Canadian Favourites, Old and New

All the talk these last few days about over/under-rated Canadian authors made me start thinking about all the books by Canadian authors I have read over the years, many of which I have truly loved and read many times over. So, I decided to put together a list of my own, based purely on the fact that I like them, and no other criteria whatsoever. They move me in some way, they make me laugh out loud, they make me nostalgic, they intrigue me…

Here they are:

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

One of my all-time favourite books, I have read it innumerable times, have watched the CBC movie twice, and still cry and laugh every time. Anne is a charmer and a delight, and eventually all who meet her fall under her spell. How can you not wish you could be her “kindred spirit”?

Who Has Seen the Wind, by W.O. Mitchell

Another favourite from younger days, which I think I will dig out and reread (again!) Growing up on the prairies, it was so easy to relate to this book, and the later version with Kurelek’s illustrations bring back so many memories of visiting cousins, exploring the amazing hills in southern Saskatchewan, smelling hay and wild sage… Wonderful!

The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

I absolutely loved this book when I read it back in university days. Atwood explores relationships and gender roles using humour and she does it extremely well. I vaguely remember that the main character finds it very hard to eat anything because she starts to identify with food, as she feels she is being devoured in her relationship with her fiancée. Have no idea if it would stand the test of time, but I laughed out loud the first time around.

Les Belles-Soeurs, by Michel Tremblay

Another one from university days, and one of many plays by Tremblay which I enjoyed. Reading joual and hearing it onstage was such a pleasure; not exactly like the French my parents spoke but very similar. Again, I could relate to the characters; they were women who sounded just like my “ma-tantes”, they were poor, they teased each other and they were extremely funny. Those women were so much a part of their environment, so Quebecoises, but people in English Canada understood and loved them, and there is even a Scottish version which did very well! What a talent Tremblay has.

Bousille et les Justes, by Gratien Gelinas

This was one of the first plays I read by Gelinas, and it’s hard to say that I actually enjoyed it but it was quite memorable. The story is quite sad and the atmosphere is depressing. And yet, Bousille touches your heart. He is an innocent, surrounded by a family (les Justes) who do not want him to tell the truth about a crime that he has witnessed, because it will implicate another member of the family. They use various means to try to persuade him to change his mind. Gelinas translated this play into English himself and both the French and the English version were extremely successful.

Forty Words for Sorrow, by Giles Blunt

This is the first in a series of detective novels featuring John Cardinal, whom I love. He is smart and persevering, cares about his work and finding out the truth, and adores his wife and daughter. He has a secret in his past which haunts him and which.makes him human and vulnerable. This is gritty and not for the faint of heart, but getting to know John Cardinal is worth it.

Three Day Road, by Joseph Boyden

Boyden’s first novel tells the tale of two young Cree men who join the Canadian army during WWI and are used as snipers by the military. When Xavier returns, his aunt, Niska, tells him stories of his young days when she raised him in the bush, to try to help him heal. Xavier is in drastic need of healing, both in body and spirit. A moving, powerful, story, loosely based on a real character, told beautifully by Boyden.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

This was such a fun read. Flavia de Luce is a brilliant eleven-year-old girl who loves chemistry, especially concocting poisons, fights with her two older sisters constantly, and enjoys hanging out at the library. She’s extremely clever, is a bit of a loner, and whizzes around town on her trusty bicycle companion named Gladys, gathering information to solve the latest mystery. What’s not to love?

Amphibian, by Carla Gunn

Another child protagonist whom I adored and who made me laugh till the tears rolled down my cheeks. As we see the world through the eyes of nine-year-old Phineas Walsh, environmentalist par excellence, we are reminded how beautiful and amazing, but sad and scary the world can be. His struggle to make sense of this puzzling place is poignant and serious, but also entertaining and often hilarious. He is fascinating, endearing and inspiring. I guarantee you will love him.

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

This is a haunting story, with some powerful scenes that are so poignant you think your heart will break. A baby is born to a young couple in Labrador but is it a boy or a girl? Raised as a boy, we follow Wayne through childhood to early adulthood. We feel his bewilderment and misery over his lonely predicament, but we also share his wonder for the beauty he sees in the world around him and the joy of love and friendship. Through poetic language and vivid imagery, his complicated, unusual story is told tenderly and lovingly.

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway

Canadian author Steven Galloway’s third novel is an intensely moving story, set during the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996). It is partly based on an actual event, in which twenty-two people were killed while waiting in line for bread. The next day, a famous cellist enters the square where the shelling took place and plays the Albinoni Adagio in their memory. He vows to return and play each day for each person killed. This is a haunting story, that I hope many will read. We lucky ones in Canada sometimes need a reminder, not only of what others endure in war-torn countries, but how quickly and easily our world can be transformed into such a state. Kudos to Mr.Galloway.

Well, that was a quick, fun exercise. Interesting to think back over some of my favourites and then challenging to narrow them down. I’ve been reminded of books I haven’t read for a long time that I might reread and of course there are so many, many more that I had to leave out! And now, with the two lists from the National Post, I have a lot more exploring to do, not to mention my current list of books to read. But I really enjoyed doing this for myself, so even if nobody reads this post, it’s still been worthwhile for me. But if you do read it, please feel free to leave comments on my choices or tell me some of yours. Even better, post a list yourself! So … what are some of your favourite Canadian books?


  1. You're encouraging me to read the Annabelle Winter, a book in which I thought I wouldn't be interested. I've liked both the Galloway novels I've read (I saw him speak at a seminar in Vancouver and HarperCollins gave us more than $100 worth of the authors' books - I came away from that one going, wow, I just made money on that seminar, how did THAT happen?). What I liked about Cellist was the use of multiple points of view in linear time - the only other novel I can think of written that way is Tracy Chevalier's Falling Angels - it's an excellent device for quick character development without a lot of descriptive palaver.

  2. I am a HUGE fan of Miriam Toews - My favorite of hers : The Flying Troutmans which I read because I loved her other book : A Complicated Kindness. She is a virtuoso writer who creates compelling characters that are believable, and writes of situations that are humble and grand all at the same time. She is a masterful storyteller.

  3. Thank-you Ruth and littlejo; so nice to get some feedback and share views about Canadian books and authors. Now I have two more books to add to my TBR list! :)

  4. Ruth: Annabel was superb; I loved it! I highly recommend it! If you're interested, I did review it on my blog, as well.

    Jeanne: we love a few of the same books! And weird: I too am a booklover, freelance editor, former librarian (well, library assistant in RA), food and wine addict (okay, minus the wine)! :)

  5. I loved Three Day Road and The Cellist of Sarajevo as well. My favourite Canadian books would include The Colony of Unrequited Dreams (Wayne Johnston), House of Hate (Percy Janes), Essex County (Jeff Lemire), Barney's Version (Mordecai Richler), Bird in the House (Margaret Laurence) and No Great Mischief (Alistair MacLeod).

  6. Steph, I looked at your blog too; great review--it's such a wonderful book. Neat that we share a similar background!
    John, I love some of the same books you do, but haven't read the Percy Janes or Jeff Lemire. They will now be on my "to read" list. Absolutely loved Barney's version & Bird in the House. Must reread some of these old favourites!

  7. Visiting here via Anansi Press. Great list. I loved Three Day Road. Would recommend Drew Hayden Taylor's Motorcycles and Sweetgrass if you're looking for some humour.

  8. Thanks Heather, that's a great suggestion; can always use a little humour!