CBC Books winter 2021 reading list: 30 Canadian books to check out this season

It's cold outside so bundle up with a good book. Here are 30 great Canadian books to check out.

It's cold outside so bundle up with a good book. Here are 30 great Canadian books to check out.

If I Knew Then by Jann Arden

If I Knew Then is a book by Jann Arden. (Random House Canada)

Jann Arden is one of Canada's best known singer-songwriters. But when she reached her 50s, her life changed in unexpected ways: she became the caregiver for her mother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she became the star of the sitcom Jann and she realized that getting older doesn't mean she can't grow, change and celebrate. If I Knew Then is Arden's memoir looking back on this journey, and how she learned to free herself from expectations and not only live her life, but revel in it.

Jann Arden is a multi-platinum recording artist and has won eight Juno Awards over her celebrated career. She recently starred in the fictional television series Jann on CTV. She is also the author of Feeding My Mothera memoir of caring for her mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Jann Arden on her newest memoir, If I Knew Then: Finding Wisdom in Failure and Power in Aging.

The Push by Ashley Audrain

The Push is a novel by Ashley Audrain. (Viking Canada, Barbara Stoneham)

The Push is a thriller about a woman who is experiencing motherhood for the first time, but it's not like anything she expected — in fact, it's everything she was terrified it would be. When Blythe's first child, Violet, is born, she feels no connection to the baby — and Violet isn't anything like other babies. But Blythe's husband is convinced it's all in her head, and everything will be fine if she just relaxes. But what if he's wrong? And if he's right, what does that say about Blythe?

Ashley Audrain is the former publicity director of Penguin Canada. The Push is her first novel.

It's one of the buzziest books of the year. Host Piya Chattopadhyay speaks to Ashley Audrain about her debut novel, The Push — a searing look at motherhood told as a psychological thriller. The conversation explores the expectations put on moms, including the ones they put on themselves; what goes wrong when motherhood and womanhood get too entangled; and goes beyond "bad mom" tropes to delve into the things mothers wish they could say — and why we all need to listen when they do say them.

The Response of Weeds by Bertrand Bickersteth

Bertrand Bickersteth is a Sierra Leone, Alberta-based writer. (NeWest Press)

"Storied soil" is the phrase Bertrand Bickersteth uses to describe his home province of Alberta in his debut poetry collection The Response of Weeds. The collection brings to life the experience of early Black settlers in Western Canada. The Response of Weeds tells of stories rooted in the prairie landscape, including his own experience growing up as a Black Albertan. He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about writing the book.

Bertrand Bickersteth is a poet, author and educator who was born in Sierra Leone, raised in Alberta, and has lived in the U.K. and the U.S. 

Poet Bertrand Bickersteth talks about his new collection The Response of Weeds, which is inspired by his experiences as a Black man in Alberta.

Burning Sugar by Cicely Belle Blain

Burning Sugar is a poetry collection by Cicely Belle Blain. (VS. Books)

Burning Sugar is a poetry collection that explores Black identity, history and the impact of colonization on Black bodies. Burning Sugar illuminates how systems, society and culture are all structured to reinforce racism. But it also explores and celebrates the nuance and joy in life.

Cicely Belle Blain is a poet and activist from British Columbia. They founded Black Lives Matter Vancouver. CBC Radio named them one of 150 Black women and non-binary people making change across Canada in 2018. Burning Sugar is their first book.

Poet and activist Cicely Belle Blain on her debut collection of poetry, Burning Sugar.

Blaze Island by Catherine Bush

Blaze Island is a novel by Catherine Bush. (Ayelet Tsabari, Goose Lane Editions)

In Blaze Island, a major hurricane is about to hit Blaze Island, a tiny island in the North Atlantic. As the threat looms, Miranda, who grew up in an isolated cove on the island, must reckon with her past as this hurricane threatens to change her life as she knows it.

Catherine Bush is a novelist from Toronto. Her books include the novels Claire's Head and The Rules of Engagement. Bush is the coordinator of the University of Guelph's Creative Writing MFA program.

Alan Doyle released his latest book, All Together Now: A Newfoundlander's Light Tales for Heavy Times. He takes out Proust questionnaire.

Relax, Dammit! by Timothy Caulfield

Relax, Dammit! is a book by Timothy Caulfield. (@caulfieldtim/, Allen Lane)

In Relax, Dammit!, health expert Timothy Caulfield looks at a regular day in modern life and the habits and decisions we make. He digs into the science behind many of our mindless day-to-day tasks and argues that many of the things we think make our lives easier, more convenient and more manageable, actually don't. He also argues that there is a way for us to become more relaxed, more at ease and less busy.

