I love reading the stories of Canadians. I wish more people read our literature, it’s damn good. The writers of the North use restraint (apparently, I am the exception that proves the rule), place and geography shows up in the prose, every word matters, it sings to me of people I know, places I love, my own history.  Some of my favourites are well-known – think Margaret Atwood, L.M. Montgomery, Michael Ondaatje, Farley Mowat, Leonard Cohen, Douglas Copeland, even the current darling of the New York Times bestseller list, Ann Voskamp – and therefore, aren’t appearing here, since most of you already know of them (and if you don’t – get on that).

No, these are simply the books that I wish had a wider audience, inside and outside of my homeland. There are so many more I want to include, and there a few gaping holes for the whole Canadian experience (for instance, no French books), but 10 is 10 and here they are.

 

The Stone Angel (Phoenix Fiction) by Margaret Lawrence. Few kids in Canada graduate high school without a battered copy of this novel. The protagonist, Hagar, is irreplaceable, stubborn, bossy, noble, she’s a stern and isolated old woman to reckon with, and the landscape, Hagar’s home, is more than simply a place to be. Hagar helped many people understand their pioneer ancestors or grandparents a bit better.

Late Nights on Air: A Novel by Elizabeth Hay. Set in the north, at a radio station, this book is ripe with character studies. I would have listened to every single one of her characters discuss Paper vs. Plastic, their voices were so interesting and unique. The book explores the themes of love, seduction and power, balance and loss, on a canoe-trip in Yellowknife.

Crow Lake by Mary Lawson. My sister and I read this book together, and we ended up printing out a few paragraphs, just to frame the words on our walls. Mary Lawson writes about love and redemption, loss and death, set in the northern Ontario. The book is sometimes funny and winsome, sometimes penetrating and always insightful, while never trying too hard. There isn’t a missed step in the prose, or the story about the Morrison family.

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. This book encompasses one woman’s entire life through the bewildering changes of the 1900s. Daisy doesn’t understand her own life, but she’s trying to find a thread to pick up here. Every chapter is brilliant and compassionate, even when exposing society’s expectations for women.  (Shields is a Canadian by choice, she was born American.)

As for Me and My House by Sinclair Ross. Margaret Atwood called this book our nation’s Madame Bovary, and for just cause. Set in the prairies, in the Depression, it is stark, holy ground. Ross is the master of leaving white space in the story of suffering, through unnamed journal entries. Here’s a line: “It’s an immense night out there, wheeling and windy. The lights on the street and in the houses against the black wetness, little unilluminating glints that might be painted on it. The town seems huddled together, cowering on a high tiny perch, afraid to move lest it topple into the wind.”

Who Has Seen the Wind by W.O. Mitchell. This book is required reading, for good reason. Books set in the prairies are my one weakness, and this one is written from the perspective of a young boy, Brian O’Connal, growing up right on the edge of the land. It’s gentle, profound, interesting, with a lot happening underneath the words. To me, Brian is representative of how we grow up here: the land is never far from our consciousness, and we layer our experiences with our tangible, physical world.

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories by Alice Munro. Without a doubt, our best short-story writer, this is my favourite collection of Munro’s work. Each story makes me doubt myself as a writer, who could ever compare? She says more in a paragraph than most of us say in an entire book. She’s elegant, in the truest sense of the word, heartbreaking, wise. (My favourite story was The Bear Came Over the Mountain, which was the inspiration for the award-winning film “Away From Her.”)

Welcome Home: Travels in Smalltown Canada by Stuart McLean. I am a devoted listener of the Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio. I love all of the Vinyl Cafe books as well. But I chose this volume that chronicles McLean’s visits to 10 small towns across Canada because it’s a bit more complex and narrative than his usual down-home stuff, he dives into forgotten history, talks to people that aren’t usually on the front page or the television, to tell their stories. It’s gentle in spirit, but honest.

