Favourite Canadian Books I Read Between January & March 2018

This year I had a goal to read 50 Canadian books – or more – over the course of the whole year. I didn’t have this plan set out until I was wondering if I should do the 50 Book Pledge through the Savvy Reader (sign up here). In the past years I’ve done the pledge but have tracked all the books read during the year, but for this year I wanted to do something different and track just the Canadian books I read for the year. It’s been a great way to keep myself motivated and I love that it tells me what number of books I’m on track for reading in the year.

At the end of March, I read 17 Canadian books!

Of those 17, I had:

  • six 5-star reads
  • five 4-star reads
  • four 3-star reads
  • two 2-star reads

11 of these books were by women and 6 were by men, with two of these being by indigenous voices. I didn’t read anything by local authors and need to change that in the next quarter!

I also wrote up a few posts and reviews about Canadian books, including some of books I read at the end of 2017:

And here are my FAVOURITE Canadian reads of the first quarter of 2018:

  
 

Looking at my favourites, I’m very pleased with how different all of these books are – 2 non-fiction, 1 poetry, 1 fiction, 1 short story collection.

Malagash by Joey Comeau is a heartbreaking read that deals with the impending loss of Sunday’s – our main character – father. This is a quiet but very impactful novel that will have you in tears by the end. Very emotional, uplifting, and full of love.

On Not Losing My Father’s Ashes in the Flood by Richard Harrison is a collection of poetry that deals with the author’s loss of his father. This book won the 2017 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry and was just gorgeous. The poems cover a few topics, but always come back to Harrison’s father. I found these poems to be the most powerful.

Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen As My Mom Lives With Memory Loss by Jann Arden is not only gorgeous on the outside, but full of wonderful stories, photos, and recipes on the inside. This book is similar to the first two, but it’s about Jann slowly losing her mother to Alzheimer’s. This book is about love and strength and was just beautiful.

Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look At The Lives of Women and Girls by Elizabeth Renzetti is something completely different and is a book full of feminist essays. I was immediately sucked into this book and it felt like I was having coffee with a friend as Renzetti talks about her family and brought to light feminist issues with a relatable and humorous voice.

Revenge of the Vinyl Cafe by Stuart MacLean is again something different, and is full of more short stories surrounding the fictional lives of Morley, Dave, and their family, and is just hilarious. I’ve read just one other Vinyl Cafe book and this one had a spooky, Halloween vibe at times, but was still just so funny. It’s the perfect kind of book to read when you need something light, but full of heart.

What have been some of your favourite Canadian reads of the year so far? Anything you can recommend to me to read later in the year? Have you read any of the books on my list?  

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[Book Talk] Vi by Kim Thuy

Book Details:

Format: eARC
Source: Publisher
Read: April 2018

Synopsis:

The youngest of four children and the only girl, Vi was given a name that meant “precious, tiny one,” destined to be cosseted and protected, the family’s little treasure.

Daughter of an enterprising mother and a wealthy and spoiled father who never had to grow up, the Vietnam war tears their family asunder. While Vi and many of her family members escape, her father stays behind, and her family must fend for themselves in Canada.

While her mother and brothers put down roots, life has different plans for Vi. As a young woman, she finds the world opening up to her. Taken under the wing of Ha, a worldly family friend and diplomat lover, Vi tests personal boundaries and crosses international ones, letting the winds of life buffet her.

From Saigon to Montreal, from Suzhou to Boston to the fall of the Berlin Wall, she is witness to the immensity of the world, the intricate fabric of humanity, the complexity of love, the infinite possibilities before her. Ever the quiet observer, somehow she must find a way to finally take her place in the world.

My Thoughts

Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for sending me an eARC of this book for review!

I had heard of Kim Thuy’s writing a few years back when her book Ru won Canada Reads. I bought a copy of that book late last year and still hadn’t gotten to it, but couldn’t pass up requesting her latest when I saw it on NetGalley. I’m not sure if this is a companion book to her other books, but it wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be. Don’t get me wrong – it was a good book to read, and I read it in one day, but I feel like there wasn’t a connection for me as I was reading.

This is a story about Vi – we learn about her grandparents and then her parents and then we get her story, her journey through love and life, learning not only of her own traditions and culture, but trying to find a balance between the traditions her family has done for generations and the ones she wants to form living in a new country. It’s a refugee story of a family coming as boat people to Canada, as well as the trials and tribulations of a young woman trying to find her way.

I really loved Thuy’s writing and thought there were some beautiful passages. While I enjoyed Vi’s ups and downs with love, I think what I enjoyed most was the traveling through Canada to Vietnam. It was really interesting to get those cultural perspectives, and also explore a part of Canada that I’ve never traveled to. This is a very short book and only took me about 2.5 hours to read, so this is really easily accessible and would be the perfect companion for a rainy day.

My copy of Ru is gorgeous, so I think this one would probably look equally as nice on the bookshelf. Getting an eARC of the book had a few issues – the formatting was a little wonky, for example. There were chapter headings that cut in and out of the first paragraph of each chapter and it took a while to get used to. I’d really like to see the layout of this book in physical format and maybe even give it a reread to take it in better. I really can’t wait to read Ru now and experience more of Thuy’s writing.

