Skip to main content

An image from Howard Shubert’s Architecture on Ice.

Christmas is slightly more than two weeks away. Not finished shopping? Books editor Mark Medley has a few suggestions when it comes to the perfect gift for the readers in your life

Just in time for the sesquicentennial: Books about Canada

Canada: An Illustrated History, by Derek Hayes (Douglas & McIntyre, 296 pages, $36.95)

First published in 2004 – was Newfoundland even a province back then? – Hayes's accessible and informative history of the country, chock-full of maps, drawings and paintings, photographs and other ephemera, has been revised and expanded in advance of next year's anniversary celebrations. Here's your chance to brush up on your Canadian history before July 1.

The Canadians: Photographs from The Globe and Mail Archives (Bone Idle, 172 pages, $45)

Yes, this is a shameless plug. But this reimagining of Robert Frank's landmark book of photography The Americans, using photos from The Globe and Mail's extensive archives, is also a fascinating, journalistic glimpse into Canada's past. Douglas Coupland wrote the introduction, so you really should buy four copies. Make that five.

A Number of Things: Stories of Canada Told Through 50 Objects, by Jane Urquhart (Patrick Crean Editions, 227 pages, $32.99)

One of the country's most beloved novelists tells the story of Canada through an eclectic cross-section of items – from a Massey-Harris tractor to the rope that, allegedly, hanged Louis Riel – all beautifully illustrated by artist Scott McKowen.

This Is That: Travel Guide to Canada, by Chris Kelly, Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring (The Tite Group, 142 pages, $19.95)

Please don't confuse this book, based on the CBC Radio program of the same name, with a Lonely Planet travel guide. A funny (and mostly fictional) intro to Canada, it introduces visitors to some of the country's lesser-known (i.e. fake) tourist attractions, such as the Kingston Soup Chuck and the Calgary Festival of Toronto. For a laugh, give this to your American cousins and tell them it's legit.

How to Move to Canada: A Discontented American's Guide to Canadian Relocation, by André du Broc (Sourcebooks, 134 pages, $13.99)

A helpful guide for our American friends thinking of making the move north. Incredibly, this book was published before the U.S. election; it's even more relevant now.

Ken Danby: Beyond the Crease (Goose Lane Editions, 196 pages, $45)

Ken Danby, The Skates, 1972

Produced in partnership with the Art Gallery of Hamilton, this is a career-spanning retrospective of the late artist's work, which was firmly rooted in the people and places of Canada. It includes more than 70 full-colour reproductions of his paintings, including At the Crease and Lacing Up, though his brush captured far more than just hockey.

Legacy: How French Canadians Shaped North America, edited by André Pratte and Jonathan Kay (Signal, 346 pages, $35)

Margaret Atwood, Lucien Bouchard and Ken Dryden are among the contributors to this anthology of short biographies of notable Québécois, from George-Étienne Cartier to Henri Bourassa to Gabrielle Roy.

Vancouver in the Seventies: Photos from a Decade that Changed the City, by Kate Bird (Greystone, 168 pages, $29.95)

This collection of nearly 150 photographs from The Vancouver Sun's archives serves as a diary of a city. Douglas Coupland (who else?) provides a foreword.

Kids' stuff: Books for children and young adults

The Liszts, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Julia Sarda, tells the story of a peculiar family obsessed with making lists.

Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family's Journey, by Margriet Ruurs and Nizar Ali Badr (Orca Book Publishers, 28 pages, $20)

This story of a girl and her family who are forced to flee Syria is made much more powerful thanks to the incredible stone artwork by Badr, an artist who hails from Syria himself.

The Beach at Night, by Elena Ferrante, translated by Ann Goldstein, illustrations by Mara Cerri (Europa Editions, 40 pages, $15)

The renowned (and media-shy) Italian novelist delivers the tale of a lost doll named Celina.

Canada ABC, by Paul Covello (HarperCollins, 30 pages, $12.99)

There's going to be countless books about Canada published in the coming months, on account of next year's sesquicentennial (see earlier), but this might be the best of the bunch when it comes to placating young readers. Z is for Zamboni, of course.

Tomi Ungerer: A Treasury of 8 Books (Phaidon, 319 pages, $65)

If you're unfamiliar with the work of this French author and illustrator, of whom Maurice Sendak was a great admirer, there's no better place to start than this elegantly designed collection, which includes eight of his picture books, including Moon Man and Otto. He won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for a reason.

