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2020 Best Books of the Year

Jamaluddin Aram

Jamaluddin Aram was selected and mentored by author Michael Christie for the Writers’ Trust Mentorship. Aram was also a short fiction finalist for this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for his story “This Hard Easy Life.” 


Plainsong by Kent Haruf 
The General in His Labyrinth by Gabriel Garcia Marquez 
The Beggar’s Garden by Michael Christie 
I Wanted to Write a Poem: The Autobiography of the Works of a Poet by William Carlos Williams 
16 Categories of Desire by Douglas Glover 
A Daring Young Man: A Biography of William Saroyan by John Leggett
The Green House by Mario Vargas Llosa
The Book of Secrets by M.G. Vassanji
Selected Poems by Antonio Machado 
The Best Times: An Informal Memoir by John Dos Passos
The Blood Oranges by John Hawkes

Carleigh Baker

Carleigh Baker was selected this year as a Writers’ Trust Rising Star by writer Thomas King.


There were times in 2020 when I feared I might just read Twitter posts forever, but I managed to squeeze a few books in here and there. Jillian Christmas’ The Gospel of Breaking is just what my heart needed. 

Love after the End, the anthology edited by Joshua Whitehead, is so good — nonstop hits.

Junie Désil’s eat salt | gaze at the ocean. Thomas King’s 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin. 

And, while I was marinating in my own despair one afternoon, my sweetheart came home with a book for me by Deborah Levy called Things I Don’t Want to Know, which I’m now re-reading for the third time. It’s a book about writing, but not about how to write. More importantly, it’s about crying on escalators, which I am a big fan of.

Greg Bechtel

Greg Bechtel is the current writer-in-residence at Berton House.


I’m terrible at picking favourites — that old saw about apples and oranges, which doesn’t even dare touch anything like durian — so instead, here are a few Canadian-authored books that I happen to be reading right now, plus a list of several more that have accumulated on the Berton House bedside table, and which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading in 2020.

Candas Jane Dorsey is best known for her prize-winning, gorgeously written, and exuberantly, innovatively queer feminist science fiction — so colour me entirely unsurprised to find that her first mystery novel, The Adventures of Isabel, is brilliantly written, gender-and-genre bending, and immensely fun while nonetheless elegantly and insightfully touching on a variety of social issues. Isabel is an unemployed social worker considering sex-work as a backup plan when she gets hired to investigate the murder of her friend’s granddaughter (who was herself a sex-worker). As a narrator, Isabel is irreverent, smart, and funny, with a tendency to grammar-police the world around her; every major character is revealed as more than they seem in ways that feel both surprising and plausible; and the plot moves at breakneck speed without ever sacrificing depth of character, humour, or crackling dialogue. I picked it up last night, laughed out loud several times within the first 10 pages and kept reading until the wee hours of the morning, entirely unable to put it down.

For the past few weeks, I’ve also been rereading C.J. Lavigne’s In Veritas in small doses, savouring each sentence and chapter. This novel’s gorgeous language and pyrotechnic structural play — facilitated in large part by its deeply synaesthetic protagonist — are all in service of the story, which is one of the freshest (and most believable) takes on magic in the so-called “real world” that I’ve read in a long time. Add to that a (maybe) angel, a magician, and a dog who’s a snake who’s a shadow, all in contemporary Ottawa, and I was sold. And then, having followed the twisty plot to its end, I couldn’t resist going back to reread and luxuriate in the elegance of the writing.

I’m also currently reading Kai Cheng Thom’s collection of essays and poetry, I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World. It is not an “easy read,” but it feels (to me, at least) like an important one. The book emerges from Thom’s experience of (and deep investment in) queer social justice activism, as well as her own personal stories, and dares to imagine that this broken world we live in could be better than it is — without ever abandoning keen intellect, insightful critique, or empathy. And it’s that last part that really gets me: the empathy. The essays and poetry are simultaneously raw, beautiful, and elegant in their explicit self-exposure of moral imperfection, wrestling with how to embrace the inevitable messiness of human interaction in their attempts to explore how one might ethically, empathically, and radically give, accept, and share love in a profoundly unjust world.