Timothy Caulfield is a professor at the University of Alberta, the host of the TV series A User's Guide to Cheating Death and the author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?

Francesca Ekwuyasi on her Canada Reads 2021 book, Butter Honey Pig Bread

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 — after she dies, he is sent to rural Ontario to live with a strict aunt. 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 life for himself for real, and to embrace his heritage instead of trying to escape it.

Antonio Michael 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.

All Together Now by Alan Doyle

All Together Now is a book by Alan Doyle. (Brian Ricks, Doubleday Canada)

Alan Doyle, the lead singer of Great Big Sea, is a proud Newfoundlander. He normally spends his time travelling the world, performing for fans and catching up with pals. In All Together Now, Doyle tries to capture what it's like being in a Newfoundland pub: having a laugh and telling great, winding stories with your pals. All Together Now is a collection of heart-warming and uplifting stories, which recount some of his biggest successes, biggest failings and best memories.

Alan Doyle is a musician, writer and actor. He is also the author of the memoir Where I Belong. He lives in St. John's.

Marlowe Granados on her debut novel Happy Hour, about a young woman and her best friend who want to wring as much fun, glamour and experience from life as they can, during one hot summer in New York.

Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi

Francesca Ekwuyasi is the author of Butter Honey Pig Bread. (Submitted by Francesca Ekwuyasi/CBC)

Butter Honey Pig Bread is a novel about twin sisters Kehinde and Taiye, and their mother, Kambirinachi. Kambirinachi believes she was a spirit who was supposed to die as a small child. By staying alive, she is cursing her family — a fear that appears to come true when Kehinde experiences something that tears the family apart, and divides the twins for years. But when the three women connect years later, they must confront their past and find forgiveness.

Butter Honey Pig Bread will be championed by Roger Mooking on Canada Reads 2021.

Francesca Ekwuyasi is a writer, filmmaker and visual artist. Her writing has appeared in the Malahat Review, Guts and Brittle Paper, and she was longlisted for the 2019 Journey PrizeButter Honey Pig Bread is her first book. She currently lives in Halifax.

Katłįà Lafferty on her debut novel, Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Tı-Yat’a.

Happy Hour by Marlowe Granados

Marlowe Granados is a Toronto author. (Rachel Woroner, Flying Books)

Happy Hour is a novel about two women in their 20s — Isa Epley and her best friend Gala — who are having the time of their lives in New York City during the summer of 2013. Life for Isa and Gala is all about pleasure and ambition. This includes fun, partying and living in the moment, no matter the eventual cost. 

Marlowe Granados is a writer, filmmaker and podcaster based in Toronto. Happy Hour is her first novel.

Bruce Kirkby on his latest book, Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya.

Land-Water-Sky / Ndè–Tı–Yat'a by Katłıà

Land-Water-Sky / Ndè–Tı–Yat'a is a book by Katłıà. (Fernwood Publishing)

Land-Water-Sky / Ndè–Tı–Yat'a imagines what it would be like if Indigenous legends were part of contemporary life, making mischief and reminding us of the importance and power of Indigenous history, culture and sharing stories.

Katłįà is a Dene writer and activist from the Northwest Territories. Land-Water-Sky / Ndè–Tı–Yat'a is her first novel.

In her memoir Two Trees Make a Forest, Canadian writer and environmental historian Jessica J. Lee returns to her mother's homeland of Taiwan to understand the landscape that shaped her family - and in turn, shapes her. The book intertwines her grandparents' histories, the political history of Taiwan and the island's geological history. She speaks with Chattopadhyay about home, multiplicity and belonging. For more, visit:

home body by Rupi Kaur

home body is a book by Rupi Kaur. (Simon & Schuster, Amrita Singh)

home body is the third collection from bestselling poet Rupi Kaur. home body, which also features illustrations by Kaur, explores the concept of self and reflects on home, mental health, love and acceptance. 

Rupi Kaur is a poet and artist from Brampton, Ont. She currently has more than 4 million Instagram followers. At the beginning of 2020, she was named the writer of the decade by U.S. publication The New Republic. Her other poetry collections are milk and honey and the sun and her flowers, which both made the New York Times bestseller list.

Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, on racism in hockey

3 years ago
Duration 9:19
Willie O’Ree, the NHL’s first Black player, reflects on his legacy and the fight against anti-Black racism in hockey.

