Skip to content

Ooooh Canada

July 24, 2010

I actually didn’t know the Canadian anthem until the Olympics this past winter (as a sidenote, I can’t handle watching the Olympics…I get so wrapped up in the athletes’ hopes, knowing they’ll have to wait four years to try again, that I can’t take the stress…I also go off an long tangents about totalitarian states and their sketchy practices regarding ‘amateur’ athletes, which means no one would want me to watch with them even if I was interested…however my parents are huge fans of the Olympics, so I caught bits and pieces as I wandered through the living room), but I guess anthems are one of those things that are really more domestically relevant anyway. Still, I’m proud that now I know the general tune and a few of the words! ;)

I’m rambling about Canada, because I’m wrapping up the past year’s Canadian Book Challenge 3 and joining this year’s (they go from Canada Day –> Canada Day). Before joining the challenge, I barely read any Canadian lit, and I’ve had a great time getting to know more about my northern neighbour this past year with John Mutford as the perfect host. Here are the books I counted to complete the challenge (I needed to read at least 13, and not counting books by Canadian authors that I read for other reasons ended up with 15):

The best book: A tie between Someone Knows My Name, Alias Grace, and Green Grass, Running Water
Any new authors? Lots! I purposely tried to expose myself to authors I hadn’t heard of before (although I couldn’t resist Atwood and de Lint entirely). Tomson Highway, Susan Vreeland, Taras Grescoe, Jime Defede, Louise Penny, Joy Kogawa, Alan Bradley, Thomas King, Lawrence Hill, Denise Chong, and I think all of the authors from the anthology Piece By Piece. Of those, I definitely want to read more King and Hill.
Any books that were tough going? Obasan took some effort on my part to convince myself to finish it, and I become pretty disenchanted with both Still Life and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag about halfway through. The Girl in the Picture should’ve been about 100 pages shorter too. ;) Oh, and I loathed The Forest Lover, which I only finished because I read it for a book club I was trying out. I know this sounds a bit negative, but I promise my overall experience was positive. ;)
What did I learn from this challenge? The diversity of Canada! Canadian identity, in a literary sense at least, seems quite fluid, which really appeals to me. I didn’t manage to read a book by an author from every province, but I still got a bit of a taste of the geographic diversity too. It’s fun to see the similarities and differences between Canada and the US…we’re kind of like two siblings who have gone different ways but still retain a certain familial resemblance.

Now for the list I put together for the Canadian Book Challenge 4! I spent quite awhile trying to find books that were published pre-2000, since I’ve lately noticed just how skewed my reading has become. But I still ended up with fiction published mainly in the 00’s and 90’s, so if you have any suggestions, dear readers, let me know. I’ve left the fiction list sorted by decade, since that’s how I put it together, but it’s kind of depressing to see the lack of older books! lol Also, I noted the province of the author in parantheses, but as you can tell from the overwhelming dominance of Ontario I wasn’t exactly concerned with geographic distribution. ;) The nonfiction list is at the bottom and isn’t subdivided, because I want to get off the computer and go read!


  • The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables is one of my favourite characters ever, and I also enjoyed the Emily series as a girl. So it’s about time I gave Montgomery’s ‘adult’ book a try! :)



  • My Heart is Broken by Mavis Gallant: I’ve heard marvelous things about Gallanet’s story writing ability, and as a short story aficionado, it’s about time I give her a try!





