Canadian literature often gets overlooked by its bigger-name American and British counterparts, but there’s no shortage of incredible authors (both from the past and present day) who can put pen to paper just as beautifully as the rest of them. Names like Margaret Atwood and Mordecai Richler are quick to come to mind — and they’re just the tip of the Can-lit iceberg.
Hoping to explore Canadian literature over July 1 weekend? Whether you’re looking for a beach read you can consume in a couple of hours or you’re in search of something a little more in-depth that explores Canadian and Indigenous history through the written word, we’ve got you covered.
Below, we’ve curated a list of 20 stunning reads that are each a fine example of Canadian literature in their own right. From “Anne of Green Gables” to “Duddy Kravitz,” here’s what you’ll want to be reading this Canada Day weekend.
‘Roughing It in the Bush’ ($11.12; amazon.ca)
First published in 1852, Susanna Moodie’s “Roughing It in the Bush” is one of the earliest examples of Canadian literature that’s still frequently read today. Based on true experiences, the story takes readers through exactly what life was like for women in the Pre-Confederation days.
‘Two Solitudes’ ($19.75; amazon.ca)
Despite the fact that “Two Solitudes” was first published back in 1945, author Hugh MacLennan’s take on the political and emotional divide between the French-speaking and English-speaking Canada is just as relevant today as it was in the ’40s.
‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz’ ($20.79; amazon.ca)
The late Mordecai Richler will always be seen as an icon of Canadian literature, and his “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” is a great place to get to know the Quebecois writer. The classic coming-of-age novel is both comic and relatable.
‘Beautiful Losers’ ($20.79; amazon.ca)
Leonard Cohen wasn’t particularly known for his novelist tendencies — but what he did choose to publish is well worth the read. “Beautiful Losers” is equal parts sensual and tragic, which is not surprising given the nature of Cohen’s lyrical work.
‘Five Little Indians’ ($22.99; amazon.ca)
This multi-award-winning novel by Michelle Good follows five Indigenous children who were taken from their families and sent to live in a church-run residential school in British Columbia. “Five Little Indians” is by no means an uplifting beach read, but it’s a must-read for all Canadians who still don’t understand the horrors that residential school survivors have been through.
‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ ($19.75; amazon.ca)
Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” is probably one of the most widely recognized Canadian novels, thanks to the HBO series of the same name. That said, even if you’ve binged every season of the franchise, the award-winning novel is well worth diving into if you want to get to know the goings-on of Gilead even more intimately.
‘Life of Pi’ ($18.37; amazon.ca)
Written by Canadian author and philosopher Yann Martel, “Life of Pi” follows Piscine Molitor “Pi” Patel as he contemplates the nature of reality after surviving for months shipwrecked at sea with a Bengal tiger.
‘A Complicated Kindness’ ($20.99; amazon.ca)
Multi-award-winning author Miriam Toews’ “A Complicated Kindness” has remained a popular work of contemporary Canadian fiction since it was first released in 2004 — and for good reason. The stunning novel follows young and impressionable Nomi Nickel as she tries to escape from her sleepy Mennonite town.
‘Lullabies for Little Criminals’ ($14.25; amazon.ca)
“Lullabies for Little Criminals” is one of the most well-loved contemporary Canadian novels for its gritty, honest depiction of what it’s like to grow up in the street as a child. The moving work takes readers into the life of teenage Baby and her father, Jules, as they navigate life on the street, addiction and what it means to be a family.
‘Bottle Rocket Hearts’ ($19.95; amazon.ca)
Written by award-winning novelist Zoe Whittall, “Bottle Rocket Hearts” offers a peek into Montreal’s queer community in the early ’90s. The alluring coming-of-age novel straddles the line between political commentary and the tumultuous nature of growing up.
‘Barney’s Version’ ($32.90; amazon.ca)
Like most of Mordecai Richler’s work, “Barney’s Version” strikes a balance between comedy and genuinely flawed protagonists. This novel in particular is set between Montreal, New York and Rome, and follows Barney Panofsky throughout his bizarre and often problematic adulthood.
‘Room’ ($34.73; amazon.ca)
You’ve probably seen the Lenny Abrahamson film of the same name, but the stunning novel from Irish Canadian author Emma Donoghue is well worth a read even so. The award-winning “Room” is poignant and oftentimes disturbing — but more so it’s a tale of survival at all costs.
‘Anne of Green Gables’ ($8.42; amazon.ca)
Most Canadian children study Lucy Maud Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” at some point in elementary school English class, but rereading it as an adult comes with its own unique pleasures. The classic Canadian read gives readers a taste of Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia through the eyes of precocious Anne Shirley.
‘Bone Black’ ($20.18; amazon.ca)
Part thriller, part political commentary, author Carol Rose GoldenEagle’s “Bone Black” takes readers on a journey alongside Wren StrongEagle. After becoming convinced that the local police department won’t properly investigate the disappearance of an Indigenous woman after hearing far too many similar stories from families in the same position, Wren makes it her own personal mission to find her missing twin sister before it’s too late.
‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ ($19.75; amazon.ca)
“Who Do You Think You Are?” is arguably one of the best works of literature to come from award-winning author Alice Munro. The coming-of-age story follows Rose and her stepmother, Flo, as she grapples with adulthood, success and the fear of failure.
‘The Stone Diaries’ ($20.79; amazon.ca)
“The Stone Diaries” is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand exactly what life was like for a young woman growing up in the early 1900s in Canada. Carol Shields’ poignant account introduces readers to Daisy Goodwil, who floats her way through marriage, widowhood, remarriage and motherhood, all while trying to understand her ever-changing role as a woman.
‘No Great Mischief’ ($20.79; amazon.ca)
Considered to be one of the best works of literature to come out of Atlantic Canada, Alistar MacLeod’s “No Great Mischief” covers a lot of ground as it guides readers through protagonist Alexander MacDonald’s mythical family history in Scotland and later to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
‘The Book of Negroes’ ($10.88; amazon.ca)
Written by award-winning Canadian writer Lawrence Hill, “The Book of Negroes” (alternatively titled “Someone Knows My Name” outside of Canada) follows Aminata Diallo, one of the “strongest female characters in recent Canadian fiction,” as she fights her way through slavery and eventually registers herself on a document to leave the US for resettlement in Nova Scotia — which is only the beginning of her story.
‘Fifth Business’ ($21.78; amazon.ca)
“Fifth Business” was written by Canadian author Robertson Davies and explores the life of the eccentric narrator Dunstan Ramsay from childhood into adulthood (and all the bumps along the way). “Fifth Business” is considered to be Davies’ best published work and holds 40th place on the American Modern Library’s “reader’s list” of the 100 best novels of the 20th century.
‘Crow Winter’ ($22.74; amazon.ca)
Algonquin Anishinaabe writer Karen McBride’s debut novel “Crow Winter” was released in 2019 but has quickly become a classic work of Canadian fiction. The striking novel follows Hazel Ellis as she grapples to understand the meaning behind her recurring dream of an old crow.
The novel also happens to take place on a reservation — which McBride says was an intentional part of the plot line. “I wanted to show the reserve as a real place, not just some fictional scary land. It’s a real place with living and breathing people that aren’t different than any other sort of small town you could come across,” she told the CBC in a statement.