Emily Of New Moon by L.M Montomgery. Almost everyone has read Anne of Green Gables, it’s surprisingly how few have read the entire catalogue of Montgomery. (Her adult novels, such as A Tangled Web and The Blue Castle, remain among my favourites.) But this story, about an orphan girl named Emily Starr, was actually tied with Anne as my own favourite. I re-read it even now as an adult. It’s a bit darker and realistic, there is a deeply spiritual under-girding to the book, haunting themes, complex characters.

St. Urbain’s Horseman by Mordecai Richler. Gracious, I liked this book. Set in Montreal, the book explores guilt, modern life, heroes, and social mores. It’s complex, funny, a real guy’s book, and just plain wonderful.

Honourable Mention: Shipping News: A Novel by Anne Proulx. Technically, Annie is not a Canadian, but she makes her home in Newfoundland, where this story is set, so I’ll include it. I read this book, and I closed it, and then had to sit and think it through for a good while. I don’t know Newfoundland well (I’m a western Canada kid), but the story was so compelling, the writing so exquisite, I could hardly breathe. The rock is rich with unique characters, the story can be dark, but strangely comic and ridiculous.

Your turn: What is your favourite Canadian book? Or, if you aren’t Canadian, what’s your favourite book by a native son or daughter?

We’re talking about 10 Books a Day for a Week. Share your own favourites on your blog, and post your link in the comments, or just let me know what you think or recommend. I love to snoop bookshelves, and this is my excuse – and yours – to talk books.

Sunday: 10 books that changed my faith

Monday: 10 books that influence my parenting

Tuesday: 10 books by Canadians I wish the world would read

Wednesday: 10 books for tinies and 10 books for older tinies

Thursday: 10 books I read over and over (and over)

Friday: 10 spiritual memoirs

Saturday: My daily books + 10 books of poetry

 

[sarah]

Disclosure: Some of them may offend sensibilities in language or subject matter. Affiliate links used. 

 

 

In which I share the 10 books that influence my parenting
In which I share 10 books for older tinies
thank you for sharing...
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  • I just ordered Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage last week!  I love Alice Munroe, but this one is new to me.  I can’t wait to start it soon.  Thanks for these lists – I’m loving them.

  • How bad is it that I am Canadian and haven’t read any of these?? Oh dear. May I suggest “I Am Hutterite” by Mary Ann Kirkby?  Probably THE BEST prairie memoir ever. Funny, heart-breaking, informative and SO WELL WRITTEN. A classic for sure. 

    • Sounds great, Juanita – will check it out.

    • Clairezip

      oh funny!  I just wrote that comment before I saw yours here!!

  • You don’t have Margaret Atwood on here??? Wow! Do you slap beavers, chop down maple trees, and pour maple syrup on the ground too???

    But seriously, I love the image (looks Pinterest-ready to me). When we visited PEI I learned a lot about the story of L. M. Montgomery. She’s a really cool person and writer I want to imitate because she wrote about what she loved. If only we all had that kind of freedom in our writing!

    • Well, to be fair, in the intro, I do mention her! (My favourite is The Handmaid’s Tale. I tried to pick books that aren’t top of mind for most.) And yes, L.M. Montgomery is fascinating. 

      P.S. you might not want to mention beaver slapping around here…. (#TWSS)

  • A few that I would include:
    Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
    Blue Mountains of China, by Rudy Wiebe
    The Game, by Ken Dryden

  • Lindsay

    I just wanted to say I was so happy to see “The Stone Angel.” Read it in grade 12 and haven’t ever really forgotten it…more years later than I’d like to admit. 🙂 Great list, Sarah.

  • Ok I’m apparently a terrible Canadian! I’ve read Emily of New Moon….that’s it! All I can really think of is The Birth House by Ami Mckay. One of my favourites. 

  • Marina Lehman

    I don’t read a ton of fiction, but I read A Tangled Web and The Blue Castle over and over and over.  I’m not quite sure why, but they’re in my blood somehow.  I should revisit the “Emily” books now that I’m grown – I never liked them as well as Anne when I was little, probably because of the edge of darkness and realism in them.  