Blue Sky Kingdom by Bruce Kirkby

Bruce Kirkby wilderness writer and adventure photographer based in British Columbia. (Douglas & McIntyre)

Bruce Kirkby's life had become one of distraction — he realized he was looking mindlessly at his phone and social media for hours. It was a cycle that he was determined to overcome and break.  With an eye on refocusing his life, in 2014 Kirkby  embarked on a six-month journey with his family, travelling to and living in the Himalayas. Their destination: an ancient Buddhist monastery in the remote Zanskar valley, one of the last places where Tibetan Buddhism is still practised freely in its original setting. He wrote about the experience of avoiding modern distraction in Blue Sky Kingdom.

Bruce Kirkby is an adventurer, photographer and author from British Columbia.

C.L. Polk on her Canada Reads 2021 contender, The Midnight Bargain.

Two Trees Make a Forest by Jessica J. Lee

Jessica J. Lee is the author of Two Trees Make a Forest. (Submitted by Jessica J. Lee/CBC)

Two Trees Make a Forest is a nonfiction book that explores how geographical forces are interlaced with our family stories. A chance discovery of letters written by her immigrant grandfather leads Jessica J. Lee to her ancestral homeland, Taiwan. There, she traces his story while growing closer to the land he knew. Throughout her adventures, Lee uncovers surprising parallels between nature and human stories that shaped her family and their beloved island. In the memoir, she also turns a critical eye on colonialist explorers who mapped the land and named plants, and both relied on and often erased the labour and knowledge of local communities.

Two Trees Make a Forest won the 2020 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction. It will be championed by Scott Helman on Canada Reads 2021.

Jessica J. Lee is a British Canadian Taiwanese author and environmental historian. She won the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Author Award in 2019. Her first book, Turning, was longlisted for the Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors. Lee has a PhD in environmental history and aesthetics, and currently lives in London.

Jael Richardson on the inspiration behind her debut novel, Gutter Child.

Willie by Willie O'Ree with Michael McKinley

Willie is a book by Willie O'Ree, pictured, with Michael McKinley. (Viking, Presley Ann/Getty Images)

In 1958, Willie O'Ree stepped on the ice for the Boston Bruins, becoming the first Black player to play in the NHL. For the next 20 years, he would continue to play, facing racist taunts from fans and fellow players. After he retired from playing, he would build an even bigger legacy as an advocate for diversity in sport, helping more than 40,000 kids discover the game he loved. Williea memoir written with journalist Michael McKinley, looks back on O'Ree's life, legacy and career.

Willie O'Ree was the first Black player in the NHL. He is also the subject of the documentary WillieWillie is his first book.

Michael McKinley is a journalist, documentary filmmaker and screenwriter from Vancouver. He is also the author of the nonfiction book Hockey: A People's History and the novel The Penalty Killing.

To say Cree author David A. Robertson is prolific is a bit of an understatement. He started his writing career in 2009, and has already published more than 20 titles. This fall he has three books being released. This week on Unreserved, an extended conversation with the author.

Dirty Birds by Morgan Murray

Dirty Birds is a novel by Morgan Murray. (, Breakwater Books)

Dirty Birds is a humorous coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of the 2008 global recession. A young man named Milton Ontario (yes, it's also a place) leaves his small hometown in Saskatchewan to pursue fame and fortune in Montreal and to find his idol, the iconic singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.

Morgan Murray is a writer from Alberta who now lives in Nova Scotia. Dirty Birds is his first novel.

Exploring the galaxy for exoplanets that have the ability to support life is the least complicated part of Sara Seager's life. The Canadian astrophysicist and MIT planetary scientist explores her complicated childhood, the untimely death of her husband and raising two young boys all while searching the stars in her new memoir: The Smallest Lights in the Universe.

Barely Functional Adult by Meichi Ng

Barely Functional Adult by is a book Meichi Ng. (HarperCollins Canada)

Meichi Ng brings her popular webcomic to print with Barely Functional Adult. The humorous and heartfelt comics explore being an adult and all the messiness that comes with it, including dating, adult friendships, therapy, anxiety, bills and finding a career path that is both fulfilling and pays the bills. 

Meichi Ng is a cartoonist from Vancouver. She is the creator of the popular webcomic Barely Functioning Adult.

