Canada Reads·Reading List

5 books to read if you loved Fifteen Dogs

André Alexis's novel won Canada Reads 2017.
André Alexis is a Toronto-based writer. His novel Fifteen Dogs won Canada Reads and the Scotiabank Giller Prize. (CBC)

If you enjoyed André Alexis's award-winning novel, here are five more great books to check out.

Fifteen Dogs won Canada Reads 2017, when it was defended by Humble The Poet.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

(Geoff Howe/Vintage Canada)

What it's about: A young boy is the sole human survivor of a shipwreck and spends 227 days adrift on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean, But he is not alone — his companions include a tiger named Richard Parker, an orangutan named Orange Juice, a zebra and hyena. Fending off the elements and the animals, Pi Patel engages in deep, philosophical conversations with Richard Parker.

If your favourite thing about Fifteen Dogs was: Literary fiction featuring anthropomorphized animals that explores the meaning of life, death and what it means to be human. 

From the book: "I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always... so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you."

The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy

( Canada)

What it's about: After an attack by ivory poachers, a herd of elephants set out on a journey to find safety, led by an elephant named Mud who occasionally has visions of the future. Told from the perspective of the elephant characters, The White Bone is an adventure tale that attempts to understand what it means to be a pachyderm.

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If your favourite thing about Fifteen Dogs was: Inventive, original tales told from the perspective of animals. Philosophical pondering. Animal behaviour amplified through anthropomorphism.

From the book: "The snap, like a gunshot, had cows and calves bolting out onto the plain. She-Meddles bellowed and hurled herself around like a wildebeest, and She-Measures' calf ran in circles bawling. Mud bawled, thinking that she was that calf, its pink ears, its frenzy. A young bull picked up the severed tusk and held it up to his eye. He rotated it and examined it from every angle and then dropped it next to Mud, so close that she could sniff the bloodied root."

Pastoral by André Alexis

(Hanna Zoe Davison/Coach House Books)

What it's about: The first book in André Alexis's quincunx (Fifteen Dogs is the second!) that explores morality, humanity and faith. 

If your favourite thing about Fifteen Dogs was: André Alexis's writing style. Explorations of faith, belief and religion. A strong sense of place.

From the book: "While waiting for a parish of his own, he assisted Father Scarduto at St. Matthew's, in Ottawa. This suited Christopher perfectly. He was himself from Ottawa, so some of the strangeness (and pleasure) of being called 'Father Pennant' was offset by the familiarity of his surroundings. Whenever he allowed himself to think about where he might like to go — that is, where he might like his first parish to be — he imagined he'd be happiest in a small city of some sort: Cambridge, say, or Peterborough. So, he was dismayed when he was told he'd be going to a place in Lambton County called Barrow."

The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

Deborah Willis is the author of The Dark and Other Love Stories. (Darshan Stevens/Hamish Hamilton)

What it's about: The Dark and Other Love Stories is a collection of 13 strange tales that explore the depths and fringes of human attachment.

If your favourite thing about Fifteen Dogs was: Intelligent weirdness and originality. Deep introspection on what it means to love and be loved. 

From the book: "We were like Betty and Veronica in those comics we read endlessly — practically identical except for our hair. Andrea's was dark and I was blond. Her skin tanned easily and I worried about sunburns, but we were the same height and our bodies were lean and undeveloped.

When we met we were assigned to the same canoe at summer camp. Andrea took the stern and I was in the bow. As we drifted on the placid lake, she said, 'If we paddled hard, how far do you think we'd get? Before anyone caught us?'"

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels

(John Londono/Random House of Canada)

What it's about: Us Conductors is inspired by the life of Lev Sergeyevich Termen, the Russian inventor of the theremin, taking him from the rambunctious New York clubs of the 1930s to the bleak gulags of the Soviet Union.

If your favourite thing about Fifteen Dogs was: The Scotiabank Giller Prize winner sticker. The unique story, vivid writing and search for meaning in life. The exploration of commitment and love.

From the book: "I was Leon Termen before I was Dr Theremin, and before I was Leon, I was Lev Sergeyvich. The instrument that is now known as a theremin could as easily have been called a leon, a lyova, a sergeyvich. It could have been called a clara, after its greatest player. Pash liked termenvox. He liked its connotations of science and authority. But this name always made me laugh. Termenvox−the voice of Termen. As if this device replicated my own voice. As if the theremin's trembling soprano were the song of this scientist from Leningrad.

I laughed at this notion, and yet in a way I think I also believed it. Not that the theremin emulated my voice, but that with it I gave voice to something. To the invisible. To the ether. I, Lev Sergeyvich Termen, mouthpiece of the universe."