Elliott's Guide to Dinosaurs, by Elliott Seah (Greystone Books, 47 pages, $19.95)

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with dinosaurs; in fact, I used to think that if I hadn't become a journalist I might have become a paleontologist. Then I read this book, written by an eight-year-old for a school project. Elliott will be a better paleontologist than I.

Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History, by Sam Maggs (Quirk Books, 240 pages, $21.99)

Hot on the heels of last year's bestselling The Fangirl's Guide to the Galaxy, Maggs tells the stories of an amazing mix of women – from doctors and scientists to spies and explorers – each of whom deserves her own biography.

The Seven Prequels (Orca Book Publishers, 1256 pages, $59.95)

The prequel to the Seven series (and the Seven sequels), this box set collects, as you likely guessed, seven novels by some of the country's most acclaimed YA writers, including Richard Scrimger, Shane Peacock and series mastermind Eric Walters.

The Road to Ever After, by Moira Young (Doubleday Canada, 225 pages, $21.99)

Now that she's finished her bestselling and award-winning Dustlands Trilogy, a fast-paced slice of dystopian fiction, the B.C.-born, Britain-based Young delivers this quieter story of a lonely orphan, a stray dog and a peculiar old lady.

The Liszts, by Kyo Maclear and Julia Sarda (Tundra Books, 40 pages, $21.99)

The Liszts.

A whimsical new title from Kyo Maclear, who has become one of the country's best picture-book authors, The Liszts tells the story of a peculiar family obsessed with making lists. Julia Sarda's illustrations are marvellous, too.

Book of life: Memoirs and biographies

Late wrestler Rowdy Roddy Piper being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.

Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story, by Ariel Teal Toombs and Colt Baird Toombs (Random House Canada, 396 pages, $34)

Shortly before his death in 2015, the legendary Canadian wrestler (and cult actor; see They Live) began working on his memoirs. Instead of leaving the project incomplete, his children finished the job of telling the life story of one of the sport's greatest performers.

Fearless As Possible (Under the Circumstances), by Denise Donlon (House of Anansi, 564 pages, $32)

The pioneering TV and music executive reflects on her life and career, from MuchMusic to Sony Music Canada to the CBC and beyond.

Bright Particular Stars: Canadian Performers, by Martin Hunter (Mosaic Press, 519 pages, $59.95)

A collection of approximately 40 short profiles of some of the most talented individuals to grace Canada's stages, from Christopher Plummer to Sarah Polley.

The Escapist: Cheating Death on the World's Highest Mountains, by Gabriel Filippi, with Brett Popplewell (HarperCollins, 364 pages, $32.99)

Not just the story of one of Canada's most skilled mountaineers – he's one of only two Canadians to scale both faces of Everest – but an exploration of what drives people to the edge.

The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-Life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing, by Gavin Edwards (Random House, 354 pages, $35)

Not really a bio but an exercise in myth-making, the writer follows in the footsteps of the comedian and actor, who has lived a stranger life off-screen than on.

George Lucas: A Life, by Brian Jay Jones (Little, Brown, 550 pages, $42)

From the author who wrote the fantastic biography of Jim Henson comes an in-depth look at the man who created cinema's most famous franchise. Just in time for the release of Rogue One.

Song and dance: Books about music

Mick Jagger performs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Feb. 20, 2016.

The Rolling Stones: All the Songs – The Story Behind Every Track, by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon (Black Dog & Leventhal, 703 pages, $65)

Have you ever wanted to know the story behind Gimme Shelter? (Apparently Keith Richards was inspired after London was hit by a terrible storm.) This mammoth book goes through every single Stones song, including B-sides and rarities, from genesis to production, with insight not only from band members but producers, engineers and others who helped bring the music to life.

The Lyrics 1961-2012, by Bob Dylan (Simon & Schuster, 679 pages, $80)

This book collects every lyric Dylan has ever written, from his debut to 2012's Tempest. Reading them on the page, it's not hard to see why he won this year's Nobel Prize in literature.

Absolutely on Music: Conversations with Seiji Ozawa, by Haruki Murakami (Bond Street Books, 325 pages, $29.95)

Besides being an acclaimed author, and perennial favourite to win the Nobel Prize in literature, Murakami is also a massive music geek. This book collects two years' of conversations with Ozawa, his friend and the former conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

The Art of the Blues: A Visual Treasury of Black Music's Golden Age, by Bill Dahl (University of Chicago Press, 224 pages, $45.50)

A history of the blues told through posters, album covers, advertisements, vinyl labels and more.

