One of the ways I’ve been able to really up my reading game these past few years is getting heavily into audiobooks. I like to read a fair amount of Canadian authors, especially authors who fit the bill for my queer Canadian book blog, Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian. But trying to combine my new love of audiobooks and my long-standing love of Canadian authors has been difficult. One reason for this is I can’t really afford to buy audiobooks, so I pretty much rely on digital audiobooks through my local library. Obviously, what is available through those channels is limited. But more significantly, there are a lot of great Canadian books that simply don’t exist in audiobook format. This lack only gets more pronounced when you’re talking about Canadian books by authors of color and/or LGBTQ authors. Where are the Canadian audiobooks??
Happily, I’ve been noticing lately that this situation is changing for the better! So I present for you 10 amazing Canadian audiobooks (fiction and nonfiction) now available. Some are new books, some are old, but all are great reads. Canadian audiobooks for the win! [Note: I’ve included a few Indigenous authors who live in what we call Canada here, but that doesn’t mean they identify as Canadian].
Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
MacDonald’s most recent novel is a fascinating, riveting book that takes place over one week in the life of a (lesbian) stay-at-home mom in Toronto. It’s psychologically rich and complicated, dealing with the stresses of motherhood and remembered trauma of physical illness and familial homophobia. It’s painfully real a lot of the time, but often in a way that makes you feel less alone. And in a way that makes you chuckle at the dark humor. MacDonald, who is also an accomplished actress to addition to an author, narrates the audiobook and she is absolutely fabulous. She has a wonderful expressive voice. She also does great different voices and accents (including Cape Breton, Nova Scotia) for different characters.
The Conjoined by Jen Sookfong Lee
This is an un-put-downable book, part family drama and part mystery. (Although you don’t get the tidy resolution you do in traditional mystery, so be warned!) The crux of the story is that as Jessica sorts through her mother’s belongings after her recent funeral, she makes a shocking discovery: two dead girls curled into the bottom of her mother’s freezer. The characters are expertly drawn, all authentic and sympathetic, all far from perfect. Sookfong Lee’s writing is incisive, thoughtful, and generous. The audiobook voice actor, Sabryn Rock, is pitch perfect, embodying the chilling thrills and family emotional highs and lows. A great book for fans of Megan Abbott.
This Accident of Being Lost: Songs and Stories by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
Nishnaabeg writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s most recent collection is just incredible, as I’ve come to expect with her work. This book is a collection of stories and songs/poems. As you might guess, it’s wonderfully diverse in format as it blurs the lines between fiction and nonfiction and poetry and prose. But that diversity is just as prominent in content. In addition to contemporary stories and poems, there are also numerous stories with a futuristic bent. I don’t know how to describe her writing except so beautiful and often very funny! The author, who is also a performer and musician, does the narration in the audiobook. She is lovely with her quietly powerful voice, just a little deadpan sarcastic in the perfect way to match the humor in many of the pieces.
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline
For those of you not in the know about Canadian book stuff, this YA novel by a Metis author won one of our biggest literary awards in 2017 (the Governor General’s Literary Award). Deservedly, obviously. It’s about a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by climate change where settlers hunt Indigenous people for their bone marrow, which gives others the crucial ability they have lost: to dream. Lots of fascinating world-building to be found here! The audiobook production of this smart, moving YA is excellent. Superb narration by Meegwun Fairbrother (who is Ojibway), and some sparse but effective sound effects like cackling fire and mood music.
The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
Zoe Whittall is one of my favorite (Canadian) authors, and The Best Kind of People is her most recent novel. It’s a bit of a departure from her first two novels, which are all very much in that niche of very queer and very Canadian. There are also queer characters in this one, but it’s set in the States and queerness isn’t so much a focus as is feminism and rape culture. It’s a highly perceptive, character-driven book told from multiple perspectives. The story revolves around a central question: what if one of the men accused in a high profile sexual assault case was your husband or father? Audiobook narrator extraordinaire Cassandra Campbell excels at these kinds of intense stories that center on relationships and the dark complexities of human lives.
I’m Afraid of Men by Vivek Shraya
This short nonfiction audiobook is actually my current read! I’ve been a fan of Shraya’s work for years now. I was so pleased to see her latest book available as an audiobook. In this extended personal essay, Shraya writes about the damage she has accumulated over the course of her life as a result of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. She describes how masculinity was forced on her as a kid, how she had to learn to convincingly perform it to survive (even and perhaps especially in the queer community), and how it still haunts her after coming out as trans. This is a passionate, smart book. It’s also very accessible, a good choice for someone not too well versed in the gender issues Shraya discusses. It’s another author-narrated book, done extremely well by Shraya who also has a background as a performer/musician.
A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews
A Complicated Kindness is one of my all-time favorite books. It’s so exciting that it’s now available as an audiobook! It’s another Governor General Literary Award winner. The novel is a darkly funny coming-of-age story that is alternately full of grief and hope. 16-year-old Nomi lives in a Mennonite (a small sect of fundamentalist Christianity) community in Manitoba. The church has just shunned her mom and sister, which basically shuts them out of every aspect of the community. Nomi’s voice is expertly handled, both in Toews’s written word and in her narration of the audiobook. Beautiful, funny writing and excellent characterization.
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
Heather O’Neill’s debut novel is another old CanLit favorite of mine that has now been made into an audiobook! In fact, there’s a tenth anniversary edition including an introduction read by the author. It’s a story about being a teen essentially living on the streets of Montreal. Told in O’Neill’s deceptively simple style, it’s a book at once innocent, tender, dark, and menacing. O’Neill does an incredible job of drawing the voice of Baby, the young teen caught up in the seedy life of her junkie dad. It takes a talented voice actor to be able to appropriately translate this voice to audiobook. Miriam McDonald gets it right, the peculiar mix of urban savviness and innocence that Baby has on the brink of teenagehood.
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
This debut YA contemporary novel is by a Toronto author. Saints and Misfits is a beautifully complex book about a Muslim teenage girl dealing with a whole lot of stuff at once. The most pressing and troubling is an attempted sexual assault by a boy in her community. But there’s also her crush on a non-Muslim boy and her continual surprise when her expectations about the people in her life aren’t met (in a good way). What I really appreciated about this book was how the teenage voice felt very authentic. And although it deals seriously with the issue of sexual assault, the book is also often funny and charming. Ariana Delwari has an appropriately young-sounding voice that sounds very genuine as a teenage girl. This authenticity is especially necessary for the first-person narrative.
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy
If you loved Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, you’ll love Chariandy’s most recent non-fiction book. It’s a letter to his daughter about race. Chariandy, who has Black and South Asian ancestry via Trinidad, had been thinking about how to talk about race with his daughter since her question “what happened?” at the age of 3 in response to a racist incident. Addressing her now at age 13, Chariandy writes of his past: both his own lifetime growing up as a racial minority in Canada and his familial and ancestral histories in Trinidad. It’s by looking at the past that he hopes to gift his daughter his love, a sense of responsibility, identity, and possible hope for the future. Appropriately, it’s the author himself who narrates the audiobook with the same power and emotion that obviously went into the writing itself.
Check out more audiobook content on Book Riot. Want more Canadian books? Try this list 100 Must-Read Books by Canadian Authors and Award-Winning Canadian Books from 2017. And add any great Canadian audiobooks you know in the comments!