2016 has been the year that demonstrated we need books more than ever—to ask questions, to make sense of the madness, to underline the importance of empathy, and to show us where we're going and where we've been.
That we've managed to come up with 21 of our favourite books suggests that 2016 wasn't so bad after all; certainly, the books have been terrific.
These are the books that, for us, have been standouts.
"One of the things I set out to prove in Brown is how resistance to multiculturalism and the rise in nationalist politics in Europe and North America is largely code, and not a subtle one, for anti-Muslim sentiment. The religion has become “colourized” as that of brown and given the face of mysterious men and women hiding behind beards or heard scarves. I despair when commentators call these movements 'populist' and not 'far right' or 'racist.' We’re not willing to confront the xenophobia and pure racial animus at the heart of these movements so we direct attention to the “economically disenfranchised electorates” and hope that we won’t offend the racists among them."
Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Kamal Al-Solaylee.
"Stranger is an engrossing human exploration of displacement and inequality. . . . Bergen paints a dire reality that isn’t far off from the current state of affairs in the United States. Stranger feels like a caution, warning of the dangers of continued disunity and the growing rift from inequality.” —Toronto Star
Explore the Scotiabank Giller Longlist.
Bearskin Diary, by Carol Daniels
"I believe Carol Daniels is one of the most important voices in Canadian and World Indigenous Literature today. Her novel Bearskin Diary follows Sandy as she reclaims her culture and her spirit after surviving the Sixties Scoop. I wasn't expecting this novel to be so fearless, but it is. I could not put this book down."
Recommended by Richard Van Camp in our feature "Indigenous Writers Recommend."
"All the themes of the turbulent era of the 1960s & '70s are here: African American civil rights, Vietnam war resistance, the CIA's war against the resisters, sisterhood and the push for equal rights for women, new-age metaphysics, motivational psychology and the unraveling of a traditional marriage. With exacting prose and wonderfully realistic characterizations, the author unmasks the deep questions of faith and truth that exist within marriage."
Bookseller Barb Pope recommends Becoming Lin in our "Shelf Talkers" series.
Experimental Film, by Gemma Files
"Winning the Shirley Jackson Award was incredible, not least because I actually read for it some years back, so I know how high their standards are—the minute I heard I'd been nominated, I thought that if I had to pick one award I'd love to win, that'd be it. (As an aside, though, I'd like to note that Experimental Film recently won the 2015 Sunburst Award for Best Adult Novel as well, which both amazed and delighted me. Canadian award for a Canadian book!)"
Read Gemma Files' Q&A with us about her book and its success.
The Dancehall Years, by Joan Haggerty
"The Dancehall Years is an elegy to a coastal culture almost lost—island cottages with views of the Union Steamships in Howe Sound, the Japanese gardeners before WWII and the terrible internments, forgotten inlets and logging camps, long summer evenings in the dancehall, with its circle of white Corinthian columns, where ‘you're only allowed to dance inside the columns if you're in love or if you're spectacular dancers.’ Haggerty explores the intricate ecology of families, where memory and love are as tangled and difficult as blackberry canes surrounding the cottages, their histories echoing.” —Theresa Kishkan
The Dancehall Years was featured on our "CAN'T FAIL Summer Reading List."
In-Between Days, by Teva Harrison
"People have been so generous. I am so grateful. I have heard from a number of people who live with cancer, chronic pain, degenerative diseases, people who have been set aside by society, in a way, that the work makes them feel understood. I don’t have words for how much of a gift that is to me. And many people have told me that it has helped them to understand a bit more what their loved ones are going through with their illness. I have been humbled by the response. The book has a life of its own beyond my personal story and I am so grateful."
Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Teva Harrison.
Don't I Know You?, by Marni Jackson
"I’m very excited about Marni Jackson’s Don’t I Know You?, recently published by Flatiron Books and edited by the incredible Amy Einhorn. It’s wise, deep, commercially appealing—and also uniquely Canadian, but not in an obvious way."
Read Marissa Stapley's thoughts about commercial fiction in Canada.
We're All In This Together, by Amy Jones
"If I have to pick just one book I'm dying to read this summer, it's We're All in This Together by Amy Jones. Jones is also the author of What Boys Like and Other Stories. I loved that book and so am curious to see what Jones has done in a novel. Apparently there are crazy family shenanigans involved and I think Jones's wit will just slice family dynamics wide open. Have this one on the top of my pile to enjoy under a tree in August—can't wait!"
Rhonda Douglas recommends We're All In This Together as part of our "Authors on the Books They Can't Wait to Read This Summer" feature.
The Party Wall, by Catherine Leroux
"I believe that art and fiction are the best channels to improve understanding and solidarity between the proverbial two solitudes. Canada’s francophone communities produce some wonderful writers who are creating books unlike anything else in the world, books that shed a different light on what it means to be Canadian, North American, a person of the 21st century, the inheritor of a colonial past ..."
