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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Canadian Literary Awards

Canada’s three major literary prizes are the 14 Governor General’s Literary Awards, the 7 Writers’ Trust Awards, and the Scotiabank Giller Prize.  Together, these total about $650,000; all have been awarded in the last month or so.  Of course, these are not the only literary awards in the country.  Here are a few others of note: First Novel Award - $40,000 is given to the best first novel in English published the previous year by a citizen or resident of Canada (

Arthur Ellis Awards – 7 awards are given for the best Canadian crime and mystery writing published in the previous year (

Aurora Awards – 8 awards are given out annually for the best Canadian science fiction and fantasy literary works (

British Columbia National Award for Non-Fiction - $40,000 is awarded to a non-fiction book authored by a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident of Canada (

Burt Award for First Nations, M├ętis and Inuit Literature - $12,000 goes to the best works of young adult literature published by indigenous writers in Canada (

Canadian Jewish Literary Awards – 9 awards are given to the year's best works of literature by Jewish Canadian writers or on Jewish cultural and historical topics (

Carter V. Cooper Short Fiction Competition - $15,000 in total is awarded to the best story by an emerging writer and the best story by a writer at any career point (

Cundill History Prize - A prize of US$75,000 is awarded annually to the book that embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal (

Danuta Gleed Literary Award - $10,000 is given to the best debut short fiction collection by a Canadian author in English language (

Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBTQ Emerging Writers - $4,000 is given to an emerging writer whose body of work demonstrates great potential and who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer (

Donner Prize - $50,000 is awarded for the best public policy book by a Canadian (

Doug Wright Award – this prize is awarded annually to the author of the best Canadian work and the most promising talent published in English in the cartooning medium (

Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction  - $10,000 is awarded to the best creative nonfiction book with a "Canadian locale and/or significance" that is a Canadian writer's "first or second published book (

Griffin Poetry Prize - $65,000 each is given to one Canadian and one international poet who writes in the English language (

Joe Shuster Awards – several awards are given are given out annually for outstanding achievements in the creation of comic books, graphic novels, webcomics, and comics retailers and publishers by Canadians (

J.W. Dafoe Book Prize - $10,000 is awarded to the best book on “Canada, Canadians and/or Canada’s place in the world” (

Kobo Emerging Writer Prizes - $10,000 each is given to three budding Canadian authors of literary fiction, speculative fiction and non-fiction (

Kobzar Literary Award - $25,000 is given to recognize outstanding contribution to Canadian literary arts by authors who develop a Ukrainian Canadian theme with literary merit (

Lane Anderson Awards - $10,000 each is presented to Canadian non-fiction science in two categories: adult and young readers (

Lionel Gelber Prize - $15,000 is given to the world’s best non-fiction book in English on foreign affairs that seeks to deepen public debate on significant international issues (

Lorne Pierce Medal – this medal is awarded every two years by the Royal Society of Canada to recognize achievement of special significance and conspicuous merit in imaginative or critical literature written in either English or French (

National Business Book Award - $30,000 is given to outstanding talent in Canadian business writing (

RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers - Alternating each year between poetry and short fiction, the $10,000 award helps developing artists to help build their professional careers (

RBC Taylor Prize - $25,000 is awarded to the author of a book of literary non-fiction that best combines a superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and a subtlety of thought and perception (

ReLit Award – this prize celebrates the best book from an independent publisher (

Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing - $25,000 is awarded annually for a book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers and has the potential to shape or influence thinking on Canadian political life (

Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour - $15,000 is presented for the best book of humour written in English by a Canadian writer (

Sunburst Awards for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic - $2,500 in total is awarded to to the best Canadian speculative fiction in three categories: adult, young adult and short story (

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award - $30,000 is given for the best literary work by Canadian authors for children aged one through 12 (

Vine Awards for Canadian Jewish Writing - $10,000 is given to each of five category winners to celebrate excellence in Canadian Jewish writing (

These are just the national awards.  There are any number of regional awards (e.g. the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award and the Atlantic Book Awards), provincial awards (e.g. British Columbia has 8 BC Book Prizes; Ontario has 4 Trillium Book Awards; and Newfoundland and Labrador has its Winterset Award), and even awards given by cities for its writers (e.g. City of Vancouver Book Award, City of Toronto Book Award, Ottawa Book Award). 

