Writers' Trust Best Books of 2017 chosen by Canadian writers

2017 Best Books of the Year

As a positive flip side to 4pm sunsets, the Canadian winter offers long nights perfect for reading. That means it’s the ideal time for our Best Books of the Year list, featuring captivating reads that inspired our 2017 literary award and program honourees. Roam around 20th century Montreal, wade through the Great Lakes, discover rare Amazonian fauna, and see your teen angst through new eyes—all from the comfort of your reading nook. Because we could all use a dose of healthy winter hibernation.

Kamal Al-Solaylee

David Chariandy BrotherBrother by David Chariandy. A beautiful, lyrical, and politically resonant portrait of brown and black lives that, inexplicably, remain marginal to the narrative of Toronto and Canadian literature in general. Highly recommended.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill. Part Dickensian, part bohemian, this tale of two orphans in Montreal in the 1930s is a feat of storytelling and further evidence of the spell that O’Neill casts on her readers with every sentence she writes.

Maximum Canada: Why 35 Million Canadians Are Not Enough by Doug Saunders. Without a doubt Canada’s most astute political commentator, Saunders digs into history to puncture the myth of a welcoming, immigrant-friendly Canada and makes a (challenging) case for a future in which its survival will depend on tripling its population.

One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul. Few essayists have the storytelling chops of Koul or her at-time savage, at-times warm wit. If your life has been touched by sexism or racism, or both, this wise and sharp essay collection is as therapeutic as it is inspirational.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. A fairytale, a feverish dream and a tragic commentary on how civil wars and exodus after exodus of people alter the appearance and physical laws of this planet. Hamid should have won the Booker this year.

And shoutouts to three local heroes for their amazing books: Naben Ruthnum’s Curry: Eating, Reading and Race; Lesley Krueger’s Mad Richard; and Mariam Pirbhai’s Outside People and Other Stories.

Kamal Al-Solaylee won this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone).

Sharon Bala

The End of Music by Jamie FitzpatrickBarrelling Forward by Eva Crocker. The stories in this collection are peopled by unforgettable characters and written with the precise language of a writer who has an unflinching gaze. This is only Eva's debut. Expect great things!

So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum. As a writer, it was difficult to read Rebecca's book and not feel a little jealous. She has written that elusive thing – a quiet and meditative story that is simultaneously a compulsive read.

The End of Music by Jamie Fitzpatrick. Jamie is one of those rare writers who inhabits his characters so utterly and fully that you believe every fictional word is fact.

American War by Omar El Akkad. To read American War is to look into a crystal ball and see a terrifying future. Required reading for absolutely everyone.

And one from across the pond: The Pier Falls by Mark Haddon. A departure from his light-hearted novels, Haddon's short stories are dark, disturbing, and utterly compelling. "Wodwo" is the stand out story and recommended Christmas night reading.

Sharon Bala won this year’s Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize for her short story “Butter Tea at Starbucks.” Her debut novel, The Boat People, will be published by McClelland & Stewart in January 2018.

Carleigh Baker

The Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald DerricksonThe Reconciliation Manifesto: Recovering the Land, Rebuilding the Economy by Arthur Manuel and Grand Chief Ronald Derrickson, preface by Naomi Klein. Reconciliation is becoming a buzzword with little meaning, but the fight for Indigenous self-determination goes on. This may be the most important book on Indigenous self-determination ever written: concise, methodical, and accessible for all readers.


Carleigh Baker was a finalist for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her debut story collection Bad Endings.

Christie Blatchford

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara CorbettA Coast to Coast Walk by Alfred Wainwright, a guide for travelling across Northern England from the Irish Sea to the North Sea. Not new, first published 1973, but I did that walk this year, so am counting it as one of my favourites of the year. Comes with his cunning drawings.

I’m saving his newest (Parting Shot), just published, for the beach, but this was the year I discovered Linwood Barclay with whom I’m now madly in love (‘til then, I couldn’t bear to read a former Toronto Star columnist who’d hit it so big). So I hope his others (Broken Promise, A Tap on the Window) sort of count.

