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The Globe 100: The very best books of 2011 Add to ...

Here, in no particular order, is The Globe and Mail’s annual Globe 100 best books of the year. You can read all 100 here, or view them by category in the four photo galleries attached to this story. (For a handy shopping list with just the titles and authors, click here. It's perfect for printing or sending to your mobile device.)

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POETRY

Folk By Jacob McArthur Mooney, McClelland & Stewart

Mooney’s poems are subtle and intelligent, with a wry brand of tenderness, his humour sparking with a Generation Y refusal of full-on Gen X ironic distance. Folk is timely, an important lyric inquiry into our most mundane and most charged boundaries of community, a probing of how people transcend differences and come together. – Sonnet L'Abbé

Methodist Hatchet By Ken Babstock, Anansi

Full of lush vocabulary and linguistic play, Methodist Hatchet is as precise as it is expansive, as complex as it is companionable. It refuses to look away from the unstable nature of self and world and word. That is why Ken Babstock is one of the most exciting lyric poets writing today.– Sina Queyras

Origami Dove By Susan Musgrave, McClelland & Stewart

Musgrave’s first collection in 10 years was more than worth the wait. It’s trademark Musgrave, gutsy and dexterous, trading off the emotionally raw for the comedic in lyrical snapshots. Her tone is casual and direct, with a deft poetic narrative that pulls you along an emotional plot line. A natural storyteller, Musgrave is frequently heartbreaking and hilarious at the same time. – Zoe Whittall

Killdeer By Phil Hall, BookThug

Phil Hall’s Governor-General’s Award-winning Killdeer is a literary memoir in the form of a lyrical essay, which he rescues from its excesses and turns into something as adventurous as it is readable. Hall is one of the most inventive, and least pretentious, poets we have. If he’s not a household name yet, he deserves to be. – Paul Vermeersch

CANADIAN FICTION

The Guardians By Andrew Pyper, Doubleday Canada

Trevor, Randy, Ben and Carl were friends and schoolmates. One day, a teacher disappeared; seeking to solve the mystery, they entered Thurman House, where the unspeakable happened. Twenty-four years later, Trevor is awakened with the news that Ben has hanged himself. They return for Ben’s funeral, but the past begins to repeat itself when a young woman goes missing. – Christy Ann Conlin

Don’t Be Afraid By Steven Hayward, Knopf Canada

Don’t Be Afraid focuses on the death of 18-year-old Mike Morrison in a mysterious explosion, and his younger brother, Jim, and his family are shattered. But Hayward never lingers over the grief under which his characters are labouring. Rarely has loss and grieving been handled with such deft tenderness, sly humour and almost inexplicable beauty. – Robert J. Wiersema

By Love Possessed By Lorna Goodison, McClelland & Stewart

The subject matter is unique: Jamaicans of various classes and castes, passionately in and out of love. The style is also unique: a cool, faintly decorous prose, incorporating a witty, idiosyncratic Jamaican patois. As a rule, this, broadly deployed, amusingly distances us. But Goodison’s alchemy of standard and Jamaican English places us deep within the consciousness of her people. – Donna Bailey Nurse

Bride of New France By Suzanne Desrochers, Penguin Canada

A wholly original example of social history at its best. Desrochers, a trained historian, has boldly appropriated fiction to expand a vision gleaned from study of often overlooked evidence about the filles du roi, women exported by royal decree into the faltering, almost wholly male colony in the late 17th century to serve as breeding stock. – John Barber

And Also Sharks By Jessica Westhead, Cormorant

In this story collection, Westhead returns to the office, employing the wit and offbeat characters that recall her novel, Pulpy & Midge. The stories unfold seamlessly, strikingly realistic and almost plain. However, there’s always something that catches you off guard. Westhead is a talented storyteller with a sharp sense of humour. – Brooke Ford

Into the Heart of the Country By Pauline Holdstock, HarperCollins

Holdstock takes on the relationship between English fur traders in Churchill, Man., and the native women on whom they relied. The novel follows the real-life, 18th-century exploits of Richard Norton, his son, Moses, and explorer Samuel Hearne, interspersing the goings-on at the Prince of Wales Fort with the dream sequences of Molly Norton, Hearne’s fictional love interest. – Suzanne Desrochers

The Free World By David Bezmozgis, HarperCollins

Bezmozgis tells the story of three generations of Russian Jews in Italy in 1978, emigrating from the Soviet Union to the “free world.” The novel unspools in a voice as whimsical and wry and trippingly light as a sidewalk musician’s, and Bezmozgis draws us in the way a consummate busker attracts his audience: with deceptive ease and unavoidable power. – Leah Hager Cohen

Every Time We Say Goodbye By Jamie Zeppa, Knopf Canada

Zeppa’s first novel explores three generations of a Canadian family in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., spreading out the full spectrum of the human experience in an unpretentious and thoroughly convincing way. She takes us from the Depression to the late 1970s as smoothly as if we were on a guided tour in a time machine. – William Kowalski

