10 books by Canadian writers for Canada Day

Canada has produced many fantastic writers and lots of amazing books. For Canada Day, I’m sharing a few of my personal favourite books written by Canadian writers.

20170701_103732Lemon by Cordelia Strube

This coming-of-age tale follows Lemon, a teenaged girl who doesn’t fit in at home or at school. Unapologetic and witty, Lemon is a character you can’t help but root for.

20170701_103704Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill

This novel tells the story of a 13-year-old girl growing up on the streets of Montreal. Still a child, she must deal with her father’s drug habit and learn how to survive.

20170701_103721One Bird’s Choice by Iain Reid

This memoir, about Reid moving back in with his parents in his 20s, is both humourous and touching–a very entertaining read.

20170701_103519Life After God by Douglas Coupland

Published in the 1990s, this book of short stories gives glimpses into various Gen-X lives and is filled with lines and passages I’ve returned to over the years.

20170701_103613Natural Order by Brian Francis

This novel, about a woman in her 80s reflecting on her life and the mistakes she has made, is beautiful and heartbreaking. You’ll want to keep a box of tissues nearby.

20170701_103454Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese

This novel is about an Ojibway man and his story of being forced into a residential school, his gift for playing hockey, and the racism that follows him throughout his life. The book deals with difficult subject matter that is important to read.

20170701_103745The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall

In this novel, Whittall does an excellent job of giving the perspectives of the family members of someone accused of a crime.

20170701_103604That Summer in Paris by Morley Callaghan

Callaghan’s memoir about his friendship with Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald begins in Toronto before moving to Paris. I picked this up for the story about writers in Paris, but I found it’s actually a very moving account of friendship and how even those friendships that only last a short time can affect us for our lifetimes.

20170701_103630The Last of the Crazy People by Timothy Findley

This haunting novel tells the story of a boy whose family is disintegrating around him and the horrific conclusion he comes to about what must be done about it.

20170701_103638The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

This beautiful novel takes place in the Second World War, and alternates the perspectives between an English officer in a German POW camp, his wife back in England and his sister.

4 ways to get more from the books you read

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The act of reading is a rewarding experience, but there are ways you can get even more out of any book you read, even after you’ve finished it. Here are a few methods I recommend giving a try.

Take notes

Keep some notes about the books you read in a journal. Write down your general impressions, any questions that were left unanswered, aspects of the book you particularly liked or hated–whatever you feel is worthy. Not into journaling? Underline or write in the margins as you read. Writing down your thoughts about the book can get you to articulate how you feel about it.

Write a review

Here’s your chance to elaborate on some of the notes you took. If you can get something published in an established publication, that’s great! But you can also post it on a blog/website or on a social media site, such as Goodreads. And you don’t have to publish the review if that’s not your thing. You can write it and keep it for yourself and still benefit from forming your thoughts into a review.

Read reviews

Book reviews are great for helping to choose what to read next. But reading reviews can also help you think about a book after you’ve finished it. You may or may not agree with the various comments and interpretations you’ll come across, but considering them can broaden how you think about the book.

Check out some book-industry publications, such as Kirkus Reviews and Quill and Quire, or read the books coverage in newspapers like The Globe and Mail and The Guardian. There are also lots of people posting reviews on social media sites, such as Goodreads and Instagram.

Join or start a book club

A book club doesn’t have to have a lot of members. In fact, a smaller group can lead to more in-depth discussion. Even if you’re just reading a book with one other person–a family member or a friend–it can be beneficial to discuss what you’re reading with another person.

Of course it’s nice when everyone loves the book so that you can gush about it, and it can also be fun when everyone hates the book, so you can all tear it apart. But it’s also great when there are differing opinions. It helps to see other perspectives, and it might make you appreciate that you book you hated a little more (or at least help you understand why someone else would like it).

So the next time you finish a book, don’t be so quick to put it back on the shelf. Think about if you’d like to spend more time with it first, because there are lots of ways you can.

One way to celebrate Freedom to Read Week

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A few challenged books I found on my bookshelves.

Today kicks off Freedom to Read Week, a project of Canada’s Book and Periodical Council. From February 26 to March 4, the council’s Freedom of Expression Committee invites Canadians to reflect on our right to intellectual freedom.

The Freedom to Read website has several great suggestions on ways to get involved, but my favourite is freeing a challenged book.

