Scotiabank Giller Prize

Book Awards Season is (finally) here!!!

Some of us get excited about our kids going back to school, and some of us get excited about pumpkin spice season.  I’m sure I’m not alone in absolutely adoring fall because it marks the arrival of book award season — that wonderful time of the year when my TBR pile strains beyond all hope of ever reading every book on it — and I love it.

Here are some of the nominated works I hope to read soon:

From the Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist:

truckI Am a Truck by Michelle Winters

Agathe and Réjean Lapointe are about to celebrate their twentieth wedding anniversary when Réjean’s beloved Chevy Silverado is found abandoned at the side of the road—with no trace of Réjean. As her hope dwindles, Agathe falls in with her spirited coworker, Debbie, who teaches Agathe about rock and roll, and with Martin Bureau, the one man who might know the truth about Réjean’s fate. Set against the landscape of rural Acadia, I Am a Truck is a funny and moving tale about the possibilities and impossibilities of love and loyalty.*

Boy EatingThe Bone Mother by David Demchuk

Three neighbouring villages on the Ukrainian/Romanian border are the final refuge for the last of the mythical creatures of Eastern Europe. Now, on the eve of the war that may eradicate their kind—and with the ruthless Night Police descending upon their sanctuary—they tell their stories and confront their destinies.  Eerie and unsettling like the best fairy tales, these incisor-sharp portraits of ghosts, witches, sirens, and seers—and the mortals who live at their side and in their thrall—will chill your marrow and tear at your heart.*

mindsofwinterMinds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin

Fay Morgan and Nelson Nilsson have each arrived in Inuvik, Canada, about 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Both are in search of answers about a family member: Nelson for his estranged older brother, and Fay for her vanished grandfather. Driving Fay into town from the airport on a freezing January night, Nelson reveals a folder left behind by his brother. An image catches Fay’s eye: a clock she has seen before. Soon Fay and Nelson realize that their relatives have an extraordinary and historic connection — a secret share in one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of polar expedition.*

(I’ve read only one of the longlist, Eden Robinson’s Son of a Trickster and I highly recommend it for its refreshing blend of gritty and magic realism.)

From the Man Booker Prize Shortlist:

lincolnLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo  is an astonishing feat of imagination and a bold step forward from one of the most important and influential writers of his generation. Formally daring, generous in spirit, deeply concerned with matters of the heart, it is a testament to fiction’s ability to speak honestly and powerfully to the things that really matter to us. Saunders has invented a thrilling new form that deploys a kaleidoscopic, theatrical panorama of voices to ask a timeless, profound question: How do we live and love when we know that everything we love must end?*

(I’ve read two of the remaining five on the shortlist — Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West and Emily Fridlund’s History of Wolves.  I’m partway through a third, Paul Auster’s (possibly pointless but nonetheless enjoyable) 4 3 2 1.  So far my money is on Hamid to take the prize; I’d go for the audiobook read by the author.)

From the Kirkus Prize for Young Readers Literature:

marrowthievesThe Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

Humanity has nearly destroyed its world through global warming, but now an even greater evil lurks. The indigenous people of North America are being hunted and harvested for their bone marrow, which carries the key to recovering something the rest of the population has lost: the ability to dream. In this dark world, Frenchie and his companions struggle to survive as they make their way up north to the old lands. For now, survival means staying hidden – but what they don’t know is that one of them holds the secret to defeating the marrow thieves.*

(If you haven’t already read it, please stop reading this post immediately and check out fellow finalist Angie Thomas’ gut wrenching The Hate U GiveIt’s topical, powerfully written, and well worth reading for Starr’s dad’s ideas about Harry Potter alone.)

From the National Book Award Longlist:

naomi kleinNo Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need by Naomi Klein

Remember when it all seemed to be getting better? Before Trump happened? What went wrong, and what can we do about it? Naomi Klein – scourge of brand bullies, disaster capitalists and climate liars – shows us how we got to this surreal and dangerous place, how to stop it getting worse and how, if we keep our heads, we can seize the opportunity to make it better.*

manhattan beachManhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Anna Kerrigan, nearly twelve years old, accompanies her father to visit Dexter Styles, a man who, she gleans, is crucial to the survival of her father and her family. She is mesmerized by the sea beyond the house and by some charged mystery between the two men.

With the atmosphere of a noir thriller, Egan’s first historical novel follows Anna and Styles into a world populated by gangsters, sailors, divers, bankers, and union men. Manhattan Beach is a deft, dazzling, propulsive exploration of a transformative moment in the lives and identities of women and men, of America and the world. It is a magnificent novel by the author of A Visit from the Goon Squad, one of the great writers of our time.*

pachinkoPachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan. So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history.*

I’d love to hear what book award nominees excite you.