Other Books on the Berton House bedside table (all read and enjoyed in 2020):

Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
Bury Your Horses by Dan Dowhal
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Adam Chapnick

Adam Chapnick was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Canada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage.


Hugh Segal’s memoir, Bootstraps Need Boots: One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada, is an outstanding reminder that there is still a place in Canadian political life for empathy, reason, and a genuine commitment to social justice. Its pages radiate conviction and its lucid prose makes it the kind of book you want to read in a single sitting. I finished it nearly a year ago and it’s still with me today.

Outside of work, I am quite committed to personal fitness. In that context, I found Christie Aschwanden’s Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery eye-opening. Aschwanden’s emphasis on the importance of sleep has made a tangible difference to the way that I live my life.

Lorna Crozier

Lorna Crozier was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats)


Steven Price’s Lampedusa is such a brilliant book that though it came out last year, I read it again, just for the beauty of the sentences. He creates characters you’ll never forget but with a poet’s eye and ear. Every sentence is a song. The other book of fiction I’ll go back to again and again is John Gould’s The End of Me, written in the form he excels in, the short-short story. Each is a gem, witty, deep, metaphysical and so satisfying to a reader.

My favourite book of 2020 nonfiction is Emily Urquhart’s The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father, and Me. Featuring her octogenarian father, she explores what happens to creativity as one ages. I loved the personal anecdotes about her relationship with her artist father, but I also became engaged with her research and, being in my 70s, was filled with hope for what I might accomplish in my waning years.

Finally, who wouldn’t celebrate a new book of poetry by Margaret Atwood? Dearly revisits some of the objects and persona of her earlier work, like sirens (not the wail of ambulances but the mythical, destructive beings who lure sailors to their deaths), mushrooms, and the destruction of the natural world, but it also covers new territory — the heartbreaking aftermath of her husband’s death and the angst of being alone.

nina jane drystek

nina jane drystek was a poetry finalist for this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for her collection “c:ode.” 


When it comes to looking ahead for the year, I don’t often know what to expect, in life as much as in books, and this year was no exception. Finishing books in the to-read pile, book-swapping with friends, readings for workshops and new books from my favourite writers/publishers were some of the things that drove my 2020 reading habits. Here are some books that stood out in those categories.

from the to-read pile:
This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Census by Jesse Ball 
Bone Black by Carol Rose GoldenEagle 

from book-swapping:
Obits. by Tess Liem 
Greenwood by Michael Christie 
Jazz by Toni Morrison 

from workshops:
The Collected Poetry of Bob Kaufman
Two Women Talking
 by Bronwen Wallace and Erin Mouré 
Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha 

new books:
Washes, Prays by Noor Naga 
Render by Sachiko Murakami
The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas
OO: Typewriter Poems by Dani Spinosa
The Truth About Facts by Bart Vautour 
Found Words From Olivetti by Hiromi Suzuki 
Repetition Nineteen by Monica de la Torre
Still Here by Amy Stuart
The Subtweet by Vivek Shraya 
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole 

Lisa Foad

Lisa Foad was a finalist for this year’s Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her short story “Hunting.” 


How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin
Weather by Jenny Offill
Luster by Raven Leilani

Omer Friedlander

Omer Friedlander was a short fiction finalist for this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for his story “Palestinian Still Life.” 


Part of the difficulty of this strange year was being stuck in lockdown at home in Tel-Aviv, so I think I gravitated naturally towards books which took me far away. My favorites were Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, Hassan Blasim’s The Corpse Exhibition: And Other Stories of Iraq, and Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief.

I also loved Nicole Krauss’s Forest Dark, which was set very close to home, in my own neighborhood in Tel-Aviv, and made me see it anew.

The book I am most looking forward to reading, but haven’t had the chance to yet, is Souvankham Thammavongsa’s collection How to Pronounce Knife.