  • Crow Lake by Mary Lawson (Ontario): some of my favourite bloggers highly recommend this one!
  • The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys (Ontario): a carry-over from last year; as I said then, it kind of sounds like a Persephone book (although it’s not published by them).
  • What the Body Remembers by Shauna Singh Baldwin (Quebec): another carry-over, set during the Partition in India/Pakistan. Having just finished a book about Pakistan, the horrors of the Partition are fresh in my mind.
  • A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews (Manitoba): Mennonites! I’ve never read anything about them, so I’m a bit curious. My dad’s family lives in Amish country in Pennsylvania, so whenever we went to visit them we’d see that, which was neat. But I think I’m rambling.
  • Tamarind Woman by Anita Rau Badami (Alberta): isn’t that a great title?! I think the story moves back and forth in time, between India and Canada…I have a thing for Indian fiction, so this automatically looked good to me. ;)
  • Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden (Ontario): I put this on last year’s list but didn’t get to it (I read a couple other First Nations authors)…I think it’s going to be really depressing, so I’ll have to gear up for it.
  • Consumption by Kevin Patterson (Manitoba): this sounds like SUCH a neat idea! From what I can tell Patterson himself doesn’t have any Inuit heritage, but he’s spent time with them, so with any luck this novel set in the 1950s about an Inuit girl sent to a sanitarium and the resulting culture clash will be good.
  • Katya by Sandra Birdsell (Manitoba): a historical novel set in Russia! Early 20th century Russia! I don’t need any further justification. ;) But if I did, the summary comparing her to Willa Cather and Jane Austen would have sold me.
  • A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay (Ontario): Hay seems to be the darling of every review I read of her. ;) I’d like to start with one of her earlier books and work my way up.
  • The In-Between World of Vikram Lall by MG Vassanji: I really enjoyed The Book of Secrets last year, so I’m curious to see Vassanji’s return to the Indian communities of Eastern Africa.
  • Your Mouth is Lovely by Nancy Richler: isn’t that an intriguing title? This is another historical novel set in Russian in the early 20th century…what can I say? I’m predictable!
  • The Body at the Tower by YS Lee: this is the soon-to-be-published second book in Lee’s marvelous YA series set in Victorian England. I loved the first one (A Spy in the House) and am delighted that I’ve already been able to get in line for this one!
  • Chef by Jaspreet Singh: I’ve beem mildly obsessed with Kashmir since reading Shalimar the Clown (I have the audiobook, and since this is my favourite Rushdie novel, I’d say I’ve conservatively listened to it at least 6 times all the way through…now I usually pick out sections to reread dependong on my mood), so I’m curious about this debut novel set there, even though the reviews I’ve seen are mixed.


54 Comments leave one →
  1. winstonsdad permalink
    July 24, 2010 7:20 am

    some great titles fe new writers to me ,ondaatje is a fav of mine and wanting to read chef myself eva ,all the best stu

    • July 25, 2010 6:15 am

      Which is your favourite Ondaatje? Anil’s Ghost didn’t do it for me, but that was so long ago I can barely remember why.

  2. July 24, 2010 7:25 am

    Congratulations on completing the challenge and good luck with this year’s!

  3. July 24, 2010 7:34 am

    I love these lists and getting a peek into what you might be reading. Congrats on finishing the challenge for last year and good luck on the upcoming year.

    I can put my recommendation stamp on three of your books. Lovely ones all.


    Really enjoyed each and every one of them and I read them all quite some time ago. I can still recall bits of them, which means that they were good reads indeed.

    • July 25, 2010 6:17 am

      I’m so glad you love them, because formatting them takes quite a while! ;) Thanks for the rec’s; I’ll be sure to bump those ones up.

  4. July 24, 2010 7:51 am

    The Blue Castle is amazing! It’s difficult to find copies, unless you are in fact still in Canada, but that’s why I used my trip home this past Christmas as an excuse to buy it! :D So very very good. I am sure you will love it!

    Also, can you believe that growing up in Canada you learn the national anthem in not just English but also French! So I can belt it out in TWO languages!

    • July 25, 2010 6:18 am

      I’m going to cross my fingers that I can ILL a copy of Blue Castle: I was surprised it’s so rare! Will you do a vlog of you singing the anthem in French?!

  5. July 24, 2010 8:00 am

    Great looking list, and Kay’s 3 books listed would also be my recs along with Blue Castle.
    I am also hoping to read The Colony of Unrequited Dreams which John Mutford loves, a lot. Good luck reading, eh.

    I really liked the line of how Canada and US are like siblings who went different ways. If you like our anthem, look on youtube for Oh, Canada by Classified. It’s a great rap song, and I’m not a huge rap fan at all.