Hana Shafi on Small, Broke and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, which is built around art from Shafi''s popular online affirmation series

The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk

C.L. Polk is the author of the fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain. (Submitted by C.L. Polk/CBC)

In the fantasy novel The Midnight Bargain, Beatrice is making her debut at "bargaining season" — an annual event where wealthy young men and women gather from all over the world to make advantageous marriages. But she harbours secret plans that will upend society. Rather than get married, Beatrice plans to bind a greater spirit and become a full magician. Performing the secret ritual goes against the rules of her world, which prohibits women from practicing magic while they can still bear children. With the help of the wealthy Lavan siblings, fiery Ysbeta and her handsome brother Ianthe, Beatrice searches for a way to change old patriarchal traditions. 

The Midnight Bargain will be championed by Rosey Edeh on Canada Reads 2021.

C.L. Polk is a fantasy writer from Calgary. Their other books include Witchmark and StormsongWitchmark was nominated for a Sunburst Award and Aurora Award.

Natalie Zina Walschots on the inspiration behind her 2021 Canada Reads shortlisted novel, Hench.

Paul at Home by Michel Rabagliati

Paul at Home is a book by Michel Rabagliati. (Drawn & Quarterly)

Paul at Home is the latest memoir from famed Quebecois comics creator Michel Rabagliati. In Paul at HomePaul is now in his mid 50s and is a successful cartoonist. But he's divorced, his mother is dying and his daughter has moved out. Paul must figure out how to find meaning and purpose in his life as he gets older and the relationships that defined his adult life are drastically changing.

Michel Rabagliati is a cartoonist from Montreal. He has written several semi-autobiographical comics including Paul Up North, Paul Goes Fishing and Paul Joins the Scouts.

Gutter Child by Jael Richardson

Gutter Child is a novel by Jael Richardson. (HarperAvenue, Simon Remark)

Gutter Child is about a young girl growing up in a world divided: the Mainland, where people of privilege live, and the Gutter, a police state where the most vulnerable reside. A social experiment results in 100 babies born in the Gutter being raised in the Mainland. One of those babies is Elimina Dubois. But when Elimina's Mainland mother dies, she is sent to an academy with rules and a way of life Elimina doesn't understand.

Jael Richardson is the founder and the artistic director of the Festival for Literary Diversity (FOLD) and the books columnist for q on CBC Radio. She is also the author of the nonfiction book The Stone Thrower, which was adapted into a picture book of the same name. Gutter Child is her first work of fiction.

The author and award-winning scholar Njoki Wane on her memoir From My Mother's Back: A Journey from Kenya to Canada.

Breakdown by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

The Reckoner Rises: Breakdown is a book by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson. (Portage & Main Press, Submitted by David A. Robertson)

The Reckoner Rises is a graphic novel series that continues David A. Robertson's popular YA The Reckoner trilogy about Indigenous teen Cole who recently learned he has magic powers. In the first instalment of this series, BreakdownCole and Eva have arrived in Winnipeg, intent on destroying Mihko Laboratories. But when Cole starts getting terrifying visions, Eva must continue their mission alone. Are Cole's visions just dreams? Or are they telling Cole and Eva something they need to know?

David A. Robertson is an author and graphic novelist based in Winnipeg. The multi-talented writer of Swampy Cree heritage has published 25 books across a variety of genres, including the graphic novels Will I See? and Sugar Falls, a Governor General's Literary Award-winning picture book called When We Were Aloneillustrated by Julie Flett, and the YA book StrangersHe hosts the CBC Edmonton podcast Kiwew.

We revisit Shelagh's interview with Joshua Whitehead on his book Jonny Appleseed. The novel is a 2021 Canada Reads selection.

Our Darkest Night by Jennifer Robson

Our Darkest Night is a novel by Jennifer Robson. (Natalie Brown/Tangerine Photo, HarperCollins Canada)

Our Darkest Night is a novel about a young Jewish woman who posed as a Christian farmer's wife during the Second World War in order to survive the Holocaust. Antonina leaves behind her family to live with Nico, a young man who was studying to become a priest but had to return home to run his family farm. But Antonina, who grew up in the city, struggles to adapt to farm life. And when their neighbours become suspicious, they are not sure their lie will be enough to keep Antonina safe.

Jennifer Robson is a historical fiction writer from Toronto. Her other books include Goodnight from LondonMoonlight Over ParisAfter the War is OverSomewhere in France, Fall of Poppies and The Gown.

The Smallest Lights in the Universe by Sara Seager

The Smallest Lights in the Universe is a book by Sara Seager. (Doubleday Canada, Justin Knight)

Sara Seager is an astronomer and planetary scientist, who was balancing a fulfilling and demanding career with raising a young family. But when her husband died unexpectedly, leaving her to raise their two children alone, she struggled with her grief, with handling the day-to-day tasks involved in managing a family and with her Asperger's. Her memoir The Smallest Lights in the Universe blends this story with Seager's professional work, searching for other worlds and planets in outer space.