  • Joy Bailey

    A near miss since the authors are American but “Mrs Mike” is my favorite book about Canada (aside from L.M. Montgomery’s books ~ you are so right: there is so much more to her writing than just the Anne series).

  • Emily of New Moon is one of my best friend’s absolute favorite books. (Her comfort reading, as I call it.) I can’t believe I haven’t read it yet.

    I really liked The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy. It’s set in Chinatown, Vancouver.

  • Erin

    Karen ‘Kaz’ ConnellyCharles de LintSigmund Brouwer
    Mary Elizabeth Lauzon
    Esi Edugyan
    Timothy Findley
    Henri Nouwen
    … and (of course!) Robert Munsch 🙂

  • Amy Peterson

    Whenever I meet someone who has actually read the Emily books, I know I’m with a kindred (it’s like getting the Flash)

    I do love Carol Shields, too.

    I think of John Irving as Canadian, although he was born in the USA.  I love his “A Prayer for Owen Meany”.

    I posted today about ten books that shaped my faith: http://www.amylepinepeterson.com/2012/07/ten-nonfiction-books-that-shaped-my.html

    • ‘The Flash’! We must be kindred spirits too, Amy 🙂

  • well I added all of these but 2 to my list.  I keep wanting to read Emily, but I keep wanting to finish the Anne series first….but that hasn’t happened in years.  I even bought my daughter the whole series for Christmas thinking that would motivate both of us to read them.  But no.   I grew up reading Janette Oke books, and my favorites were the ones set in the Canadian prairie.  It has always seemed so beautiful.  A trip we want to take sometime is the train across Canada – pick it up in Windsor and go all the way to Vancouver.  That would be so fun.  

  • well I added all of these but 2 to my list.  I keep wanting to read Emily, but I keep wanting to finish the Anne series first….but that hasn’t happened in years.  I even bought my daughter the whole series for Christmas thinking that would motivate both of us to read them.  But no.   I grew up reading Janette Oke books, and my favorites were the ones set in the Canadian prairie.  It has always seemed so beautiful.  A trip we want to take sometime is the train across Canada – pick it up in Windsor and go all the way to Vancouver.  That would be so fun.  

  • I’m not Canadian, but I adore L.M. Montgomery’s writing and both Anne and Emily. Thanks so much for all these wonderful suggestions, Sarah – you’ve inspired me to get some new reading material! I’m so much looking forward to the rest of your book series.

  • Linds

    Well, I am South African born and have been living in England for 22 years and I have read 4 of them!! I will certainly look out for the others. Our book club has a Canadian member too! So many of the authors you mentioned at the start have featured frequently in our club. 
    The ones I have read are Crow Lake (loved it) Shipping News (ditto), The Stone Diaries and Late Nights on Air. I am so enjoying your series! Thank you so much.

  • Bree

    I am not Canadian, but I loved The Birth House- Ami McKay. I read the majority of L.M. Montgomery’s library when I was young…I really should go back and re-read. Thanks for a fun blog series!  

  • I love Emily of New Moon too! And the Blue Castle, so beautiful. I’ll have to check out a few more of these.

  • Tiffany Norris

    Oh, I loved The Shipping News! It made me want to move somewhere cold. And it’s been too long since I’ve read the Emily books. About time to pick those up again.

  • kim

    I’ve only read the Montgomery books. I need to rectify that. As it is still 100+++ here, Canadian literature is sounding particularly inviting. 

  • mary_ann_hounsell

    HI Sarah, there are some amazing Newfoundland authors out there – one of the most well known has been Random Passage by Bernice Morgan.  It is a haunting tale of the life the early settlers of this Island – and was made into a mini series (which I’ve never watched).  There is a sequel or prequel – Waiting for Time, that has had good reviews as well – but I haven’t read it.  A book that I absolutely adored was Joan Clark’s, Latitude of Melt – about a woman who was found floating on a piece of ice and adopted by a family in rural Newfoundland.  Also check out Michael Crummey, Wayne Johnston, and Donna Morrisey.  You won’t be disappointed.  Love your list.

