Literary Award Hangover

November 19, 2014

If you find yourself lost looking for what to add next to your TBR pile, we have the aspirin-and-coffee combo cure for your literary award hangover. We’ve hand-picked books that speak to the themes and/or style of this year’s winners and nominees from the  Hilary Weston and  Rogers Writers’ Trust Prizes, the  Giller Prize, and the  Governor General’s Literary Awards. Grab the “tale” of the dog that bit you best.

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As the last of the broken champagne flutes are swept away, we at All Lit Up – in our post-literary-award-season haze – have to wonder what comes next. How to continue on when the books we’ve been discussing, deconstructing, fingers-crossing, and celebrating are awarded all that collective literary purses have to offer?

If you find yourself lost looking for what to add next to your TBR pile, we have the aspirin-and-coffee combo cure for your literary award hangover. We’ve hand-picked books that speak to the themes and/or style of this year’s winners and nominees from the Hilary Weston and Rogers Writers’ Trust Prizes, the Giller Prize, and the Governor General’s Literary Awards. Grab the “tale” of the dog that bit you best.

Note: the winner of each prize is demarcated with a *.


The Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Non-Fiction


This Changes Everything* by Naomi Klein = The Winter We Danced by The Kino-nda-niimi Collective

After dismantling global brand culture in No Logo, Naomi Klein examines how climate change is truly just change in This Changes Everything – it impinges on quality of life in almost every regard. Far from a doomsday proclamation, Klein’s book spurs the newly-informed reader into action.

Though we picked all of our other matches, Klein herself chose The Kino-nda-niimi book The Winter We Danced (ARP Books) as her own pick for what to read after This Changes Everything in the Globe and Mail. She calls the book “an utterly unique anthology in which text is structured as a round dance, the iconic symbol of the Idle No More movement.” The book blends prose, poetry, art, and lyrics: all striving powerfully towards Indigenous self-determination. 




Shopping for Votes by Susan Delacourt = Unruly Voices by Mark Kingwell 

Susan Delacourt’s Shopping for Votes reveals the increasing corporatization of Canadian political culture - especially with regards to how voters are marketed to and candidates are branded.

Mark Kingwell’s collection of essays, Unruly Voices (Biblioasis), reveals the flipside of Delacourt’s book: how the “zombie horde” of non-stop Twitterheads and Facebook addicts can make it harder to collectively envision the civil society that we all want. Kingwell’s 17 essays are a bold attempt to tear through the hivemind and see what really counts in building our civilization.  





Happy City by Charles Montgomery = The Small Cities Book, edited by W.F. Garrett Petts

In Happy City, Charles Montgomery deconstructs an icon of our modern times: the megacity. Acknowledging that 5 billion of the world’s population will be urban by 2030, Montgomery examines what that statistic means for humanity: will our lives be better or worse when we all live in megacities? 

On the other hand, The Small Cities Book (New Star Books) discusses the cities that are often left out of what we mean when we say “urban living”. Using the British Columbia city of Kamloops as an example, TSCB draws on the wisdom of celebrated authors like bill bissett and Robert Kroetsch, among others, to paint a picture of life outside the megacity through essays, poetry, short stories, and art.




Extreme Mean by Paula Todd = The Mystery of the Cyber Bully by Marty Chan 

Paula Todd exposes the dark side of a free and anonymous internet in her book: one where bad behvaiour wreaks havoc on the lives of others with almost no consequence for the aggressor. The Weston Prize jury noted that Extreme Mean is essential reading for “every parent - or anyone online”.

But what to do if your child is being bullied? In The Mystery of the Cyber Bully (Thistledown Press), the kid detectives of the Marty Chan Mystery series tackle this issue in a child-friendly way. While you read Extreme Mean, pass The Mystery of the Cyber Bully to a kid in your life that might feel like no one is looking out for them.




Boundless by Kathleen Winter = Midnight Sun by Lawrence Osgood

In Boundless, Kathleen Winter details her experiences journeying across the dramatically-changing Northwest Passage in 2010. Winter weaves biological observation, historical research, and anthropological study amidst her own spiritual awakening in the book.