Read Catherine Leroux's interview with Trevor Corkum.
The Conjoined, by Jen Sookfong Lee
"I had flirted with the idea of writing a literary crime novel for years, partly because I love crime fiction and partly because the very best and very worst of humanity bubbles up whenever a crime has occurred. And there’s nothing I like better than exploring what grosses people out!"
See Jen Sookfong Lee's list of books that inspired The Conjoined.
The Heaviness of Things That Float, by Jennifer Manuel
"A gorgeous novel that grabs you right from the beginning. Written from the point of view of Bernadette, a non-native woman who lives in a First Nations community, on the West Coast, as a nurse for forty years. This book is an exploration of how Bernadette fits into a community that is very different from her own, where spirits and myth and stories combine to teach Bernadette the values of those whose lives she literally holds in her hands."
Lee Trentadue recommends The Heaviness of Things That Float in our "Shelf Talkers" series.
Certain Dark Things, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
"Sunburst Award-shortlisted Canadian author Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Signal to Noise) has written an urban fantasy novel about vampires—and it’s terrific. With dark and delicious elegance, Moreno-Garcia delivers a satisfyingly bloody vampire story with a tantalizing twist—Aztec mythology—and a romance that warms the heart even as it causes it to pound a little faster out of sheer terror." —The Globe and Mail
Don't miss "How to Model Believable Chaos: A Roundtable on World Building."
I'm Thinking of Ending Things, by Iain Reid
“These characters are carefully developed and the plot takes some frightening turns, leading to a shocking ending. The construct of this book is brilliant and unusual and should appeal to fans of psychological thrillers, as well as to some horror fans. A dark and compelling debut novel, it is a most uncomfortable read but utterly unputdownable.”—Booklist
I'm Thinking of Ending Things appeared on our list Get Gripped: Mystery, Thriller and Crime Novels.
On the Shores of Darkness, There is Light, by Cordelia Strube
"This novel broke a lot of hearts this spring, but we promise you the pain will be worth it. On the Shores of Darkness is heavy, but also hilarious, and is such a strong, beautiful book that never misses a literary beat."
Explore the 2016 Toronto Book Awards Shortlist.
"Arguably, perseveration is not a good thing. It is perseverance gone awry. Still, the word always stuck with me. I am a fan of doggedness; I figure I would rather be the type to fixate than the type to give up, and I relate to people who have a hard time changing tacks. When I started writing Still Mine, I wanted readers to watch my main character, Clare O’Dey, develop this trait over the course of the novel. I wanted her to become dogged, to perseverate on the events unfolding in Blackmore so that the reader might too."
See Amy Stuart's selections for CanLit's Most Dogged.
The Break, by Katherena Vermette
"Family really comes through as a strong theme, doesn’t it? I didn’t know that’s what I was writing at first, but it’s better for it. When I started this, it was a story about the perpetrator, the victim and the witness, and of course, that became intensely depressing really fast. Then I heard the other women—those aunties and mothers and friends—and writing them really lifted that initial heaviness and gave the story hope. That was when I figured out what this book was about it. It wasn’t about the violence or trying to understand the why of it. This is a story about the how we get through it. And that answer, of course, is with each other."
Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Katherena Vermette.
Congratulations on Everything, by Nathan Whitlock
"Jeremy’s ambition for as long as he can remember has been to own his own bar and he finally has the keys to The Ice Shack; Charlene is the most empathetic waitress in the world but she’s desperate to get out of her smothering marriage. Add a dash of bitters, shake well and serve in a salt-rimmed highball. Whitlock serves up a touching, empathetic, and darkly funny exploration of small lives under scrutiny, and the ramifications of a few wrong turns. I used to work in a place like this and everything rings true. Grab yourself a deck chair, a drink of choice, and settle in."
David Worsley recommends Congratulations on Everything in our "Shelf Talkers" series.
The Best Kind of People, by Zoe Whittall
"I was trying to write another book and was having a hard time of it, and I was listening to The Current. It was around the time of the Russell Williams case. There was a lot of talk about his wife and how could she not have known. They were interviewing a therapist who ran a support group for women who stay in relationships with men who commit sex crimes. I was really curious about who those women were, and a bit judgmental. And I was thinking a lot about empathy and how important it is to empathize with even your most despicable characters, and that’s how I imagined the character of Joan, and it emerged from there."
Read Trevor Corkum's interview with Zoe Whittall.
The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben
"You will never look at a tree the same way after reading Peter Wohlleben’s The Hidden Life of Trees, which reveals the mindboggling properties and behavior of these terrestrial giants. Read this electrifying book, then go out and hug a tree—with admiration and gratitude." —David Suzuki
Check out our list of Tree Books.
Five Roses, by Alice Zorn
Alice Zorn's new novel is set in Montreal's historic Pointe St-Charles neighbourhood, and is a story about history, community, connections, and friendship. And it is, unabashedly, also a love letter to Montreal.
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