    • As someone from Newfoundland-not sure if you are too Mary-Ann-I adored and mean adored Latitude of Melt…all Joan Clark’s books are filled with such rich characters-even the ones with flaws-and major flaws- you can’t help but love. 

      If you want real authentic nfld, perhaps not necessarily the best writing, but certainly the best stories, Earl Pilgrim-whom hardly anyone has heard off off the island-is unbelievable-oh my goodness the stories. I am obviously biased towards Nfld fiction for sure. 

      Have to say I loved anything by Donna Morrissey as well-mainly set in Nova Scotia……

      Carol Shields goes without even saying-so so good and Alice Munroe-beautiful picks for sure!!!! LOVED YOUR LIST!!

      PS: I cried when I went to PEI and saw Anne of Green Gables wedding dress lying on her bed, which was of course roped off so no one can touch-I mean literally cried-how sad is that!!!! 

  • Clairezip

    I am Canadian and I don’t think I’ve heard of any of those!  They look fantastic.  Thanks for the list.   I didn’t even know McLean wrote books and I love listening to the vinyl cafe.  I read a book “I am Hutterite: The fascinating true story of Young Woman’s Journey to Reclaim her Heritage”  by Mary Ann Kirkby  a couple years ago and loved it.  I don’t think it would be on my list of something everyone should read, but I loved it. 

  • The Blue Castle and the Emily series, Crow Lake, Michael Ondaatje – all time favourites – but there’s lots of great new choices here for my list:) 
    Have you read Marina Endicott, Anne Michaels, or Ann Marie MacDonald? Three of the best, in my humble, non-Canadian, opinion.

    As promised, 10 Australians I wish the world would read. (Listed in approximate ascending order of my love, with favourite book of each following):

    10. Kate Morton – The Shifting Fog
    9. Lily Brett – Too Many Men
    8. Caroline Overington – I Came To Say Goodbye
    7. Craig Silvey – Jasper Jones
    6. Richard Flanagan – The Sound of One Hand Clapping *
    5. Christos Tsiolkas – The Slap *
    4. Robert Drewe – The Shark Net *
    3. Denise Leith – What Remains
    2. Chris Womersley – Bereft
    1. Favel Parrett – Past the Shallows & Tim Winton – Breath (could not choose a winner!)

    Thank you again for sharing your bookshelves Sarah, I’m loving these posts!

    * Movies/TV series made if you’re pressed for time!

    • Dawn

      Wonderful list Adele. I love Lily Brett and agree she is not as well known as she deserves to be. 

  • Charity Jill

    My husband and I honeymooned in Vancouver and I felt that it was the only place that I would really be happy living in, besides Minnesota. I understand that tie to “place” that literature can invoke. Does it make me a bad person if the first Canadian writer that I can think of and that I like is Seth Rogen?

    • Rose

      hahaha, I love you! If that makes you a bad person I don’t want to be good!

  • Rachel Dee

    All of these sound well worth the read.  I was especially happy that you mentioned The Blue Castle!  I never seem to tire of it.

  • Robin Zastrow

    I’m a sucker for Margaret Atwood. My favorite novel of hers right now is Cat’s Eye. Somehow I managed to miss out on L. M. Montgomery in my adolescence. I think I’ll have to make up for that soon!

  • Dawn

    The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies is a true gem and surprised it in not mentioned here. Thanks for the list always great to discover new authors.

  • Timothy Moody

    What a great and clever idea, these 10 books themes.  I will try to send you on Thursday my 10 books I read over and over.  I love your blog, Sarah!

  • Great list! I’ve read half of them, and have one more waiting patiently on my shelves. Will have to check out the others! I loved THE SHIPPING NEWS, although I admit the writing style took me a while to get into, but loved the story. Have you read THE OTHER SIDE OF THE BRIDGE, by Mary Lawson? It’s really good, too. 

