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45 notable book lovers share their best reads of 2012 Add to ...

Guy Gavriel Kay’s new novel, River of Stars, will be published in April of next year.

LORNA CROZIER

‘It must have felt like this when T.S. Eliot came on the scene,” The Globe and Mail said of Steven Price’s first book of poetry. His second collection, Omens in the Year of the Ox, rivals the power and beauty of the previous book. This poet can write anything, from free verse to sonnets, from prose poems to the blues, from the long-lined laments of a Greek chorus to a series of curses the ancient Irish bards would have envied. Here’s one from the mouth of a midwife: “May your milk be a ribbon of darkness,/ your lullabies a black wind.” People who ask about the future of poetry should read this book. It addresses our contemporary angst and fear, yet the words Price brings to the page shine darkly with the tough, earthy power of Old English, a language that bites into the bone. Though he is an original, it must have felt like this when Seamus Heaney came on the scene, and then again, when he began his brilliant translation of Beowulf.

Poet Lorna Crozier’s most recent book is The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Everyday Things.

CHRISTY CLARK

You might think I would spend my personal time reading about anything other than politics, but a historical novel about 16th-century English court politics is different enough – and thank goodness for that difference. Henry VIII is famous today for his controversial marriage to Anne Boleyn – a woman who was instrumental in forever changing the face of England and its Church – as well as his five other wives, and for producing another extraordinary woman, his daughter Elizabeth. Yet his own court was heavy with intrigue, world-changing events, murder and, yes, politics.

Success or failure depends in large part upon the people behind the scenes. Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, was a pivotal figure behind a fascinating and turbulent time, and great fodder for a historical novel.

This is but one reason my personal favourite book this year is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. It’s a sequel to her brilliant Wolf Hall, and second of a planned trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell. But the most important reason is simply that it’s a great read, one I can’t recommend enough.

Christy Clark is the Premier of British Columbia.

LISA MOORE

I choose books by Three Wise Women. Zadie Smith’s NW is alive alive-o. There’s an intimate voice in these pages and a broad-sweeping vision of a neighbourhood in North West London, full of people of all ages and races and classes, ambitious, lonely, dangerous and unloved.

Smith is brave, willing to try on anyone’s shoes. She does innovative things with form and there’s an emotional winch that pulls the reader through. This novel is full of Smith’s wise-cracking humour, fast, rich sketches of minor characters drawn with all the chiaroscuro shades of light and dark. There’s raunchy sex, friendship between women, the desire to rise above, to get out and, ultimately, the folly of hubris.

Christine Pountney’s Sweet Jesus is the gorgeously written story – every word polished and smart – of three siblings who set off on a journey to the United States, an exploration of belief and faith and family in all its incarnations. The character of Zeus Ortega, who works as a therapeutic clown in a children’s hospital, is so physically present and full of empathy that I don’t think I will ever forget him. Pountney makes him come alive with vividly drawn gestures, witty dialogue and a searching, honest heart.

And though it was published in 1933, I have just read Elizabeth Bowen’s To the North, a sumptuous story of two women who are as close as friends can be. They are fiercely independent and willing to break all the rules for love. The rules were just as stuffy and confining back then as they are now, and it’s fun to see them being crunched underfoot. Bowen has all of Virginia Woolf’s powers of description, reflected light and weather, and an exacting eye when it comes to social mores and foibles. Her characters, like Woolf’s, have a feral desire for freedom from convention, but perhaps she’s more willing to be out-and-out funny.

All three of these books by women are wise about love and sacrifice, what it means to give and not give up.

Lisa Moore’s most recent novel, February, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and the IMPAC Dublin Award.

ROSIE MacLENNAN

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