Zsuzsi Gartner

Zsuzsi Gartner was a finalist for this year’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her novel The Beguiling.


Although 2020 has radically sucked in more ways than one, it’s been a great one for reading. Here’s a (kind of) acrostic to celebrate some of my favourite reads of the plague year:

Consent: Annabel’s Lyon’s new novel is a sizzling, unsentimental story of two sets of sisters with a delicious undercurrent of thriller-like plotting.

Old Filth: Jane Gardam’s celebrated trilogy is a witty and poignant chronicle of the British Empire’s 20th century, written with enviable economy.

Vancouver for Beginners: Alex Leslie (my vote for next poet laureate of the city!) upends paradise in stunning prose poems reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

DelIcate Edible Birds: American writer Lauren Groff’s indelible first collection is a magic trick of empathy and imagination, much like her mesmerizing Florida.

GooD Citizens Need Not Fear: Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize finalist Maria Reva’s bravado stories are so unflinching, darkly hilarious, and politically astute that my brain is still all lit up.

Stephen Heighton

Steven Heighton was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for his memoir Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos


I’ll confine myself to books I’ve read in the last couple months. First, the nonfiction books of my colleagues shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. The Writers’ Trust was good enough to send each of us the other finalists’ books; these four wonderful memoirs became my reading list for the weeks that followed:

Through the Garden: A Love Story (with Cats) by Lorna Crozier
Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts by Jessica J. Lee
Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging by Tessa McWatt
The Way Home by David A. Neel 

Second, four other books connected only by merit:

A House in Memory: Last Poems by David Helwig, edited by Maggie Helwig
Living Between Worlds: Finding Personal Resilience in Changing Times by James Hollis
alfabet / alphabet: a memoir of a first language by Sadiqa de Meijer
Moments of Glad Grace: A Memoir by Alison Wearing

Lorax B. Horne

Lorax B. Horne was selected this year as a Writers’ Trust Rising Star by writer Rachel Giese.


These are the books that marked my reading this year:

There’s Something in the Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities by Ingrid R. G. Waldron
decolonizing trans/gender 101 by b. binaohan
I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom
The Brief Reincarnation of a Girl by Sue Goyette
Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist
Kitten Clone by Douglas Coupland
Crisis of Conscience: Whistleblowing in an Age of Fraud by Tom Mueller
Pacifying the Homeland: Intelligence Fusion and Mass Supervision by Brendan McQuade
Beyond the Gender Binary by Alok Vaid-Menon

David Huebert

David Huebert was a finalist for this year’s Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for his story “Chemical Valley.” 


Waking Ground by shalan joudry
joudry’s poetics are a wildering, an astonishment. Steeped in the land and history of Mi’kma’ki, this book both cultivates crucial awareness of its moment and articulates vital and forward-looking eco-poetic thought. 

Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest by Hanif Abdurraqib
Abdurraqib is a reckoning. Deep recommendation for all music lovers. It is a total joy to think inside the lyric beat of this work. And then you get to listen to A Tribe Called Quest while losing your wallet in El Segundo. 

Arcadia by Lauren Groff
Communal living. Bliss-dys-topia. Groff’s sentences split me open. 

Anosh Irani

Anosh Irani was a selector this year for the Writers’ Trust Rising Stars. He selected Canisia Lubrin.


Kolyma Stories by Varlam Shalamov
The Largesse of The Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson
The Certainties by Aislinn Hunter
Washes, Prays by Noor Naga
Who Killed My Father by Édouard Louis
Collected Poems in English by Arun Kolatkar
The Time of Your Life by William Saroyan

Jessica Johns

Jessica Johns won this year’s Writers’ Trust McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her short story “Bad Cree.” 


I had a really difficult time reading in 2020. I found it hard to pay attention, to sit still for long, and to focus. The following books made me think and feel, and they absolutely mesmerized. They took me out of my world and into their pages for a short period. Which, in these times, was a real gift. In short, these books are magic and should be read by all!