  • Sarah

    What a wonderful list!  I adore Lucy Maud Montgomery and “The Blue Castle” and “The Tangled Web” are two of my absolute favs.  I still laugh out loud every time I read The Tangled Web… that might be some good summer reading this year!

  • Kampman30

    I LOVED Crow Lake.  Read it a few years ago.  I’m reading the rest of these, as per our kindred book-souls.  😉

  • Love love love the Emily series, too and The Blue Castle. If you’re ever in Ontario you MUST drive by the parsonage where L.M. Montgomery lived for many years in the small town of Norval. The house and the garden are just so perfect.

    My favourite Canadian authors are Robertson Davies and Guy Gavriel Kay! Someone else mentioned the Deptford trilogy, but The Cunning Man is probably my favourite by Davies. Kay is the Canadian Tolkien, so if you love epic fantasy definitely check him out! His Fionavar trilogy has Canadian elements (the main characters are students at U of T) and my personal favourite is A Song for Arbonne.

    Honourable mention to Miriam Toews as well. I loved this line in her A Complicated Kindness, “My life is an embarrassment of riches.”

    I will have to get a bunch of these from the library, thanks for the recommendations!

  • Jennie

    I just stumbled across your blog. I have only read one of the books here that you mention, but I plan on putting the rest on my reading list. I truly love all of L.M. Montgomery’s writings. I don’t know which is my favorite. It seems she’s written a book for any mood I’m in! 

    I love this series you did on the “10 books….”. Especially the ones about parenting. 🙂 Thanks for so many wonderful ideas!!

  • I heart Carol Shields and Mary Larson! ANd now I’ve got some more authors to check out …. thanks!

  • Corien

    I am loving your idea of 10 books.  Lots I have read and many put on my list.  Thank you!
     

  • Corien

    I am loving your idea of 10 books.  Lots I have read and many put on my list.  Thank you!
     

  • Corien

    Oh…just remembered a good one that is on my read over and over list.  The Birth House by Ami McKay.  And any book by Gail Bowen.
     

  • Leanne

    I’m not Canadian, but I was always a bigger fan of Emily than Anne, too!!!  One of my favorites out of Canada was called “A Terrible Beauty.” I don’t recall the author, but it was a vampire novel from long before they became all the rage. My college roommate who WAS Canadian lent it to me. *If you read it, do NOT read the description on the inside flap – it will totally ruin the story for you. The Handmaid’s Tale will probably also make an appearance on one of my lists this week….

  • Corien

    Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill.   Eric Wilson’s mysteries.  You’ve got me on a run here.  I’m going to go read now.

    • Sarah

      yes! it’s published as Someone Knows My Name in the U.S.

  • Another Sarah

    So many choices! I am a huge Lori Lansens fan – The Girls was marvelous but Rush Home Road and The Wife’s Tale are both excellent too. Also love Camilla Gibb, Laurence Hill and Anne-Marie MacDonald. Huge Can-Lit fan and think you’ve hit lots of the high notes on your list.

    Think Ami McKay is another American living in Canada, but an amazing author!

  • Rebecca

    I LOVE The Shipping News too…the resurrection imagery in it is profound.

  • Becca

    I love this series you’re doing! I’ve long had a suspicion that there is something uniquely special about Canada that helps produce fabulous fiction writers! I was so happy to see Carol Sheilds on here. She is one of my all time favorites. I loved Happenstance and Larry’s Party by her as well.

  • Rae

    I am not Canadian…I’m American currently living in Jamaica, however, I LOVE The Shipping News. I read it years ago and had a similar reaction to yours. It still haunts me. I also agree that L.M. Montgomery’s adult novels are fabulous! This is a great series! Thank you!!

  • Miriam Toews is also an excellent Canadian writer. I read A Complicated Kindness (about a family in a small Mennonite town that was shunned) last summer and really liked it.
    Of course for non-fiction, anything by Stephanie McPhee, the Yarn Harlot!

  • I love Stuart McLean!  And I never would have found out about him if I hadn’t been in New Brunswick volunteering on an organic farm, there I read two of his books in three weeks.  He should definitely have a wider US audience. 

    This is a great series, and I’m going to join along for the next three days on my own blog.  Thanks for starting this.

    • Another Sarah

      I happen to know the Organic Farm of which you speak – it is just minutes from my father’s family home!

  • Emily Wierenga

    yes! i love stuart maclean and margaret lawrence… also, ann marie macdonald. she’s dark, but brilliant.

  • I’m really behind, but here’s my Day #3 of recommendations. I don’t have tons of Canadians sitting on my bookshelf, but I married to one, so I’ll add a few of these to my list in his honor. 🙂 In the meantime, I did the the 10 I Loved to Teach: http://embracingtheodyssey.com/10-book-week-the-ones-i-loved-to-teach/

  • Sarah

    Deafening, by Frances Itani.

  • concernedcanadian2392

    My favourite Canadian books: Life of Pi, Sunshine Sketches. 

  • Ami

    I always liked Emily of New Moon a little bit better than Anne of Green Gables.  I have been going through a crime/mystery phase lately and I recently discovered Louise Penny and her Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series.  I’m not Canadian, but I think really good books have no borders.  Or something profound like that.
    Thanks for your lists.  I love getting new book suggestions.

  • I love your blog and these book lists.  And I particularly love this book list since I am Canadian (though now live in the Bay Area) and my mom was a librarian (at the Univ of Toronto) for 30+ years.  In fact she created a similar list of books by Canadians that she thinks everyone should read.  I think she had a difficult time coming up with just 10!  I thought I would share that list with you for comparison.  Some overlap and some differences.

    10 Books by Canadians that EVERYONE Should Read
    http://www.skinnyscoop.com/list/shelagh/10-books-by-canadians-that-everyone-should-read 

  • Jillie

    Don’t forget amazing Canadian author, LAWRENCE HILL, who wrote ‘THE BOOK OF NEGROES’!!!  EXCELLENT!!!

  • Arlie707

    Have just discovered your blog and your 10 Books series – excellent reads – now have a lot more tirles to add to my growing list!
    I’ve read and loved about half of your list. My fav. was Margaret Laurence.
    Right now I have been reading the Detective Gamache mystery series by Louise Penny – 7 books and a new one coming out in August. Really enjoyed the last 2 especially.
    Michael Ondaatje (just starting the Cat’s Table – enjoying it) and Deborah Ellis (The Breadwinner) are two others I enjoy as well.

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  • I’ve read every LM Montgomery book (many several times) and love the Emily series. Maybe it’s a name thing. 🙂 Have you read Maud’s journals?? They are unbelievable. She kept them from 14 until she died. They’re heartbreaking, funny, real, and a perfect glimpse into the lives of women in the areas of courting, schooling, marriage, motherhood, teaching, being a pastor’s wife (one of the hardest parts of her story…wow), work, fashion, technology, war — everything. I’m planning a re-read next year.

    Have you ever read Annie Proulx’s Postcards? There’s an image of men trapped in a mine I’ll never forget: one wears boots in the standing water, and once they’re rescued, the bottom of his feet come off with the boots.

    I loved WHAT’S BRED IN THE BONE by Robertson Davies. I’ve heard his other books are wonderful, too.

  • Lindsey

    Love these Canadian books: In the Skin of a Lion; Obasan; The Book of Negroes; The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie; and Lullabies for Little Criminals.

  • Tammy Klassen

    I had a great high school English teacher and, thanks to him, I have read several. I love Margaret Lawrence.

  • Deborah

    I came across your blog via a pin I liked on Pinterest. I know this is an older entry, but may I add one? Mercy Among the Children by David Adams Richards. I snot cried during the last few pages. An incredible book. And I love love love some of your picks, so if you haven’t read this one, I think you might be interested.