Canada Reads 2018: Which Book Won?

This is the first year that I’ve watched Canada Reads and if all of the competitions have been like this, then lord knows I’m going to need to stock up on alcohol before watching next time. In four days I was on a rollercoaster of emotions and had SO MUCH ANXIETY as well as angry rants after most of the discussions. 

BUT!

I ranted on American War all week and how I thought it shouldn’t win and it didn’t! The book I loved reading the most was Precious Cargo and as much as I loved it, I didn’t think it would win, but I also enjoyed The Marrow Thieves and thought it would be a great “open your eyes” book for Canada because it deals with many things that indigenous people went through and still go through. However, that one didn’t win either! After four days of anxiety, the winner was chosen: 

The winner was the non-fiction title, Forgiveness: A Gift From My Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto! No, this wasn’t my favourite book to read, but I still loved the story of Ralph and Mitsue and how the message of the book is all about healing and forgiveness. It was a well-deserved win and the book that I really wanted to win once we got to the finals. The one thing that this book had that American War didn’t was HOPE. There’s so much hope and love in this book and I would much rather that be a central theme than one of revenge and darkness.

One thing I loved about the 4-day event was how much PASSION there was – mainly from Jully, Jeanne, and Mazhdah. Frankly, I feel like Tahmoh was like a robot the whole time. BUT. The passion and the tears for these books had me in tears, and having read all of the books had me yelling at my TV every single day and completely ticked off when a book was voted off (mainly when a deserving book was voted off and one I didn’t think should win stayed).

What I hated? The panel. Yes, they were passionate but I feel like the only people I could get behind were Jully and Greg (defending The Marrow Thieves and Precious Cargo, respectively.). They had so many great arguments for all the books – both for and against – whereas the rest of the panel didn’t seem to want to dig deeper for meaning when it came to the fiction titles. THEY DID NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT A METAPHOR WAS. The majority of the panel seemed rooted in fact and wanting explanations and meanings to be handed to them on a silver platter – everything had to be explained and literal – whereas the beauty of some of the books was that you had to dig deep for the meaning, you had to find the metaphors. Frankly, I ended the finale thinking that the higher-ups of the competition would rather have certain faces on the panel, rather than people who actually read.

A few of the panelists – at least, Jeanne and Mazhdah, both said something along the lines of they can’t get behind fiction stories because they can’t compare fictional characters to “real” people, or get behind a fictional story when you can get fact in a nonfiction book. This is what made me SO MAD watching on day three – I don’t think that they realize that not everyone reads nonfiction. Some people look at nonfiction as akin to reading a textbook – it’s probably dry or boring. So fiction is something that can appeal to lots of people and the people who are telling these fictional tales – mainly ones that are about real events in history – could have lived through these events, or have had family members or their entire culture, experience the stories they’re putting forth. By turning it into a fictional tale, yeah, you’re not getting the facts as you would if it were told in nonfiction, but you still get the story, even if it’s not in depth.

Books like these are a great starting point for pieces of history we might not know about or have heard very little about. Stories like The Marrow Thieves, for example, might have gone over some heads on the panel with the idea of dreams hiding in the marrow of the bones of indigenous people, but if you look at the message behind the marrow and the dreams within it, you get a deeper story about the history of the indigenous people and what was taken from them when they were forced into residential schools. The beauty of fiction is that a true story can be told in a way that appeals to more people, it can be written in a way that people can understand, and it can be a starting point to more conversation. You might have to dig a little to get the message behind something in a fictional story (whereas the facts are right there in a nonfiction book) but if the story is written well, not only will you experience a beautiful read, or a hard read, or an eye-opening read, but I feel like you would get more out of it. And, again in the example of The Marrow Thieves, a book telling the history of a culture through a fictional tale can open your eyes to that part of history even though it’s not laying out the details.

Books like these are a starting point to conversation, a starting point to looking into more indigenous literature, and a starting point to get more of these tales from your ancestors, the stories that are passed on through generations that might slowly be dying out.

Another thing I really disliked was the process of voting itself. If these are books for Canadians, why don’t we get Canadians to vote? I feel like the panel was so invested in strategy and not getting the deserving books to the end. When you get a whole panel of people who seem to barely read, the vote should go to Canadians. Shouldn’t we have a say in who should win? Why can’t we have something like in American Idol where you text in your choice or who should win or who should get voted off? I think this is something that needs to be addressed in the future.

And lastly, can we talk about Sharon Bala’s blog post? Her book, The Boat People, was voted off first in the competition, but she wrote a very detailed post on the fact that a book authored by a woman and defended by a woman has NEVER WON. And in 17 years, there have only been 13 books written by a woman defended by a man. Can we please change the stereotype that books written by men are superior? We need to shout from the rooftops amazing books by women and get men to get off their damn pedestals.

Anyway, it was a great four days and I’m interested to watch again next year. I’m also really excited to read more books for Canadian book competitions!

Did you watch Canada Reads this year? What are your thoughts on the competition? Was the book you wanted to win chosen in the final? What books from the longlist did you wish were on the shortlist? What books would you love to see in the running for next year’s competition? What theme do you think should be prominent in 2019?