I read a lot of CanLit this year! (And none of them had association with #UBCaccountable or other behaviours as written about in Refuse: CanLit in Ruins.) While some of the books may not have been published in 2018, of those 31 books I read by Canadian authors, I was easily able to create a Top 10 List. Probably close to half of these listed below will also be found on my Top Books of 2018. (That list is still to come)
These are not in any order where the best loved is listed first or anything, but they all left a lasting impression on me and it’s leaving me excited to see what’s coming for CanLit in 2019. I’ll list them here, and will go into some detail about each below:
- All the beloved ghosts, by Alison MacLeod
- It Begins in Betrayal, by Iona Whishaw
- Songs for the Cold of Heart, by Eric Dupont
- Boy Wonders, by Cathal Kelly / The Trees of Calan Gray, by Danial Neil (these both need to be included so I’ll set them as a tie, because it makes a Top 10 prettier than a Top 11?!)
- Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page
- The Very Marrow of our Bones, by Christine Higdon
- Malagash, by Joey Comeau
- Belleweather, by Susanna Kearsley
- Most Anything You Please, by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole
- The Lonely Hearts Hotel, by Heather O’Neill
One of the first books I picked up at the beginning of the year was the short-story collection, all the beloved ghosts. This was a return to the short story after a little bit of time away from them, and there really wasn’t a dud to be found in the mix at all, making me very happy about my return to this form. There was one story “Dreaming Diana: Twelve Frames” that has stayed with me because of these opening lines, which just floods my mind with all the memories!
I can admit it now. In 1981, I had the Lady Di. I went to Wendy’s Hair Salon on the Bedford Highway and asked for the Lady Di because I didn’t know the name of any other haircut, except the Farrah Fawcett, and I didn’t have the nerve to ask for those feathery wings that were emblematic of Farrah’s pin-up glory. Wendy cut my hair herself, and didn’t laugh when I asked for the Lady Di, but even she, sucking hard on her cigarette, couldn’t work that magic.
Too funny. I clearly remember going to the Sassy Scissors Hair Salon asking for the same, and no, that magic couldn’t be worked on me either. I’m sad to see that I failed to write anything about all the beloved ghosts because it was such a successful collection for me. But I can easily count it here in my top 10 list. There is only one other short-story collection that would make my Best of List, but it wasn’t by a Canadian author. This isn’t however the only Canadian short story collection I read this year, but those (award-nominated) were not nearly as successful as this one was for me.
The next one I read was one I won from a Goodreads Giveaway, Most Anything You Please. Sadly, it’s another where I failed to write anything about it here, and what a shame that is because this book was a wonderful, wonderful story about 3 generations of women and the corner store they operate beginning during the Depression, to WWII, to Confederation for Newfoundland and all the way out to the 90s. Most Anything You Please also has one of the very best, most memorable, most perfectly written ending to a book you will ever read! It is heart touching and beautifully perfect in how it brings this story to a close. I still sigh deeply remembering it. And I still sigh every time I look at that wonderful cover too. I was thrilled to find that I have an earlier published book by Morgan-Cole waiting for me on my shelf, By the Rivers of Brooklyn. I need to make room for it in my 2019 reading for sure.
I’ve already written about my (glowing) love for It Begins in Betrayal, and it is a series I’ll definitely be continuing with in 2019. I’ve also already written about Bellewether, since it was for this (lengthy ;-)) book tour I participated in over the summer. Kearsley’s The Winter Sea will be a book I read in 2019 because I’ve already found a way to fit it into a couple of reading challenges I’m taking in part in next year (which is only 2 months away!!).
A big, fat, epic and completely fantastic book I read this year (but one that was robbed of the Giller Prize) was, Songs for the Cold of Heart. A whopper of a book at over 600 pages it made an incredible and lasting impact on my reading year. I adored every moment of time I spent with it! It’s so John Irving-esque and it tells so many stories and has so many layers and is packed with wonderful characters, yeah, it was truly robbed of winning some of the Canadian literary prizes it was nominated for this year!
Dear Evelyn and The Very Marrow of Our Bones were two of my absolutely very favourites this year. These two, plus Most Anything You Please represent the very finest in Canadian literature to me. I’m telling you, these are must read Canadian novels. They are like the quiet and quintessential Canadian novel, kind of like the ones you find when reading Frances Itani. A debut from Higdon, I’m completely anxious to be the first to read to whatever she writes next! These books match the love and feeling I have for books like A Place Called Sorry, by Donna Milner and Homesick, by Guy Vanderhaeghe. The ending to Dear Evelyn compares to Most Anything You Please in that it is such a perfectly, heartrending end to a beautiful story about a long marriage. Honestly, Harry is such a gem, he will rip at your heart and you will fall so in love with him. I was crying my eyes out at the end. Tissues = definitely required for Dear Evelyn. Harry and Evelyn forever! It was so fantastic to then see Kathy Page win the Writers’ Trust Award for Fiction this year.
Malagash was a book I listened to – a short and absolute gem of a story that was narrated by Jenna Lamia – someone so perfectly suited to the voice of Sunday. If you’ve heard Jenna Lamia before you can imagine how perfectly apt she would be to narrate Sunday’s story. Sunday embarks on a project to preserve her father’s memory, who is dying from cancer, by recording every moment with him – his voice, his jokes, his laugh and programming it all into a computer virus. It was a 5-star gem for sure. So sweet and touching.
I’ve put The Trees of Calan Gray and Boy Wonders together here in a tie. To leave either one of them off of this list would be wrong. Calan Gray had such an intensity to it and the symbolism with the trees used throughout was remarkable. Boy Wonders was a book I immediately loaned to a friend. Once she finished, we had a great chat about how much we both really enjoyed it and how he captures and discusses memories and ties them to popular culture. These things made for a wonderful reading experience. I do hope Cathal Kelly writes a novel someday soon!
Now we’ve come to the last on the list, and it’s one I’m still reading, but there is no doubt of it making this list. The writing is visually stunning and leaves you literally breathless because of how visual, powerful and beautiful it is. What a stunning work of art. You could open the book and blindly point your finger anywhere on any page and come away with the most incredibly written sentences. So, so many similes and metaphors, but they are all exquisite. Heather O’Neill is such an astonishing and creative writer. She’s always quirky but The Lonely Hearts Hotel has been my favourite of hers so far!
Have you read any on my list? What Canadian books did you read this year that you think I should be including for my future reading? If you haven’t read any from my Top 10, I hope you do and then will let me know if you share the same opinions!