Happy stacking! Happy reading!


*Blurbs provided by publishers.

Booker Prize Shortlist

I have a confession to make: I’d only read two of the Man Booker Prize longlist when the shortlist was announced.  Of the two (Eileen and My Name is Lucy Barton), I strongly preferred Eileena confidently written character study of an extremely unlikable young woman.  Now that it’s been shortlisted, I’m very interested to see how it fares against the other shortlisted titles.  They are:

The SelloutThe Sellout by Paul Beatty (available in book and ebook)

After his father’s death a young black man seeks to reinstate slavery in the inconsequential town of Dickens, California.  It’s a satirical look at race relations in the US.

Hot MilkHot Milk by Deborah Levy (available in book)

Levy’s previous novel Swimming Home was awash in beautiful language.  I’m very much looking forward to Hot Milk, the story of a claustrophobic mother-daughter relationship set in Spain.

His Bloody ProjectHis Bloody Project by Graeme Mcrae Burnett (available in ebook)

A historical literary thriller from a small publishing house?  Yes, please.  Already a winner for beating out some huge names to land a spot on the shortlist, Burnett’s His Bloody Project promises to keep you enthralled to the last page.

All That Man IsAll That Man Is by David Szalay (available in book and ebook)

It’s wonderful that both Canadian longlisters made the shortlist.  What does manhood look like at the different stages of life?  Manhood is the central preoccupation of this collection of interconnected short stories.

Do Not Say We Have NothingDo Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien (available in book and ebook)

This is Thien’s year.  Her novel Do Not Say We Have Nothing has also been longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  It’s a sprawling family saga set in present-day Vancouver and China before, during, and after the Tiananmen Square protests.

Get your holds in now!  The winner will be announced on October 25.





Literature, Empathy and the Migrant Experience

As the migrant crisis continues to unveil its complexities over news screens everywhere and Canada contemplates how to best welcome and make room for refugees in our communities, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a human being and citizen of the world.

How do you build friendships with people from an unfamiliar culture where etiquette, language and customs collide with your own? How can our community be as welcoming and inclusive as possible when, for many Canadians, understanding what it’s like to continually worry about the safety and well-being of you and your family is an alien concept?

In other words, how do you build empathy?

Many have written excellent pieces and done studies on how literature can help readers to better understand and connect with others.  In his Atlantic article, author Joe Fassler explains this process best by saying that, “Literature gives us a broad spectrum of human possibilities. It teaches us how to feel other people suffering. When you read a good novel, you forget about the nationality of the character. You forget about his or her religion. You forget about his skin color or her skin color. You only understand the human. You understand that this is a human being, the same way we are. And so reading great novels absolutely can remake us as much better human beings. ”

Below I’ve put together a short list of Canadian novels which explore the migrant experience for readers who are interested in pushing their limits of human understanding. You’ll notice that while many of the titles are contemporary, I have also included American novelist John Steinbeck’s American classic Grapes of Wrath, which although it was published in 1939 is still as relevant today as ever as it chronicles the hardships faced by a poor Midwest family forced off their land and into the sea of migrants heading West during the American Dust Bowl. empathy exams

In addition to these titles, NVCL’s March Book Club will be taking a look at Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams . If you’re interested in learning more and participating, please join us on March 2nd for what promises to be an interesting discussion (It’s also my first book club at NVCL!).

Finally, February 22nd is also the deadline for the Library Small Grants program, an initiative we are piloting here at the library to build creative and community-led cross-cultural relationships here on the North Shore.  The deadline is Monday so please don’t hesitate to apply, we’d love to hear from you!


Recommended Reads:

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill theillegal

One of my most anticipated reads of the year is Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s first novel since the bestselling epic, The Book of Negroes. The Illegal tells the story of Keita, an elite marathoner and refugee from a fictionalized country in the centre of the Indian Ocean called Zantoroland who uses his running prowess to escape to Freedom Land—a familiar stand-in for the wealthy, democratic Western world.  In an interview with CBC, Hill said “I think we have trouble imagining the lives of refugees and stateless people. With refugees, you see all these pictures of these people who are displaced or on the move… It’s important to remember that each of these people has a story: has a mother and a father and perhaps children, lovers, aptitudes and skills. There are doctors, engineers and lawyers in those groups of displaced people, as well as people of every other economic class.” 


