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Books by Canadian Authors you have to Read Right Now

Influential Canadian Authors

There are some books by Canadian authors that you absolutely need to read right now. Some are old, some are new, but all of the works are important and essential to a well-rounded education and understand of what it takes to be Canadian literature. Here are, in my opinion at the very least, the best of the best as far as Canadian literature goes.

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale: Margaret Atwood’s impressive dystopian futurist novel has left an impression on Canadian literature. Containing critiques of society and religion, Atwood took a science fiction concept and pulled it into the mainstream. Her writing is unique and straightforward, making the book key to understanding Canadian lit.dscn9049

2. The English Patient: Michael Ontaatje’s genius work that brings together the most unlikely of matchups still resonates with today’s audiences. The story will stay with you long after you read it. If you are trying to just watch the movie and skip reading the book don’t do it. The movie was a critical success of course and amazingly well-made, but you need to read the book to get how the story was meant to be felt. You will fall in love with the characters and understand the struggles of love, loss, pain, addiction, and growing up all combined with the four primary characters.

3. Neuromancer: William Gibson wrote this cyberpunk masterpiece in 1984, which was the first winner for the sci-fi triple crown of awards. Pretty impressive track record. And the story is still very much relatable, given that it is about a computer hacker who is hired to perform the “ultimate hack.”

4. The Wars: The book may have been published in the 1970s, but story is amazingly impressive. It is the story of a young Canadian man in the military during World War I. The history on it is poignant, the story is completely enthralling and heartbreaking. This book really brings out the struggles that all soldiers face and the terrors that can follow you even when you think you are safe.

5. Never Cry Wolf: This book was originally published in 1963, but it is amazing. It is essentially a first person account of the author’s actual experiences observing wolves in Canada. Even though it is a fictional account, you will not find another account of how wolves really are than in Farley Mowat’s masterpiece.

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6. A Complicated Kindness: Miriam Toews’s third novel, A Complicated Kindness won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award for English Fiction. The book takes place in Manitoba and follows the coming of age story of 16 year-old Nomi Nickel who struggles with her identity and personal history while trying to keep her place in her Mennonite community.

7. Alias Grace: Another hit by Margaret Atwood, Alias Graceis historical fiction about the real life events of the murder of Thomas Kinnear and his housekeepers. In reality, two servants were convicted of the murders, one being executed and the other being sentenced to life in jail. The fictional character of Simon Jordan researches the case, becoming too involved while looking for the truth. Atwood’s use of stream of consciousness is riveting as it is complex.

8. Beautiful Losers: Leonard Cohen’s famous noveluses a ton of allusion, imagery and symbolism, an iconic example of the 1960s culture. Cohen admitted to writing the book under the influence of amphetamines while he attempted to focus his concentration on his writing. The result was a prime example of what it meant to be postmodern in Canadian literature. The book is not at all an easy read and should not be taken lightly. But if you have the time and commitment to dedicate to it, your perception on the zeitgeist of the 1960s will be completely reframed.

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Everything you need to know about Margaret Atwood

Female Canadian Writers

If you haven’t been living under a rock, chances are that you have at the very least heard of Margaret Atwood. She is arguable the most famous Canadian author of all time. Her books have spanned several genres through the years, making it hard to put your finger on which themes exactly fit what her books are about. In celebration of her awesomeness, I’m sharing with you everything that you should know about this amazing author.

She has won a lot of awards. Seriously, Margaret Atwood has won and been nominated for so many award throughout her career that most of us can only dream of that kind of success. And it’s not like the awards were all from a single book or time period, but she has won many things over the course of her career for several different works. Here’s a much abbreviated list of awards she has won:

  • Governor General’s Award, 1966, 1985
  • Companion of the Order of Canada, 1981
  • Arthur C. Clarke Award for best Science Fiction, 1987
  • Trillium Book Award, 1991, 1993, 1995
  • Booker Prize, 2000
  • Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, 2012
  • Gold medal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, 2015

She has written in various genres. Atwood has not been limited to one genre in her career. She is well-known for many different books that span many different genres. Some of the books and genres include:

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  • The Handmaid’s Tale: By far her most famous book, this is a dystopian novel that is set in the future.
  • Survival: A ThematiSurvival:c Guide to Canadian Literature: Non-fiction, this is Atwood’s journey into understanding why Canadian literature has been underrepresented as well as the historical implications of literature in Canada.
  • Dancing Girls: This is a short fiction collection that received the St. Lawrence Award for Fiction a well as the award of The Periodical Distributors of Canada for Short Fiction. This was not her only short story collection either, she has written several.
  • Double Persephone: Atwood has actually published more poetry collections than she has published in any other genre.
  • Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Dishes: Atwood has also published children’s books, further proving that she is not limited to a singular genre.

