The best Canadian nonfiction of 2022
Here are the CBC Books picks for the top Canadian nonfiction of the year!
In his memoir Son of Elsewhere, Elamin Abdelmahmoud recounts his experience leaving his native Sudan and moving to Kingston, Ont. Like all teens, he spent his adolescence trying to figure out who he was, but he had to do it while learning to balance a new racial identity and all the assumptions that came with being Black and Muslim. Son of Elsewhere explores how our experiences and environments can define our identity and who we truly are.
Abdelmahmoud is the host of CBC's weekly pop culture podcast Pop Chat, co-host of CBC's political podcast Party Lines and a frequent culture commentator for CBC News. He will host the upcoming CBC Radio show Commotion. Son of Elsewhere is his first book.
LISTEN | Elamin Abdelmahmoud discusses Son of Elsewhere with Piya Chattopadhyay:
Interspersed with drawings, maps, diagrams and scientific charts, Cyclettes probes the millennial experience, asking what it means to live a meaningful life, especially amid economic and environmental uncertainty. Both a travelogue and a book of philosophical introspection, the multidisciplinary work asks big questions in a bid to understand our place in the world.
Tree Abraham is a book designer, illustrator and writer.
Maude Barlow counters the prevailing atmosphere of pessimism and offers lessons of hope that she has learned from a lifetime of activism in the memoir Still Hopeful. Barlow has been involved in three major movements: second-wave feminism, the battle against free trade and globalization and the fight for water justice. She emphasizes that effective activism is about building a movement and finding like-minded people rather than making the goal the focus.
Barlow is a Canadian activist and writer. She is the bestselling author of 20 books and served as the senior water advisor to the UN General Assembly. Barlow was a leader in the campaign to have water recognized as a human right. She lives in Ottawa.
LISTEN | Maude Barlow reflects on a lifetime of activism:
Half-Bads in White Regalia traces Cody Caetano's unique upbringing living in a rural house with his siblings after his parents split up and left them behind — his mother trying to discover her Anishinaabe roots after finding out her Sixties Scoop origin story and his Portuguese immigrant father drifting aimlessly.
Cody Caetano is a Toronto-based writer of Anishinaabe and Portuguese descent and an off-reserve member of Pinaymootang First Nation. Half-Bads in White Regalia is his first book.
LISTEN | Cody Caetano talks to Shelagh Rogers about Half-Bads in White Regalia:
Kit Dobson reflects on how little modern-day humans interact with the natural world and how that has changed our place within it. Field Notes on Listening is a response to our lack of connection with the land, the difficult history of how many came to be here and what we could discover if we listened to the world around us. From Dobson's lost family farm to climate change and the effects of late-stage capitalism, the book moves through time to grapple with growing challenges.
Dobson is a writer, editor and professor. His work includes Transnational Canadas: Anglo-Canadian Literature and Globalization, Producing Canadian Literature: Authors Speak on the Literary Marketplace and Malled: Deciphering Shopping in Canada. Dobson teaches in the Department of English at the University of Calgary.
When Dr. Norma Dunning applied to the Nunavut Beneficiary program, seeking to confirm her identity as an Inuk woman, she was asked one question that would set her down a path to understand the history of Canadian bureaucracy. She was asked, "What was your disc number?" This question begged others, leading Dunning to conduct a series of heartfelt interviews with Inuit community members who experienced the Eskimo Identification Tag System. Kinauvit? examines the treatment experienced by the small Indigenous population in Canada at the hands of the Canadian government. Dunning provides a comprehensive look into this dehumanizing practice and shares the voices of those who, under this system, were only ever viewed as a number.
Dunning is an Inuk writer who currently lives in Edmonton. She wrote Tainna, which won the 2021 Governor General's Literary Award for fiction. She is also the author of the short story collection Annie Muktuk and Other Stories and the poetry collection Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity. Annie Muktuk and Other Stories won the 2018 Danuta Gleed Literary Award, which recognizes the best debut short story collection of the year.
LISTEN | Norma Dunning joins Piya Chattopadhyay to discuss Kinauvit?:
Anais Granofsky is a Canadian woman of mixed Black American and Jewish heritage. Her parents met in the early 1970s: her father is the son of a very wealthy Toronto Jewish family; her mother is one of fifteen children from a poor Black Methodist family. The Girl in the Middle reveals how Granofsky is forced to navigate her way through issues of race, class and social standing. When she became a star on the TV series Degrassi Junior High, she came to a better understanding of her place in the world.
Granofsky is an actor, director, producer and writer. Best known for her role as Lucy Fernandez on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, she has directed and starred in a number of films. She is also developing a fictional TV series loosely based on her childhood. The Girl in the Middle is Granofsky's first book.
