Cottage time is synonymous with reading time. During busy work weeks and hectic nights at home, it can be hard to find time to relax and sink into a good book, but the cottage is a place where time slows down, and your ability to focus sharpens. And naturally, this is the perfect time to get into a good book.
Everyone knows that reading comes in several varieties: there’s reading the paper on a crowded subway, there’s burning through a paperback while laying on the beach, and there’s the daily digital intake of opinion pieces and news. The cottage also lends itself to a particular kind of immersive, enjoyable reading. We find that the best books for a cottage day are those that can be read again and again while remaining fresh every time. You know—texts you can really dig into.
The following are books we feel every Canadian should own a dog-eared copy of. Some are meditative nature writing, some are blistering page-turners, and some are Canadian classics, but they have one thing in common: they’re perfect for those moments at the cottage when the real world recedes. Take a look and see if any of your favourites are on the list.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
This was one of Canadian icon Margaret Atwood's first forays into dystopian science fiction, and the results are explosive. The book's portrayal of a world ravaged by environmental and corporate disaster isn't exactly upbeat, but it is surprisingly quick and darkly funny read that will really make you question modern approaches to the environment and commerce. Oryx and Crake really propelled Atwood — formerly beloved for her straight-up literary fiction and poetry — into the sci-fi spotlight, and has since spawned two sequels, The Year of the Flood, and MaddAddam, which are also great cottage reads.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
If it had to be described in a sentence, Wild might be summed up as "a book about a woman who takes a hike." However, that description belies the depth of emotion and the visceral experience that this book offers. Wild is Cheryl Strayed's memoir of two interconnected events in her life: the death of her mother and her decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. After losing her mother at age 22, Strayed left her marriage and her regular life and decided to hike the trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington State — about 1,800 kilometres. She was wildly unprepared, both emotionally and in terms of gear, and the result is a harrowing adventure that brings her into physical danger and through an urgent emotional reckoning. For a book about a hike, Wild is gripping, a demonstration of the surprising ways that nature, even in its brutality, helps to heal us.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series by Stieg Larsson
This isn't the typical peaceful cabin read, but something about this addictive mystery series is just oh-so-right for the cottage. Don't believe us? Check the bookshelf at virtually any rental cottage on Airbnb. Chances are you'll see the distinctive spines of the books from this series on the bookshelf. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series meets all the criteria of a good getaway read: it's fast-paced, suspenseful, and eminently re-readable — a rare feat for a mystery novel. Keep this one by the door, ready to bring out on your beach days.
Louis Riel by Chester Brown
Reading about Canadian history is often a joyless obligation, but thanks to the graphic novel form, Chester Brown's Louis Riel brings the complexities surrounding the formation of Canada to life. Riel is a fascinating historical figure, and while he was no saint (though he did come to suffer delusions of being a prophet), he is considered a folk hero by many Canadians for his battles to keep Metis and Francophone communities alive at a time when the Canadian government was working to dismantle them. Brown's novel is a critical and important look at Canadian history that also won't put you to sleep.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
This book is a both a cautionary tale and a testament to how strongly humans desire to be close to nature. The book (which was also made into an Oscar-nominated film) tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a student and athlete who, after graduating, discards his possessions and hitchhikes to Alaska to live in the wild. Author Krakauer does defend McCandless's desire to throw off the meaningless expectations of modern life to live in a more pure, natural way, but at the same time, he exposes the danger and recklessness of his choice to enter the wild without a plan.
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Canada's only winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature deserves the honour. Alice Munro has been perfecting the art of the short story throughout her long career (her first collection came out in 1968), and Dear Life is her most recent work. Munro's stories are quiet, and yet a deep sense of meaning shines through the simple prose. Somehow, Munro has given everyday Canadian life a resonance it is often difficult for us to find as we ourselves navigate those everyday lives. This is also one of Munro's most autobiographical works, a glimpse into the life of one of Canada's (and the world's) most treasured writers.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The classics aren’t always able to compete with modern entertainment, but the stories of "Anne with an 'e'" and her adventures on PEI in the early 1900s are still as funny and touching as they were when they first came out. The episodic nature of the story makes it great for reading in small chunks, and it's perfect for reading aloud to kids. Anne's adventures are timeless and buoyant, the perfect book to re-read whenever you're feeling bogged down.
Don't Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff
David Sedaris fans might be surprised that Canada produced own hilarious essayist — journalist and actor David Rakoff. Like Sedaris, Rakoff wrote comic essays that found the absurd in the everyday, and they're perfect reading for a day on the beach. The subtitle of Don't Get Too Comfortable is "The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never-Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems," which ought to tell you a bit about what you're in for. Rakoff is funny, but he also digs into discomfort of trying to find the "right" way to live as a privileged North American. Sadly, Rakoff died of cancer in 2012, but he left behind several collections of witty prose perfect for a sunny day at the cottage.
On a Cold Road by Dave Bidini
David Bidini is the literary representative of Canada's music scene. A member of the now defunct band the Rheostatics, Bidini has also penned memoirs and nonfiction books about hockey and music. On a Cold Road is his first book, and it's an incredibly entertaining look at the world of Canadian touring bands. Bidini tells stories and anecdotes from his own cross-country tours, and also talks to members of pioneering Canadian rock bands like The Guess Who, BTO, and Bruce Cockburn. Even if you're not a fan of Canadian classic rock, On a Cold Road will still entertain with its tales of forming bands, loading gear in the snow, driving across Canada's endless highways. This book is pure fun. Put on your favourite Canadian record and sink into it.