She has dabbled in chamber opera. Atwood was commissioned to write the chamber opera Pauline, which premiered in 2014 at Vancouver’s York Theatre. The opera is set in Vancouver during 1913, following the Canadian writer Pauline Johnson’s final days.

She is serious about feminism. As was expressed by her work The Edible Woman and in many works since then, Atwood takes feminism seriously. She has even been outspoken on the use of the word “feminism,” stating that the word should not be applied to writers who work outside of the feminist movement. Her first books came out during the early second wave of the feminist movement and the themes have remained since then.

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She invented LongPen. Looking for a way to go to book signings without being physically present for them, Atwood created the idea behind LongPen. The device is a remote signing device that lets authors sign in ink no matter where in the world they area with a tablet and the internet. It also allows for audio and visual calls between the author and the fans during a book signing, negating the need for her to be there in person to have fans’ questions answered.

She always wanted to be a writer. Atwood admitted that she had wanted to be a writer as far back as the age 16. Once she was inspired that it should be her future career, she made it happen. She first studied at the Victoria College in the University of Toronto, where she began her career by publishing her poems in the college literary journal. Once she got started, Atwood never stopped writing.

THE ENGLISH PATIENT, Ralph Fiennes, 1996, making notations in desert

The English Patient’s Effect on Canada

Female Canadian Writers

If you are as old as I am, you probably have at least heard of the movie The English Patient, if you have not read the book. The film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche, won nine Academy Awards in 1996, including Best Picture, Best Actress, and Best Director. So regardless of whether you have heard of the book, you should at least be vaguely aware of the award-winning movie. What you may not know, now that you have discovered that it was a book first, was that the author of the book is actually a Canadian. Surprised?

Michael Ondaatje

Michael Ondaatje was born in Ceylon, which is modern day Sri Lanka, in 1943, but he immigrated to Canada and became a citizen in 1962. It was here that he went to university, earning a Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Toronto and a Master’s of Arts from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

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Ondaatje is more than just an author, but was actually a poet first, having published 13 books of poetry. He won the Governor General’s Award for The Collected Works of Billy the Kid in 1970 as well as There’s a Trick With a Knife I’m Learning to Do: Poems 1973-1978, which was published in 1979. He has won many awards through the years, further proving his place among the greatest writers in Canadian history.

The English Patient

In 1992, Ondaatje’s book, The English Patient was published by McClelland and Steward. The book is so titled because the primary character initially does not reveal his story, but speaks English with an accent. Ondaatje set the book in an Italian villa during the Italian Campaign in World War II.

The book brings together several characters who seem to have nothing in common, except that they are all stuck in a villa together. With that, readers are exposed to the history of the North Afracan Campaign as well as different nationalities placed together. The main character, Count Ladislaus de Almàsy is based off of the real LàszlóAlmásy, though the fictional version is more likable. The story also brings a Canadian nurse with a Sikh, a thief, and a mapper, all with very different backgrounds and personal histories to how they wound up together in the villa.

The Man Booker Prize for Fiction

The Man Book Prize is a literary aware that is given out each year for an English-language book that is original and published in the UK. The award is prestigious. Any book that wins the award is guaranteed to be an international best seller. While the award as originally only available to citizens of a British Commonwealth or territory, the rules on that were changed in 2013, denoting that anyone can win the award as long as the book was published in English.

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When Ondaatje won the award in 1992 for The English Patient, he became the first Canadian author in the history of the award to win it. That was when Canadian literature really put itself on the map.

Fallout

Before The English Patient won the Booker Award, Canadian literature did not really exist by itself in the world of literature. Canadian authors would automatically be tied to either Britain or America, leaving out the country’s own heritage and place in the literary world. Once The English Patient grabbed its success, Canada was on the map for the first time. Canadian literature was suddenly being defined as its own genre that had little to do with its neighbors or any other culture’s books. And while Canadian literature may be confused with American literature sometimes, based on the win of the Booker award, Canada can hold its own just fine.