Underground By Antanas Sileika, Thomas Allen

This is a rare and compelling chronicle of Lithuanian partisans and their violent struggle against Soviet occupation after the Second World War. The central characters are Lukas, in love with Elena, and his brother, Vincentas. Sileika gives us a brilliant, highly accessible military history, one that remains largely repressed – underground. – Donna Bailey Nurse

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives By Zsuzsi Gartner, Hamish Hamilton Canada

Gartner’s West Coast is wild and weird, uncanny and unnerving, volatile and violent, exploring the increasingly blurry line between science fiction and science fact. These stories are mutants, the glowing fruit of irradiated breeding experiments involving the DNA of a meticulous journalist, a snarky critic of hippie/hipster/yuppie mores, an inventive stylist and an old-school fabulist. – Laura Penny

Quiver By Holly Luhning, HarperCollins

Like a perfectly executed murder with a feminine touch, Quiver has everything: style, substance, terror, a treacherous murderess – and lip gloss. Danica, a Canadian forensic psychologist, finds her enthrallment with violence fed by Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who tortured and killed 650 women; her celebrity patient, murderer Martin Foster; and “frenemy” Maria Janos. – Ibi Kaslik

Our Daily Bread By Lauren B. Davis, Wordcraft of Oregon

Trouble’s brewing in the Church of Christ as religion and sin collide in a novel full of remarkable moments. Davis takes her character Dorothy on the road to the mountain of hell and offers to walk us back down. in simple, brave, powerful scenes that sit with the soul long after the book is closed. – Alan Cumyn

Alone in the Classroom By Elizabeth Hay, McClelland & Stewart

Through the figure of a beloved schoolteacher aunt, Hay’s narrator in this splendid novel sets out to discover the experiences that shaped her parents, and herself. In 1929, Connie Flood encounters, while teaching in Saskatchewan, a grim principal, self-important and determined to castigate. Antagonist to this sadist is a dyslexic boy whom Connie tutors. – Aritha van Herk

Dogs at the Perimeter By Madeleine Thien, McClelland & Stewart

Dogs at the Perimeter aims to render intimate the Cambodian genocide, and to inhabit the psyches of three of its victims over several decades. These bracing, shattering stories that link past and present, Canada and Cambodia, are characterized by Thien’s insight and compassion. – Charles Foran

The Thirteen By Susie Moloney, Random House Canada

Haven Woods is a suburban idyll: quiet streets, good schools, friendly neighbours and a bit of blood sacrifice and demon worship, the price of keeping life blessed for a coven of 13 women. Moloney has constructed a compellingly uncanny narrative, binding the tropes of small-town paranoia and cliquishness with the chokehold of family obligations and religious fervour. – Sandra Kasturi

The Meagre Tarmac By Clark Blaise, Biblioasis

A short-story stalwart, Blaise gives us whole personalities and the lived experience of his characters in a handful of pages. He has always explored the interconnections (and disconnections) of cultural and geographical spaces (and people). In The Meagre Tarmac, Blaise addresses himself to India and the stories of Indian immigrants in North America. – Steven Hayward

Miss New India By Bharati Mukherjee, HarperCollins

This is a compelling novel of young people washing up in the call centres, coffee shops and bars of today's Bangalore. It is set in India, but American culture and values loom large. The novel makes sense of India’s digital age, and brings the worlds of tradition and change together in ways that illuminate both. – Linda Leith

Monoceros By Suzette Mayr, Coach House

In this imaginative, quirky and devastating novel, the first chapter is narrated by the Dead Boy, harassed for being gay. By the end of the chapter, he has hanged himself; the rest of the novel is written by the students, parents and staff affected. Mayr nails the voices of her stable of wildly divergent narrators with aplomb. – Zoe Whittall

The Sisters Brothers By Patrick deWitt, Anansi

The Sisters Brothers, winner of two major prizes, is poignant and powerful. This bold and compelling novel follows Eli and Charlie Sisters as they travel to San Francisco during the gold rush to kill a man. Their pursuit is a fantastic, fatalistic journey into the heart of their own natures, and the consequences of their past. – Robert J. Wiersema

Vital Signs By Tessa McWatt, Random House Canada

McWatt's bracing slap of a novel makes long-term couplehood more puzzling, murky and indefinable than ever. After 30 years of marriage, Michael and Anna must contend with Anna’s brain aneurysm and the prospect of a life-threatening operation. Over this book’s eerie traverse, Michael comes to question everything he has ever thought about “normal” life. – Cynthia Macdonald

