18 Canadian books for 2018

Sean Wilson

Ottawa International Writers Festival artistic director Sean Wilson is always worth consulting when looking for a book to read. Here he picks 18 books from Canadian writers certain to get your attention.

With Canada’s sesquicentennial behind us, and as we settle into January, here are 18 Canadian titles worth curling up with in the months ahead:

It’s hard to ignore the reality-TV nightmare of the White House, so anticipation is high for the latest from ex-pat David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush who is credited with the phrase Axis of Evil. The book Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic is his take on the ongoing disaster that is America’s 45th President. (Editor’s note: Frum will be in Ottawa on Jan 25 at 7 p.m. at Southminster Unted Church. Tickets: writersfest.org). One of the many controversial decisions the president made last year was to announce that the United States would move its embassy in Israel which makes the latest from Marcello di Cintio, Pay No Heed to the Rockets: Palestine in the Present Tense even more timely. Here the award winning author explores the Palestinian experience as we mark the 70th anniversary of the Arab-Israeli War.

When it comes to “free-speech” controversy here at home, few can match Jordan B. Peterson, the psychology professor who Camille Paglia describes as “the most influential Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan.” He made headlines for his refusal to use gender-neutral pronouns and has a new book, 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. For those open to non-binary identities, and exploring our shared humanity, who may not be fans of Professor Peterson, there’s a new novel, Jonny Appleseed, by acclaimed Oji-Cree poet Joshua Whitehead whose collection, full metal indigiqueer, wowed readers last year. The novel follows a self-ordained NDN glitter princess and cybersex worker who must return to the “rez” to attend the funeral of his stepfather.

2017 launched the #MeToo era of the conversation on systemic misogyny, so it’s worth noting that Judy Rebick has a new memoir, Heroes in My Head, that shares details on two major decades in her life: the 1980s, when she became spokesperson for the pro-choice movement and the 1990s, when she became president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. I’m also looking forward to Globe and Mail columnist Elizabeth Renzetti’s new collection of essays, Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls that looks at how far we have come and how far we still have to go when it comes to equality.

On the fiction front, Michael Ondaatje returns with his first novel since The Cat’s Table in 2011. Waterlight, is set in London after the war and tells the story of two young siblings who have been separated from their parents because of the blitz. The always astounding Kim Thuy, winner of the Governor General’s Award for her novel Ru, returns with her latest Vi. Translated into English by Sheila Fischman, it tackles identity and love in the Vietnamese diaspora.

Anyone looking for a follow up to Michael Redhill’s Giller Prize winner, Bellevue Square, may want to have a look at the latest from the fantastic Timothy Taylor, The Rule of Stephens, as it promises another fictional exploration of doppledangers and identity. Another of my favourite authors, Rabindranath Maharaj, winner of Trillium Book Award, returns with the surreal-sounding Adjacentland which explores a primitive land of misfits and outsiders and that may be the only place in the world where imagination has survived.

It’s been twenty years since her breakout hit, The Electrical Field, and five years since her follow up, One Hundred Million Hearts, so I’m looking forward to Kerri Sakamoto’s latest novel, Floating City, which combines the story of one Japanese family and the role architecture plays in our lives. David Adams Richards, newly minted Independent Senator, and winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award (in both the fiction and non-fiction categories) has a new novel, Mary Cyr set is his native New Brunswick but also in Mexico where the new novel begins with a disaster in a coal mine.

When it comes to the mystery and suspense genre, the big publication in the months ahead has to be A Conspiracy of Bones by the perennial New York Times bestselling author Kathy Reichs. In it, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan “fights to crack her most chilling case yet.” There’s another big Canadian thriller on the way as well: From Beverley McLachlin, the former Chief Justice of Canada, comes Full Disclosure which introduces Jilly Truitt, a rising, young defence attorney. The publisher is billing it as “a searing look at what justice means in the courts and on the streets” and given the author’s ‘street cred’ and intimate knowledge of the courts, this also promises to be a riveting read.

For local content, there are two forthcoming books of note with strong Ottawa connections: Nancy Campbell, a curator of contemporary Inuit art, has written Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice which explores the complex narratives weaving through Pootoogook’s life and work. The highs and lows of the artist’s life, including winning the Sobey Art Award and her tragic death on the streets of Ottawa, speak to truth and reconciliation, the richness of community, and the depths of tragedy.  Former Ottawan Jordan Tannahill — acclaimed playwright, author, theatre director, and filmmaker – has a debut novel, Liminal. It explores the dynamics of a mother-son relationship and advance buzz for the book is strong.

Two of my favourite novelists have non-fiction books about family that sound fascinating: David Chariandy, whose brilliant novel Brother won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize last year has written I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter. In the spirit of Ta-Nehisi Coates, it connects Chariandy’s family history with thoughts on identity and race in Canada. Heather O’Neill, author of last year’s fantastic The Lonely Hearts Hotel, presents Wisdom in Nonsense: Invaluable Lessons from my Father. It promises to reveal the key lessons she learned from her father and his eccentric friends — ex-bank robbers and homeless men – and is billed as a”perfect companion to her widely praised debut novel, Lullabies for Little Criminals.”

One of the books I’m most excited to read in the months ahead has to be Steven Pinker’s follow-up to The Better Angels of Our Nature. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress presents the big picture of human progress. The cognitive scientist and public intellectual urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and to follow the data which prove that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise worldwide. Given the struggles ahead, its nice to know that things really are getting better.

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  • Peter Gillies

    Delightful list – thanks Sean. Great Southern India beach reading material. Warm up patrons for the 5th annual Wakefield Writers Fête 23-27May … writersfete.com … On Word!