The Cockroach by Rawi Hage  cockroach cover

Published in 2008, The Cockroach was the finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was also selected as one of CBC’s Canada Reads finalists in 2015.  Through flashbacks and conversations with his therapist following a failed suicide attempt, The Cockroach tells the story of one former refugee’s violent childhood in a war-torn country, forward into his current urban life, and out into the frozen night-time streets of Montreal, where the thief survives on the edge of society.


Year of the Runaways The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Nominated for this year’s Man Booker Prize, this book takes a slightly different look at the migrant experience by highlighting the plight of economic migrants, in this case by telling the story of the difficult, lonely, and at times despairing lives of four illegal migrants who made their way to Sheffield, UK from India in search of a better life.


Ru by Kim Thúy

In vignettes that shift back and forth between past and present, Ru tells the story of a young woman forced to leave her Saigon home during the Vietnam War. Thúy traces the woman’s journey from childhood in an affluent Saigon neighbourhood to youth in a crowded Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec, where she struggles to fit in — all aspects of the author’s own life story.


The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck   JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrath

One of my all-time favourite reads, this is one of those stories which has the power to reach and touch readers who have difficulty stepping outside their North American experience. It examines the plight of the Joad family as they are forced off their Midwest homestead and join the sea of migrants heading west to California during the 1930’s Dust Bowl. One thing that I found most striking about the book is how Steinbeck is able to fully realize what happens when dehumanizing labels like “migrant”, “refugee” and in this case “Okie” are assigned as tools to allow others to step back and withdraw their responsibility to care and empathize as fellow human beings.


-Mikale Fenton

What to do about Valentines Day?


When a colleague recently asked me to write the inaugural Valentine’s Day post I admittedly filled with a sense of dread. Valentine’s Day has always been a bit of contentious holiday in my life. On the one hand it’s an easy event to make fun of, admonish, or loathe—especially if you’re single.  My first inclination was to put together a cynic’s guide for survival full of tales of heartbreak, unrequited love, and self-help literature devoted to independent living and the joys of detachment (still tempting!).

But is that too easy?  Is Valentine’s Day really just another “Hallmark-holiday” or is there something to be said for an occasion which, as Francine Prose recently stated, “encourage[s] us not only to acknowledge but also to embrace the broadest, the least judgmental and the most generous definition of love”?

In reality I am a closet-romantic with a soft spot for a good love story. One of the primary reasons that I enjoy literature is because it offers an opportunity to explore the endless complexities of love, intimacy and relationships. And so, in honour of the bitter romantic in us all, I present a short-list of some of my favourite and unflinching love stories—where no happy endings are guaranteed.


Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler barneysversion

In this atypical love story, Barney Panofsky—the ultimate sympathetic anti-hero and unreliable narrator—recounts his life, friendships, three marriages and trouble with the law, with varying levels of detail and accuracy as his mind and memory disintegrates. I’ve always adored this novel for Barney’s undying, hopeless and misguided devotion to his third wife Miriam Greenberg as he continually battles against his own worst enemy—himself.


Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

birdsongCue the orchestral ballads, this is the most epic romance you’ll find on my list. Birdsong has it all; dramatic historical wartime setting? Check. War hero and sumptuous local French woman? Check. Gratuitous sex scenes? Double check. Yet through it all, this novel somehow manages to avoid cliché and pulp, and instead remain rooted in reality with detailed historical accuracy and complex, rich characters.



Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill:dept of spec

This is one of those books you can read in one sitting and are left clutching its pages and staring at the ceiling for hours afterwards. This gorgeous novel offers a concise and devastating portrait of a marriage which makes you empathize so deeply for the protagonist that you may want to reach in and give her a hug.

Other title’s worth perusing:

  • Just Kids by Patti Smith
  • Play it As it Lays by Joan Didion
  • Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami
  • This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
  • Tender Is The Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
  • Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez


How about you? What are you reading this Valentines Day?


North Shore Giller Prize Party!

The 2nd Annual North Shore Giller Prize Viewing Party returns to North Vancouver on Tuesday, November 10 from 5:30pm-8:30pm.  

Join notable CBC Radio broadcaster and acclaimed author, Grant Lawrence, to celebrate Canadian Literature. The Scotiabank Giller Prize Awards Gala will be livestreamed from Toronto.

There will be light appies, readings from the 5 shortlisted books, beverages and raffle prizes.