A World Elsewhere By Wayne Johnston, Knopf Canada

In late-19th-century St. John’s, Landish Druken lives in exile in a two-room attic. Both Druken and his creator use anagrams, puns and neologisms as keys to unlock secret lives, longings, betrayals and revenges. Revel in one of the funniest books that will move you to a deeper sense of the poignancy of human experience. – T.F. Rigelhof

Exit By Nelly Arcan, translated by David Scott Hamilton, Anvil Press

Exit was finalized just days before Arcan’s suicide at 36. Set in Montreal “in the not too distant future,” the novel opens two years after a guillotine “malfunction” left narrator Antoinette paraplegic, rather than granting her the death by decapitation she then desired. Dark, beautiful, poignant and clever, Exit is a powerful read. – Lisa Foad

The Cat’s Table By Michael Ondaatje, McClelland & Stewart

Mynah, 11 is on board a luxury liner in the early 1950s, headed from Ceylon to London. At mealtimes, he is seated at the cat’s table, “the least privileged place” in the ship’s grand dining hall, but the best spot for an unsupervised boy to overhear the crisscrossing lines of adult intrigue and gossip he will pursue toward life-changing adventure. – Sonnet L’Abbé

The Perfect Order of Things By David Gilmour, Thomas Allen

Gilmour’s delicious, subversive, self-mocking novel features a narrator who is a composite from all his other books. He revisits the places he has suffered, hoping to balance old scores and relearn early lessons. In the process, he is transformed from a man who likes to watch his own reflection into a man who reflects on his failings and losses. – Aritha van Herk

The Antagonist By Lynn Coady, Anansi

Rank, the protagonist of Coady’s angry, funny, tender work, comes across himself in a novel by a former university pal. Outraged, he fires off a string of e-mails about what it was like to grow up as a huge boy continually mistaken for a tough guy, and who always gets the enforcer role on a hockey team. – Giles Blunt

Half-Blood Blues By Esi Edugyan, Thomas Allen

Set in Baltimore, Berlin and Paris, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winner Half-Blood Blues spans from just after the First World War to the 1990s, but centres on the months leading up to the Nazi occupation of Paris. It chronicles the increasingly deadly trials of an interracial jazz band in which the trumpeter, a German of African descent, is arrested. – Donna Bailey Nurse

A Good Man By Guy Vanderhaeghe, McClelland & Stewart

This deeply satisfying novel, dealing with ethics, politics and nationhood, is more entertaining than political historical novels have any business being. It is the kind of impeccably crafted, Dickensian charmer we expect from Vanderhaeghe's now completed “literary western” trilogy, a collection of thematically connected fictions about the death of the wild in the Wild West. – Andrew Pyper

The Little Shadows By Marina Endicott, Doubleday Canada

Featuring three fatherless sisters and their widowed mother, The Little Shadows is set on vaudeville stages all over the U.S. and Canadian West around the First World War. The novel features Endicott’s trademark wry sensibility and pithy lyricism, and her skill at pulling the rug out from under the reader’s feet. – Katherine Ashenburg

Infrared By Nancy Huston, McArthur & Company

Rena, a 45-year-old photographer in Paris, visits Florence with her elderly father and her stepmother, even though she can’t bear to be away from her lover and resents her stepmother. We come to see that her relationship with her father is problematic too. Huston shows her mastery of complicated structure, wide cultural knowledge and brilliant, assured portraiture. – Michel Basilières

The Time We All Went Marching By Arley McNeney, Goose Lane

This small, beautiful book is filled with large themes. Edie and her four-year-old son, Belly, have boarded a train to B.C., leaving Belly’s father passed out in their freezing apartment. On the train, Edie tells Slim’s stories of Depression-era marches to Belly. McNeney layers these stories on Edie’s story with great care. A stunning achievement. – Michelle Berry

FOREIGN FICTION

The Empty Family By Colm Tóibín, McClelland & Stewart

This fine collection is both a representative display of Tóibín's literary mastery and an insightful exploration of the world. Each character makes such perfect sense, each revelation, no matter how surprising, fits so well into the framework of previous revelations. Even when Tóibín's stories venture into the not-quite-believable, they are still utterly trustworthy. – Jane Smiley

Mr. Chartwell By Rebecca Hunt, HarperCollins

In Hunt's first novel, the subject is Sir Winston Churchill in the 1960s, and she delivers a refreshing, strange and deeply empathetic portrait of the great man in decline, along with a jumpy, twisty, brilliantly imagined story. Her subject is actually the Black Dog, which is how Sir Winston referred to his severe periodic depressions. – Peter Behrens

The Cardboard Valise By Ben Katchor, Pantheon

A graphic novel from Katchor is quite unlike anything else, more surrealist poem than traditional comic strip. Every page of this book, a travelogue of sorts, boils over with invention. Katchor loves the cheap, the mundane and the disposable. His books are like fantastic window displays, and his “stories” are made up of chains of vaguely connected digressions. – Seth