With all of these awards, one might ask whether Canada actually has too many awards.  Mark Medley recently addressed this issue in The Globe and Mail:

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Shortlists for 2017 Costa Book Awards

The Costa Book Awards is one of the UK's most prestigious and popular literary prizes and recognizes some of the most enjoyable books of the year, written by authors based in the UK and Ireland.  Uniquely, the prize has five categories - First Novel, Novel, Biography, Poetry and Children's Book - with one of the five winning books selected as the overall Costa Book of the Year. It is the only prize which places children’s books alongside adult books in this way.  Today the shortlists were announced. 

There are four nominees in the Novel category:

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. 
Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed.  The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must.

 Under a Pole Star by Stef Penney
A whaler's daughter, Flora Mackie first crossed the Arctic Circle at the age of twelve, falling in love with the cold and unforgiving terrain and forging lifelong bonds with the Inuit people who have carved out an existence on its icy plains. She sets out to become a scientist and polar explorer, despite those who believe that a young woman has no place in this harsh world, and in 1892, her determination leads her back to northern Greenland at the head of a British expedition.  Yearning for wider horizons, American geologist Jakob de Beyn joins a rival expedition led by the furiously driven Lester Armitage. When the path of Flora's expedition crosses theirs, the three lives become intertwined. All are obsessed with the north, a place of violent extremes: perpetual night and endless day; frozen seas and coastal meadows; heroism and selfishness. Armitage's ruthless desire to be the undisputed leader of polar discovery sets in motion a chain of events whose tragic outcomes--both for his team of scientists and the indigenous people of Greenland--will reverberate for years to come.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.  Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

It begins with a painting won in a raffle: fifteen sunflowers, hung on the wall by a woman who believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things. And then there are two boys, Ellis and Michael, who are inseparable. And the boys become men,a nd then Annie walks into their lives, and it changes nothing and everything.

 The category winners will be announced on January 2, and the Costa Book of the Year, on January 30.

For the titles in the other categories, go to

Monday, November 20, 2017

Recent Award-Winning Fiction

Several literary prize winners have been announced recently. 

Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
The winner of this $50,000 prize is David Chariandy for Brother.
Michael and Francis are the sons of Trinidadian immigrants; their father has disappeared and their mother works double, sometimes triple, shifts so her boys might fulfill the elusive promise of their adopted home.  Coming of age in The Park, a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city, Michael and Francis battle against the prejudices and low expectations that confront them as young men of black and brown ancestry -- teachers stream them into general classes; shopkeepers see them only as thieves; and strangers quicken their pace when the brothers are behind them.  Always Michael and Francis escape into the cool air of the Rouge Valley, a scar of green wilderness that cuts through their neighbourhood, where they are free to imagine better lives for themselves.  Propelled by the pulsing beats and styles of hip hop, Francis, the older of the two brothers, dreams of a future in music.  Michael's dreams are of Aisha, the smartest girl in their high school whose own eyes are firmly set on a life elsewhere.  But the bright hopes of all three are violently, irrevocably thwarted by a tragic shooting, and the police crackdown and suffocating suspicion that follow.