    • July 25, 2010 6:20 am

      I’m glad I’m already reading A Fine Balance! Sounds like I need to get to the other two sooner rather than later. ;) I’m really curious about a rap anthem now; thanks for letting me know about it.

  6. July 24, 2010 8:17 am

    This is wonderful to see some Canadian books being promoted! As for earlier Canadian books, did you know Persephone actually published one called Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson? It’s set in British Columbia in the 1940s and I really loved it, here’s my review. And I absolutely adore The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys, what a lovely way to describe it, as something Persephone could have published! Margaret Laurence is a Canadian author who was writing about the mid-20th century, her collection of short stories A Bird in the House is good and tells the story of a Manitoba girl’s coming of age and her interactions with various family members.

    • July 25, 2010 6:27 am

      Someone on Twitter the other day told me about the Dorval! I’m hoping I can ILL it; my library’s only Persephone is Miss Pettigrew etc. I’m glad to hear good things about The Lost Garden! My library doesn’t have any Laurence, but I’ll keep on eye out for her.

  7. July 24, 2010 8:48 am

    AMAZING list! So excited to see some of my favourite titles on here, especially The Watch That Ends the Night. Most people are only familiar with Barometer Rising, MacLennan’s novel about the Halifax explosion, or Two Solitudes. Alice Munro, Wayne Johnston, Jane Urquhart, Helen Humphreys, Joseph Boyden…so many wonderful authors!

    I hadn’t planned to join this challenge but now you have me reconsidering. I do love my CanLit.

    • July 25, 2010 6:36 am

      I probably got The Watch that Ends the Night from your awesome list! :) I’m glad you like mine…I had fun putting it together!

  8. July 24, 2010 8:48 am

    Hi Eva – great list! For some earlier works check out The New Canadian Library.

    I second Margaret Laurence. I liked A Jest of God, The Diviners (The Stone Angel was good too – one a lot of us had to read in school!)

    Good call on Ondaatje – I liked In the Skin of A Lion more than his other works.

    I love Timothy Findley, especially Piano Man’s Daughter and Famous Last Words (I haven’t read Not Wanted on the Voyage yet).

    Also, one of my favourite Quebecois authors is Marie-Claire Blais. If you can get your hands on Mad Shadows it is a super quick, beautifully written (translated) read. She wrote it in her teens if I remember correctly! It is about a girl who is really jealous of her beautiful brother. It’s dark, but good.

    • July 25, 2010 6:38 am

      Hi Tricia! You know, my library doesn’t have any of the New Canadian Library books: it’s so frustrating! I’m glad to hear good things about Skin of a Lion. :) There’s no Marie-Claire Blais either!

  9. July 24, 2010 9:03 am

    Congrats on completing the challenge! I taught the Canadian Anthem to my kids (because of the Olympics) and kind of regret it. Every time we play bingo now they sing the song every time they call an “O” number. :)

  10. July 24, 2010 9:20 am

    Congrats on finishing the challenge!

    I feel like I really need to step up my Canadian-ness – I’ve only read one of the books you listed. I’m thinking I should join this challenge! However, the one book there that I have read – A Complicated Kindness – I really enjoyed and can’t wait to hear what you think of it.

    • July 25, 2010 6:42 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed Complicated Kindness!

  11. Kathleen permalink
    July 24, 2010 11:52 am

    I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on A Fine Balance!

    • July 25, 2010 6:43 am

      I’m excited too! Nervous, though, since everyone expects me to love it. lol

  12. July 24, 2010 12:49 pm

    Wow, really great list of titles. I’m happy to see an L.M. Montgomery book which, while not based in PEI, was at least written by an Island author :) We don’t have many so I will forgive you for not having more on your list ;) Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on those and I will be looking for some of them as well.

    • July 25, 2010 6:53 am

      How did I not know you’re Canadian?! I’m sooooooooo jealous you ‘re from PEI: when I was little, I was obsessed w/ it thanks to Anne. Any PEI authors you want to throw into the mix?

