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.
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 Mother, a memoir of caring for her mother after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
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.
"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.
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.
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.
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?
Musician and writer Antonio Michael Downing shares his story in the memoir Saga Boy. Downing 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.
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.
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.
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 Prize. Butter Honey Pig Bread is her first book. She currently lives in Halifax.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- In Taiwan's lush landscape, Jessica J. Lee found a deeper understanding of her family's turbulent history
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.
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. Willie, a 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 Willie. Willie 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.
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.
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.
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.
Paul at Home is the latest memoir from famed Quebecois comics creator Michel Rabagliati. In Paul at Home, Paul 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 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 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, Breakdown, Cole 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 Alone, illustrated by Julie Flett, and the YA book Strangers. He hosts the CBC Edmonton podcast Kiwew.
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 London, Moonlight Over Paris, After the War is Over, Somewhere in France, Fall of Poppies and The Gown.
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 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. 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 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.
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.
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 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 End. Jonny Appleseed is his first novel.
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 Birder, blends 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.
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.
- Joshua Whitehead reflects on music and the surprising connection he made with a neighbour while in isolation
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.