LISTEN | Anais Granofsky reflects on her life and career:
In Laughing with the Trickster, the 2022 Massey Lectures, Cree novelist and playwright Tomson Highway explores five themes that are central to the human condition: language, creation, sex and gender, humour and death. He also compares Christian, classical and Cree mythologies and reveals their contributions to Western thought, life and culture.
Highway is a Cree novelist, children's author, playwright and musician. Highway's work includes the theatre classics The Rez Sisters and Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing, the novel Kiss of the Fur Queen and children's novels Caribou Song, Dragon Fly Kites and Fox on the Ice. He was recently appointed as an officer of the Order of Canada at the end of 2021 for his contribution to theatre and Canadian culture. His memoir Permanent Astonishment won the 2021 Writers' Trust Hilary Weston Prize.
LISTEN | Tomson Highway on the importance of laughter:
Some of My Best Friends is an essay collection that examines race, social justice and the limits of good intentions. The timely book explores issues such as the animation industry's pivot away from colourblind casting, the pursuit of diverse representation in the literary world, the law's refusal to see inequality, the cozy illusions of nationalism and more.
Born in Toronto, Tajja Isen is a writer, editor and voice actor. Currently based in New York, Isen is the editor-in-chief of Catapult magazine. Some of My Best Friends is her debut book. She also co-edited the essay collections The World as We Knew It and The Walrus Book of True Crime.
LISTEN | Tajja Isen on how we talk about race:
The Power of Story reflects on the power of storytelling — from personal narratives to historical sagas — as they relate to humanity and even how humans structure societies. In this posthumous nonfiction work, Harold R. Johnson makes a case for how stories can shape and change our lives for the better if only we are willing to employ story as the world-building tool that it is.
Johnson, a member of the Montreal Lake Cree Nation, was a lawyer and writer whose groundbreaking book Firewater: How Alcohol Is Killing My People (and Yours) was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for nonfiction. He died in February 2022.
LISTEN | Harold R. Johnson reflects on his life and legacy:
The latest book from storyteller and novelist Wayne Johnston is a sad, tender and funny memoir of his childhood in Newfoundland. At seven years old, Johnston was sick and too skinny. He had insomnia and a cough that wouldn't go away, despite the doctors removing his tonsils, adenoids and appendix in an effort to cure him. Jennie's Boy, named after Johnston's mother, is his tribute to his family and a community that were incredibly protective, but also tired of making allowances for him.
Wayne Johnston is a writer from Newfoundland. His novels include The Divine Ryans, A World Elsewhere, The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. His 1999 memoir Baltimore's Mansion won the RBC Taylor Prize. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and was a 2003 Canada Reads finalist, when it was defended by now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. His most recent novel is The Mystery of Right and Wrong.
LISTEN | Wayne Johnston discusses Jennie's Boy with Shelagh Rogers:
In Abolitionist Intimacies, El Jones analyzes the prison abolition movement through the Black feminist principles of care and collectivity. Jones explores how intimacy is controlled and policed in the prison system, such as through prison visits, strip searches and controlling connection to community. Examining these principles in the context of the history of Canadian prisons, settler colonialism and anti-Black racism, Jones argues that intimacy is vital to the movement for justice and liberation in the carceral state.
Jones is a poet, journalist, professor and activist from Halifax. She is also a journalism instructor at the University of King's College and the fifth poet laureate of Halifax.
LISTEN | Why El Jones believes in a world without prisons:
Namwayut follows Chief Robert Joseph — the Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk and a globally recognized peace-builder — as he takes readers on a journey, starting with his childhood surviving residential school to his current role as a leader. Chief Joseph teaches readers about honour and respect for the truth of stories, so they can discover how to dismantle the walls of discrimination, hatred and racism.
Robert Joseph is a Hereditary Chief of the Gwawaenuk People, an Ambassador for Reconciliation Canada and the Chair of the Native American Leadership Alliance for Peace and Reconciliation. He received the 2016 Indspire Lifetime Achievement Award.
LISTEN | Chief Robert Joseph talks to Shelagh Rogers about Namwayut:
Marsha Lederman delves into her parents' Holocaust stories in the wake of her own divorce, investigating how trauma moves through generations and how history has shaped her own life. Kiss the Red Stairs is a memoir of survival, intergenerational trauma and discovery.
Lederman is the Western Arts Correspondent for the Globe and Mail. She previously worked for CBC Radio. Born in Toronto, Lederman lives in Vancouver.
LISTEN | Marsha Lederman on the rise of anti-semitism:
In The Myth of Normal, Gabor Maté examines why chronic illness and general health problems are on the rise in Western countries with good healthcare systems. Maté explains how Western medicine, while technologically advanced, fails to treat the whole person and ignores cultural stressors. With his son Daniel, Maté untangles common myths about what makes us sick and offers a guide on health and healing.