Bullfighting By Roddy Doyle, Vintage Canada

Almost every one of the fine, poignant and subtly humorous stories in Bullfighting is about a middle-aged man. And yet, even with that narrow focus, it is probably the finest collection of Irish short stories since James Joyce’s Dubliners, displaying delicacy of emotion, spare but elegant writing, heartbreak and humour. – John Doyle

The Uncoupling By Meg Wolitzer, Riverhead

The Uncoupling – in which a student production of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata sparks a sex strike among the suburb’s women – is a smart, tender and utterly hilarious look at the fragility of desire, and the pain that so often attends its disappearance. – Cynthia Macdonald

Witches on the Road Tonight By Sheri Holman, Atlantic Monthly

Holman jumps between pre-Second World War Appalachia and present-day New York in a tale of magic, love and deep, dark secrets. There is humour in her prose, but no camp, no ghoulish excess. Witches is a serious novel about America’s relationship with homegrown mythologies: horror B-movies, Southern black magic and, yes, witches. – Andrew Pyper

The Tragedy of Arthur By Arthur Phillips, Random House

In bright and rangy prose, endlessly playing on Shakespeare’s subjects and themes, The Tragedy of Arthur is the funny, often moving autobiography of a serial forger’s son, which becomes in turn a middle-aged writer’s stocktaking of his family, career and hateful relationship to Shakespeare, which transforms into a take on the publishing industry’s appetite for buzz books. – Randy Boyagoda

The Forgotten Waltz By Anne Enright, McClelland & Stewart

Provocative, sexy, romantic, distinctive and gorgeously crafted. Gina Moynihan, Enright’s protagonist, has embarked on a lasting affair that unfolds over the course of Ireland’s economic boom and bust. Enright’s voice is wry at its gentlest, always clear-eyed, sometimes smarting. Each of her sentences has a stand-alone beauty, spring-triggered with wit. – Lisa Moore

Before I Go to Sleep By S.J. Watson, HarperCollins

Christine, who lost her memory in an accident 20 years before, wakes every morning to a life she does not remember and must start from scratch. This is a skillfully made and satisfying novel and Christine is a woman the reader will come to care about as she struggles for a glimpse of truth in a universe that is daily alien. – Martin Levin

Long Time, No See By Dermot Healy, McArthur & Company

Roddy Doyle calls Healy Ireland’s greatest writer. He’s is definitely in the pantheon; his prose is impressive. This novel covers several months in Ireland’s northwest and features an adolescent protagonist nicknamed Mister Psyche. There is little plot, but Healy makes up for this with strange dry humour, affectionate satire and a sharp eye for minutiae. – Mark Anthony Jarman

A Dance with Dragons By George R.R. Martin, Bantam

The long-awaited fifth volume in the mammoth Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series centres on the power struggles of the Houses of Stark and Lannister. The story has expanded far beyond the original characters to become a labyrinthine edifice, encompassing myriad characters, cultures, intrigues and mysteries. But by the end, breakneck ferocity has returned. – Ilana Teitelbaum

Disaster was My God A Novel of the Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud, by Bruce Duffy, Doubleday

Rimbaud was a 19th-century prodigy who booted poetry into the 20th century before refashioning himself as an arms dealer in Africa. This “teenaged pied piper” lured Paul Verlaine – here a depraved creature Duffy captures in all his spellbinding loathsomeness – over the cliff of propriety, sobriety and solvency. A wonderful story, with a vitality that can’t be suppressed. – Kathleen Byrne

The Magician King By Lev Grossman, Viking

Months as a magician king have left Quentin Coldwater paunchy and restless, so he undertakes a quest to remote Outer Island. What began as a lark turns dark and epic. One of Grossman’s great strengths is finding the balance point between the fantastic and the banal, the magical and the everyday. The Magician King is a breakneck read. – Robert J. Wiersema

The Grief of Others By Leah Hager Cohen, Riverhead

Cohen’s deeply affecting novel begins with a woman in a maternity ward, struggling to come to grips with the death of her baby, who lived for only 52 hours. A year later, the family is still reeling. This is a complex and resonant novel, a moving exploration of the ways grief can twist and maim us. – Steven Hayward

The Night Circus By Erin Morgenstern, Doubleday Canada

Two young magicians compete in an elaborate game set against the backdrop of the mysterious, black-and-white-striped Cirque des Rêves. But neither realizes that the conclusion of the game could well be tragic. The Night Circus is one of those books. One of those rare, wonderful, transcendent books that, upon finishing, you want to immediately start again. – Robert J. Wiersema

The Emperor of Lies By Steve Sem-Sandberg, Anansi

This brilliantly constructed novel, massive, detailed, teeming with characters, unfolds from 1940, when the Lodz Ghetto was created by the occupying Germans, to 1944, when the last of its inhabitants were deported to the death camps. During those few years, the ghetto was ruled with ruthless cruelty by Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski. – Anna Porter

