January, the first month, takes its name from Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He has two faces, one looking backward and the other forward, making him an ideal logo for the upcoming meeting of The Globe and Mail’s online book club.
Looking back, I’ve picked 10 books from The Globe’s top 100 books of 2011, books that, whether I loved or hated them, made me want to stop strangers on the street and demand: What do you think? What was going on with that theme or that character?
Maybe you got one of these books as a gift, maybe it has been on your reading list and got lost in the holiday shuffle, or maybe, like me, you’ve wanted somebody with whom to compare your own reading experiences. Think of me as the Ancient Mariner for the Internet Age. Instead of that hoary old gent who “stoppeth one of three,” though, I’m keen to talk about my long list with all readers with an Internet connection.
Looking forward, I’m turning my list of 10 books over to you, readers, to choose which should launch our book club venture. All it takes is your active participation in a reading circle that stretches around the clock and around the world.
Here’s how our online book club will work:
1. Have a look at my long list of four fiction and six non-fiction titles.
2. Visit Globe Books online to find reviews, author profiles and more.
3. Then vote in our online poll for the book you would most like to discuss this month ( Update, Jan. 12: Voting has now closed - look for the winner of our poll in the Saturday Jan. 14 edition of Globe Books).
I’ll be hosting an online discussion about the long list throughout the coming week, so join in to tell us which book won your vote and why. I'll be dipping in from time to time to answer your questions and respond to your comments - and feel free to talk amongst yourselves, of course. Next Saturday, we’ll announce the readers’ choice and kick off the conversation.
Over the coming weeks, look for featured guests and commentators to weigh in with their thoughts and chat.
Here’s the list (click on the titles to read the Globe and Mail's review):
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick de Witt (Anansi). Two brothers, killers for hire, track their quarry through the Wild West and into the unexplored reaches of their own past.
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje (McClelland & Stewart). A voyage from Ceylon to England is a coming of age story about a boy caught between two worlds and the fascinating and disturbing characters he meets en route.
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Thomas Allen). An interracial jazz band travels from the 1920s in the American South to Poland after the fall of communism, but the novel’s treacherous focus is Nazi-occupied Paris.
11/22/63 by Stephen King (Scribner). A speculative journey into the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the crash of the American dream, told by one of the most spellbinding storytellers of the age.
Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens (M&S). The world’s most famous atheist demonstrates what a lively, erudite and provocative mind he possessed – and why he will be sorely missed.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster). The mourning was palpable when Jobs died of pancreatic cancer; this biography probes the complications within the IT perfectionist and visionary.
Day of Honey: A Memoir of Food, Love and War by Annia Ciezadlo (Free Press). A poignant narrative combines Ciezadlo’s story with vivid portraits of people living amid the gut-wrenching realities of Baghdad and Beirut.
Paying for It by Chester Brown (D&Q). A controversial, funny comic-book memoir of sexual obsession; argues that romantic love is over-hyped compared with other forms of gratification from friendship to prostitution.
Nation Maker: Sir John A. Macdonald: His Life, Our Times by Richard Gwyn (Random House Canada). Political journalist Gwyn reveals the person behind the politician, including his attempts to give the vote to women and aboriginal people.
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (Simon & Schuster). He was always more than a dog, Orlean argues in this story about the many canines who played his character on screens small and large.