The best Canadian books of 2020
2020 wasn't great in a lot of ways, but it was a great year for reading. Here are CBC Books's favourite books of the year.
Our top pick: How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
How to Pronounce Knife is a collection of idiosyncratic and diverse stories. Capturing the daily lives of immigrants, Souvankham Thammavongsa captures their hopes, disappointments, trauma and acts of defiance. From a young man painting nails in a salon, to a housewife learning English from soap-operas, How to Pronounce Knife navigates tragedy and humour.
Thammavongsa is a writer and poet. Her stories have won an O. Henry Award and appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Paris Review and NOON. She has published four books of poetry, including 2019's Cluster.
Our top pick: The Skin We're In by Desmond Cole
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.
Our top pick: The Response of Weeds by Bertrand Bickersteth
"Storied soil" is the phrase 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.
Our top pick: Wendy, Master of Art by Walter Scott
In Wendy, Master of Art, Wendy is a serious art student at the University of Hell in a small Ontario town. As she works toward her Master Fine Arts, Wendy confronts her ever-ballooning insecurities, fears and doubts with therapy, excessive drinking and partying.
Walter Scott is a Kahnawá:ke-born artist who lives in Toronto. He's published two other Wendy books, including Wendy's Revenge, and has appeared in The New Yorker and the Best American Comics anthology.
Our top pick: Fight Like a Girl by Sheena Kamal
In thriller writer Sheena Kamal's first YA novel Fight Like a Girl, Trisha grew up with an abusive father who would come and go as he pleased. In an effort to break the chain of violence in her family, Trisha chooses to channel her violent impulses into Muay Thai kickboxing.
Fight Like a Girl is for ages 14 and up.
Our top pick: The Barnabus Project by the Fan Brothers
The Barnabus Project features a secret underground lab, genetically engineered creatures and a story about freedom. Barnabus and his friends live in this lab but they are deemed imperfect and might never see the outside world. But Barnabus yearns to be free and decides that it's time for he and his imperfect friends to make the perfect escape.
The Barnabus Project is for ages 5-9.
Eric Fan and Terry Fan are brothers and frequent collaborators on children's books. Their books include The Night Gardener and Ocean Meets Sky. They also illustrated The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield.
Devin Fan is an artist, poet and youth worker. The Barnabus Project is his first children's book and marks the first time all three brothers have written and illustrated a picture book together.