Lawrence Osgood’s Midnight Sun (Goose Lane Editions) executes a similar weaving, though, being set almost thirty years earlier, paints an entirely different picture of the north. Read Midnight Sun to understand the early gasps of non-Inuit inroads into the north – and all the growing pains brought with them – told through the experiences of the small community of Poniktuk when a white man comes to town.


The Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize




Pastoral by André Alexis = A by André Alexis

Pastoral, about a city pastor taking up residence in a rural parish, explores the tensions of personal faith and obligation. The Rogers Writers’ Trust jury called it a “virtually flawless novel.”

To see what made Pastoral the work it is, read A (BookThug), also by André Alexis. A follows book reviewer Alexander Baddeley on his quest to understand the talents and inspiration of his obsession, poet Avery Andrews. The resulting discussion through narrative, about narrative, surely gives the reader insight into Alexis’ own process.





The Confabulist by Steven Galloway = The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré by Sarah Kathryn York

Steven Galloway’s The Confabulist centres around famous magician Harry Houdini. Galloway de- and reconstructs historical events and adds a spy mystery to this already fantastical man.

Our pick highlights another human wonder – Edouard Beaupré, the “Willow Bunch Giant”. In The Anatomy of Edouard Beaupré (Coteau Books), author Sarah Kathryn York uses the anatomical explorations of her narrator, an ailing doctor, to examine not only the physicality of Beaupré, but how much of the person that we miss – and permanently fail to understand – when they go.




All Saints by K.D. Miller = Watch How We Walk by Jennifer LoveGrove

In All Saints, K.D. Miller uses a collection of stories to explore an entire community, slowly deserting the Anglican church that ties them – however loosely – to each other.

In Watch How We Walk (ECW Press), Jennifer LoveGrove writes of the more abrupt desertion of one sister leaving behind her Jehovah’s Witness life, and the consequences for both her and the sister who remained. LoveGrove’s powerful book, drawing on her own experiences with the church, was longlisted for the Giller Prize this year.




Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder = Rose’s Run by Dawn Dumont

Carrie Snyder’s 104 year-old protagonist poignantly faces memory and loss in Girl Runner. Her character Aganetha Smart, once an Olympic running champion, is now confined to a wheelchair. Snyder traces the prejudices and obstacles through Aganetha’s life, as well as her last adventure.

On the other hand, Dawn Dumont’s main character Rose Okanese in Rose’s Run (Thistledown Press), treads an opposite track. Deciding after twenty years of inactivity (and heavy smoking) that she’s going to run her reserve’s marathon, Rose faces the usual social rivalries, physical barriers, and a conjured demon in her mission to win.





All My Puny Sorrows* by Miriam Toews = Suicide Psalms by Mari-Lou Rowley

Toews’ book – about two sisters, one contemplating suicide – is a testament to the author’s own late sister. Equally hilarious and grief-ridden, All My Puny Sorrows is a lesson in feeling.

Suicide Psalms (Anvil Press), a collection of poetry, is written from the contemplator’s perspective – those hasty, fleeting thoughts in the minutes before they decide to take their own life. The poems are beautifully written, but no less angry, sorrowful, or powered.


The Scotiabank Giller Prize




The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis = Mr. Jones by Margaret Sweatman 

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis chronicles just one day in the life of Baruch Kotler, a Soviet Jewish dissident and politician, whose affair with a mistress decades his junior is exposed by his political opponents.  In twenty-four hours, Kotler faces the KGB agent who betrayed him years ago, and those whom he has betrayed — including his wife and children.

Mr. Jones by Margaret Sweatman (Goose Lane Editions) explores another culture rife with paranoia and betrayal in post World War II Canada. Emmett Jones, a former pilot haunted by wartime memories, is drawn to John Norfield, a former POW and communist. In this fearful time, Emmett Jones is betrayed by his country’s paranoia as his connection to Norfield causes the government to investigate Emmet Jones, the lives of his family — and put everything he holds dear into peril.