Sara Seager is originally from Toronto and currently teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was a MacArthur Fellow in 2013. She is also the author of the academic books Exoplanet Atmospheres: Physical Processes and Exoplanets.

Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty by Hana Shafi

Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty is a book by Hana Shafi. (Dylan van den Berge/CBC, Book*hug Press)

Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty is a collection of essays and artwork that explores self-discovery. Based on the affirmations artist and writer Hana Shafi shares online, this book explores identity, self-discovery, racism, feminism, friendship and the power of creativity through humour, reflection and art.

Hana Shafi is a writer and artist from Toronto; she illustrates under the name Frizz Kid. She is also the author of the poetry collection It Begins with the Body.

You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. by Sheung-King

You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. is a book by Sheung-King. (Maari Sugawara, Book*Hug Press)

You Are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. is a surreal novel about a translator who travels the globe with his lover. Along the way, they tell each other stories, pose philosophical questions and share their ideas about the world. It's glamorous and stimulating, but the lover often disappears without explanation.

Sheung-King is a writer born in Vancouver, raised in Hong Kong and currently living in Toronto. You are Eating an Orange. You Are Naked. is his first book.

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Natalie Zina Walschots is the author of Hench. (Submitted by Natalie Zina Walschots/CBC)

Hench is a novel about Anna, a woman who pays the bills by doing administrative work for villains. But then an incident involving the world's most popular superhero leaves her injured and gets her fired. Anna realizes what happened to her isn't unique — and she might have the means to take down the so-called hero who hurt her. How? With every office worker's secret weapon: data.

Hench will be championed by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee on Canada Reads 2021.

Natalie Zina Walschots is a writer and journalist from Toronto. She is also the author of the poetry collections DOOM: Love Poems for Supervillains and Thumbscrews.

From My Mother's Back by Njoki Wane

The book cover with a castle in front of a hill with trees and the author photo of a smiling Black woman with short curly black hair and glasses wearing a red blazer
From My Mother's Back is a nonfiction book by Njoki Wane. (Wolsak & Wynn)

Njoki Wane's From My Mother's Back takes a look at her childhood living in Kenya where her parents owned a small coffee farm. It explores her African identity and how her upbringing and close relationship with her mother ensured her sense of self as a Black woman.

Njoki Wane is a professor at the University of Toronto and a recognized scholar in the areas of Black feminism and African spirituality.

Jonny Appleseed by Joshua Whitehead

Joshua Whitehead is the author of Jonny Appleseed. (Submitted by Joshua Whitehead/CBC)

Jonny Appleseed is a novel about a two-spirit Indigiqueer young man who has left the reserve and becomes a cybersex worker in the big city to make ends meet. But he must reckon with his past when he returns home to attend his stepfather's funeral. 

Jonny Appleseed was on the longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize and the shortlist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and was a finalist for the Amazon Canada First Novel Award. It will be championed by Devery Jacobs on Canada Reads 2021.

Joshua Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation, currently pursuing his PhD. He is also the author of the poetry collection full-metal indigiqueer and is the editor of the anthology Love after the EndJonny Appleseed is his first novel.

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder by Julia Zarankin

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder is a book by Julia Zarankin. (Douglas & McIntyre, Submitted by Julia Zarankin)

When she was 35, Julia Zarankin was divorced and changing careers. She decided she needed a hobby, and unexpectedly turned to birdwatching. Her memoir, Field Notes from an Unintentional Birderblends together a blossoming love affair with birding and her own biography — she was born in the Soviet Union, grew up in Canada and spent time living in Paris.

Julia Zarankin is a writer and lecturer based in Toronto. She made the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize shortlist for Black-legged KittiwakeField Notes from an Unintentional Birder is her first book.

Love after the End

Love after the End is an anthology edited by Joshua Whitehead. (Arsenal Pulp Press, Joshua Whitehead)

Love after the End is an anthology of nine speculative fiction stories that imagine a utopian future for LGBTQ and two-spirit people, curated and edited by poet and novelist Joshua Whitehead. The stories range in scope and creativity but all centre on LGBTQ and two-spirit people and have a happy ending.

Contributors include Nathan Adler, Darcie Little Badger, Gabriel Castilloux Calderon, Adam Garnet Jones, Mari Kurisato, Kai Minosh Pyle, David Alexander Robertson, jaye simpson and Nazbah Tom.

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