      • July 25, 2010 7:08 am

        You should definitely come visit then Eva :D We have an Anne of Green Gables musical and an Anne & Gilbert one (which I haven’t seen yet but is supposed to be great). We also have lots of other great things!

        As for PEI authors… yeah, I’m drawing a blank unfortunately. We have some children’s authors but that is about it. Though I did hear a professor at our university is coming out with a book about how Anne likely had undiagnosed Fetal Alcohol Syndrome….

  13. July 24, 2010 1:16 pm

    Hm, for classic Canlit authors whose work might be less commonly recommended, but which I think you might appreciate:

    Ethel Wilson’s Swamp Angel,
    Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese,
    Frances Brooke’s The History of Emily Montague,
    Gabrielle Roy’s Wildflower,
    Adele Wiseman’s Crackpot,
    Phyllis Brett Young’s The Torontonians, and
    Marian Engel’s Bear.

    There are particularly interesting female characters in some of these novels although some of the experiences the women have are intensely frustrating because their roles are so restricted in the stories. Other than Young’s novel, they avoid urban Ontario, IIRC, and Brooke’s epistolary novel is arguably the first Canadian novel, but the others range from the 1920s – 1970s I think.

    For Davies, I think the second one you’re considering is later in the Cornish series, but I don’t think it’s crucial to read them in order; The Rebel Angels is first in that series and Fifth Business is first in the Deptford trilogy.

    You have lots of my favourites on your list and lots of titles that are still on my TBR list as well!

    • July 25, 2010 6:55 am

      Thanks for giving me a list! I doubt my library has any of them, but I can try ILL. :) I know the Davies isn’t the first, but my librari doesn’t have Rebel Angels (weird, right?) so I hope it doesn’t matter!

  14. July 24, 2010 2:47 pm

    Hooray for The Blue Castle! It’s not an “adult” book in any way that the Emily books aren’t, by the way, except that the heroine’s older. But I don’t think it’s for any grown-up-er audiences than, say, Emily’s Quest.

    • July 25, 2010 6:56 am

      Interesting! I wonder why all the blurbs I saw called it ‘adult’. Personally, I think any adult who doesn’t love the Anne books is hopeless. lol

  15. July 24, 2010 3:54 pm

    Hey Eva, that is quite a list!! I had fun going through it. There are lots of my faves on it — The Blue Castle, A Student of Weather, The Truth about Stories — but I have to say that I hope you can make it through the Hugh McLennan without falling asleep ;) (I don’t like his stuff much; for a look at Montreal in the 40’s try Gwethalyn Graham’s Earth & High Heaven)

    I have SO many titles I could suggest :) And I totally second Buried In Print’s list, though my favourite Ethel Wilson is probably The Innocent Traveller. So much to choose from, have fun with your reading.

    • July 25, 2010 6:56 am

      lol! I hope I enjoy McLennan more than you! Feel free to flood me with suggestions; your blog is a great resource. :D

  16. July 24, 2010 3:56 pm

    PS – I couldn’t finish The Forest Lover. I would recommend much, much, much more that you read Emily Carr’s series of journals and autobiographical writings. They are fantastic.

    • July 25, 2010 6:57 am

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one who couldn’t handle Forest Lover!

  17. Mome Rath permalink
    July 24, 2010 4:10 pm

    Welcome back, Eva, and I’m glad you’re feeling better. What a great list of Canadian authors! I can only speak to a couple of the ones you have for next year’s list. I just read The Beggar Maid by Alice Munro, and it was a compelling collection of stories once I got into them. I was going to read Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades, but they don’t have that in the libraries here.
    The Colony of Unrequited Dreams made me want to tour Newfoundland, and it was worth the trip; I loved the descriptions of St. John’s and environs.
    I haven’t read The Englishman’s Boy, but I have read and enjoyed Vanderhaeghe’s The Last Crossing, which is another Canadian/American western. In reading through the rest of your list, I’m surprised you’ve never read anything about Mennonites!