National Book Award for Fiction
Jesmyn Ward won for Sing, Unburied, Sing.
Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. He doesn’t lack in fathers to study, chief among them his Black grandfather, Pop. But there are other men who complicate his understanding: his absent White father, Michael, who is in prison; his absent White grandfather, Big Joseph, who won’t acknowledge his existence; and the memories of his dead uncle, Given, who died as a teenager.  His mother, Leonie, is an inconsistent presence in his and his toddler sister’s lives.  She is an imperfect mother in constant conflict with herself and those around her.  She wants to be a better mother but can’t put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use. Simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high, Leonie is embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances.  When the children’s father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary.  At Parchman, there is another thirteen-year-old boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

I’ve just finished reading this book.  My review will be posted on December 5.

For further information about the winners of the other National Book Awards, go to

Scotiabank Giller Prize
Michael Redhill won this $100,000 prize for his novel Bellevue Square.
Jean Mason has a doppelganger. She's never seen her, but others swear they have. Apparently, her identical twin hangs out in Kensington Market, where she sometimes buys churros and drags an empty shopping cart down the streets, like she's looking for something to put in it. Jean's a grown woman with a husband and two kids, as well as a thriving bookstore in downtown Toronto, and she doesn't rattle easily—not like she used to. But after two customers insist they've seen her double, Jean decides to investigate.  She begins at the crossroads of Kensington Market: a city park called Bellevue Square. Although she sees no one who looks like her, it only takes a few visits to the park for her to become obsessed with the possibility of encountering her twin in the flesh. With the aid of a small army of locals who hang around in the park, she expands her surveillance, making it known she'll pay for information or sightings. A peculiar collection of drug addicts, scam artists, philanthropists, philosophers and vagrants—the regulars of Bellevue Square—are eager to contribute to Jean's investigation. But when some of them start disappearing, she fears her alleged double has a sinister agenda. Unless Jean stops her, she and everyone she cares about will face a fate much stranger than death.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

THE MARROW THIEVES: Internationally Recognized YA Fiction from Canada

When I was a teacher-librarian, I read quite a bit of Young Adult fiction.  Since I’ve retired, I’ve read very little; however, there’s a title that I think I will be picking up: The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline.  Dimaline recently won one of Canada's oldest and most prestigious prizes, the Governor General's Literary Award for young people's literature ($25,000) and took home the 2017 Kirkus Prize for young readers' literature.  The American award comes with a purse of $50,000 U.S. (approximately $64,370 CAD).

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.

To listen to Shelagh Rogers's interview with Dimaline on “The Next Chapter”, listen at

Saturday, November 18, 2017

ALIAS GRACE: Miniseries and Audiobook

I recently finished watching the made-for-television adaptation of Alias Grace.  Based on the award-winning novel by Margaret Atwood and inspired by true events, Alias Grace tells the story of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a young, poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who - along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) - finds herself accused and convicted of the infamous 1843 double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin).  Grace is visited by handsome psychiatrist Dr. Jordan (Edward Holcroft), who could help set Grace free if he writes her a positive report, so she recites for him her long, grim life story, leading up to the murders. 

I really enjoyed all six episodes.  I agree with a BBC review:  Alias Grace is a solid, well-made piece of television that doesn't hide its intelligence under a bonnet, as costume dramas can do. Nor does it attempt to keep your attention with soap opera style cliff-hangers. It is better than that” ( The Guardian newspaper was even more glowing in its praise, calling it “a blessed adaptation” (

I would certainly recommend the miniseries, though, of course, I’d recommend reading the novel even more.  If you haven’t read the book, you might consider listening to it; Sarah Gadon, who plays the imprisoned Grace Marks in the adaptation, is narrating an audio version of Alias Grace, which has just been launched on ( 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review of SON OF A TRICKSTER by Eden Robinson

3 Stars
Jared Martin lives in Kitimat, British Columbia, in a dysfunctional home.  His parents are divorced; his father is recovering from drug addiction and is financially strapped, while his mother, with whom Jared lives, has anger-management issues and keeps making poor relationship choices.  To financially support his father, Jared sells marijuana-laced cookies.  His life can only be described as dismal; the arrival of his neighbours’ granddaughter brings Jared some joy, but she has issues of her own.  Then things become downright weird when he starts having strange nightmares, seeing ghosts, and hearing talking animals.