Tell by Frances Itani = Where White Horses Gallop by Beatrice MacNeil

Set in 1919, only a few months after the end of the Great War, Tell by Frances Itani unravels the mystery of an abandoned child. Following Kenan, a young soldier who has returned from the war damaged and disfigured, and his marriage to Tress, Frances Itani examines the continuing effects of war.

In another devastating war, set in 1941, Where White Horses Gallop by Beatrice MacNeil (Breakwater Books) follows three young men who enlist in the Cape Breton Highlanders and sail off to the front, leaving their families to wait and wonder at home. The novel follows life on the home front, as well as the stark reality of war on soldiers.




Us Conductors* by Sean Michaels = The Battle of Five Spot by David Neil Lee 

Us Conductors by Sean Michaels writes of the life of Lev Thermen, the Russian-born inventor of the Theremin, the unique electronic musical instrument that is played without any physical contact. The narrative moves from New York in the 1920s into the Soviet Union under Stalin, chronicling the origins of the instrument and its music, along with its creator.

The Battle of Five Spot (Wolsak & Wynn) by David Neil Lee enlivens another groundbreaking musician, documenting the debate over ground-breaking jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Coleman revolutionized jazz when he started playing at The Five Spot in New York City in 1959, and the title investigates his movement of change in art and society.




The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill = The Wondrous Woo by Carrianne Leung

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neil is a coming-of-age novel set in 1990s Montreal. Following twenty-year old Noushcka Tremblay, the novel explores her fraught relationship with her family, and the charged political climate of 1995 Quebec.

The Wondrous Woo by Carrianne Leung (Inanna Publications) tells the story of Miramar Woo, a young Chinese girl whose plans to leave home for university are shaken by the sudden death of her father. Miramar, with no idea of who she really is or wants to become must come of age completely on her own, growing up and confronting herself in Toronto and Ottawa.




All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews = After Alice by Karen Hofman

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is an exceptional novel centred on the bond between two sisters — one of whom is bent on suicide, the other, intent on stopping her. The novel is a portrait of love, loyalty, reckoning, and a family in disarray.

Our second nomination for All My Puny Sorrows is After Alice by Karen Hoffman (NeWest Press) follows protagonist Sidonie von Täler , who has returned to her small hometown for the first time since the death of her older sister Alice, decades ago. Sidonie, haunted by memories of the trauma of her family legacy, must find a way to reconcile her past and present and reconnect with the family she left behind.




The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan = Fauji Banta Singh by Sadhu Binning

The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanthan follows psychologist Ashwin Rao, who wrote about India’s state-sponsored anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and, years later, returns to Canada, researching a book on grief and attending the trial over the 1985 bombing of Air India 182. This droll and intelligent novel offers insight into religious fundamentalism, racism, and the immigrant experience.

Fauji Banta Singh by Sadhu Binnings (TSAR Publications) is full of riveting stories from the heart of the Vancouver Sikh experience. Set among people who emigrated in the late twentieth century, facing racial animosity and economic insecurity, and moving forward as their lives became more settled, Fauji Banta Singh gives us rare glimpses into the private lives of the Sikh community.


The Governor General's Literary Awards





Sweetland by Michael Crummey = Keeper of Tides by Beatrice MacNeil

Sweetland features Michael Crummey’s trademark sense of place on the East Coast of Canada as an older gentleman, the titular Sweetland, struggles to hold onto his home while being haunted by memories of his time away from it.

If you enjoyed Sweetland, Keeper of Tides by Beatrice MacNeil (Breakwater Books) may intrigue you. Ivadoile Spears is determined to spend her remaining years at the now-vacant Tides Inn on Cape Breton Island. As she falls deeper into the grips of dementia she is drawn back into her past, when as a young widow she first came to Tides Inn only to be blindsided once again.




Juliet was a Surprise by Bill Gaston = We Don’t Listen to Them by Sean Johnston

For short story fans, Juliet Was a Surprise is an entertaining collection filled with unfamiliar perspectives and the everyday becoming strange. While each character is trapped by their own peculiarities, there is an underlying faith in humanity that ties them all together.

In We Don’t Listen to Them (Thistledown Press), another collection of stories, author Sean Johnston turns his characters’ worlds upside down, sometimes even to the point of defying logic and reality. However, what is always recognizable is the human struggle. There may be many challenges for the characters to face but, just as we do, they find ways to get through them.