A House in the Sky, Amanda Lindhout’s searing account of the 460 days she spent in captivity in Somalia. The book was published in 2013 and I read it then, but this year in Ottawa, one of her kidnappers, Ali Omar Ader (just convicted earlier this month) went on trial, and Amanda testified, so I read it again. She was magnificent. So is the book.

Christie Blatchford was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for Life Sentence: Stories from Four Decades of Court Reporting – Or, How I Fell Out of Love with the Canadian Justice System (Especially Judges).

Ali Blythe

No TV for Woodpeckers by Gary BarwinIt was one of those years that found me finding refuge in books I’d read and reread. But a few sparkly 2017 things made their way to me. And I’m better for them. Gary Barwin’s No TV for Woodpeckers is one. The poems are incantations against the difficulties of living. They enliven me. They read like conceptual prayers full of animals. Animals made of words and bodies. Chuang Tzu-y.



Ali Blythe was a finalist for the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LBGTQ Emerging Writers.

Claire Cameron

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'NeillThe Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O'Neill. Reading this novel is like watching a back handspring that turns into a twisting layout back flip. It's about two kids who have a hard start in a Montreal orphanage and O'Neill fills them with love, despair, and hope. The end is especially satisfying–she sticks the landing.

Claire Cameron was a finalist for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her novel The Last Neanderthal.

Ivan Coyote

Son of a Trickster by Eden RobinsonSon of a Trickster by Eden Robinson is so far my favourite book of 2017. I chose it because (full disclosure) I love Eden as a human, her infectious laugh, her spirit, and her love of family, which I share and resonate with. But back to the book. It has it all: tragedy, gore, humour, life, magic, and horror. All in a very accessible and readable story. I just loved it and I am so very glad to see it getting the recognition and accolades that it deserves.


Ivan Coyote was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for Ivan’s memoir Tomboy Survival Guide.

Eva Crocker

The Sweetest One by Melanie MahSome of my favourite books published in 2017 (in no particular order) are:

The Sweetest One by Melanie Mah
This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
We'll All Be Burnt in Our Beds Some Night by Joel Thomas Hynes
Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya
Two Man Tent by Robert Chafe
Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Eva Crocker was a finalist for this year’s Dayne Ogilivie Prize for LBGTQ Emerging Writers.

Omar El Akkad

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake SimpsonMy Canadian book of the year is This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. A beautiful fistfight of a book, honest and fearless and funny as hell. One of the most moving meditations I've read in years on the overwhelming fullness and emptiness of love.


Omar El Akkad was a finalist for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for his debut novel American War.

Louise Bernice Halfe

Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry by Lorri Neilsen GlennI just completed a short but provocative book by Lorri Neilsen Glenn called Threading Light: Explorations in Loss and Poetry. I’d highly recommend its read. I love reading anything that has to do with the development of poetics and on spirituality.


Louise Bernice Halfe won this year’s Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize.

Eva Holland

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan EganIn Case I Go by Angie Abdou. I'm a bit biased, because I got the chance to read some early draft chapters of Abdou's haunting new novel when we did a residency together at the Banff Centre two years ago. But I never forgot about young Eli and his parents, and what they have to teach us about the ways our history stays with us. I was thrilled to be able to revisit them in the finished book.

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan. I grew up near Lake Ontario, but I knew very little about our enormous, mostly disastrous impact on its waters, or on those of the other Great Lakes. Egan's fascinating book fixed that. It's a tour through all the ways humans have interfered with the lakes since the arrival of Europeans in North America, told in a readable, narrative style without losing its scientific authority. It's a really important book, and even manages to end on a slightly hopeful note.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. Grann is one of my favourite magazine writers working today, and I counted down the months until I could read his latest. Killers of the Flower Moon tells the story of the mysterious Osage murders in Oklahoma nearly a century ago—when, it appeared, someone began killing off wealthy tribe members for their oil money—and how a proto-FBI struggled to solve them. It's a gripping historical narrative that eventually becomes a contemporary story, as Grann works to unearth the truth about the killer.

Eva Holland was a writer-in-residence at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat in August 2017.