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Famous Female Canadian Writers

Female Canadian Writers

While it feels like we have been fighting for women’s rights for a millennia, women are still left out in a lot of lists. For whatever reason, women are considered to be generally less popular writers than men, and it seems entirely based on the sexism associated with the name. This is why authors like JK Rowling have to invent middle names to make their name seem androgynist. Well I may not be able to fix that issue, I will fight for the rights of women to have their place in the world. Well in my case, it’s the literary world. Canadian women writers need to be announced for their greatness, not shoved at the end of a list of books without any really good readers.

On Silence-Rewriting a country toward a just and peaceful Canada.
On Silence-Rewriting a country toward a just and peaceful Canada.

Canada is more progressive than the United States in the world of feminism, though female writers do not seem to garner the same amount of attention as their male counterparts. Even recently, the Canadian Prime Minister stated how important it is for both men and women to empower women to be successful and know that they can do anything they set their minds to. This includes the world of literature. Even if women writers follow different themes than men often do, they still represent half of the population, which includes half of the population of readers too. So we need to celebrate women writers and acknowledge their power and importance in the arts.

This is a place to celebrate all of the Canadian female authors. Here is a good list of the greatest ladies out there.

  1. Margaret Atwood: Hands down, not just the most famous female writer from Canada, but most famous writer period from Canada. Her writing style has evolved through the years, but still contain that Canadian element. She is not just restricted to fiction, but has dabbled in dystopia, memoir, and even science fiction. She has written many famous books, including A Handmaiden’s Tale.
  2. Alice Munro: Alice Munro is one of the most famous short story writers of our time. Her tales always involve a sort of revelation as her characters search for a deeper meaning. She also has a tendency for exploring gender themes. Her collection of short stories is called Dear Life.

Alice-Munro14113.  Miriam Toews: Miriam Toews likes to put her own life into her books, including her coming of age element that is included in her most famous works. Her style has been noteworthy for its directness and fearlessness, including details that may put other off, but works well in her works. Her most notable work is A Complicated Kindness, a coming of age book about a 16 year-old girl.

4.  Emma Donoghue: Emma Donoghue includes a lot of history and multiculturalism in her works, bringing empathy to characters that the general Canadian population may not otherwise be able to relate to or understand. There is a lot of reality to her works since they have actual events included in the books. Donoghue most recently rose to prominence due to her book Room which was turned into a Hollywood movie that won in the category of Best Actress in a Leading Role at the Oscars in 2016. The role was played by Brie Larson.

5.  M. Montgomery: While L.M. Montgomery has since passed away, she was a famous Canadian children’s book author. Her most famous work was Anne of Green Gables, which has been loved by girls across generations as we follow the story of an orphan girl who is sent to a family who wanted a boy orphan to help with the farm. Her books are still very much beloved by children of today, filling in the gap of loneliness that too often accompanies childhood.

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Top Books of Immigrant Canadian Fiction

Female Canadian Writers

Canada is not unlike the United States in the realm of immigration. While the amount of immigrants and origins of them may be different, it is often dismissed that Canada has had a lot of immigrants in its history from places around the world. Immigrant literature should be celebrated in Canada. The works from Canadian immigrants provide an entirely different perspective on Canada than you will get from some of the other most famous authors in Canada. This is because the authors bring with them an entirely different experience and exposure. The result provides a rich literary history for Canada.

  1. The Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s hit was a perfect example of immigrant literature. The story of Pi, the main character is long and harrowing, at the end of the book, the character is welcomed to Canada where he is able to lie out the rest of his life, leaving his origins in the past of the fantastic journey that he had experienced.

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2. The English Patient: The title of this book is misleading as the character is not English and the story is not set in England. But the themes of love, betrayal, addiction, and loss are very poignant with this book, which was written by an immigrant from Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje.

3. The Stone Diaries:American-born Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995 for her novel The Stone Diaries. She also won the Governor General’s Award. The story is a fictional autobiography of a character named Daisy Goodwill Fleet who has a life full of struggle after struggle. Shields is unique in that she was able to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s award because she is American-born, but a naturalized citizen of Canada.

4. Green Grass, Running Water:Author Thomas King has a very diverse ethnicity. While he is American-born, he is of Greek, German, and Cherokee descent and also an immigrant to Canada. His book is set in the First Nations Blackfoot community in Alberta. It is well-written with a mix of unique structure and narrative. King also mixed humor regarding the beliefs of Judeo-Christian communities and western society as a whole. It is really an essential read if you would like to get a good grasp on the issues that Native Canadians face.

