Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.
This week we're pleased to present the picks of author and musician Dave Bidini (Keon and Me); author Anakana Schofield (Malarky); Bare It For Books founder and Centrediscs recording/licensing manager Allegra Young; UK-based author and filmmaker Jeff Norton (Metawars); author Saleema Nawaz (Bread and Bone); librarian and lit blogger, Casey Stepaniuk; and Steve Stanton, author and president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors.
Dave Bidini picks The Son of a Certain Woman, by Wayne Johnston
"The Son of a Certain Woman shows you that you can't really trust awards, entirely, to shape your reading habits, because this book wasn't nominated. Worse, it was given to me by a magazine that had decided they wouldn't review it. Sometimes you have to discover books on your own and get a little lucky and that was the case here. An amazing, hilarious, strange, moving, and dirty book about fate and life and the kinds of creatures we all can be, with St. John's as an unruly, hiccuping main character. Loved it bad."
Dave Bidini is the only person to have been nominated for a Gemini, Genie and Juno as well CBC's Canada Reads. A founding member of Rheostatics, he has written 12 books, including On a Cold Road, Tropic of Hockey, Around the World in 57 1/2 Gigs, and Home and Away. His third book, Baseballissimo, is being developed for the screen by Jay Baruchel. His latest book is Keon and Me: My Search for the Lost Soul of the Leafs, and his album, "The Motherland" was just released (check the video at the end of this post!). He can be found on Twitter at @hockeyesque.
Anakana Schofield picks More House, by Hannah Calder
"More House is a fusion, a collage, a bold endeavor of a literary work, a 'new' novel if you like. Calder splices the cinematic and employs obvious theatrical devices such as cast lists, dialogue, and pickles it with a metafictional 'director' glaze. What is More House? What isn’t it might be the better starting point? What can it be to you: the reader, the writer, the thinker? The solid, often clipped prose whacks away, whacks us away, whacks its way into the 'thing' that is More House. The point of view is ambitious. 'The Lord does not employ the girl— Hannah does. Hannah is the cook, according to me.' The novel is a fascinating study in the role of interruption."
Allegra Young picks Natural Order, by Brian Francis
"You may know author Brian Francis from his (horrifying) mouth-watering blog, Caker Cooking. Or as the author of Fruit: A Novel About a Boy and His Nipples, a selection for CBC's Canada Reads in 2009. Maybe you've seen his riveting narration of his neighbourhood on Twitter. His most recent novel, however, is the way I choose to know Brian Francis.
Natural Order follows Joyce Sparks, our protagonist, and her disastrous relationship with her gay son, John, and his life in the small, conservative community of Balsden, Ontario. There were no pride parades in Balsden. There were, however, prayer sessions at the local church to help 'confused souls' 'find their way.' As Joyce lies in bed at her nursing home, she reflects on John's untimely death from cancer, the delicate relationship he had with his father, and her own relationship with Freddy, a gay man who she had hoped to date in adolescence. Past meets present when Joyce finds a mysterious letter and is forced to face the truth about Freddy, confront repressed memories, and deal with a terrible secret.
Francis writes the homophobic, selfish voice of Joyce in such a way that the reader can both hate and understand her. We can all, in some ways, see the worst parts of ourselves in Joyce and are challenged to come to terms with our own prejudices. Somehow, Francis has created a page turner ... one that's set in a nursing home with an 86-year-old woman as the main character. I've been known to tear up when reading, but there's a scene in the final section of this novel that had me weeping so deeply that I had to put the book down. Francis doesn't use tropes to pull on the heart-strings. Rather, he finds that little moment of perfect humanity that hits home so hard that the reader will wonder whether someone's been reading their diary.
I cannot recommend this book enough. The vivid, sharp writing shines with each page. Francis teaches the reader, but never lectures. He whispers, but never shouts. Take a chance on this little story. Open up so it can break your heart."