The Great Leader A Faux Mystery, by Jim Harrison, Anansi

Retired Detective Sunderson dreams of finding enough evidence to imprison Dwight/King David, the Great Leader of a cult that offers pseudo-native-American spiritual enlightenment in return for thousands of dollars and underage sexual partners. Sunderson is aided by 16-year-old Goth girl Mona. An enthralling, exhilarating, provocative novel. – T.F. Rigelhof

The Stranger's Child By Alan Hollinghurst, Knopf Canada

This powerful novel about myth-making, biography and the lot of gay men is unabashedly ambitious in theme and intelligent in execution. It begins in 1913, when George Sawle brings Cecil Valance home from Cambridge, and ends in 2008. Threaded throughout is a history of the possibilities open to gay men before 1967, when homosexuality was legalized in Britain.. – Margot Livesey

1Q84 By Haruki Murakami, translated by Jay Rubin and Philip Gabriel, Knopf Canada

In 1984 Tokyo, Aomame is a fitness instructor, massage therapist and assassin, killing men who commit violence against women. Tengo is an aspiring novelist and amiable loner. All they really need, it turns out, is each other. This colossus is expansive, enthralling, but also an over-long and occasionally exasperating foray into the lure of fanatical beliefs. – Charles Foran

Ragnarok The End of the Gods, by A.S. Byatt, Knopf Canada

The premise for Byatt’s retelling of the Norse myths is simple and compelling: A girl is sent from the wartime London blitz to the country. At 3, she is taught to read, and her book-born life of the imagination begins. These imaginings are enormously expanded upon, and influenced forever, when her mother gives her Asgard and the Gods. – Gale Zoë Garnett

11/22/63 By Stephen King, Scribner

A thrilling, thoughtful, character-centred journey into the American dream. The time portal Jake Epping is shown, in a grotty roadside diner, goes only to 1958. Al, who owns the diner, has spent five years in the past, preparing to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But cancer foiled him, so he enlists Jake to finish the job. – Robert J. Wiersema

NON-FICTION

The Memory Palace By Mira Bartók, Simon & Schuster

In this multi-chambered prism that artist Bartók creates as both sanctuary and tribute, she can both memorialize and escape a dangerous, psychotic, much-loved mother, musical prodigy Norma Herr, whom she would essentially abandon to the streets and to others for 17 years. This memoir is a brilliant portrait of a unsparing journey through a horrific experience of severe paranoid schizophrenia. – Jacki Lyden

The Magnetic North By Sara Wheeler, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Circumnavigating the Arctic and meeting its people in this bookend to her Terra Incognita, about the Antarctic, Wheeler ranges unsentimentally through exploration history and climate change and inexorable acculturation. That she emerges with this sparkling book is a triumph of British stoicism – and style. She keeps us fixed with detail, humour and acerbic commentary. – Ken McGoogan

Tiger, Tiger By Margaux Fragoso, Douglas & McIntyre

In this remarkable debut, Fragoso reminds us that “child molesters” do not exist in some separate category of humanity. Fragoso spent 14 years, from the age of 7 to 21, in an intimate, off-and-on sexual relationship with Peter, and in this unflinching portrait of their time together, he emerges as a complex, haunted and haunting character – not necessarily forgivable, but human. – Marni Jackson

Moonwalking with Einstein The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, by Joshua Foer, Penguin Press

This erudite and charming first book finds Foer, dissatisfied with his own forgetful memory, training for the 2006 U.S. Memory Championship. The story follows Foer as he ramps up his training, interspersed with a survey course on the history of memory, from the Greeks to MRIs, and his encounters with modern masters of memory – Siobhan Roberts

Day of Honey A Memoir of Food, Love, and War, by Annia Ciezadlo, Free Press

In her extraordinary debut, Ciezadlo turns food into a language, a set of signs and connections that helps tie together a complex, moving memoir. She interweaves her private story with portraits of memorable individuals and with shattering public events in Baghdad and Beirut. She does so with grace and skill, without sentimentality or simple generalizations. – Naomi Duguid

The Information A History, a Theory, a Flood, by James Gleick, Pantheon

Gleick has the ability to imagine and express the significance of important aspects of contemporary cultural knowledge. His sixth book recounts the history of the concept of information itself, ratifying his role as one of our most readable explicators of Big Ideas. This thick executive summary is accessible to a general audience, while remaining of interest to experts. – Darren Wershler

Tommy Douglas By Vincent Lam, Penguin Canada

Placing Tommy Douglas’s 17 years as premier of Saskatchewan and his role as father of medicare at the centre of the narrative, Lam, a Giller Prize-winning author who’s also an emergency physician, gives Douglas’s incomparable career a thoughtful, balanced, lucid assessment. Lam clearly feels a strong affinity for Tommy – not only for his innovative achievements in health care, but for his compassion, decency and moral courage. – Roy MacSkimming