Let’s have a look at the opening passages of shortlisted titles:

from Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis:

One evening in Toronto, the gods Apollo and Hermes were at the Wheat Sheaf Tavern. Apollo had allowed his beard to grow until it reached his clavicle. Hermes, more fastidious, was cleanshaven, but his clothes were distinctly terrestrial: black jeans, a black leather jacket, a blue shirt.

They had been drinking, but it wasn’t the alcohol that intoxicated them. It was the worship their presence elicited. The Wheat Sheaf felt like a temple, and the gods were gratified. In the men’s washroom, Apollo allowed parts of himself to be touched by an older man in a business suit. This pleasure, more intense than any the man had known or would ever know again, cost him eight years of his life.

from Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated by Donald Winkler:

My grandmother, mother of my father, often said:

“There are no thieves in Arvida.”

For a long time, it’s true, there were only good people in Arvida. Honest and industrious Catholics, and the Protestant owners and managers of the aluminum plant, who were basically, if you could believe my father, good human beings. You could leave your tools lying around in the garage. You could leave car doors unlocked and house doors open.

There was a very beautiful photo from after the war, which was, like all beautiful photos, an empty picture, with practically nothing in it and everything outside it. In it, a dozen bicycles were strewn over the lawn in front of the clinic. Outside the photo, in the building’s basement, children were lined up before a large white curtain, waiting to be vaccinated against polio. Outside the photo, the few times I saw it, my grandmother pressed her finger down on it, saying:

“You see? There are no thieves in Arvida.”

That’s what she said all her life, my grandmother, mother of my father. Except for about twenty years when, from time to time, she looked at my father and said:

“There were no thieves in Arvida. Now there’s you.”

from Outline by Rachel Cusk

Before the flight I was invited for lunch at a London club with a billionaire I’d been promised had liberal credentials. He talked in his open-necked shirt about the new software he was developing, that could help organisations identify the employees most likely to rob and betray them in the future. We were meant to be discussing a literary magazine he was thinking of starting up: unfortunately I had to leave before we arrived at that subject. He insisted on paying for a taxi to the airport, which was useful since I was late and had a heavy suitcase.

The billionaire had been keen to give me the outline of his life story, which had begun unprepossessingly and ended – obviously – with him being the relaxed, well-heeled man who sat across the table from me today. I wondered whether in fact what he wanted now was to be a writer, with the literary magazine as his entrée. A lot of people want to be writers: there was no reason to think you couldn’t buy your way into it. This man had bought himself in, and out, of a great many things.

from Daydreams of Angels by Heather O’Neill

One afternoon in 1946 a child was telling his toy soldiers the tale of a certain tall, menacing-looking Gypsy who was walking down a road in rural France. He had a trained bear and he played the violin. Something magical was meant to happen to him, naturally. However, in the middle of the tale, the child was called to lunch and never returned to the story.

The Gypsy stood there, contemplating his existence. He wasn’t even a real Gypsy, not a member of the great Romany people, but more like the fictional kind, like the ones that you see in old-fashioned storybooks. He had on a pair of black leather boots, a pinstriped suit and a hat with its brim pulled down over one eye. He had a twinkle in the eye that you could see and a violin case under his arm. At least the boy must have thought that Gypsies were the most handsome men in the world, because he was darn good-looking. He was just a stereotype, a collection of spiffy attributes and flashy characteristics. He was one dimensional in that sense. He had no depth.

from Martin John by Anakana Schofield

Mam repeatedly asks whether or not he can hear her — d’ya hear me Martin John? Because we can assume she doesn’t feel heard. She doesn’t want to hear what it is he would say, if he were to speak the truth. She saw a man on telly once. She has seen plenty men on telly, but this one frightened her. She has seen many men on telly who frighten her. But he frightened her in a particular way. He frightened her the way she feels frightened when she sees someone lash out at a dog. In actual fact, she’s not a woman easily frighted. The dark, insects, vermin, death, moths in the flour — none bother her.

But a glance, a moment, in which there’s an indication of what might be the truth of a person sits longer at her. A rat would run under the cupboard sooner than look at you. A man or woman who lets a boot fly at a dog or throws an item at a chicken in their way has a raw and sealed-in-something that she’s convinced can never be dislodged. That man on the television made her afraid because she recognized something of her son in him. There were many who talked of their crimes in that programme. They talked like they were uncomfortable ingredients in a recipe. Something hard to shop for like chopped walnuts, ground lemon rind or tamarind. They used the names of the crime, I murdered, I raped, I killed, I punched. Not him. The details are gone. He talked above and around his crime. He remained oblivious or chose oblivion. He was unsure why he was in here. He did not say he hadn’t done it. He did not say it was a mistake. He merely said nothing either way.