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5. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town: A series of stories by British-born Stephen Leacock, the book is set on Mariposa, which is a small shore town. The characters stories all intertwine, showing how the quaint countryside has a lot over overlap in narrative. The book is still popular, despite its age. All of the characters are typical small-town archetypes.

6. Shake Hands with the Devil: This is a work of nonfiction written by Dutch-born Romeo Dallaire. Dallaire is a well-known Canadian figurehead, having an active role in the Canadian government as well as a strong humanitarian. Dallaire’s life passion involves the crimes committed the Rwandan Genocide, which he has documented in many works while he has spoken out against the human rights issues that have been a constant struggle in modern day Africa.

7. The Assassin’s Song: Written by Kenya-born M. G. Vassanji. The Assassin’s Song follows the story of a young Indian boy who wants to escape from his family’s religious legacy. He wants to be like other Indian kids where he can make his own choices for what he gets to do in his life, like playing cricket, going to school, and talking to girls. He attempts to escape from the imprint his family has put upon him by immigrating to Canada, where he tries to start his life over. The novel won a lot of awards, combining struggles of coming of age, religious binds, and overcoming the power of an overbearing family.

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Top Books of Immigrant Canadian Fiction

Female Canadian WritersInfluential Canadian Authors

Canada is not unlike the United States in the realm of immigration. While the amount of immigrants and origins of them may be different, it is often dismissed that Canada has had a lot of immigrants in its history from places around the world. Immigrant literature should be celebrated in Canada. The works from Canadian immigrants provide an entirely different perspective on Canada than you will get from some of the other most famous authors in Canada. This is because the authors bring with them an entirely different experience and exposure. The result provides a rich literary history for Canada.

  1. The Life of Pi: Yann Martel’s hit was a perfect example of immigrant literature. The story of Pi, the main character is long and harrowing, at the end of the book, the character is welcomed to Canada where he is able to lie out the rest of his life, leaving his origins in the past of the fantastic journey that he had experienced.

Life of Pi

2. The English Patient: The title of this book is misleading as the character is not English and the story is not set in England. But the themes of love, betrayal, addiction, and loss are very poignant with this book, which was written by an immigrant from Sri Lanka, Michael Ondaatje.

3. The Stone Diaries:American-born Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1995 for her novel The Stone Diaries. She also won the Governor General’s Award. The story is a fictional autobiography of a character named Daisy Goodwill Fleet who has a life full of struggle after struggle. Shields is unique in that she was able to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the Governor General’s award because she is American-born, but a naturalized citizen of Canada.

4. Green Grass, Running Water:Author Thomas King has a very diverse ethnicity. While he is American-born, he is of Greek, German, and Cherokee descent and also an immigrant to Canada. His book is set in the First Nations Blackfoot community in Alberta. It is well-written with a mix of unique structure and narrative. King also mixed humor regarding the beliefs of Judeo-Christian communities and western society as a whole. It is really an essential read if you would like to get a good grasp on the issues that Native Canadians face.

5. Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town: A series of stories by British-born Stephen Leacock, the book is set on Mariposa, which is a small shore town. The characters stories all intertwine, showing how the quaint countryside has a lot over overlap in narrative. The book is still popular, despite its age. All of the characters are typical small-town archetypes.

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6. Shake Hands with the Devil: This is a work of nonfiction written by Dutch-born Romeo Dallaire. Dallaire is a well-known Canadian figurehead, having an active role in the Canadian government as well as a strong humanitarian. Dallaire’s life passion involves the crimes committed the Rwandan Genocide, which he has documented in many works while he has spoken out against the human rights issues that have been a constant struggle in modern day Africa.

7. The Assassin’s Song: Written by Kenya-born M. G. Vassanji. The Assassin’s Song follows the story of a young Indian boy who wants to escape from his family’s religious legacy. He wants to be like other Indian kids where he can make his own choices for what he gets to do in his life, like playing cricket, going to school, and talking to girls. He attempts to escape from the imprint his family has put upon him by immigrating to Canada, where he tries to start his life over. The novel won a lot of awards, combining struggles of coming of age, religious binds, and overcoming the power of an overbearing family.

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Margaret Atwood
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Why We Built This Page

I may not be a native Canadian, but as I’ve been teaching her at the University of Montana for many years now, I feel like I have a good handle on it. In a way, I feel like a Canadian just because of all of my research on Canadian culture and literature, even if it’s only pretend.More.....