Gabor Maté is a doctor and an expert on topics such as addiction, stress and childhood development. He's the author of several books, including In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, When the Body Says and The Cost of Hidden Stress.
Daniel Maté is a composer and lyricist whose musicals include The Longing and the Short of It, Hansel & Gretl & Heidi & Gunter and Middle School Mysteries. He's received the Kleban Prize for Lyrics and the ASCAP Foundation Cole Porter Award.
LISTEN | Dr. Gabor Maté talks to Shelagh Rogers about The Myth of Normal:
The concept behind the book Rehearsals for Living formed during the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020. Authors Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson began writing each other letters — a gesture sparked by a desire for kinship and connection during a trying time. Rooted in Black and Indigenous perspectives on race, gender and class, Rehearsals for Living is an epistolary dialogue about the world we live in and a need for change.
Maynard is a Montreal-based Black feminist writer, activist and educator. Maynard's writing and work focus on documenting racist and gender-based state violence. Her debut book, Policing Black Lives, traced the underreported modern and historical realities of anti-Blackness within a Canadian context.
Betasamosake Simpson is a Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, activist, musician, artist, author and member of Alderville First Nation. Her work often centres on the experiences of Indigenous Canadians. Her books include Islands of Decolonial Love, This Accident of Being Lost, As We Have Always Done and Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies.
LISTEN | Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson reflect on the pandemic letter-writing project that became a book:
Invisible Boy is a memoir by Harrison Mooney that details his adoption into an evangelical white family and navigating zealotry, paranoia and prejudice. Born to a West African mother, he was merely an infant when he was adopted. He grew up as a Black child in a fundamentalist revivalist church and was constantly abused for the colour of his skin. Twenty-five years later, his biological mom told her son the truth: she wanted to keep him. This book examines the controversial practice of transracial adoption.
Mooney is a writer and journalist who has worked for nearly a decade at the Vancouver Sun. He was born to a West African mother and adopted as an infant by a white family in British Columbia's Bible belt. He has also been published in the National Post, the Guardian, Yahoo and Macleans. Mooney lives in East Vancouver.
LISTEN | Harrison Mooney discusses Invisible Boy:
Sideways uncovers the investigation into the bigger story behind the 2017 Sidewalks Lab fiasco in Toronto. Told by the Globe and Mail technology reporter Josh O'Kane, Sideways details former New York mayor Dan Doctoroff's bid for a piece of land on Toronto's underdeveloped waterfront. With support from Google CEO Larry Page and his chairman Eric Schmidt, Doctoroff's bid won. But soon, questions emerged about how much the public would gain from this proposed high-tech neighbourhood and what data would be collected.
O'Kane is a Toronto writer and reporter with the Globe and Mail. He is also the author of Nowhere with You, a deep dive into musician Joel Plaskett's life and career. In 2019, he won the Germany's Arthur F. Burns Award for transatlantic political and cultural reporting. He's also received multiple Best in Canada awards from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.
Rollie Pemberton is best known by his stage name, Cadence Weapon. The Edmonton-born rapper won the 2021 Polaris Prize for his album Parallel World. His memoir, Bedroom Rapper, intertwines his own personal journey in the music industry with an in-depth exploration of the history of hip hop.
Pemberton's writing has been published in Pitchfork, The Guardian, Wired and Hazlitt. Currently based in Toronto, he is a former poet laureate for the City of Edmonton.
LISTEN | Why Cadence Weapon is sharing his story:
In this collection of essays, actor, screenwriter and director Sarah Polley reflects on the pieces of her life and the fallibility of memory. From stage fright to high risk childbirth, Polley contemplates these events and how she remembers them. In struggling with the aftermath of a concussion, she must retrain her mind to find a new path forward. Run Towards the Danger is a book about learning, changing and what it's like to live in one's body.
Polley is an Oscar-nominated Canadian actor, screenwriter and director. Her first feature-length film, Away from Her, was adapted from the Alice Munro story The Bear Came Over the Mountain and was nominated for the Academy Award for best adapted screenplay. Her other films include Stories We Tell and Take This Waltz.
LISTEN | Sarah Polley shares her story from child star to acclaimed filmmaker:
Justin Alexander Shetler was an American who was trained in wilderness survival. He travelled across America by motorcycle and then made his way to the Philippines, Thailand and Nepal, in search of authentic and meaningful experiences. After several weeks of training, Justin embarked on a journey through the Parvati Valley, a remote and rugged corner of the Indian Himalayas, never to return. Lost in the Valley of Death is about Shetler's disappearance and presumed death — and the many ways we seek fulfilment in life.