Billie Livingston

Ashes & Wax by Desi ValentineOne of the pleasures of being at this year’s Writers’ Trust Awards event was being introduced to Claire Cameron’s book The Last Neanderthal, which I’m admiring for its fierce and loving portrait of a lost people closer to us in spirit than we might imagine. The writing of Eden Robinson is an old friend to me, and this year’s Son of a Trickster pulses with its raw mix of blood, love, and myth. I’ve also been delving into older novels, each of them uniquely haunting: David Adams Richards The Bay of Love and Sorrows, Michael Crummy’s Sweetland, and Christy Ann Conlin’s, The Memento. And for the first time, I bought a self-published e-book, up-and-coming author Desi Valentine’s Ashes & Wax. I can’t wait to crack this one—all I have to do is figure out how to work Kindle on my phone!

Billie Livingston won this year’s Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award.

Kyo Maclear

When We Were Alone by David A. RobertsonWhen We Were Alone by David A. Roberston, illustrated by Julie Flett, This gentle story is rare air. It speaks to the residential school legacy in the most tender-fierce way. There is alchemy and resistance and—buoying all—the magic of Julie Flett’s deeply soulful art.

And in another register: Lynn Crosbie’s The Corpses of the Future which really touched me as a daughter whose own father is battling dementia. Crosbie writes with gorgeous courage and humour about what remains intact amid the unraveling.

Kyo Maclear was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her memoir Birds Art Life.

Stacey Matson

The Agony of Bun O’Keefe by Heather SmithPhilip Pullman's The Book of Dust reminded me of how much I wished I had a daemon of my own. I loved returning to the world he created in the His Dark Materials series, albeit a darker, more foreboding version of it.

In the world of Canadian junior fiction, Alan Stratton’s The Way Back Home, and Rachelle Delaney’s The Bonaventure Adventures were delightful. Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s Prince of Pot and Heather Smith’s The Agony of Bun O’Keefe take the prize for my favourite young adult novels of 2017. Both of these reads have complex, engaging teen protagonists, are timely in content, and full of heart.

This year was the year I got into audiobooks, and although most of the ones I have listened to were published earlier than 2017, the star-studded cast reading Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders has been incredibly engaging.

Stacey Matson was the writer-in-residence at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat from January to March 2017.

Ian McKay

British Columbia by the Road: Car Culture and the Making of a Modern Landscape by Ben BradleyBen Bradley’s British Columbia by the Road: Car Culture and the Making of a Modern Landscape sets out a startling, original and persuasive thesis about how car culture affects nature, history, and human identity, all in a grounded and accessible way.

Laura Madokoro, Francine McKenzie, and David Meren’s Dominion of Race: Rethinking Canada’s International History breaks new ground in situating Canadian views of race, empire, and liberal rule in a much wider transnational perspective.

Finally, Denis Molinaro’s An Exceptional Law: Section 98 and the Emergency State, 1919-1936 describes one of Canada’s most repressive interwar laws—and raises disturbing and important questions about the ways in which an authoritarian “State of Exception” has come to be normalised and legitimised in our contemporary liberal order.

Ian McKay, along with his co-author Jamie Swift, was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for their history The Vimy Trap: Or, How We Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Great War.

Noah Richler

Once More with Feeling by Méira CookMéira Cook’s comedy of an unidentified prairie town, Once More with Feeling, is deft, tender, and very, very funny. A loss to anyone looking to prize lists for guidance, it has not yet been nominated for any though, if there’s any sense in awards, it’ll win a Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour. I laughed out loud many times and loved the company of her marvellously eclectic characters—the family of Max Binder, whose 40th birthday present for his wife, a foster child, goes terribly wrong; the minders of a homeless shelter and a community newspaper, holocaust survivors, and others. Cook, whom I knew previously only as a poet, has mounds of affection for the people she has created, leaves dozens of lines in the head and— too good an author to make herself felt—writes with a skipping, light touch.