A Song of Wraiths and Ruin by Roseanne A. Brown
it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson
In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole
A History of My Brief Body by Billy-Ray Belcourt
Dawn by Octavia E. Butler

Harold R. Johnson

Harold R. Johnson was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada.


This year I have read fantasy exclusively. There is enough drama in the world now that I prefer the gentler worlds where there are dragons and swords and adventurers and magic — especially magic. While locked down, I read the entire Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

When I finished that, I read everything I could find by Brandon Sanderson, The Witcher series by Andrezej Sapkowski, and The Broken Earth Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. Jemisin has an amazing ability with words. Every writer can improve their craft by reading her. It’s been an interesting year.

Thomas King

Thomas King was a finalist for this year’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his novel Indians on Vacation. King was also a selector this year for the Writers’ Trust Rising Stars. He selected Carleigh Baker.


Here are some favourites. As you see, I’ve called out novels as well as one work of nonfiction. I’ve always thought that the line between good fiction and good nonfiction is largely an illusion. Good writing is good writing. Period.

Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn by Evan S. Connell
Love Medicine by Louise Erdich
Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker
Runaway by Alice Munro
Open by Lisa Moore
If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie
Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Dennis Lee

Dennis Lee was the winner of this year’s Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.


My reading this year was as random as ever. These were some highlights.

The Discovery of Insulin by Michael Bliss
I’m involved with the Toronto Legacy Project, which puts plaques on the homes of notable men and women here. That led us to Bliss’s magisterial account. The story is a knockout (sometimes almost literally — as when Frederick Banting, the insulin saint, tries to pummel the living daylights out of one of his collaborators). And the writing is a marvel of intelligence and pacing. Why didn’t somebody tell me about this book before?

The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie
Solie is in the vanguard of Canadian poets — somehow both tentative and centred, simultaneously super-intelligent and full of deep feeling and moral concern. Her fifth collection is no exception, though the setting (seventh-century Scotland) takes us somewhere new. I loved the one that starts, “I need to call it something, if I’m to curse it.”

Letters: Summer 1926 by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, Rainer Maria Rilke
If you think Canadian poets are off-the-wall nutters, you should try the Russians. In this documentary collection, the young contenders Pasternak and Tsvetayeva set out to woo their idol Rilke (as well as each other) with a flurry of flattering letters. None of them have met in person, but what could possibly go wrong? The subsequent soap opera of inspired intensity and calamitous narcissism goes right over the top.

No Pain Like This Body by Harold Sonny Ladoo
The classic novella by the Trinidadian/Canadian writer, who was killed at 28. Full disclosure: I edited the book in 1971, and I wanted to see if it stood up today. If anything, it’s even more potent and scarifying than I remembered. Ladoo’s recreation of East Indian peasant life in Trinidad in 1905 is implacable, and his prose and dialogue just dance. He had a magic ear, and titanic ambitions.

And two books I’m itching to read:

Swivelmount by Ken Babstock
Like Solie, Babstock is a major talent who’s forging his own path. He’s inimitable, maddening, breathtaking. What’s he up to now? I’m all ears.

The Night Fire by Michael Connelly
I need a regular fix of Harry Bosch, the falling-apart, up-yours, truth-haunted homicide detective in L.A. And now he has a new cop partner, Renée Ballard, who’s equally brilliant and has demons of her own. Cue it up.

Jessica J. Lee

Jessica J. Lee won this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir Two Trees Make a Forest: In Search of My Family’s Past Among Taiwan’s Mountains and Coasts.


Like many, I really struggled to focus this year, and that carried into my reading habits. I found myself scrolling my phone more often than reading, but the few short books I really devoted myself to were perhaps all the more powerful for it. I found myself dipping back into Doretta Lau’s How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? for its cutting, memorable short stories.

Nina Mingya Powles’ food memoir, Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai, transported me to a warm, pastel-skied summer in China. It is light, vivid, and evocative of food and place.