    • July 25, 2010 6:57 am

      Thanks for the welcome! I’m glad to hear good things about Beggar Maid and Unrequited Dreams. :)

  18. Dana permalink
    July 25, 2010 3:53 am

    Hey Eva,

    Congratulations on finishing the challenge :) I’m looking forward to reading your reviews and your list of books for this year’s challenge looks enticing! I’ve already added a few titles to my list :)

    I thought you might be interested in checking out this book – My Blue Country by O.R. Melling (think it was printed in 1996). It’s about a small town girl, Jesse, who joins a Canadian youth exchange program and travels to Malaysia with 60 other young adults from across Canada. Jesse’s story is told through diary entries, the first half taking place in the training camps in Canada and the second half taking place across Malaysia and Borneo.

    It’s a young adult book, but one that I think you will really enjoy – the story is fictional but based on the author’s experience in a similar youth exchange program. The story also gives insight on some of the challenges Canadians from different provinces and backgrounds face and some of the issues that come up when you put them all together… A lot of challenges and stereotypes to overcome :)

    Happy reading!

    • July 25, 2010 6:59 am

      Thanks for the rec! My library doesn’t have it, but maybe it’ll pop up somewhere.

  19. July 25, 2010 11:27 am

    Great–and very ambitious–list. I’ve actually read some of these! Glad you’re giving Mr. Ondaatje another chance; hope you enjoy Ms. Gallant, Ms. Munro, and Mr. Davies; thrilled that you’re an Atwood fan.
    Can’t wait to see your opinions. Happy happy reading, eh?

    • July 26, 2010 1:36 pm

      Definitely happy reading! I probably won’t get to them all for this challenge, but I know I’ll get to at least 13. :D

  20. July 25, 2010 2:22 pm

    I have some of these, and others I’ve been eyeing. I hope you like The Blue Castle – if you don’t, I don’t know that we can be friends anymore! ;) ha ha no pressure or anything! No it’s a sweet book, and funny. I’m more anxious that you won’t like it, than anything else.

    I couple of Canadian books I love that aren’t your list would include Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb and Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill. I also enjoyed The Amazing Absorbing Boy by Rabindranath Maharaj, which is set in Toronto.

    I haven’t read any Alice Munro either!! Terrible isn’t it. I wouldn’t know where to start. I thought you’d already read Fugitive Pieces?

    Hey, it’s not too late to join this challenge is it? It’d be a great way to get through the books I already have … :D

    • July 26, 2010 1:00 pm

      p.s. I was confused by your inclusion of Nino Ricci’s Book of the Saints – is this an omnibus edition of the entire trilogy? I have Lives of the Saints (I used to work for the publisher so I have some free copies!), which is the first book; the other two are In a Glass House and Where Has She Gone.

    • July 26, 2010 1:43 pm

      Definitely not too late, as I see by your post today you’ve discovered! ;) I already have Sweetness in the Belly on a different challenge list, which is why I didn’t include it here. The Amazing Absorbing Boy sounds just up my alley; I love Caribbean authors, so thanks for the rec! And I’ve got a copy of Lullabies for Little Criminals knocking around here somewhere-didn’t realise the author was Canadian!

      I just re-checked by catalogue for the Ricci book. It’s showing up as Book of the Saints being the first in the trilogy, not an omnibus. Perhaps they changed the title for US market?

      • July 26, 2010 3:51 pm

        Sounds like it, but god knows why! I believe they made a movie out of Lives of the Saints too… I have it on my list as well :)

        I was tempted to get his newest book, Origin of Species, but I want to see what his writing is like first.

  21. July 26, 2010 9:10 am

    Since you are looking for older stuff you really need to find a copy of As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross (published in 1941). A stark but moving portrayal of a frayed marriage in dust bowl-era Saskatchewan. Absolutely one of my favorite books of all time.

    I echo other’s comments about Findley, Laurence and Davies. And all of them offer ample opportunity to get away from the 2000s. Anything by Carol Shields is marvelous and Swann is particularly interesting to us bookish types. She was actually an American ex-pat who died far too young.

