Best Canadian Book: The Fifth Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards

Hello and Welcome Back!

As a Canadian and an avid reader, I like to read a lot of books by Canadian writers. I personally think that books are one of the few media that remains unique in Canadian. Our movies, our television, and our music is largely dominated by our American neighbours but in literature, I feel we have our own voice and perspective in a way that is fading in other artistic forms.

There are lots of Canadian books but they don’t necessarily focus on Canada itself. For the purposes of my own awards, I’ve chosen books that I think say something about us as a nation or a people. Astray by Emma Donoghue and Women Talking by Miriam Toews are both examples of excellent books written by Canadians that I read this year that you won’t find mentioned below because neither of them focus on this country.

HONOURABLE MENTION:

Animal Person – Alexander MacLeod (McClelland & Stewart, 2022)

I really enjoyed this short story collection and MacLeod is quickly becoming a strong literary name on the Canadian scene, even apart from his famous literary father. I’ve put this one in last place though because it is very focused on the experience of a certain generation of Canadians from a certain place, namely the Maritimes. I think there’s a lot of interesting commentary here on younger Canadians who feel both connected to their home towns but are no longer able to make a living or survive in them but there was also a lot that didn’t speak to me as a West Coast Canadian.

This House is not a Home – Katłįà (Roseway Publishing, 2022)

It has been a fantastic thing to see Indigenous voices amplified in Canadian literature in recent years. I see more and more of this in my workplace where readers are searching out books by Indigenous writers. Story-telling, both in non-fiction and in fiction, is such a powerful way to share experience and understand each other better. This is a book that delves into Canada’s history of stolen land through the story of one family. This is an important Canadian book because it’s a part of our country’s history that we all need to know and understand better.

When We Lost Our Heads – Heather O’Neill

Whether writing contemporary fiction or historical, O’Neill always writes about Montreal. And I don’t know why I find that more accessible than reading about the East Coast of Canada, but I do. Maybe because cities are cities in a way that one small town is not another small town. Who knows. Even though this is a book about a city I’ve never been to, set over a hundred years before my birth, O’Neill brings it to life in a way that feels so alive and familiar. Probably because the focus is so tightly on women and their labour and their relationships and those are timeless issues. Her writing is bright and funny and shocking in all the right ratios.

Astra – Cedar Bowers

Maybe I’m showing my own bias here by choosing a BC writer. (Though, really, isn’t this whole award series focused on my own biases?) Part of the reason I was so charmed by this story of a woman named Astra was because it was so unexpected. A novel from a debut author has no business being this good, this thoughtful. Astra is both a book and a character that I still think about and the questions that Bowers evokes on relationships and what we can truly know of another person are so well drawn out here. She succeeds in the setting too here, a back and forth between small towns and communities and cities, showing the way that so many people live in and between both.

Do you try and specifically read books by authors from your home country? Any favourites you think I should read?

14 thoughts on “Best Canadian Book: The Fifth Annual Karissa Reads Books Literary Awards”

    1. Ooh, I’m excited to hear what you think! It’s a very multi-generational story so an interesting one to read with your mom for sure. I’m looking forward to the movie too – Sarah Polley is a bit of a Canadian icon so it’s exciting to see this Canadian book paired with her.

    2. Ever since I first saw Sarah Polley in Dawn of the Dead (the newer version), I’ve kept my eye on her. She is so cool, and I wish people heard more about her. She’s like the Canadian Reese Witherspoon, in terms of putting forward women’s stories in movies, etc.

    3. That’s not a comparison I would have made but I see it! She starred on a show called Road to Avonlea as a kid so we all kind of grew up with her here and I’ve loved seeing her career develop and mature.

    4. Yes! Although it wasn’t really based on the Anne books but more a combo of Montgomery’s books, particularly 2 called The Story Girl and The Golden Road. Sarah Polley played a character named Sara Stanley.

  1. I think novels set in Australia have a more Australian voice than other forms of media too, although our locally-made television programs, film and music also have quite an Australian flavour, possibly because of where we are geographically.

  2. There are plenty of books set in England so I don’t make a special effort to seek them out, but in recent years I have been making an attempt to find contemporary books set literally anywhere other than London, because it’s very much that voice that dominates publishing. It’s surprisingly difficult to find! I’m thinking about doing a reading challenge over the next few years where I read my way around the UK, because I think lots of places get crowded out of our publishing scene.

    1. If I had to guess I’d say readers in England and the US don’t need to make a special effort to read English and American books because those are the dominant voices in English writing! But that makes sense that you’d have to work a bit harder to read outside of London. England seems to have so many distinct cultural pockets.

  3. Yay for Animal Person! I am biased toward the east coast like you are toward the west, I guess. 🙂
    I also loved Astra – good pick. And I really want to read When We Lost Our Heads.

    ” Maybe because cities are cities in a way that one small town is not another small town.” I’ve never thought about this before, but that might be the case. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I love reading about small towns – they’re all so different!

    1. That’s something I like about reading your reviews – you focus on the east coast and give a local perspective on it. Canada’s such a big and diverse country that we all have our own unique experiences of it.

  4. I remember really enjoying Astra when I read it – I think it might have been last year? I haven’t read any Heather O’Neill before, and I really must fix that. Animal Person was a great collection, I do remember that, I really enjoyed that one too.

    I am also very excited about the increasing interest in Indigenous literature in Canada, the posts where I review those books tend to be my most popular, which is really encouraging to see.

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