And this autumn, Toronto-based author Sennah Yee’s picture book, My Day with Gong Gong, had me weeping — this story of a young girl and her grandfather out for a day in Chinatown is one I needed as a child. 

Canisia Lubrin

Canisia Lubrin was selected this year as a Writers’ Trust Rising Star by writer Anosh Irani.


This is a year that never ends. It cannot, by any true measure, end, though much has stopped, much has changed, much remains — too unfortunately — the same. For me, this year of global grief and Black uprising began with little reading. And now in November, I have had some hours with books that have somehow thrown an otherwise weight against the cycle of ending-stopping-changing-sameness. What’s more? There’s the many more books I will get to when a window opens again. 

An Alphabet for Joanna: A Portrait of My Mother in 26 Fragments by Damian Rogers 
Dominoes at the Crossroads by Kaie Kellough
How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
it was never going to be okay by jaye simpson
Bittersweet by Natasha Ramoutar      
Shared Universe by Paul Vermeersch
Washes, Prays by noor naga
The Only Card in a Deck of Knives by Lauren Turner
Manifest by Terese Mason Pierre
Roguelike by Mathew Henderson
Cephalopography 2.0 by Rasiqra Revulva
Ask About Language As If It Forgets by Hoa Nguyen
The Outer Wards by Sediqa de Meijer
rushes from the river disappointment by stephanie roberts
The Gospel of Breaking by Jillian Christmas
Render by Sachiko Murakami
Divine Animal by Brandon Wint
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi
Murmurations by Annick MacAskill 
The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole

Robyn Maynard

Robyn Maynard was a finalist for this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers.


An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading by Dionne Brand
Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Disintegrate/Dissociate by Arielle Twist
100 Days by Juliane Okot Bitek

Tessa McWatt

Tessa McWatt was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir Shame on Me: An Anatomy of Race and Belonging.


I treasure lists of things to read; I have treasured them for the decades that I have been shown by those wiser and more learned than I am how to be and act in a particular historical moment — this ever-renewing present. In this current moment, though, I want action. I want space for real change. COVID-19  is a truthsayer. Truths previously silenced beneath the din of so-called productivity have become blatantly obvious in the last 10 months. The scaffolding of how we live in inequality has been duly exposed. We are in need of radical changes, with radical, mutual care at the heart of them. So instead of a list, I want to ask you to read everything you can that supports you to act. That supports deep structural change to how we have been living, because it has not served us all, and until we are all free I am not free. So please, read about Black critical aesthetics, Indigenous radical resistance, compassionate socialism, critiques of capitalism and the politics of global environmentalism. Read these with urgency. With your heart. But also read with your feet. Stand in a place to take it back. For all of us. To take it back from violence, from extinction. To reinvent how we live.

Leah Mol

Leah Mol was the short fiction winner for this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for her story “Six Things My Father Taught Me About Bears.” 


I read some great books this year, so I made this easier by limiting my list to books published in 2020. I still have a huge to-be-read pile for 2020, but here are my favourites so far:

Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
I love this book! It’ll likely be the first 2020-published book I reread, and I’m excited just thinking about it.

Luster by Raven Leilani
This is a brilliant book. Luster strongly reinforces my love for debuts.

How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa
I’m always up for a short story that’s actually short, especially when an author can pack in as much empathy for their characters as Thammavongsa does.

Missing from the Village by Justin Ling
Ling is an incredible journalist, and the care that went into this book is evident. He writes about the complexities of people, family, and community with zero sensationalism.

Eartheater by Dolores Reyes, trans. by Julia Sanches
A perfect mix of magic realism, mystery, and coming-of-age. Lovely, lovely book.

In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
So, yes, technically this memoir was published in 2019, but it only came out in November, and it’s so amazing that it only seems fair to give it an extra year of love. One of the best books I’ve read in the last decade.

Rhiannon Ng

Rhiannon Ng was selected and mentored by author Liz Howard this year for the Writers’ Trust Mentorship.