    Also Tamarind Woman should actually count at 1997 since that was the year it was published as Tamarind Mem.

    • July 26, 2010 1:45 pm

      I was sad to find my library didn’t have a copy of the Ross, but perhaps I’ll ILL it after such an enthusiastic recommendation! Looking up Shields’ bio I saw that she was born American, but she switched to Canadian citizenship for her husband I believe. Thanks for the correction on Tamarind Woman-sometimes it was quite difficult to establish the original publication date v. the US one!

  22. Elizabeth MacKenzie permalink
    July 26, 2010 9:48 am

    Hi: Just a couple of more authors to add to your list for earlier Canadian publishing’s. Mordecai Richler …. most known for The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kraviz, Barney’s Version and the Jacob Two-Two children’s series. Also Stephen Leacock, a humorist ….. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town among many others. And finally Pierre Berton ….. mostly non- fiction covering many Canadian historical high lights.

    • July 26, 2010 1:47 pm

      Hi Elizabeth! Thanks for the recs; when I was doing my research I kept coming across marvelous sounding Richler books, but my library doesn’t have ANY of his works. :( The only Leacock in my catalogue is a biography of Dickens, but there’s LOTS of Berton books so thanks for bringing him to my attention. :)

  23. July 26, 2010 12:23 pm

    what a great post! As a proud Canadian, I am VERY proud of our diverse literary heritage!

    I do hope you read the blue castle— my all time favourite novel and certainly my favourite LM Montgomery novel.

    It is set not too far from where I grew up so I feel a geographical kinship with it as well.

    Let me know if you ever want to try any canadian YA fiction! We have a diverse range of wonderful authors in the children’s and teenage categories.

    are you EVER going to enjoy the Brian Moore.

    I have read 95% of the books mentioned in this post ( and its subsequent discussion) and I get excited even thinking of the esoteric range of fiction which lay before you!


    • July 26, 2010 1:50 pm

      Feel free to suggest away Canadian YA! I don’t read a lot of YA in general, so it doesn’t occur to me to look things up. :) I already have an ILL request in for Blue Castle, and my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to get my hands on a copy.

      That’s so neat you’ve already read most of the books mentioned, and I’m glad to hear your excitement for them. :D

  24. Borrower permalink
    July 27, 2010 6:49 am

    I noticed that Mordecai Richler did not make it to your list, and he is one of my very favourite Canadian authors, Barney’s Version being one of my favourite books ever. He’s also from Quebec, which would add some diversity to your list. There was a bit about Barney’s Version in the Toronto papers over the summer since the book is currently being made into a movie. Apparently in Italy Mordecai Richler is revered; almost a national obssession. See

    If you’re looking for older publications though, you can try The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, published in 1959 or St. Urbain’s Horseman, published in 1971, or even Jacob Two-Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1975).

    Just read your comment now that your library doesn’t carry any Richler – perhaps you can put in an acquisition request?

    • July 28, 2010 4:06 am

      I can only put in purchase requests for books less than 2 years old. But I can put in an ILL request! :)

  25. August 6, 2010 1:16 pm

    Wonderful choices and wonderful recommendations from your readers as well. I’m reading more and more Canadian books (and not just because I’m chair of a Canadian book award!) There are so many up and coming authors and our award has several finalists that are first novels this year. Let me know if you have trouble finding any of your choices. I may be able to assist.

  26. Mary permalink
    August 7, 2010 11:42 am

    A non fiction book on the sealing disaster in 1914 in Newfoundland Death On the Ice by Cassie Brown is one of the most compelling reads ever. Several years ago our bookclub read a different book from a different province each month. Many concluded this was their strong favourite. I have more suggestions and let me know if you would like them but I am not nearby my list.

  27. August 9, 2010 5:36 pm

    Just came back from vacation so seeing this far too late to influence your choices at all but I remember reading and really enjoying Frances Itani’s Deafening many years ago. And a non-fiction that was fascinating (although probably best if you are familiar with the authors who are the subjects) is Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill by Charlotte Gray.

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: