16 Canadian reads for the first half of 2016
The Globe's Books Editor looks at the most anticipated (Canadian) books of the (first half of the) year
The High Mountains of Portugal, by Yann Martel, Knopf Canada, February.
Yann Martel's fourth novel, which takes place mainly in Portugal over the course of the 20th century, weaves together three separate narratives: A young man searches for a mysterious religious artifact that could "turn Christianity upside down" if discovered; a pathologist working on New Year's Eve, 1938, receives a pair of strange visitors; and a Canadian senator travels to his ancestral village – accompanied by a chimpanzee named Odo.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad, Penguin Canada, February.
This buzzy, Mississauga-set debut novel-in-stories follows a young woman named Lizzie over the course of several years. From mishaps in love to embarking on a relentless weight-loss regime, this novel – horrific and funny, bleak and uplifting – grapples with ideas of self-worth, friendship, sexuality, and the lengths we will go to find beauty in the mirror.
The Pharos Gate: Griffin and Sabine's Missing Correspondence, by Nick Bantock, Chronicle Books, March.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, the first volume in what became two world-spanning, time-hopping trilogies chronicling the wondrous and mysterious love affair between a postcard designer based in London, England and a postage-stamp illustrator living on a small island in the South Pacific. These books, stunningly designed and illustrated by the Victoria-based Bantock, are artifacts as much as stories. This, the first new book in the series in 13 years, promises to be the last, but it's never too late to discover what, for a certain segment of readers, remains one of the most cherished love stories in modern literature.
Waste, by Andrew F. Sullivan, Dzanc, March.
Andrew F. Sullivan's debut novel begins with a hit-and-run involving a lion. Well, that's after an opening chapter in which a man is left to die alone in the woods after having holes drilled in each of his knees. This book is not for everyone. Set in a thinly veiled Oshawa, Ont. – here christened Larkhill – Sullivan, the author of 2013's acclaimed short story collection All We Want Is Everything, unloads his narrative like a shotgun blast to the face.
Mexican Hooker #1 and My Other Roles Since the Revolution, by Carmen Aguirre, Random House Canada, April.
The winner of the 2012 edition of Canada Reads for her memoir Something Fierce, which chronicled her family's flight and return to Chile while the country was controlled by the brutal regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet, returns with a sequel, of sorts. In Mexican Hooker #1, the award-winning Vancouver-based playwright reflects on her acting career, motherhood and her failed marriage to a basketball player, among other life episodes. Looming over the narrative is her harrowing assault at the hands of the notorious Paper Bag Rapist, who attacked Aguirre when she was 13 years old, and her confrontation with him as an adult.
In-Between Days, by Teva Harrison, House of Anansi, April.
Both distressing and uplifting, In-Between Days is Teva Harrison's account, in pictures and prose, of being diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. "But rather than focus on what cancer takes away, I try to focus on what it doesn't," she writes at one point. "There is so much beauty in the world."
Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Heart and Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage, by Michael Coren, Signal, April.
The erstwhile right-wing commentator and scourge of Canadian social progressives made headlines across the country, and left thousands of jaws on the floor, when he announced his support of same-sex marriage and, later, revealed he'd left the Catholic Church over the issue (and this coming from the guy who wrote a book called Why Catholics Are Right). So, um, what happened? Coren explains himself in this sure-to-be-controversial new book.
Saving Montgomery Sole, by Mariko Tamaki, Razorbill, April.
In her first book since her Eisner-, Printz-, Governor-General's Literary Award– and Caldecott-winning graphic novel This One Summer (illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki) and her first YA novel since 2012's (You) Set Me on Fire, Mariko Tamaki returns with the story of three friends, outcasts all, who form a "mystery club" at their high school and come into possession of a maybe magical amulet.
Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus, by Chester Brown, Drawn & Quarterly, April.
In his last book, 2011's superb graphic memoir Paying For It, cartoonist Chester Brown laid bare his relationships with sex workers, both as a client and, in certain ways, as an advocate. He revisits the subject in his forthcoming book, a retelling of nine Bible stories ranging from Cain and Abel to Bathsheba and Mary. How does the portrayal of prostitution in the Good Book shape how we view sex workers today? Cue the outrage.
Bad Singer: The Surprising Science of Tone Deafness and How We Hear Music, by Tim Falconer, House of Anansi, May.
Tim Falconer is an award-winning journalist and a godawful singer. I'm not trying to be mean, but simply accurate. The author of Drive: A Road Trip through Our Complicated Affair with the Automobile and That Good Night: Ethicists, Euthanasia, and End-of-Life Care, Falconer also suffers from amusia, which is the scientific term for tone-deafness. If you can't hold a tune, you might be one of the 2.5 per cent of the population afflicted with the condition. In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, Falconer sets out to explore the science of singing, with the ultimate goal of performing in public.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing, by Madeleine Thien, Knopf Canada, May.
Madeleine Thien, who for years has been positioned as one of the country's breakout literary stars, has switched publishers for this, her third novel, which revolves around 1989's protests – and, ultimately, massacre – in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Spanning decades and myriad characters, including a haunted composer named Sparrow and a mathematician living in present-day Vancouver trying to piece together her family's history, Do Not Say We Have Nothing promises to be a big, sweeping saga.
Sea Change, by Frank Viva, Tundra Books, May.
The acclaimed picture-book author and illustrator and occasional New Yorker cover artist delivers his first novel for young readers. But, as you'd expect with a Frank Viva book, this story about a boy named Eliot who spends an unforgettable summer in the remote Nova Scotia fishing village of Point Aconi leans heavily on graphical elements.
Flannery, by Lisa Moore, Groundwood, May.
The title character in three-time Giller Prize finalist Lisa Moore's first novel for young adults is a 16-year-old girl in love with a bad boy, dealing with a broke mom, an out-of-control brother, and a best friend who suddenly has no time for her. Oh, and she's never met her father. Her life is further turned upside-down when, for a school project, Flannery creates a love potion that just might work.
Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving the Kids on School Bus 3077, by Craig Davidson, Knopf Canada, May.
Thanks to his two previous novels (including Cataract City, a finalist for the Giller Prize) and the short-story collection Rust and Bone, plus several horror novels published under a pseudonym, Craig Davidson has developed a reputation for penning violent, nihilistic narratives about the evils men do. His latest is a tender memoir about the year he almost abandoned his dream of being a writer and took a job driving a bus for children with special needs. If the award-winning essay that spawned the book is any indication, this book should come with a package of Kleenex.
Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail
Underdog: Confessions of a Right-Wing Gay Jewish Muckracker, by Sue-Ann Levy, Signal, June.
Love her or hate her – and she seems to engender more of the latter – there's no denying the Toronto Sun columnist (and one-time candidate for Ontario's Progressive Conservative party) knows how to push all the right buttons. Lots of people will be hate-reading this one.
I'm Thinking Of Ending Things, by Iain Reid, Simon & Schuster Canada, June.
The author of two charming memoirs (including one about road-trippin' with his 90-something-year-old grandma), Iain Reid is one of the last Canadian authors you'd think would deliver an unsettling psychological horror novel, but that's what he's done with his fiction debut. I'm Thinking of Ending Things begins with the unnamed narrator setting off with her boyfriend to visit his parents at their remote farm, and soon devolves into an unnerving exploration of identity, regret and longing. Delightfully frightening.