Total Chaos: The Story of the Stooges/As Told by Iggy Pop, by Jeff Gold (Third Man Books, 351 pages, $72.50)

Iggy Pop of Iggy and the Stooges performed during the 2010 NXNE festival in Dundas Square in Toronto.

This Ann Arbor, Mich., quartet, who crafted a ferocious blend of rock, punk and metal, and whose live performances are as legendary as the songs, occupy a special place in American music. This quasi-biography, largely based on two days of interviews with the lithe frontman, includes essays by the likes of Johnny Marr, Dave Grohl, Joan Jett and Jack White.

No words necessary: Beautiful books

Seventy-five of the of the world’s best bookshops are featured in Footnotes from the World’s Greatest Bookstores by Bob Eckstein.

The Electric Pencil: Drawings from Inside State Hospital No. 3, by James Edward Deeds Jr. (Princeton Architectural Press, 272 pages, $41.95)

A collection of strange-yet-affecting drawings by a man who, for most of his adult life, lived in a Missouri mental institution, cut off from the world.

Footnotes from the World's Greatest Bookstores: True Tales and Lost Moments from Book Buyers, Booksellers, and Book Lovers, by Bob Eckstein (Clarkson Potter, 176 pages, $29)

What began as a tour of New York's bookstores for The New Yorker has grown to include 75 of the world's best bookshops, including Shakespeare and Company in Paris, City Lights in San Francisco, and Munro's in Victoria.

Carry This Book, by Abbi Jacobson (Viking, 139 pages, $34)

You may know Jacobson as one of the co-stars of the cult comedy series Broad City, but she's also a talented illustrator; Carry This Book is her look at the world through what you'll find in pockets, purses, backpacks and briefcases.

Wade Davis: Photographs (Douglas & McIntyre, 176 pages, $39.95)

While he's best known as a writer, Davis, a former National Geographic explorer-in-residence, is also a skilled photographer; this book collects nearly 150 photographs taken from his travels around the world. (There's plenty of words, too.)

Under Ground: Subways and Metros of the World, by Catherine Zerdoun (Firefly, 208 pages, $39.95)

Depending on your city's public transit system, you might be left desperately jealous after seeing some of the stations featured in this book – check out Formosa Boulevard in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, or Arts et Métiers in Paris, or almost any of the Russian stops. (Although, to be fair, Toronto's Museum station is included.)

1000 Sneakers: A Guide to the World's Greatest Kicks, from Sport to Street, by Mathieu Le Maux, translated by Roland Glasser (Universe, 253 pages, $40)

A book of the most stylish, most sought-after, most influential streetwear ever, from the Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star (the only thing I wear) to the Reebok Pump to Nike Air Jordans to the Adidas Stan Smith.

For the win: Books about sports

Howard Shubert explores the history of hockey arenas, from their humble beginnings to the billion-dollar developments of today.

Architecture on Ice: A History of the Hockey Arena, by Howard Shubert (McGill-Queen's University Press, 316 pages, $49.95)

While Canada lacks the grand cathedrals and palaces of Europe, one thing we do have is hockey arenas – Maple Leaf Gardens is our St. Peter's, if the basilica were now a grocery store. Shubert explores the history of these edifices, from humble beginnings to the billion-dollar developments of today.

The Toronto Maple Leaf Hockey Club: Official Centennial Publication, by Kevin Shea and Jason Wilson (McClelland & Stewart, 384 pages, $50)

While the country's sesquicentennial is getting the lion's share of the attention, it's not 2017's only important milestone – Canada's favourite team turns 100.

The Hockey Song, by Stompin' Tom Connors and Gary Clement (Greystone Books, 40 pages, $21.95)

Canadian music legend Stompin’ Tom Connors.

The lyrics to what is perhaps Canada's other national anthem are illustrated by one of the country's favourite editorial cartoonists.

Bleeding Blue: Giving My All for the Game, by Wendel Clark (Simon & Schuster, 210 pages, $32.99)

If you asked fans to vote for their favourite Toronto Maple Leaf of all time, I'd wager this former captain, who recently published his memoirs, would receive a fair number of votes.