There is little structure to the novel.  Just as Jared drifts through life, the novel feels adrift.  It seems to meander aimlessly through Jared’s days and nights of drinking, drug usage, being bullied, and having sex.  The endless partying and verbal and physical violence get tiresome.  After focusing on hyper realism, the novel changes shape and veers into magic realism where fireflies philosophize and conjugate French verbs and where river otters want to devour him. 

The message of the novel seems to be that “The world is hard . . . [so] You have to be harder.”  This advice is mentioned at least four times.  It is certainly a message that Jared takes to heart.  Despite his difficult circumstances, he never gives up.  He is, in fact, a person the reader will come to like.  Jared is caring, compassionate, and forgiving.  He takes responsibility for paying bills when his mother leaves without explanation; he helps his elderly neighbours; he helps his father catch up on late rent payments; and he makes time for people who once bullied him.  He is so kind and generous that people take advantage of him.  Of course he is not a perfect person; his sarcasm often gets him into trouble, and his substance abuse is certainly not admirable. 

Besides having a realistic protagonist, the novel is realistic in other ways as well.  The dialogue, especially that used in texting, is definitely that of contemporary teenagers.  Though his life may be more difficult than that of most teenagers, Jared’s concerns and interests are those of a typical adolescent:  social acceptance, school, partying, sex. 

Magic realism with its supernatural elements is not a genre I enjoy so the last third of the book had little interest for me.  What bothered me in particular is that it comes out of nowhere.  For example, there has been no indication that a character has supernatural powers but then she is identified as a witch:  “’She’s got this whole imaginary world going where she’s a big powerful witch and she’s being chased by mythical creatures.’”

This book appears on the shortlist for the 2017 Giller Prize and has received many positive reviews, but I was not overly impressed with it, other than that it is brutally realistic.  I think it would appeal to young people because it does address issues they face, though some school libraries might reject it because of its offensive language, graphic violence, and explicit scenes of sex and drug/alcohol abuse. 

I read that this book is the first of a trilogy, but I don’t think I’ll be reading any sequels.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

100 Novel Art Project: Typing 100 Novels on 100 Pages in 10 Years

Tim Youd, a performance artist, is half way through his 100 Novels project in which he plans, over a 10-year period, to type 100 novels, each on a single sheet of paper.  Each novel will be typed on the same make/model typewriter in a location charged with literary significance specific to the subject novel.  For example, he typed William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury at Faulkner’s former home in Oxford, Mississippi, and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms at Lake Maggiore in Switzerland where the novel’s protagonist crosses the lake in an escape to neutral territory.

Youd explains the process:  “Each novel is retyped on a single sheet of paper, backed by a second sheet, run repeatedly through the typewriter.  As the retyping progresses, the top sheet becomes saturated with ink, while the undersheet becomes embossed with indentation.  As the top sheet further distresses, ink bleeds through to the undersheet.  At the end of the performance, the two sheets are separated, and mounted side-by-side in a diptych.  This diptych serves as a formal relic, containing the repeated rectangle within the rectangle geometry present in two pages of an open book. The entire novel is present, but entirely illegible” ( 

Youd claims that his ability to read in a deep and devoted way has improved.  He explains that, “The performance itself is a devotional and close reading of the novel (the reading is silent, the sound is the typewriter alone).  My endeavor is not merely to copy the book, it is to experience deep engagement with the book.  As I have come to understand the project, it is at its heart an effort to be a truly good reader every time I sit down, and to become a better reader as I continue to move through the entire 100 novel cycle.  Most people have had the out-of-body experience that occurs during the course of an engrossing read.  It is a transportation to a higher plane of consciousness, and I think may be equivalent to a religious ecstasy” ( 

For some photos of the completed diptychs, go to  The site also has performance photos and a list of completed novels.