Best CanLit of the Decade

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Literary Hub has been publishing Best of Lists for the Decade this past week (Which have been amazing to sort through). We’re about to enter a new decade, one where we return to the 20s, but this time it comes with a jazzy 2020 ring to it. Will 2020 bring on another Jazz Age, a Roaring 20s vibe?

Based on these lists, a question was asked on Twitter to name the best Canadian fiction of the decade. Which was so funny because I was JUST thinking about creating such a list! After reading through the other lists, I realize I’ve missed a lot of the best CanLit this decade had to offer, (so many books!) however, many books mentioned sit waiting for me on my shelves. This is my list of the Canadian books I’ve read in the past decade – it doesn’t have too many of the same titles appearing on the other lists, but these are the favourites of the ones I did get a chance to read.

I’ve read quite a few Canadian titles in the past 10 years that I adored, but they were published outside of the decade, so they won’t be included here (unfortunately, sadly, that means books like Deafening by Frances Itani and Homesick by Guy Vanderhaeghe can’t be included and that makes me pout).

I will open with a book that was published in 2009, and while that sits just outside the start of the decade, I read it in 2010 so I’m absolutely including it here. No one can tell me I can’t do that either because, 1. when I think of CanLit, I really do think of this book as the start where I began to consciously frame my reading with a distinction on CanLit and non-CanLit books. Of course, of course, I’ve read a NUMBER of Canadian novels well before 2010, like of course I’ve read the Margaret’s, I’ve read Wayne Johnston (Navigator of New York, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams), Michael Crummey (The Wreckage), Richard B Wright (Clara Callan), Timothy Findley (Piano Man’s Daughter) etc., but THIS book is what truly makes me think in the specifics of reading CanLit. And it also just squeaks in nicely for this Best of the Decade. ;-)

The Bishop’s Man, Linden MacIntyre

Because of The Bishop’s Man, I began to recognize differences in how Canadians wrote novels. I can’t articulate it clearly, I know I’ll fail, but there is something about the style of writing that feels so distinctly Canadian. This is why I’m including MacIntyre’s book in this best of the decade list, but also because it’s my very favourite! I just love it and recommend it to everyone I can. I loved MacIntyre’s portrayal of Father Duncan MacAskill and the whole story inside. I’ve got the two others in the trilogy waiting for me on my shelf (The Long Stretch and Why Men Lie).

Originally I had all the favourites from the decade listed here, which ended up being 21 books. It included one more but wondered how it would truly fit into the CanLit category? (That book was The Rise and Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. I really liked this one a lot, but have now placed it outside of the final list.) I’ve since gone back and attempted to reduce it to the Top 10 but failed, so it’s a Top 12.

So here’s the Top 12, (and I know this is not including The Bishop’s Man!) What will follow the Top 12 will be the others that were in my original top 20-ish. Following those it will be my Honorable Mentions.
(Hey, I’m just keeping it in the same spirit as LitHub’s Lists!) ;-)

A Place Called Sorry, Donna Milner

A Place Called Sorry had me transfixed. I hung on its every word. Everything about this book, from the way it looked, felt, and the extraordinary story on the beautifully printed pages, had me falling deeply in love.

Glass Boys, Nicole Lundrigan

Glass Boys was my introduction to the awesomeness that is Nicole Lundrigan. I read a review of her most recent book earlier this year, and it said that Lundrigan is the most underrated writer in Canada. I completely agree. Glass Boys was a fantastic mix of disturbing and anxiousness.

Bone & Bread, Saleema Nawaz

Bone & Bread was an immensely satisfying read. Lots to chew on and think about well after finishing. I’m quite anxious for a new novel from Nawaz!

Dear Evelyn, Kathy Page

Dear Evelyn. I still think about this book! How Page wrote about a long marriage and nailed the perspectives from both the husband and the wife through every part of their marriage left me in awe. It’s left me always thinking about how exceptional her skill was in crafting this fantastic piece of fiction! Completely worthy of every award she’s received for it.

Beautiful Scars, Tom Wilson

Beautiful Scars by Tom Wilson. My word what a life this man has had! My jaw was in my lap when he told his story the time I had the absolute pleasure of hearing him in person. Then to read his story, well actually he read it to me because I listened to the audiobook – I just had to after hearing him speak – wow! It left me with my jaw in my lap some more and then moved me to buckets of tears at the end.

Songs for the Cold of Heart, Eric Dupont

I still think this was robbed of winning the Giller Prize last year. No, I haven’t read the actual winner yet so really I can’t compare – but wow this one left a massive mark! It felt so John Irving-esque and it was epic and filled with incredible storytelling! You have to give a nod too to the translation because it was flawless. I loved this book so, so much!

The Difference, Marina Endicott

I’m still in shock that The Difference did not make it onto any of the Canadian Literary Award lists this year! Shocked! I loved, loved it! The people inside, the whales, the adventure, the sweeping story….so great!

Greenwood, Michael Christie

Another one that shows I don’t read the same pages as literary award judges. I wanted this one on the Shortlist for sure for the Giller, actually this is the one I wanted to win! An epic and fantastic saga complete with the poetic language Christie uses to tell his stories.

The Very Marrow of Our Bones, Christine Higdon

What an amazing debut with a fantastic title to boot! I was left with a serious book hangover after finishing this one. I didn’t know what to do without Doris, Lulu and even Bette being a part of my life anymore. Higdon is one I’m definitely keen on reading more from and I hope she’s got something cooking!

How The Light Gets In, Louise Penny

This instalment of Louise Penny’s Gamache series is included because I felt this was Penny’s masterpiece. It was so beautiful to read!

The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander, Lesley Choyce

John Alexander left me in a puddle of tears and I loved him dearly. He needed to be on this list!

Father Sweet, J.J. Martin

Father Sweet by J. J. Martin left me thinking, thinking, thinking. There was no way this couldn’t appear on the list either.

EDITED TO ADD: Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being!! HOW could I have forgotten to include this on the best CanLit of the Decade?!?! This book changed me as a person and Ozeki’s narration was brilliant! I highly, highly recommend the audio for absolute enjoyment.

Okay, so the others that were listed:Tell by Frances Itani, Sneaker Wave by Jeff Beamish, And The Birds Rained Down by Jocelyne Saucier, Hum If You Don’t Know the Words by Bianca Marais, Waiting for Stalin to Die by Irene Guilford, The Lost Diaries of Susanna Moodie by Cecily Ross, Most Anything You Please by Trudy Morgan-Cole, Malagash by Joey Comeau and The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. I mean, how could you not include these in the best of the decade??!

I also need to include a number of Honorable Mentions:
The Translation of Love, Lynne Kutsukake, So Much Love, Rebecca Rosenblum, Bellewether, Susanna Kearsley, The Trees of Calan Gray, Danial
Neil, and Iona Whislaw’s It Begins in Betrayal and A Deceptive Devotion.

I also can’t ignore the short story collections I read: Mennonites Don’t Dance, Darcie Friesen Hossack, What Echo Heard, George Sombroski, and The Old World, Cary Fagan were my favourites.

There were also two single short stories that have to be mentioned here, they were so, so good: Remembrance, Alistair MacLeod and Everything Good, Steph VanderMeulen.

I know my list has glaring holes and it’s overwhelmingly white. This will be fixed in 2020, as well as tackling more of the huge amount of CanLit sitting on my shelves and on my Kobo.