On the Origins of Sports: The Early History and Original Rules of Everybody's Favorite Games, by Gary Belsky and Neil Fine (Artisan, 255 pages, $29.95)

Belsky, the former editor of ESPN The Magazine, and Fine, the mag's executive editor, team up for this endlessly fascinating look into the genesis and early rules of more than 20 of the world's most popular sports, from baseball and soccer to Wiffle ball (!) and bowling.

Might as well learn something: Non-Fiction

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies, by Ross King (Bond Street Books, 403 pages, $39.95)

The award-winning Canadian art historian investigates the story behind the painting of the French Impressionist painter's masterpiece.

Pretty Iconic, by Sali Hughes (4th Estate, 420 pages, $34.99)

This stylish compendium of "beauty products that changed the world" – from Chanel No. 5 to Johnson's Baby Lotion to Old Spice aftershave – is endlessly fascinating.

Lines in The Ice: Exploring the Roof of the World, by Philip J. Hatfield (McGill-Queen's University Press, 255 pages, $44.95)

A history of Arctic exploration, from Frobisher to Franklin, filled with maps, diaries, photographs, many drawn from the British Library's collection, where Hatfield works as a curator.

Canoes: A Natural History in North America, by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims (University of Minnesota Press, 370 pages, $51.80)

A chronicle of what just might be North America's most important mode of transportation.

Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady's Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners, by Therese Oneill (Little, Brown, 307 pages, $32.50)

Drawing on a host of historical documents – written mostly by men, of course – Oneill explains what it was like to be a woman in the 19th century. Chapters include "Getting Dressed: How to Properly Hide Your Shame" and "Birth Control and Other Affronts to God." Both enlightening and entertaining.

Treasure Palaces: Great Writers Visit Great Museums, edited by Maggie Fergusson (PublicAffairs, 240 pages, $21.00)

Some of the world's best writers (including Julian Barnes, Ann Patchett and Claire Messud) celebrate some of the world's best museums.

The Clothing of Books, by Jhumpa Lahiri, translated by Alberto Vourvoulias-Bush (Vintage, 74 pages, $10.95)

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist explores the aesthetics of book jacket design. This book, originally written in Italian, began as a speech she delivered at the Festival degli Scrittori in Florence in June, 2015.

Riveting reads: Fiction

Collected Millar: The Master at Her Zenith (Syndicate Books, 555 pages, $19.99) and Collected Millar: Legendary Novels of Suspense (Syndicate Books, 516 pages, $19.99)

The first two instalments in what will be a seven-volume series, publishing between now and summer of 2017, collecting the work of the renowned, Kitchener, Ont.-born mystery writer Margaret Millar, one of the greatest this country has ever produced.

A Very Russian Christmas: The Greatest Russian Holiday Stories of All Time (New Vessel Press, 147 pages, $31.95)

A collection of unlikely Christmas stories from the likes of Chekhov, Tolstoy, Gorky and Dostoevsky. Not necessarily a book you'll want to read on Christmas Eve.

In Sunlight or in Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper, edited by Lawrence Block (Pegasus Books, 278 pages, $34.95)

The painter, best known for Nighthawks (you know, the diner painting), is the inspiration behind this collection of short stories by the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Connelly, Megan Abbott, Lee Child, Jeffery Deaver and Craig Ferguson, of all people.

Afterward, by Edith Wharton (Biblioasis, 84 pages, $8.95)

Last year the Windsor. Ont.-based publisher teamed up with Guelph artist Seth for "The Haunted Bookshelf," a series of ghost stories intended to be read on Christmas Eve. This year's handsomely designed entries include one from Wharton, about a young couple who buy a haunted house, as well as offerings from M.R. James (The Diary of Mr. Poynter) and Marjorie Bowen (The Crown Derby Plate).

Gift horse: Books about animals

Pounce, by Seth Casteel

Pounce, by Seth Casteel (Little, Brown, 112 pages, $26)

Casteel, the photographer behind the bestselling Underwater Dogs (followed by Underwater Puppies) turns his attention to felines at play. The book is, quite simply, page after page of cats (with names like Twinkletoes and Mr. Pillow and Tater Tot) looking adorable.

Birds of North America (DK, 752 pages, $50)

Produced in co-operation with the American Museum of Natural History, this exhaustive, lavishly illustrated guide is a bit too big to bring birding, I imagine. But if you want to know everything about the tufted titmouse, this is the book for you.