The Outer Harbour by Wayde Compton
The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome by Alondra Nelson
river woman by Katherena Vermette
An Autobiography of the Autobiography of Reading by Dionne Brand
All Our Wonder Unavenged, re-read in fond memory of Don Domanski (1950-2020)

Lishai Peel

Lishai Peel was selected and mentored this year by author Ayelet Tsabari for the Writers’ Trust Mentorship.


This year, I’ve been deep in the world of literary memoir. I began the year by reading Camilla Gibb, This Is Happy. She writes with such frank vulnerability and precision. Her book left me with so much to think about as a mother and a writer, navigating loss while raising a child.

During my mentorship with Ayelet Tsabari, I read her second book, The Art of Leaving. Brilliant and generous and full of stories that have been largely untold within the world of Canadian Jewish literature. Her book, along with her guidance and mentorship, paved the way for my own writing, and gave me the courage to pen underrepresented stories from my own Indian Jewish context.

I loved reading Dear Current Occupant by Chelene Knight. How she brings together memoir and poetry is truly exceptional.

Other writing that inspired me this year: How to Pronounce Knife by Souvankham Thammavongsa, a new book of poetry by Natalie Diaz, Postcolonial Love Poem, and lots of children’s literature by Fanny Britt, Isabelle Arsenault, and Kyo Maclear.

Maria Reva

Maria Reva was a finalist for this year’s Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her story collection Good Citizens Need Not Fear. 


Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir by Julia Zarankin
A book about learning to stand still and really seeing the world around you. A calming read.

Undermajordomo Minor by Patrick DeWitt
I read this for an escape. Hilarious with whip-smart dialogue.

Quit Like a Millionaire: No Gimmicks, Luck, Or Trust Fund Required by Bryce Leung and Kristy Shen. 
An accessible and engaging guide to debt management, aggressive saving, index investing, and financial independence. 

Your Money or Your Life by Vicki Robin 
Explores the notion of mindful spending (as opposed to restrictive crash-diet budgeting). During the lockdown, I went down a personal finance rabbit hole and both books have been an inspiration. 

Another nifty resource is Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Taxes by Joel Fishbane, available as a PDF through The Writers’ Union of Canada.

Kent Roach

Kent Roach was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his book Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case.


For fiction, I have enjoyed Thomas King’s Indians on Vacation and Louise Erdich’s The Night Watchman.

For nonfiction, I would recommend Justin Ling’s Missing from the Village and the amazing collection Fight of the Century where (mostly) fiction writers reflect on leading cases involving the American Civil Liberties Union.

Armand Garnet Ruffo

Armand Garnet Ruffo was the winner of this year’s Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize.


Not long ago I read Paul O’Hara’s A Trail Called Home, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  His knowledge about trees in southern Ontario is impressive.

I also finally found time to read Esi Edugyan’s novel Washington Black and got to Michelle Good’s Five Little Indians.

While I was raking leaves, because I happily live under some big trees, I managed to listen to Souvankham Thammavongsa’s How to Pronounce Knife as an audio book.

As for poetry, I like to take my time; I’m currently perusing the anthologies Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to The Climate Crisis and Best Canadian Poetry 2020. I really like reading anthologies because I’m always discovering new voices, such as Brandi Bird in Best Canadian Poetry.

Kerri Sakamoto

Kerri Sakamoto was the winner of this year’s Engel Findley Award.


“Island Hopping Book Recommendations”

In tribute to one of Canada's literary trailblazers, I recently crawled back into the lair of Marian Engel's provocative The Bear. With a winter of hibernation upon us, it will warm the reader's soul and, dare I say, other regions. “She loved him with such an extravagance that the rest of the world had turned into a tight meaningless knot, except for the landscape, which remained outside them, neutral, having its own orgasms of summer weather.” It's as exquisite and exhilarating as ever.

Passions and turbulent weather also swirl at the heart of Catherine Bush's Blaze Island, which I've just set aside to write this. The author's meticulously lush and forceful poetry sweeps the reader right into the eye of an earth-shattering storm of existential consequence, from which she dares us to look away. It's a page-turner that confers a moral imperative for our time.

