Kate Beaton is a webcomic artist and the author of Hark! A Vagrant.
Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton, his account of living for nine years under the threat of death from the Ayatollah Khomeini’s notorious fatwa, was not the best book I read in 2012, but it was the most essential. It vividly evokes the ordeal of living in hiding with a continuous police escort, the object of murderous threats and vitriolic abuse at home and abroad, and is a salutary reminder of just how serious a threat the fatwa, and the events it triggered, were to the principle of free speech in the age of globalization. It was crucially important that, with the aid of his friends and the support of the British government, Rushdie managed not only to survive without cracking up under the stress, but also to go on writing novels. This book is a valuable record of that achievement.
English writer and critic David Lodge’s most recent novel is A Man of Parts, about H.G. Wells.
I read so many good books this year that it’s impossible to choose one. So here are five to conjure with, or, better, read. The first three are all from 2012; the last is older, but timeless. Richard Ford’s cross-border novel of crime and its consequences, Canada, for its gorgeous writing and profound understanding of human motives; George Bowering’s memoir Pinboy, for a truthfully randy romp through adolescent sexuality, real and fantasized, in the 1950s Okanagan; Robert Fowler’s A Season in Hell, a diplomat’s unflinching and uncompromising memoir of being held in captivity for months by an al-Qaeda outfit in North Africa; the great Jane Gardam’s Crusoe’s Daughter, a clever, playful, moving novel about one woman, one house, one not-quite-lonely lifetime in England’s north. Perhaps the most provocative book I read this year was my Globe colleague Carl Wilson’s Let’s Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste, an entry in Continuum’s wonderful little series on individual albums. In examining his own disdain for the music of Céline Dion, and the disdain of his intellectual cohort, Wilson probes deeply into the questions of taste and judgment, not sparing himself in the process.
Martin Levin is The Globe and Mail’s Books editor.
I was late coming to Hilary Mantel’s 2011 Man Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall, her epic re-imagining of the early life of Thomas Cromwell, in which she tracks Cromwell’s rise from the rural smithy run by his drunken father to his exalted position as position Henry VIII’s adviser, expediter and hatchet-man. But once I started reading it – incongruously, on holiday in Mexico – there was no turning back. Cromwell was the person largely in charge of arranging Henry’s tortuously justified abandonment of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his marriage to wife No. 2, Anne Boleyn. The book is masterly: totally absorbing, perfectly detailed, slyly funny, beautifully written – sentences that make you weep, casually tucked into paragraphs about some other matter altogether – full of sympathetic human characters, including even the nastier ones, and convincingly presenting the political intrigues, sexual entanglements and endless feuds of both court life and international affairs.
Then I had to wait all summer, metaphorically pacing, for the sequel, the equally splendid Bring Up the Bodies (which won this year’s Man Booker Prize, an unprecedented one-two sweep), in which Cromwell must negotiate Anne’s separation from Henry – and from her head.
H.J. Kirchhoff is the deputy books editor for The Globe and Mail.