Esther The Remarkable True Story of Esther Wheelwright – Puritan Child, Native Daughter, Mother Superior, by Julie Wheelwright, HarperCollins

In this highly readable, meticulously researched history, Wheelwright explores the adventurous life of her distant relative, Esther Wheelwright. In doing so, she provides a fascinating portrait of New England and New France in the 18th century, and of the complex negotiations among the French, the English and the Abenaki as they battled over land, religion and hunting rights. – Margot Livesey

Here on Earth A Natural History of the Planet, by Tim Flannery, HarperCollins

This is a hinge moment for civilization. Australian biologist Flannery responds by explaining the nature of that hinge and offering hope for the future. Just as his The Weather Makers appeared at the right time to explain climate change, Here on Earth arrives at the perfect moment, a bravura synthesis spanning scientific disciplines and billions of years. – Alanna Mitchell

Who Killed Mom? A Delinquent Son’s Meditation on Family, Mortality and Very Tacky Candles, by Steve Burgess, GreyStone

Like a Garrison Keillor of the Canadian Prairies, Burgess writes funny, unfiltered observations, anecdotes and character descriptions that flow naturally and make for an engaging story of his life to date. This is a very funny book is worthy of a Leacock Medal for Humour. – D. Grant Black

One Hundred Names for Love A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing, by Diane Ackerman, Norton

This is a book about life-altering illness and language as balm and bond. Ackerman writes vividly and movingly about the effects of her husband’s stroke on her and on her husband, writer Paul West. She writes well about married life, its intimacies and childish pleasures. Often, her writing is startling and evocative. – André Alexis

The Immortalization Commission Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death, by John Gray, Doubleday Canada

Gray’s focus is the revolt against death after Darwin, “claiming that science could give humanity what religion and magic had promised – immortal life.” As always, Gray is about separating reality from delusion – brilliantly. The astuteness of his thinking, the connections he makes between a wide range of subjects and the clarity of his conclusions make this book extremely satisfying. – M.A.C. Farrant

Paying for It By Chester Brown, D&Q

Brown’s comic-book memoir about his sexual obsessions is an exploration and justification of prostitution as a logical option between consenting adults, a tricky tale of unromantic love, a heartfelt argument against the ingrained cultural trappings of romance, and a fierce defence of the often overlooked joys of other forms of love (platonic, filial, interpersonal). And it's funny. – Brad Mackay

The Last Act Pierre Trudeau, the Gang of Eight, and the Fight for Canada, by Ron Graham, Allen Lane Canada

This is a spirited and judicious account of Trudeau’s heroic struggle to repatriate the Constitution, “a pivotal moment in the evolution of the nation ... Canada's spiritual coming of age.” Graham is an able chronicler of this epic tale of nation-building. He brings clarity and balance to a drama that has been cynically distorted by separatists and revisionists. – Andrew Cohen

The Origins of Political Order From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, by Francis Fukuyama, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Two decades after his influential “end of history'” proclamation, Fukuyama affirms the superiority of liberal democracy. His fullest, richest work yet, this is a lively, fascinating and readable milestone in historical and political sociology. It will also be an essential guide to the future direction of world politics. – Andrew Preston

The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary A Canadian Story of Resilience and Recovery, by Andrew Westoll, HarperCollins

Westoll’s account of Gloria Grow and her Quebec sanctuary for damaged creatures should make us rethink what it is to be human – and animal. It’s an opera of dramatic events, heart-rending tragedies and uplifting triumphs. For anyone interested in empathy and recovery, this book is required reading. – Linda Spalding

Say Her Name By Francisco Goldman, Grove

Goldman’s sublime and heart-rending story of his marriage to Mexican writer Aura Estrada, and of her tragic death is a book about loss and grief and the attendant “guilt, shame, and dread, on an endless loop.” Say Her Name is also an unforgettable love story, a testament to a great love and love’s greatness. – John Goldbach

To End All Wars A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, by Adam Hochschild, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

To End All Wars is about the clash of world views that occurred as traditionalism and modernism jostled for primacy in wartime Britain. Hochschild is a consummate storyteller and the book is a captivating read, thanks in large part to his keen eye for the telling vignette. – Jonathan F. Vance

In the Garden of Beasts Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson, Crown

This tale of U.S. ambassador Christopher Dodd and family landing in 1933 Germany is very sad, because Hitler could have been stopped early on, and because so many Germans blithely followed him. But it is also superb; Larson’s core idea, to trace the moral corruption of an entire society through the swiftly altering perceptions of one family, is masterful. – Martin Levin

The Psychopath Test A Journey Through the Madness Industry, by Jon Ronson, Riverhead

