International Literacy Day

Hooked on Canadian Books: The Good, the Better, and the Best Canadian Novels since 1984Hooked on Canadian Books: the Good, the Better and the Best Canadian Novels Since 1984
T.F. Rigelhof (2010)

Even in today’s media saturated environment it’s hard to find a great list of recommendations for what you should read next, whether you’re a longtime CanLit fan or you’re just getting to know Canadian literature. Written by T.F. Rigelhof, the Globe and Mail’s stalwart contributing reviewer and a seasoned, fine critic of today’s work, this book is a collection of short commentaries on contemporary novels, arranged thematically, that the author chose because they were not only “good” but compulsively readable, books that gave him pleasure, like favourite songs or delicious food. This is a book to whet the appetite. - Susanne Marshall

A Rule Against MurderLes livres de Louise Penny

En ce début d`automne, quoi de mieux que de se blottir bien au chaud  avec les livres de Louise Penny. Pour découvrir le Québec, suivons cet extraordinaire personnage qu`est l`inspecteur Armand Gamache. Passionné de l`histoire du Québec, ce find finaud nous tiendra la main  tout au long de son enquête. Nous dégusterons avec lui les meilleurs plats de la cuisine québécoise tout en visitant les plus beaux endroits du Québec. Nous apprendrons à connaître et à comprendre les relations toujours particulières entre les anglophones et  les francophones du Québec et suivrons le coeur palpitant, le chemin qui nous mènera au terrible meurtrier. Gagnante du célèbre prix John Creasey Dagger en 2006 et de plusieurs autres, Louise Penny dresse du Québec un portrait réaliste et si attachant. On pense entre autres à “The Murder Stone”,”The Cruellest Month”. Un pur bonheur. - Myriam Fontaine


The Stone CarversThe Stone Carvers
Jane Urquehart (2002)

I never liked history as a subject at school; memorized dates made no connection to real people. History class was like repeating the nursery rhyme about the “grand old duke of York” with his 10,000 men, marching them up to the top of the hill and marching them down again. It was only as the background to literature that I could connect with history.

A must-read novel that I think encapsulates Canadian identity is Jane Urquehart’s The Stone Carvers, which brings together the stories of ordinary lives affected by obsession and art. It is complex, with a rich cast of characters surrounding Klara Becker, reaching back three generations to her grandfather Joseph Becker, a master carver who ventured to Canada in search of “perfect blocks of carveable limewood.” Urquehart’s narrative addresses Canada’s colonial past, represented through man-made structures, especially churches, and the settlers ceaselessly engaged “in the act of turning one thing into another” as they bring Western culture to the wilderness. Klara is haunted by a love affair stopped by the Great War.

The novel is much concerned with public sculpture, especially Walter Allward’s Canadian Battlefields Memorial at Vimy Ridge. However, Allward, like the history portrayed in the novel, remains in the background of Klara’s journey of self-exile and reunion with her brother Tilman, whose nomadic tendencies are the opposite of Klara’s. When Klara and Tilman engage in the act of collective remembrance (the keystone of war memorials), they are able to face their pasts and move forward. The narrative is thus a personal memory, not an epic of national history; it tells the story of a community’s growth and the impact of that growth on the members of the community, which, in many ways, reflects the growth of Canada from colony to nation. – Laura Bonikowsky 

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. [...] Read more: Editors' Choice: International Literacy Day Picks [...]

  2. I’ve skimmed through “Hooked on Canadian Books.” It seems like a good list of successful Canadian novels. I’ve been told that Rigelhof is very unkind to Carol Shields, who is a superb and highly lauded writer. I’m not sure where his hatred comes from.

    • Susanne Marshall

      Hi Lauren,
      Its always interesting to see a reader’s criteria and opinions, and Rigelhof’s are clear. His treatment of Shields isn’t malicious at all, but it’s true he doesn’t have a high opinion of her work, with the exception of Swann (1987), which he calls “compulsive reading and fascinating,” “the only one of her novels that requires attentive, nuanced reading” (63). He says of her three previous novels that they “lack credibility in plot or dialogue or character or all three.” Fans of her works, especially Larry’s Party (Orange Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award 1998) and The Stone Diaries (Governor General’s Award 1993, Pulitzer Prize 1995), may quite legitimately disagree! My favourite of her works is Happenstance (1993).

      • This is pretty bad and bordering on misogynistic, on page 64: “Though her literary celebrity may seem incomprehensible, Carol Shields has a nurturing appeal for multitudes of women writers who peer into her writings and find words they wish they could use as gallantly and genially to plumb their own unsatisfactory domestic arrangements…and equal opportunities.” I still do like the book. I’ll count his “issue” with Shields as a quirk.


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The editors of the Canadian Encyclopedia are a learned and eccentric bunch. Occasionally, they get together to collaborate on blog posts, which is always a good time.


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