From The Bear's lair of Cary's Island to Blaze Island, I'm hopping to Arturo's Island, written by the late, great Italian writer Elsa Morante in a new translation by Ann Goldstein (esteemed translator of Elena Ferrante's novels). This is a wrenching yet enchanting fable of a boy left to wander alone on the Neapolitan isle of Procida, yearning for a love that is brutally denied him. Like The Bear and Blaze Island, Arturo's Island depicts the havoc and turbulence of our souls as wreaked upon our physical world.

Zoe Imani Sharpe

Zoe Imani Sharpe was a poetry finalist for this year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for her collection “Selection from [CA$H4GOLD].” 


Margaret Christakos’ charger, Cassandra Blanchard’s Fresh Pack of Smokes, and stephanie roberts’ rushes from the river disappointment are poetry collections I’ve returned to many times this year.

Rosemary Sullivan

Rosemary Sullivan was a selector this year for the Writers’ Trust Rising Stars. She selected Laura Trethewey. 


Books That Help in a COVID Blur:

The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father and Me by Emily Urquhart
A woman sits at a bar that feels like it’s in Montparnasse and looks in the mirror at herself and her father. They look like a Flemish still life painting. He says: “Who’s the old guy in the mirror?” So begins Urquhart’s wonderful journey into her father’s lifetime of art. He is losing his memory to Alzheimer’s, but he still paints. Does creativity diminish in old age? His daughter marshals the experience of other artists and speaks with such depth and naturalness of their work that you understand what it might mean to live with art as the fabric of your life. A celebration of life in an elegiac tone, just right for our COVID times.

The Back of the Turtle by Thomas King
Though it was written in 2014, I didn’t find this book until now. How to describe the way Thomas King imbues the natural world with his own indigenous spirituality? A dog that leads and connects the humans, a boy who builds a tower to bring the turtles back, a man who is saved by spirits who turn out to be people he saves. A mystery of who is who? Over it all the demonic presence of greed in the person of an agro-pharmaceuticals executive who poisons the land.  This is a hymn to the earth which we have ravaged and are in danger of losing.

Imperilled Ocean: Human Stories from a Changing Sea by Laura Trethewey
Reading this book you can feel that Trethewey’s passion is the ocean. It is the source of meaning, of memory, of the future. She offers a scientist’s precision in describing the ocean’s depths and dimensions, its weathers and living creatures. But she also has a storyteller’s gift for tracking down the people of the ocean, from the underwater sea photographer to the refugees forced to traverse its perils. Wonderful stories but she, and therefore you, know what is at stake: our human survival.

The Sounds of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
During her debilitating illness, a friend brought Bailey a snail she’d picked up in the nearby forest. Virtually paralyzed herself, Bailey becomes enamoured of the snail as she watches its graceful pace, its intelligent intent, its choices as it moves through the terrarium at night. She quotes poets from Rilke to Rumi (who knew so many poets wrote about snails); 19th century naturalists including Darwin; and learns all she can about how snails hear, see, smell. She ends her book by giving her thanks to all creatures who have shared their lives with her. Such a moving hymn to life. I never thought I could envy someone’s friendship with a snail.

Smokii Sumac

Smokii Sumac was a finalist for this year’s Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers


My favourite book so far of 2020 is The Skin We’re In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power by Desmond Cole. The way that Desmond wove his respect for Indigenous people, people with disabilities, 2SLGBTQIA communities, and so much more into this documentation of a year of Black experience in Canada is masterful and is truly an inspiration. He has set the bar extremely high for my own work, and I am indebted to him for that.

I just bought Chani Nicholas’ You Were Born for This: Astrology for Radical Self-Acceptance (and I’m already very much excited for it — this recommendation is for all the queer astrology nerds out there!) and Black Futures edited by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, which is described as “an archive of collective memory and exuberant testimony/a luminous map to navigate an opaque and disorienting present/an infinite geography of possible futures.” I am deeply looking forward to diving into this one over the holiday season. 