Ronson’s effort to plumb the depths of psychopathology seems like a contemporary version of Alice in Wonderland. The journey, including encounters with conspiracy theorists and reality-TV producers, is sometimes hilarious, sometimes alarming and always entertaining. – Christopher Dewdney

Incognito The Secret Lives of the Brain, by David Eagleman, Viking Canada

I love this book, though it is the sort experts on human nature hate, as Eagleman says things like “criminals should always be treated as incapable of having acted otherwise.” I love it precisely because it reveals so many of the strings and levers of human nature; science has revealed us as bio-robots. Not divine, but engineered by evolution. – Jeffrey Foss

Something Fierce Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter, by Carmen Aguirre, Douglas & McIntyre

Something Fierce is Vancouver playwright and actor Aguirre’s memoir of growing up in the resistance as the daughter of a revolutionary Chilean mother, a journey into selfhood in a high-stakes world of secrecy, fear, bravery and love. It is raw, courageously honest and funny; an insightful journey into the formation of a revolutionary soul. – Francisca Zentilli

Phoenix The Life of Norman Bethune, by Roderick and Sharon Stewart, McGill-Queen's

This revisionist work makes the case that the celebrated doctor led a life of failure, alcoholism and deceit, redeemed by a few glorious months of sacrifice in China. Thorough, objective, well written, exhaustive and highly readable, Phoenix should become the definitive basis for all serious discussion of Bethune. – Michael Bliss

Born Liars Why We Can’t Live Without Deceit, by Ian Leslie, Anansi

In this persuasive and wide-ranging book about the useful role of deception, Leslie argues that lies are not just the refuge of the cowardly, the Machiavellian or the too-kind. Not coming entirely clean with others people is part of being a social animal. Leslie brings intelligence and a wealth of thought-provoking research to his topic. – Marni Jackson

The Invention of Murder How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, by Judith Flanders, Harper

Flanders has produced a compelling study of how crime, and crime prevention, emerged as a popular obsession in 19th-century Britain, and came to dominate its literature. Murder did not begin in Victorian Britain (as TV series such as Rome and The Tudors bloodily demonstrate), but the paraphernalia of crime detection and the vehicles for sensationalism did. Mesmerizing. – Charlotte Gray

The Beautiful and the Damned A Portrait of the New India, by Siddhartha Deb, Bond Street

This work, focusing on five characters in the new India, reads like a sub-continental Great Gatsby. Deb has been compared to V.S. Naipaul, but his voice is unique, more honest, a gaze refreshingly different. The invisible aspects of globalization are starkly revealed, as is the plight of India’s dispossessed. – Jaspreet Singh

Taking My Life By Jane Rule, Talonbooks

In this absorbing posthumous memoir, Rule the realist has illuminated with insight, joyousness, tenderness and even pain the influences that were to shape her as a writer and as a sexual being. Her great openness about relationships, her insistence on the creation of community, her pursuit of truth, are very much in evidence. – M.A.C. Farrant

Little Comrades By Laurie Lewis, Porcupine's Quill

In her first book, Lewis, now 80, tells of being raised in Calgary by parents who were members of the Communist Party, though her father was a drunk and abusive. Demonstrating a talent for ironic juxtapositions and uncanny observational skills, she brings the Great Depression and Second World War unforgettably to life. – Elisabeth Harvor

Arguably Essays, by Christopher Hitchens, M&S/Signal

Beyond doubt, Hitchens considers provocation his daily bread and wine, even in what may be his final days. But what is most astonishing about Arguably is how bare it lays the foundation for Hitchens’s enduring relevance as an essayist and commentator. Simply, it all comes down to reading and rereading, arguing with and for, books.– Charles Foran

Empire of the Beetle How Human Folly and a Tiny Bug are Killing North America's Great Forests, by Andrew Nikiforuk, GreyStone

This important book is not just a primer on the recent rampages of the bark beetles that have killed more than 30 billion pine and spruce trees. It is not just a virtual gathering of the dozens of scientists and others who have grappled with the beetle onslaught. It is a principled reflection on “the pathology of resource management.” – William Bryant Logan

The Swerve How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt, Norton

Stephen Greenblatt tells us that the physical manifestations of modernism grow from a single seed, the manuscript of a lengthy poem by Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, lost in the early Christian era and unearthed and unleashed in 1417 by out-of-work papal scribe Poggio Bracciolini. What he unleashed forms this riveting, entirely clear and beautifully written narrative. – Jane Smiley

Winter Five Windows on the Season – the CBC Massey Lectures, by Adam Gopnik, Anansi

Gopnik offers no jaw-dropping conclusions or theories about winter and our relationship to it. He brings to the page a stream of endlessly entertaining insights and ideas – a treasury of people and places and art. The book is ashiver with insights and good will. – Charles Wilkins

MetaMaus A Look Inside a Modern Classic, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, Pantheon