Limited tickets available, get yours today! 

All funds benefit the 2016 North Shore Writers Festival, co-planned by the North Vancouver District Public Library, the North Vancouver City Library, and the West Vancouver Memorial Library.

Sponsored by: The North Shore News
Food and beverage provided by Thrifty Foods, Bridge Brewing Company, and Loblaw’s City Market.

For more information, email Meghan Crowe at


Literary Prize Lovers’ TBR

gillerIt’s been an exciting week for literary fiction.  First up was the announcement of The Scotiabank Giller Prize’s 2015 longlist.  The list features twelve titles, and includes fantastic authors like Heather O’Neill (who read at this year’s North Shore Writers Fest).  With the shortlist being announced on October 5, only the most dedicated Canadian fiction fans will have time to tackle all twelve titles in time.  (Is it just me who spends an inordinate amount of energy ghost judging literary awards?)  If you only read a few, here’s what I recommend:

outlineOutline by Rachel Cusk

Get to know the main character of Outline, not through her actions, but for the things people confide in her.  The novel is told in ten conversations.  If the concept doesn’t grab you, it’s worth reading for the writing alone.

trueAll True Not a Lie in it by Alix Hawley

I enjoy historical fiction about the New World.  In Hawley’s debut novel she invites us into the man (and myth) of Daniel Boone (of whom I must confess I know nothing).  Author Alexei Zentner raves, “Alix Hawley’s debut novel is audacious and bold, like an early Ondaatje, with writing that is luscious, lyrical, and bloodthirsty.” 

undermajorUndermajordomo Minor by Patrick deWitt*

A foreboding castle.  A colourful cast of villagers.  A dark secret.  A beguiling beauty.  Welcome to Patrick deWitt’s world.


bookerAnd then this morning the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize was announced.  I’d read only two titles on the longlist (Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, and Lalami’s The Moor’s Account) and was really hoping to see the latter make the cut.  Sadly, it didn’t, which only makes me more interested to get to know the titles that bested it.  My husband, has already read three of the shortlist and recommends:

sevenkillingsA Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

First off, there are way more than seven killings in this violent novel about a turbulent time in Jamaican history.  Second, it clearly evokes a sense of place and character.  Third, it’s HUGE, which is always an appealing quality in a fall read, no?

A Little Life by Hana Yanagiharalittlelife

See how anguished the guy on the cover looks?  Apparently the whole book is like that.  The whole book.  All 720 excruciatingly beautifully written pages of that level of pain.

What about you?  Are you excited for awards season?  Do you try and read the longlists, shortlists, or do you wait for the winner to be announced?  Sound off in the comments.

Happy Reading!


Giller Shortlist Announced

I don’t think it’s any secret that I think that Lisa Moore is an extraordinary writer.  She writes lines that I feel in my gut and stay in my heart.  Her novel Caught, the tale of an escaped convict trying to reconnect with his partner in crime, is my favourite novel so far this year.


Read it. You know you want to.

So I was thrilled to find out that the novel has been shortlisted for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Competing against Moore for the $50 000 prize are:

goinghomeDennis Bock for Going Home Again

Charlie and Nate are two brothers each with a failed marriage under their belts.  After decades apart, the two reconcile and try to be each other’s family.  Then Charlie meets up with an old love Holly and Nate finds himself attracted to Holly’s teenaged daughter.

Lynn Coady for her short-story collection Hellgoinghellgoing

Coady’s Hellgoing is the sole collection on the shortlist this year.  In Quill and Quire magazine, reviewer Alex Wood raved, “Misreadings, miscommunications, and disconnections lead to moments of awkwardness and revelation. To her credit, Coady makes us feel every bit of her characters’ confusion and discomfort in a collection as difficult as it is insightful and rewarding.”

cataractCraig Davidson for Cataract City

Canada’s answer to Elmore Leonard writes about Southern Ontario in decline in this tale of two childhood friends who find themselves on different sides of the law in adulthood.

Dan Vyleta for The Crooked Maidcrooked

It’s Vienna in 1948.  Anna Beer is returning to the city she left to find her estranged husband.  Robert Seidel is also returning to Vienna to visit his ailing stepfather.  Their paths cross in interesting ways in this gothic novel.

What a deliciously dark shortlist.  The winner will be announced November 5th live on CBC Television.  Those who don’t want to celebrate alone, can join in the Scotiabank Giller Light Bash here in Vancouver.  You can also see Lisa Moore at the upcoming Vancouver Writers Fest.