Between her demanding editing schedule, traveling and being nominated for the prestigious 2017 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur award, Editor and Literary Agent, Faith Farthing of Edmonton, Alberta was nice enough to share a dozen of her all-time favourite books by Canadian authors. Some classics you’ll recognize, a few you may need to scour the used book store for, and, one I’m confident you won’t see on any other list (and, I’m so glad she recommended).
Fun fact: In true Canadian form 6 of the 12 books were written by immigrants to Canada. See if you know which ones.
“My favourite books usually inspire me to travel or change my thinking about something, laugh or sob out loud, stand in another’s unfillable shoes, temporarily escape my insanity, or visit my deep, dark side.” -Faith Farthing
A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
Set in “an unidentified city” in India, initially in 1975 and later in 1984 during the turmoil of The Emergency.The book concerns four characters from varied backgrounds – Dina Dalal, Ishvar Darji, his nephew Omprakash Darji and the young student Maneck Kohlah – who come together and develop a bond.
This book won Mistry the Giller Prize in 1995, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction, the 1996 Commonwealth Writers Prize and was shortlisted for the 1996 Man Booker. But, it became a household name when it was selected for Oprah’s Book Club in 2001 In 2005, Source
The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
If you’re looking for a book with awards-cred, The Sisters Brothers is a solid bet. It won the Governor General’s Award for English language fiction in 2011, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the 2012 Stephen Leacock Award, On top of the wins, it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the 2012 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. NBD. The Sisters Brothers “is a genre bending Western about two sensitive cowboy brothers: the hit men Eli and Charlie Sisters. During the Gold Rush of the 1800s, they travel on horseback from Colorado to California on a mission to kill a prospector.” Source
The Stone Angel,Margaret Laurence
Published in 1964 when Laurence was 38, The Stone Angel is consistently listed as one of the greatest Canadian novels ever written. Hagar Shipley at 90 is a proud, powerful, tyrannical woman suffering the indignities of old age. She relives her life by narrating memories as she battles to come to terms with herself before she dies.. Hagar’s character and voice are justly praised as Laurence’s most inspired creations. Many readers find Hagar to be a rich fictional composite of actual women’s lives in small towns on the Prairies. Source
The Inconvenient Indian, Thomas King
Richard Wagamese in The Globe and Mail called The Inconvenient Indian, winner of the 2014 RBC Taylor Prize, “essential reading for everyone who cares about Canada and who seeks to understand native people, their issues and their dreams. We come to understand that Indians are inconvenient because, despite everything, we have not disappeared.
Thomas King is beyond being a great writer and storyteller, a lauded academic and educator. He is a towering intellectual. For native people in Canada, he is our Twain; wise, hilarious, incorrigible, with a keen eye for the inconsistencies that make us and our society flawed, enigmatic, but ultimately powerful symbols of freedom.” Source
419, Will Ferguson
Over the last decade, Will Ferguson has made the seemingly effortless transition from successful humorist and travel writer to successful comic novelist. 419 follows a Canadian editor from her comfortable life in Calgary to neo-liberalism’s lawless frontiers in the oil- and blood-drenched streets and backwaters of Nigeria. Source
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make aBig Difference, Malcolm Gladwell
Is there anyone left who hasn’t read at least one of Gladwell’s books? The Tipping Point became an international sensation, selling 1.7 million copies (not bad for a first time author) and, made us look at Hush Puppies in a whole new way. It also gave us some new terms for the lexicon – e.g. The Law of The Few, Power of Context. His breezy intellectual theorizing inspired a new genre of books like his, and placed him on Time’s 100 Most Powerful People list, multiple times.
Happenstance, Carol Shields
The first of two Carol Shields appearances on this list. These two unique novels tell the stories of Jack and Brenda Bowman during a rare time apart in their long marriage. In The Husband’s Story Jack is at home coping with domestic crises and two uncouth adolescents while immobilized by self-doubt and questioning his worth as a historian. In The Wife’s Story, Brenda, traveling alone for the first time, is in a strange city grappling with an array of emotions and toying with the idea of an affair. (BTW, Shields published her first novel (while raising 3 kids) Small Ceremonies , at 40.) Source
Larry’s Party, Carol Shields
The highly acclaimed novel Larry’s Party, is an exploration of the sensibility of an ordinary man in the last years of the millennium that traces the life of Larry, a florist-turned-maze-designer. Not for nothing, it won the Orange Prize (1998), and Le Prix de Lire (France, 1998), was short-listed for the Giller Prize (1997), and was in 2001 adapted by Richard Ouzounian and composer Marek Norman as a musical play. The beloved author and professor died in 2003. Source
Room, Emma Donoghue
No doubt you’ve heard of Room the book and/or the movie which won a bushel of awards (side note: Jacob Tremblay and Brie Larson are amazing), and was nominated for dozens more, including Donoghue for Best Adapted Screenplay. Written by the uber-talented, brilliant and unstoppable Emma Donaghue when she was 41, Room is one of those books that shakes you up and you can’t put down. On top of the literary acclaim (shortlisted for Man Booker, Governor Generals Award, etc), it was recently was adapted for the stage and performed at Abbey Theatre in Dublin, Ireland.
Half-breed, Maria Campbell
Maria Campbell’s journey of self-discovery is traced in Half-breed (1973), a moving account of a woman who struggled with poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual abuse and prostitution to reach thirty-three years of age and begin her healing process. Campbell tells her story in the context of Métis culture and a forgotten history. She brings in myth and creates a distinctive voice for a people ignored by mainstream society. This book has been used as a texts in countless university and college courses across North America and translated in Europe. Source
The Book of Negroes, Lawrence Hill
Something you may not know about Lawrence Hill’s gripping novel is that you can’t find it south of the border. At least not by that title. The name was changed to a more palatable ‘Someone Knows My Name’ for US readers. Either way, Hill’s novel received well deserved rave reviews, from both sides of the border (New York Times, Oprah) and beyond. The 8-part mini-series was also critically acclaimed.
The Survivors Speak:A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
It might be an unusual entry for favourite books list, but, it’s definitely one of the most important. On June 11, 2008, Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued an apology to the former students of Canadians Indian residential school system, calling it a ‘sad chapter in our history’.
Soon after, his government set out to do what was long overdue to help forge a new relationship between Canada’s indigenous peoples and other Canadians—to record the survivors’ stories and encourage Canadians to attend to these voices that had been ignored for far too long. The Survivors Speak was released in 2015.
I loved that these powerful voices were transcribed and shared in their raw, unedited form.
Editors note: You can download the Report for free here, or find it on Amazon.
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