MetaMaus offers several more layers to Spiegelman’s graphic classic, Maus, one of the most textured of modern books. Imagine a great architect like Frank Gehry offering a guided tour to one of his classic buildings, opening up the original plans, explaining his solutions for each problem. Such an act of self-exegesis is immensely rewarding. – Jeet Heer

Boomerang Travels in the New Third World, by Michael Lewis, Norton

Lewis’s guided tour of the world’s economic ruins is a bit like hiking through remote gastronomic regions with Anthony Bourdain. Like Bourdain, he gets up close and personal with the economic meltdown, and applies a biting wit that infuses a rare pleasure into the unpleasant business of digesting grim economic tales. – Jacquie McNish

Why Not? Fifteen Reasons to Live, by Ray Robertson, Biblioasis

These thoughtful meditations on the big questions of life (and death) emerge from mental pain and a writer’s need for whatever helps you make it through the night. I like Robertson's well-read mind, from which he draws on an array of thinkers from Seneca to Nietzsche in the tradition of Montaigne's investigation into what we know about ourselves. – Stan Persky

Nation Maker Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times, Volume Two: 1867 -1891, by Richard Gwyn, Random House Canada

The second of a two-volume, prize-winning biography covers 1867 to 1891, from just after Confederation to Macdonald's death. At its heart is the creation, against all odds, of a railway that would become the spine of the emerging country. The book is a towering achievement, a glittering career-capper, and may prove impossible to beat. – Ken McGoogan

The Measure of a Man The Story of a Father, a Son and a Suit, by JJ Lee, McClelland & Stewart

JJ Lee chronicles the evolution of the men’s suit while telling a personal yet universal story about a son’s quest to understand his father. This beautiful, clever book gets to the very heart of the most basic masculine bond, and how even through disappointment, abandonment, anger, confusion and pain, a son can love, honour and protect his father. – Carla Lucchetta

Steve Jobs By Walter Isaacson, Simon & Schuster

This is the first full biography of a flawed and complex man, the first to truly show him in the round. This nuanced, warts-and-all portrait shows Steve Jobs was not so much smart as a genius, someone who could make instinctive and almost magical leaps that produced products that seemed to have fallen through wormholes from the future. – Paul Kedrosky

Eating Dirt Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe, by Charlotte Gill, GreyStone

It is hard to say why a book full of mould, sodden clothing, bad weather, grizzly bears, broken-down trucks, blisters and tiny seedlings should be engaging, rewarding and full of knowledge, but Eating Dirt is so winning because it bridges the dizzying gulf between the people who command that work be done and the people who do it. – William Bryant Logan

The End The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1944-1945, by Ian Kershaw, Penguin Press

In this remarkable book, Kershaw (author of a definitive biography of Hitler) tells the story of the mass murder and homicidal suicide of the Third Reich in its final days with a mastery of detail so compelling that I could not put it down. A magnificent account of the “twilight of the Nazi gods.” – Jonathan Steinberg

Rin Tin Tin The Life and the Legend, by Susan Orlean, Simon & Schuster

Orlean gives us an extraordinary narrative about the careers of the many Rin Tin Tins and the man who “discovered” the canine silent film star. Deeper, larger issues are brought to bear as well: our need for creating permanence; the promise of friendship and how we find completion; our abiding wish to be remembered. – M.A.C. Farrant

Blue Nights By Joan Didion, Knopf

This book about the death of Didion’s daughter, Quintana, is heartbreaking in part because it is somewhat jumbled. The shards of memory, shimmering as they are, do not finally fit together, quite. Instead, in its elliptical, kinetic way, the book offers something braver than coherence: a raw and rare integrity that resists resolution. – Leah Hager Cohen

Thinking, Fast and Slow By Daniel Kahneman, Doubleday Canada

Economic rationality, psychologist Kahneman argues in his brilliant work on how we make choices, is all about coherence and logical consistency. This is a magisterial work, stunning in its ambition, infused with knowledge, laced with wisdom, informed by modesty and deeply humane. If you can read only one book this year, read this one. – Janice Gross Stein

DarkMarket Cyberthieves, Cybercops and You, by Misha Glenny, Anansi

British writer Glenny’s history of how cyber-crime went from the domain of lone-wolf hackers to a highly organized criminal underworld is entertaining, well written and any number of insightful diagnoses, such as the competitions between hackers, or the reasons why law-enforcement agencies have such difficulty working together. – Jeffrey Hunker

When the Gods Changed The Death of Liberal Canada, by Peter C. Newman, Random House Canada

The end of the Liberals and the rise and fall of Michael Ignatieff animate this important, timely and engaging book, the first to look at the 2011 election, probably a watershed in our history. Few do substantive, long-form journalism like this any more, and no one does it with octogenarian Newman’s eye, ear and ego. – Andrew Cohen

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