Wild Animals of the North, by Dieter Braun (Flying Eye Books, 141 pages, $51.95)

From Dieter Braun’s Wild Animals of the North.

Both informative and beautiful, Braun's book is a collection of illustrations of the animals that roam the North.

Repeat viewings: Books inspired by TV and movies

Kyle MacLachlan as FBI agent Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks.

The Secret History of Twin Peaks, by Mark Frost (Flatiron Books, 359 pages, $38.99)

The co-creator of the cult David Lynch series sets the stage for the forthcoming sequel. A novel set up to resemble a dossier of a police investigation, conducted by Special Agent Dale Cooper, about the murder of Laura Palmer.

The Daily Show (The Book), by Chris Smith (Grand Central, 459 pages, $39)

Jon Stewart quit his job as host of Comedy Central’s satirical The Daily Show in August 2015 after 16 years.

An oral history of the landmark fake-news comedy show as told by Jon Stewart, John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert and the producers, writers, on-air talent and guests.

The Science of Star Wars: The Scientific Facts Behind The Force, Space Travel, and More!, by Mark Brake and Jon Chase (Racehorse Publishing, 261 pages, $22.99)

Answers the age-old questions such as "Could we ever become Jedi?" and "How long ago and how far away?" Oh, as if you've never asked that question.

Star Wars: Complete Locations, illustrated by Hans Jenssen, Richard Chasemore, Kemp Remillard (DK, 187 pages, $44)

For anyone who wants to learn more about the geography of the Dagobah or study the blueprints to Yoda's House.

This Is A Book About the Kids in the Hall, by John Semley (ECW, 303 pages, $19.95)

The cultural critic and Globe and Mail Books columnist looks at the legacy of one of the most successful, and by the far strangest, comedy troupes Canada has ever produced.

Bon appétite: Books about food and drink

Anthony Bourdain, author of Appetites.

Appetites: A Cookbook, by Anthony Bourdain, with Laurie Woolever (Ecco, 288 pages, $46.50)

These days, he's best known as host of the CNN show Parts Unknown, but Bourdain is a skilled chef, too. His first cookbook in more than a decade includes many of his favourite recipes, from New England clam chowder to chicken pot pie.

Symmetry Breakfast: 100 Recipes for the Loving Cook, by Michael Zee (powerHouse Books, 239 pages, $24.95)

Based on the smash Instagram account, it's a beautifully photographed collection of breakfasts, with a twist. A reminder why breakfast is the most important, and delicious, meal of the day.

Drinks: A User's Guide, by Adam McDowell (TarcherPerigee, 257 pages, $27)

It's the holidays so chances are you'll be drinking – moderately, of course, and only if you're of legal age. The long-time National Post drinks columnist – and, full disclosure, a former colleague – is your ideal guide to the world of booze, from how to drink sake to the best way to stock your liquor cabinet to the difference between aperitifs and digestifs. The only booze book you'll need.

Peculiar presents: Books that defy categorization

An Unreliable History of Tattoos, by Paul Thomas (Nobrow, 96 pages, $29.50)

As the title suggests, you shouldn't take anything found in this illustrated "history" of tattoos literally. For instance, I'm pretty sure George Washington was not "one of America's most extensively tattooed men," as the book suggests.

The Joy of Leaving Your Sh*t All Over the Place: The Art of Being Messy, by Jennifer McCartney (Countryman Press, 126 pages, $19.50)

According to this book, we should all embrace our inner slob. My suggestion? Read this book and, when you're done, throw it on the floor. Doesn't that feel good?

Charlie the Choo-Choo, by Beryl Evans, illustrated by Ned Dameron (Simon & Schuster, 24 pages, $19.99)

If you've read Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series, specifically The Waste Lands, the title of this book might sound familiar; that's because, in an odd bit of meta-publishing, King, writing under a pseudonym, has gone and written what was once just a fictional picture book.

The Very Hungry Pregnant Lady: A Parody, written by Emilie Sandoz-Voyer, illustrated by Gabriel McElwain (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 28 pages, $14.99)

The Eric Carle classic is updated for this tale of an expectant mother who eats through the whole kitchen late one night.

Fucking Apostrophes, by Simon Griffin (Icon, 62 pages, $14.95)

Subtitled "A guide to show you where you can stick them," this is the only book for the grammar geek in your life. Delightfully profane, but deceptively useful.