How to free a challenged book

  1. Browse this list of challenged books for a title that you care about and own.
  2. Tag the book with the Free a Challenged Book label.
  3. Register the book on BookCrossing.com.
  4. Release the book for someone to find.
  5. Follow the book’s journey by heading to BookCrossing.com.

This initiative raises awareness about books that have been challenged in Canadian schools, libraries and bookstores. But freeing one of these titles is also an awesome way to share them with other people. It’s a way to connect with readers you may never meet, and with people who might not have easy access to these books.

I’m going to free a challenged book this week, and I hope you will, too. It can be difficult to part with a book that means a lot to you, but it’s time to release your edition into the world. It will do more good than it will sitting on your bookshelf, and it’s the perfect way to celebrate our freedom to read.

Literary cocktail classes at Toronto’s Famous Last Words

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If you’re a fan of the recommended refreshments section in my book reviews, you will like Famous Last Words, a newish bar in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood.

This book-themed bar is cozy and adorable and has a full menu of cocktails made with a literary twist. It’s the perfect place to read or write. But my recent trip there wasn’t to do either of these things. I was there to take a literary cocktail class.

A couple of friends and I signed up for a class called The Roaring ’20s. We learned how to make cocktails that appear in The Great Gatsby (Gin Rickey, Mint Julep) as well as a couple of others from the era (The Last Word, Between the Sheets).

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A Between the Sheets sitting on the Scrabble-tiled bar.

The class wasn’t all about the cocktails, though. We talked about the connection the drinks have to The Great Gatsby and about the characters in the book. We also talked about prohibition–an interesting discussion about history.

Sometimes the recommended refreshments in my book reviews are simply what I think would create a nice reading experience for a particular book. But, where it’s suitable, I try to connect the refreshments to food or drink that appears in the stories. So I absolutely love that Famous Last Words does this by serving drinks that are featured in books. They aren’t limited to this, though. They also create drinks that are inspired by stories and authors.

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Can you spot the copy of Timothy Findley’s Famous Last Words amongst all these bottles?

There are still three classes left in this series of literary cocktail classes. Check out Famous Last Words’ event page to see what’s coming up. And even if you don’t feel like taking a class (but it really is a lot of fun), you can always head over to the bar with a book. You’ll definitely find a refreshment to complement whatever it is you’re reading.

How my parents raised readers

Earlier this week, I went to the Toronto Reference Library to hear Will Schwalbe talk about his new memoir, Books for Living. At one point, he mentioned that his parents gave him and his siblings the greatest gift anyone can give someone: a love of reading.

This comment made me reflect on my own upbringing and how my parents managed to instil a love of reading in both my brother and me. Here are a few ways I think my parents managed to do just that.

They filled the house with books

My brother and I had our own bookshelves in our respective bedrooms, but there were books in the common areas of the house, too. There was a fair-sized bookcase in the living room and several others in the finished basement, all filled with books–everything from the classics to mystery novels to the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

As a child, most of these books were above my reading level, but nothing was off limits to us. We could pick up any of the titles as we pleased. Even when I was too young to understand (or have an interest in) Thomas Hardy or Dylan Thomas, I still liked to run my fingers across the spines or flip through the pages of the books.

They read to us

Sometimes we’d sit on the couch together, and my parents would read a book to both me and my brother (Charlotte’s Web comes to mind). Other times, they would read to us in our bedrooms when we were being tucked in. Mom and Dad would take turns reading to each of us. I can’t say for certain, but I believe this happened every night–at least until we were too cool for it and preferred to read on our own.

They took us to the library

Our family visited our local branch of the public library frequently. It was something to do on a weekday evening or a weekend afternoon. Just going to the library and hanging out for a bit was fun, but of course we’d always bring a bundle of books home with us.

They gave us books as gifts

To this day, it’s been a tradition to give books as stocking stuffers in my family. It’s something we still look forward to: We all know we’re getting books; it’s just a question of which ones. Growing up, this small gesture helped ingrain in us the idea that books have a lot of value to offer. And not only did this ritual give us the joy of receiving books, but it taught us the joy of giving books, too.

Books can inform and educate, offer comfort, help us understand others and help us feel understood. So Schwalbe is right. A love of reading is the best gift you can give someone. And it’s something that, no matter what happens in life, no one can take away from them.