A passionate CanLit enthusiast, Allegra co-founded Bare It For Books with author Amanda Leduc in 2012. BIFB is a 2014 charity calendar featuring 12 Canadian authors in the nearly nude, with all proceeds going to PEN Canada. By day, Allegra is the Recording and Licensing Manager for the Canadian Music Centre’s recording label, Centrediscs. Before she joined the CMC, Allegra worked at The Banff Centre as the Podcast Producer where she spent 12 magical months in the mountains. In her spare time, she cooks, knits, runs and sings. She can be found on Twitter at @ayoungvoice.
Jeff Norton picks Moira Young's Blood Red Road: "I think we’re living through a golden age in Canadian, young adult literature. Voices like Robert Paul Weston and Vikki VanSickle are bringing us fresh, character-driven narrative that’s both funny and thought provoking. Since I’m such a visual thinker, the novel that’s captured my imagination recently is Moira Young’s epic western, Blood Red Road. It’s literature on a grand scale and reading it, with its sweeping yet dystopian landscape, strong characters, and blatant rejection of grammar in favour of bare-knuckle dialect, feels like prose as 70mm cinema. The entire trilogy is great, but it’s best to start at the beginning. You’ll love the ride!"
Jeff Norton is the author of the award-winning MetaWars saga (Hachette) and the upcoming Memoirs Of A Neurotic Zombie (Faber). Jeff is also a filmmaker and is currently developing his first feature film, The Chosen. Norton now lives in London, UK, and is on Twitter at @thejeffnorton.
Saleema Nawaz picks The Mountain and the Valley, by Ernest Buckler
"I frequently recommend this book to people, and too often people have never heard of it. The paperback New Canadian Library copy I read for a university class had a quotation from Alden Nowlan on the front sounded like pure hyperbole though it turned out not to be: 'One of the great novels of the English language.'
Set in Nova Scotia’s Annapolis Valley, this classic modern novel details the struggle of David Canaan to reconcile his dreams of becoming a writer with the pressures of working the family farm. The writing is tremendous, and the story is sad, beautiful, and haunting."
Saleema Nawaz is the author of the short story collection Mother Superior, which was shortlisted for the Quebec Writers’ Federation Best First Book Prize, and the critically acclaimed novel Bone and Bread. She lives in Montreal, Quebec, and can be found on Twitter at @pinkmeringue.
Casey Stepaniuk picks Nancy Jo Cullen's Canary
"It’s not often that I read a book that I feel really lovingly but astutely captures the kind of Canadians I know in all their glory. Nancy Jo Cullen’s debut collection of short stories, Canary, is just that. Weird and wonderful, Canary features a wide range of characters who are just eccentric enough to be real.
In 'Passenger,' a working-class widower from Fort St. John taking his wife’s ashes south and a feisty first-year university student who’s newly queer and feminist share a car ride and form an unlikely friendship. A middle-aged lesbian reinvents herself with a bikini wax after a break-up in the aptly titled 'Valerie’s Bush.' 'Ashes' features a teenager in the 70s learning to drive in the Okanagan, her beer-drinking dad in the seat next to her and the impending doom of Mount St. Helen’s eruption mirrored in her parents’ relationship.
This smart, funny collection gets everything right, especially the simple but stunningly spot-on dialogue. If you like fiction that celebrates the strange combination of absurdity and banality that is everyday life, you won’t regret picking up Canary."
Casey Stepaniuk is a writer with an MA in English living in Vancouver. When she’s not reading and reviewing queer Canadian literature on her website caseythecanadianlesbrarian, she’s teaching ESL, running, or drinking tea. You can find her on Twitter at @canlesbrarian and some of her other (non-Canadian) reviews at the Lesbrary.
Steve Stanton picks Elements, by Suzanne Church
"This debut collection of short speculative fiction shows the incredible versatility of an emerging Canadian author. Suzanne Church uses a sparse, conversational style to engage empathy from the reader, and delivers a wide range of innovation across the speculative genres—from zany, ridiculous romps of fantasy to dark, Kafkaesque science fiction. Many of the stories deal with broken relationships, lost possibilities, and interpersonal pain, and some tales are gritty and poignant. Suzanne Church is an Aurora award-winning author in her specialty, and offers up a smorgasbord of 21 stories spanning over a decade of literary experimentation."
Enjoy this track from Bidiniband's just-released The Motherland!
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