It’s the second last #SFATW post! Shout out to Marie for creating and hosting this brilliant feature, which I’ve enjoyed doing so much; especially this one!
Now, now, I assure you, the lateness of this post is not lost on me. November has been a bit of a lapse for a number of reasons, and I’m not quite sure it’s over yet, but I’m here today to talk about one of my favourite things: CanLit.
Despite however much my previous #SFATW posts (x, x) may have convinced you of my love for Canada, I’ll be the first to say, I’m not a very patriotic person. There are a lot of things I like here, and there are a lot of things in other places I like more… BUT, if there’s anything I love about my country, it’s how much we love telling stories. And better yet, how well we succeed in telling diverse stories.
I am warning you now, friends, this is a loooooong post. Let me just say, though, before you run in the opposite direction, that there are A. lots of pictures, and B. that I’ve spent a lot of time deciding which books/authors to talk about, so don’t give up on me just yet. I’m pretty proud of my list, and I hope it convinces you to add some Canadian books to your TBR piles!
(aka, an infodump of books you maybe didn’t know were Canadian)
These books are widely popular, and a lot of them have been made into movies, or are often referenced in pop culture (like Joey from FRIENDS reading Love You Forever by Robert Munsch above).
(aka, probably don’t read these, but I had to, so I’m basically mentioning them to show you my pain)
Along with all the famous books, we also have some pretty weird ones. And, as an English major, I’ve had the privilege of being exposed to the weirdest of the weird. In fact, these two are probably THE weirdest books I’ve ever read in my entire life. I know, just when you thought us Canadians were all ‘sorry, eh’ all the time.
They aren’t bad, per se, but if you read their blurbs and come back to me with questions like, “BUT WHY WOULD SOMEONE WRITE THAT???” – I’ll gladly provide you with the in-depth papers I wrote for class defending their weirdness.
Also, if you google Bear, you’re going to find the NSFW cover (and potentially some racy excerpts). I have spared you that horror with the one above. You’re welcome + have been warned.
THE PERSONAL FAVES
(aka, the ones I’ve actually read + enjoyed)
1. Oryx & Crake, simply put, is a masterpiece. Margaret Atwood is one of our best writers, in my opinion. She’s got such a range of talent, tackles all kinds of subject matter, and O&C is the perfect proof of that. It’s got such complex characters, imaginative world-building, and is one of my favourite fantasy/dystopian books of all time (probably second only to 1984).
“‘When any civilization is dust and ashes,’ he said, ‘art is all that’s left over. Images, words, music. Imaginative structures. Meaning—human meaning, that is—is defined by them. You have to admit that.'”
Margaret Atwood also just recently released a book called Hag Seed, which is based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest, and I’m very excited to read it!
2. Sean Michael’s Us Conductors is one of the best books I read this year. I wrote a review of this one a few months ago; not only does it contain some seriously poetic writing and beautiful revelations, it keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time. I don’t often read historical fiction, but I will always make an exception for this one.
It’s a fictionalized account of the life of Léon/Lev Termen, the inventor of the Theremin (a musical instrument that works through electricity and spatiality), and his relationship with the most famous theremin player ever, Clara Rockmore. It follows him as he lives in New York, promoting his inventions, then as he becomes a Russian spy, and then is sent back to Russia during one of his country’s darkest times.
3. Obasan is, in my opinion, one of the most important Canadian books out there. Joy Kogawa wrote it semi-autobiographically, and it’s about a half-Japanese, half-Canadian woman and her family, told in a series of flashbacks to her childhood, detailing how they were affected by the Japanese-Canadian Internment that occurred from 1941-1949. (Which was basically a period of government-approved racism during WWII after Pearl Harbour, where Canadians of Japanese descent could have their homes and belongings seized, be forced to live and work in Internment camps, or be deported, simply for their Japanese heritage)
It’s also about struggling with your identity when you’re a part of two cultures, and the prejudice that goes alongside that. The Internment of Japanese-Canadians was a dark time in Canada, and I think it’s incredibly important to remember those who were oppressed by it, and those who still feel the echoes of that oppression. The story is written in beautiful, lyrical language (sometimes a fusion of both Japanese + English), and has a myriad of absolutely heart-wrenching scenes. I literally lost count of the number of times I cried while reading it.
4. I grew up with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, as have other Canadian children for the past 100 years! It’s a classic about a quirky orphan girl with red hair who inspires the people around her with her great love and gratitude for life.
It’s told over a series of 14 books, and the story has been widely adopted into other media. The movies (1985) are basically iconic, and the story was recently also made into a vlog-style webseries on Youtube (which I would 100% recommend) called Green Gables Fables.
It also contains one of my favourite love stories ever.
I mean, you’ve got the original movie cuties:
Plus the modern vlogging cuties:
How can you resist?
5. All My Puny Sorrows (AMPS) by Miriam Toews is not only one of my favourite Canadian
books, it’s one of my favourite books period. It’s the story of two sisters and their family as they try to navigate mental illness, adulthood, love, and loss.
It’s funny, it’s sad, it’s everything you could want out of a book. And it’s semi-autobiographical, to top it all off. I would gladly shout my recommendation of this book from the rooftops if A. I knew how to get to said rooftops, and B. It wasn’t freezing outside. Just take my word for it, rooftops aside.
(I only recommend you look into trigger warnings before reading it.)
(aka, the beautifully illustrated ones that make me wish I were a kid again)
I could write a whole post about Canadian children’s lit. There are so many great stories that I grew up with: the Franklin series by Paulette Bourgeois; everything by Robert Munsch (yes, he counts as Canadian); the iconic plasticine illustrated The Party by Barbara Reid; The Balloon Tree and Jillian Jiggs by Phoebe Gilman; Baby Beluga by Raffi (I can still hear my mum’s voice singing 🎶 baby beluga in the deep blue sea, swim so wild and you swim so free 🎶); The Mole Sisters by Roslyn Schwartz…
There are too many for me to actually talk about in detail (but clicky click the links above if you want to wander through my childhood), so I’m just going to focus on some new/contemporary books that of late are really making me proud to be Canadian.
Introducing the concept of depression to children through the notion of a ‘wolfish’ funk, this book shows how familial support along with creative outlets can help channel uncontrollable feelings. As the story goes on, Vanessa paints Virginia’s happy place, dubbed “Bloomsberry”, and Virginia, as she embraces the light and colours, begins telling stories.
I would also recommend Kyo Maclear’s other books, including Julia, Child (which should be pretty self-explanatory), Spork (“a ‘multi-cutlery’ tale for all those who have ever wondered about their place in the world”), and Mr. Flux (inspired by the 1960’s art movement known as Fluxus).
2. Julie Flett is another awe-inspiring Canadian writer (and illustrator!), and is well-known as a significant Cree-Metis voice within Canadian literature.
Her book Wild Berries tells the story of a grandmother and her grandson going out into the forest to collect (you guessed it) wild blueberries, and details the different animals they encounter, with words spelled in both English and the Swampy Cree dialect.
Julie Flett’s other works include We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers, Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet, and her illustrations in books like Dolphin SOS, which tells the story of three whales trapped in the ice, and the three local children that help set them free.
3.Sara O’Leary’s This Is Sadie is a book about a little girl who lives innumerable lives:
“She has been a girl who lived under the sea and a boy raised by wolves. She has had adventures in wonderland and visited the world of fairytales. She whispers to the dresses in her closet and talks to birds in the treetops. She has wings that take her anywhere she wants to go, but that always bring her home again.”
Do you get it? This is no fantasy book; it’s a book about a reader. A modern day Matilda, if you like. And now it’s time to read her story.
The illustrations, again (can you tell I love good illustrations?) just completely drew me to this one, along with the message. Teaching kids about the power of imagination is perhaps one of the most important messages out there.
4. The Stella and Sam books, by Marie Louise Gay have been coming out since I was a kid, but they’re still going strong (the last one was published in 2013, which is still basically yesterday as far as I’m concerned).
These books are about an older, adventurous sister and her younger, cautious brother, and the things she teaches him about the world (both real and imaginary).
These books were also made into a popular cartoon tv series in 2011.
And that’s all for now! This by no means covers all the CanLit I’d like to talk about (if I left out a favourite, comment it below so everyone can see!), but I think it’s a good start.
From what I’ve read, I’d recommend every single book on this list (barring, perhaps, The Weird™). I hope this adds a few Canadian books to your TBR! I had so much fun doing this, and I hope you had a good time reading it as well.
Also, my kind-of-accidental review/litstyle hiatus will continue until the 12th of December. I’ve got some serious amounts of work to do, both for school and work-work, before the holidays are upon us, so bear with me please! Also, if I don’t reply to a comment right away, please know I’m not ignoring you! I’m just incredibly overwhelmed with life and want to put thought into my replies, so yeah.
Also also, my giveaway ends in three days! It’s super simple to enter, so get to it!
Happy Sunday to you all!
Disclaimer: Icons used in header image – Open Magazine by Michael Weibel from the Noun Project, and Maple Leaf by Arancha R.