David Chariandy’s Brother is another real accomplishment. I was always with its narrator Michael—whether on the streets, in his unfairly hard-working mother’s kitchen, or in his brief recollection of the soucouyants and lagahoos of Trinidad. This short novel builds slowly, delicately, and reminds me of Chatwin for its brevity and care, and of the insistence of Austin Clarke—whom Chariandy cites as a mentor—that even talk of the weather is political. Years ago, interviewing that extraordinary chronicler of black Toronto of his sixties generation for a book of my own, Clarke pointed up to the tower blocks overshadowing his Shuter Street home with a great wave of his outstretched arm and expressed his impatience for the novels to be written from there. Chariandy’s campus is Scarborough, not Moss Park, but his tale of Michael and his brother Francis—another black life not mattering—is one such novel. Austin Clarke would have been proud.

Noah Richler was a finalist for this year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for his memoir The Candidate: Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail.

Diane Schoemperlen

Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes by Jennifer LoveGroveFiction:
Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker
American War by Omar El Akkad
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
The Museum of Possibilities by Barbara Sibbald
This Side of Sad by Karen Smythe

Dead Reckoning: How I Came to Meet the Man Who Murdered My Father by Carys Cragg
Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
Beautiful Scars: Steeltown Secrets, Mohawk Skywalkers and the Road Home by Tom Wilson

Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes by Jennifer LoveGrove

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Illustrated with collages by Andrea D’Aquino
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Diane Schoemperlen won this year’s Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Life.

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray BelcourtThis Wound is a World is a decolonial wild fire from which the acclaimed writer Billy-Ray Belcourt builds a new world–and it’s the brilliant, radiant, fucked up Indigenous world, I want to live in. This book is my absolute favourite.


Leanne Betasamosake Simpson was a finalist for this year’s Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize for her poetry/prose collection This Accident of Being Lost.

Ruby Slipperjack

Promises to Keep by Genevieve GrahamPromises to Keep by Genevieve Graham. The story takes place in 1755, Acadia. A young Acadian girl named Amelie Belliveau lives in Grande Pré, Nova Scotia, and is friends with the neighbouring Mi’kmaq. The British arrive and expel them from their land and she is befriended by a British redcoat Corporal Connor MacDonnell who promises to do all he can to protect her and her family.

And a couple titles originally published in 2016 I caught up with in 2017: The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake. Tokyo, 1947. This story revolves around Fumi, her sister Sumiko, her friend Aya, Aya’s father, Kondo their teacher, Matt the interpreter/translator, and Nancy who is Matt’s co-worker. Circumstances eventually draw them all together. It is a beautifully written story of the people in post-war Tokyo.

And The Naturalist by Alissa York. 1867 Philadelphia. Walter, the naturalist dies and his son Paul, Walter’s widow named Iris and maid Rachel, decide to go on the expedition to the Amazon that they had been planning with Walter. The detailed description of the plants, animals, and the environment was quite fascinating as well as the changes that the characters undergo in this new land.

Ruby Slipperjack won this year’s Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People.

Tanya Talaga
The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van CampThis Accident of Being Lost
by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. It’s funny, it pushes limits, it is escapist in short bursts, and many of her passages leave me wanting more.

Son of A Trickster by Eden Robinson. It’s fantastic, lyrical and spell-binding. Robinson’s characters are so believable, human, and magical. She paints a great portrait of the life of a teenage Indigenous boy growing up in a single-parent household. His relationship with his mother is heartbreaking but will also leave you cheering, hoping that they make it, and hoping for a sequel.

The Lesser Blessed, the 20th Anniversary Edition: I read this in one, long sitting at the St. Albert Public Library. Richard Van Camp's much celebrated novel is a love story between a Dogrib teenager named Larry and his high school crush Juliet, set in the fictional town of Fort Simmer. Van Camp captures all the teen angst about love, loss and identity in this fast paced book. Some of the images will leave you gasping. The book might be two decades old but the universal themes apply to today.

Tanya Talaga was a finalist for this year’s Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction for her book Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City.

Drew Hayden Taylor

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern CitySeven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga. It’s a fascinating, brutal book taking place in a northern city but has applications to all of Canada. Literally it will make you clinch your fists in rage and maybe shed a tear or two while at the same time calling you to action. It difficult to say I enjoyed this book, but I am glad that I read it.


Drew Hayden Taylor was the writer-in-residence at the Berton House Writers’ Retreat from April to June 2017.

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