The Opening Sky by Joan Thomas = Would I Lie to You? by Mary Lou Dickinson 

In The Opening Sky, Joan Thomas has created a novel about a modern family whose past comes back to haunt them even as she highlights the human desire to do the right thing, to be loved for who we truly are, and the characteristics of the modern family. 

In Would I Lie to You? by Mary Lou Dickinson (Inanna Publications), Sue and Jerry have kept many secrets in their ten year marriage. It is only after Jerry dies that these secrets start to come out. As Sue mourns her husband she is confronted with her own past, her complicity in Jerry’s secret, as well as what makes a family.





Up Ghost River by Edmund Metatawabin, with Alexandra Shimo = Those Who Know by Dianne Meili

Up Ghost River is the powerful memoir of Edmund Metatawabin, from his time at a residential school as a child to his healing journey to Alberta rediscovering his Indigenous culture to sharing the lessons and knowledge he found with the world.

For further reading on this subject, Those Who Know (NeWest Press) is a valuable text as it includes many interviews and profiles of Aboriginal Elders from Alberta in an attempt to preserve the wisdom and spirituality of their ancestors.




The Oil Man and the Sea by Arno Kopecky = Tumbling Tide by Peter Goodchild 

In The Oil Man and the Sea, Arno Kopecky and Ilja Herb go on a journey to discover more about the area that will be affected by the Northern Gateway, if approved, looking at its ecology, culture, and history. 

In Tumbling Tide (Insomniac Press), Peter Goodchild looks at what life will be like if we continue on the path we’re on—what will a post-peak world look like? He delves into the details of how life will be affected socially, politically, and even at our most basic levels, how we’ll eat and live.




Know the Night by Maria Mutch = No Turning Back by Ida Linehan Young

Know the Night is a moving story of survival and the bonds of mother and child as Maria Mutch and her son Gabriel delve into a world of darkness and isolation.

No Turning Back (Creative Book Publishing), while very different from Know the Night, is also a story of survival and family bonds. Ida Linehan Young lost her entire family in one night to a house fire. Just a her very foundation was ripped out from under her, she herself started on a lifelong journey of healing as she endured months of treatment and years of searching for a sense of normalcy.





Jeremy Stone by Lesley Choyce = Melanie Bluelake’s Dream by Betty Fitzpatrick Dorian

Jeremy Stone follows a young First Nations teenage boy as he navigates live at a new school in a new community. He encounters bullying, racism, and difficulties making new friends. He finds comfort and support in the spirit of his dead grandfather, and finds a way to support his new friend and reconnect with his father.

Melanie Bluelake’s Dream (Coteau Books) similarly follows the everyday trials and tribulations of the schoolyard except from the perspective of a young Cree girl. While she longs for home and the comfort of her grandmother, Melanie supports her mother’s efforts to give her a better future. It’s a struggle though, as she deals with a classroom bully and finding her way in an urban world.




The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier = Nieve by Terry Griggs

The Night Gardener is a spooky Gothic tale of siblings Molly and Kip as they take on work at a mysterious English estate. The house and its family are not what they seem and there is a dark stranger who comes wondering at night.

If you like a dark tale like The Night Gardener, you may also enjoy the world of Nieve (Biblioasis), whose titular character is the daughter of professional weepers. As a couple of strangers come to town, bringing night with them, people start disappearing and it is up to Nieve and some unexpected companions to find out just what is happening.





Skraelings by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley = The Dreamer’s Legacy by Celu Amberstone 

Skraelings is the fantastical northern adventure of a young Inuit hunter, Kannujaq, as he encounters a group of Tunit people. This camp of ancient Inuit ancestors is preparing to defend themselves against a group of Viking warriors.

In The Dreamer’s Legacy (Kegedonce), young Tasimu is trying to gain control of his ability to call down the Northern Lights and solve the mystery of his parentage when the Emperor’s soldiers come to force his people from their arctic homeland.


Cured, yet? Let us know what you’re reading to overcome your lit award hangover in the comments below.


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