, and I have often felt like there's something wrong with me because of that. This book gave me so much freedom in learning about leadership that comes from an equally powerful, quieter place.

"I was fascinated by the research collected through this book, and inspired to learn about the strengths that come from being wired the way that I am. I highly recommend this book to anybody needing a reminder that they are not alone in their thoughtful, inquisitive, quiet ways." 


Emanuel recommends The Will to Change by bell hooks

Emanuel recommends 2004 essay collection The Will to Change by bell hooks. (Washington Square Press, Norman Wong)

Emanuel is a Canadian R&B singer originally from London, Ont. He's nominated for a 2021 Juno Award in the traditional R&B/Soul recording of the year category for his album Alt Therapy Session 1: Disillusion.

"This book is filled with insights. It helps guide one on the road to redefining what masculinity means in the patriarchal societies we live in.

This book is filled with insights.- Emanuel

"bell hooks' words are filled with love and echo an understanding that exists deep within me.

"Books like this are nourishment for the soul."


Laila Biali recommends Small Victories by Anne Lamott

Laila Biali recommends 2014 essay collection Small Victories by Anne Lamott (Julia Hembree, Riverhead)

Laila Biali is a Canadian singer-songwriter and pianist who is also the host of Saturday Night Jazz on CBC Music. Biali is nominated for a 2021 Juno Award in the vocal jazz album of the year category for her album Out of Dust.

"When I gathered together all I would need for a six-day writing retreat at The Banff Centre, I included a few books I thought might tie-in with the theme for my album, Out of Dust. I even snapped a photo of them laid out on my floor in the shape of a circle. I don't spend as much time these days curled up with a good read, so I only ended up delving into one out of the bunch: Anne Lamott's Small Victories. 

"I'm a longtime fan of Anne's. As someone who grew up in the church, I find her to be refreshingly open and even irreverent when it comes to her faith journey. She isn't afraid to say the things most of us won't for fear we might offend or make ourselves too vulnerable. And it's this unapologetic take-me-as-I-am approach that compels me to be more open and honest, to face things head on. This deep personal work — the constant refining of perspective – is vital to the process of songwriting, and that makes Anne and her Small Victories ideal companions. 

Her book is a place of welcome, an invitation. Life is messy, so let's be messy together.- Laila Biali

"But this book isn't for everyone. Some will find Anne wears her heart on her sleeve to an unnecessary and self-indulgent degree. But she's the first to call herself out at every turn.

"It's that unrelenting willingness to remove the proverbial plank from her own eye before she removes the splinter from her fellow humans that gives her credibility and brings her closer. As I read her accounts of motherhood, spirituality, friendship and romance I feel heard and known myself — like Anne understands me, the reader. Her book is a place of welcome, an invitation. Life is messy, so let's be messy together." 

"The subtitle for Small Victories is Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. For Anne, spotting those moments is a daily discipline, a means to survival in an otherwise harsh world because, while richness and beauty surround us, death and despair (and global pandemics!) are realities no one escapes. When my mother-in-law gifted the book to me years ago, I think she intended it as a portable pocket guide of sorts, and that's exactly what it has been — in my life and in the songwriting process."


Leela Gilday recommends Land-Water-Sky by Katłıà

Leela Gilday recommends Land-Water-Sky, a 2020 novel from Dene author Katłıà. (Roseway Publishing, Pat Kane)

Leela Gilday is a Dene Canadian singer and songwriter born and raised in Yellowknife. Gilday is nominated for a 2021 Juno Award in the Indigenous artist or group of the year category for her album North Star Calling.

"The book I chose is the recently-released debut novel by a friend of mine, Dene author Katłıà. Entitled Land-Water-Sky/ Ndè-Tı-Yat'ait's an intense ride through the bush (dechinta) in Denendeh where magic is still alive, shapeshifters still walk, and inkwo (medicine power) still rules.

This book inspired me on my artistic and personal journey of language and cultural reclamation both as a musician and a human.- Leela Gilday

"It is tied together with the contemporary story of a brave young woman rediscovering her connection to land and love. This book inspired me on my artistic and personal journey of language and cultural reclamation both as a musician and a human.

"As a Dene songwriter working on a body of work based in the language, it brought home how important it is to keep our stories alive, especially in a contemporary context. Also, it is totally scary and you may not sleep for a while."


Storry recommends The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

Storry recommends nonfiction book The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer. (New Harbinger Publications, Karimah Zakia Issa)

Storry is a Toronto singer-songwriter who was trained classically but moves easily between musical styles and genres. She is nominated for a 2021 Juno Award in the adult contemporary album of the year category for album CH III: The Come Up

"I love nonfiction and I love self-help books and stuff like that. This is a little bit more than a self-help book. The book embodies Buddhist principles — and I'm not Buddhist. I went to India years ago when my life was kind of crazy — I had just left this abusive relationship. I went to study yoga out there and became a certified yoga instructor.

"Then I came back to Canada and started doing my artistry. I was finding that the music industry was super misogynistic and problematic and I fell into another depression. I was having a hard time figuring out how to move forward. And so I went to a 10-day silence Vipassanā meditation retreat — where you just meditate for 10 hours a day in silence.

"I was transformed again. Right after that is when I actually went into the studio and produced CH III: The Come Up on my own. I had just decided that I didn't need any of these other people. I had to be my own superhero. Nobody's going to save me.

The book focuses a lot on just being more consciously aware of your surroundings in your life.- Storry

"It was through these practices that always got me out of these hard situations. I just moved in with a bunch of roommates and this girl who lives with me, she is Buddhist. I asked her for some books because I figured it's time to maybe look at this religion or practice and see what it's all about.

"This book isn't really about where Buddhism began or anything like that, but it does have a lot of the principles in it. The book focuses a lot on being more consciously aware of your surroundings in your life. I think that's what Buddhism encapsulates for sure." 

Comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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