Laura Trethewey

Laura Trethewey was selected this year as a Writers’ Trust Rising Star by author Rosemary Sullivan.


Ice Walker: A Polar Bear’s Journey Through the Fragile Arctic by James Raffan
Using a simple, but elegant structure, James Raffan follows the life of a polar bear mother as she hunts, mates, and raises the next generation of cubs in a changing Arctic. At its heart, Ice Walker relates an environmental message that is important for all Canadians, and the wider world, to hear. But Raffan’s expert storytelling turns what might be an otherwise gloomy message into an adventure, filled with polar bear sex on the Arctic tundra, stalking seals, evading human hunters and, inevitably, a heartrending loss. Ice Walker is a feat of great science writing: a perfect blend of fact and fiction.

Ayelet Tsabari

Ayelet Tsabari was a mentor this year for the Writers’ Trust Mentorship. She selected and mentored Lishai Peel.


I am finishing this year with a list of books I want to read but haven’t gotten around to yet. Turns out, parenting and working during a pandemic leaves little time for recreational reading. Some of the books I look forward to reading are Seven by Farzana Doctor, Crosshairs by Catherine Hernandez, Blaze Island by Catherine Bush, and Songs from The End of The World by Saleema Nawaz. 

Of the few books I managed to read this year, I loved Tiny Lights for Travellers, a memoir by Naomi K. Lewis — a funny, honest, and original story about identity and loss. The book follows the narrator as she retraces her grandfather’s journey of escape from Nazi-occupied Netherlands in the summer of 1942. 

They Said This Would Be Fun by Eternity Martis was breathtaking. I was riveted and moved by this coming-of-age memoir about Martis’ experience as one of few Black students in a predominantly white campus and city. The book is a must-read. 

I also loved In/Appropriate, a book of interviews with Canadian authors on the writing of difference, edited by Kim Davids Mandar. The book addresses questions of appropriation and otherness through the voices of emerging and established Canadian authors. Full disclosure: I am one of the interviewees. Nevertheless, I loved reading the other voices in the collection, which included authors such as Eden Robinson, Ian Williams, Jael Richardson, and Alicia Elliott.  

Alexa Winik

Alexa Winik was the poetry winner forthis year’s RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers for her collection “Selections from Winter Stars Visible in December.” 


Zong! by M. NourbeSe Philip
In its reworking of an 18th century legal text regarding the massacre of 130 African people on a slave ship, Philip’s epochal poetry sequence is many things: language splintered, a ritual, a reckoning. A porous membrane between the living and the dead. To put it simply, Philip’s performance of memory is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before and has indelibly altered my sense of what poetry might be and invoke in the world. I highly recommend reading while listening along to one of Philip’s recorded performances.

The Weather by Lisa Robertson
I return to Lisa Robertson’s poetry whenever my interior world feels static. There’s always a fresh layer or something new to be sifted from the weird currents of Robertson’s language, and while quarantining in a small tenement flat this year, I found myself re-reading this long-time favourite like my life depended on it.

Corpse Whale by dg nanouk ookpik
Searching for a word for the feeling of reading a new-to-you poet and becoming mystified, even somewhat upset, that it’s taken you so long to do so? Easily one of my best reading surprises of 2020, okpik’s myth-inflected collection is a striking fusion of Inuit cosmologies, oceanic flora and fauna, and the crystalline imagery of opening lines like this: 
“We lying in the onyx rain          by garnet-cloaking icebergs.”

The Caiplie Caves by Karen Solie
As a Canadian currently living in Scotland, I have much affection for Karen Solie’s recent collection, embedded as it is in the coastal setting of the East Neuk. Laced with grief, self-questioning, and a precise, earthbound attention, this reimagining of the life of Saint Ethernan reads as a prophetic invitation towards environmental concern and a much-needed almanac for navigating the strange geographies of a heart-(and world-)in-crisis.