Harley Rustad is a writer, journalist and editor from Salt Spring Island, B.C. He is the author of Big Lonely Doug, which was shortlisted for the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. Lost in the Valley of Death is his second book.
LISTEN | Harley Rustad on the allure of the Valley of Death:
The co-creator and executive producer of the long-running television series Degrassi, Linda Schuyler shares her personal stories about what it took to make it as a woman entrepreneur in the independent Canadian television industry of the early 1980s in her memoir The Mother of All Degrassi. Through sharing stories, insights and some behind-the-scenes memories from the Degrassi set, Schuyler reflects on the lessons she learned along the way.
Linda Schuyler is the executive producer and co-creator of over 500 episodes of the multi-award-winning Degrassi television franchise. She is a member of both the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario. She lives in Toronto.
LISTEN | Linda Schuyler reflects on the enduring appeal of Degrassi:
Valley of the Birdtail is a book that looks at the past 150 years of two connected communities in Manitoba: the small town of Rossbun and the nearby Waywayseecappo Indian reserve. Valley of the Birdtail tells the stories of two families from these communities and intersects their stories with the larger story of Canadian history, and of the impact colonization and racism have throughout history. The book also looks at how reconcilation between these communities could be possible, and suggests a path forward for a better future for all.
Andrew Stobo Sniderman is a writer and lawyer from Montreal. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Globe and Mail and Maclean's.
Douglas Sanderson is a Swampy Cree writer and a professor in law and public policy at the University of Toronto.
LISTEN | Douglas Sanderson and Andrew Stobo Sniderman on what reconciliation could look like:
In The Long Road Home, Debra Thompson traces the roots of Black identities in North America and the routes they took across the Canada-U.S. border — the world's longest undefended border — in search of freedom and belonging. She starts in Shrewsbury, Ont., then revisits her four homes in the U.S. and at last, settles in Montreal. The places Thompson visits each reveal something about racism, democracy and the myth of multiculturalism.
Thompson is an associate professor of political science at McGill University and one of only five Black women in a political science department in Canada. She's also the author of The Schematic State: Race, Transnationalism, and the Politics of the Census, which received three awards from the American Political Science Association.
LISTEN | Debra Thompson on anti-Black racism in Canada:
Scoundrel tells the true story of Edgar Smith, a convicted murderer who was saved from Death Row via an unlikely friendship with a famous figure in the neo-conservative movement. After Smith killed a 15-year-old girl in 1957, he was set to be executed. But then he struck up a friendship with the conservative William F. Buckley Jr., who hired lawyers to fight for a new trial. Smith also enlisted the help of Sophie Wilkins, a book editor he would go on to have an affair with, and would be released from prison to become a bestselling author.
Sarah Weinman is a journalist and author based in New York City. Her other novels include The Real Lolita, which tells the tale of the life of 11-year-old Sally Horner, who was abducted in 1948 and whose story inspired Vladimir Nabokov's seminal novel Lolita. The Real Lolita won the Arthur Ellis Award for best nonfiction crime book.
LISTEN | Sarah Weinman discusses Scoundrel with Shelagh Rogers:
The Invisible Siege: The Rise of Coronaviruses and the Search for a Cure traces the surprisingly long history of the virus family and the scientists who went to war with it, as well as the lessons learned and lost during the SARS and MERS outbreaks. Journalist Dan Werb argues there is no doubt coronaviruses will strike again, and that understanding them is the best way to be prepared.
Werb is an epidemiologist, policy analyst and writer currently based in Toronto. He is also the author of the nonfiction work City of Omens.
Making Love with the Land is a personal work of nonfiction by Joshua Whitehead that employs a range of genres — essay, memoir, notes and confession — to explore queerness, Indigeneity and community work, as well as mental and physical health.
Whitehead is a two-spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw Indigiqueer scholar, poet, nonfiction writer and novelist from Peguis First Nation. His debut noel Jonny Appleseed, was longlisted for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction and the Amazon Canada First Novel Award and won a Lambda Literary Award for gay fiction. It also won Canada Reads 2021, when it was championed by actor Devery Jacobs.
LISTEN | Joshua Whitehead wants us to rethink how we talk to artists about trauma:
Science writer and scholar Britt Wray specializes in the mental health impacts of the ecological crisis. Her book Generation Dread: Finding Purpose in an Age of Climate Crisis shares productive ways to cope, think, and act while facing an anxious ecological present and uncertain future.
Wray is a science writer who focuses on the intersection of mental health and climate change. She is also the author of Rise of the Necrofauna. She is currently a fellow at Stanford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She has hosted and produced programs for CBC Radio and the BBC.
LISTEN | Britt Wray on what to do about climate anxiety: