Every fall, just ahead of Christmas, Lee Child publishes a new Jack Reacher thriller. For more years than I care to count, curling up with the latest instalment of Reacher’s uppercut-fuelled quest for justice has been a holiday highlight.
As fellow Reacher fans know, this treat is no longer as sweet. Three years ago, the author decided to share writing responsibilities to brother Andrew Child, in part to work on what turned out to be a hugely entertaining TV series. It’s a failed partnership. The last two novels – The Sentinel in 2020 and Better Off Dead last year – were miles off the standard for suspense set in 24 previous books. So while I’m hoping Santa brings the this year’s Reacher vigilante adventure – No Plan B – I’ve reduced my expectations.
I’m a nighttime reader and there are always two books beside the bed, one fiction, one non-fiction. If I’m tired, I go with a novel, if I need to wind down, the choice is biography or history. The best book I read this year – and everything else was a distant second – was Son of Elsewhere by Elamin Abdelmahmoud. His autobiographical riff on the immigrant experience in Kingston, Ont., and childhood in Sudan is mesmerizing.
My favourite fiction of the year was The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles. This is his third book, and each is more original than the last. I can’t think of an author who builds better, more authentic characters. I read it slowly, savouring each step of a journey across America in the 1950s.
I started travelling for work again this year, and devoured What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad on a flight from Saskatoon to Toronto. The book stayed with me more than anything else I read; I think of the refugee child at the story’s heart every time immigration comes up in the news.
On a trip to Nashville’s honky-tonks, my captivating airplane read was former Globe and Mail colleague Cathrin Bradbury’s journey through the best and worst time of her life, the year she turned 60, in The Bright Side.
Publishers did well by letting journalists tell their own stories this year. I couldn’t put down Eric Reguly’s Ghosts of War: Chasing My Father’s Legend Through Vietnam. It’s the story of a son trying to make peace with memories of his talented, troubled late father. The same theme pulled me into the late Toronto Star publisher John Honderich’s tell-all tale of his family-controlled newspaper, Above The Fold. I also got a kick out of Saturday Night Live head writer Colin Jost’s A Very Punchable Face, which I stole from my daughter and need to return.
Malcom Gladwell took his idea for an audiobook and turned it into an engaging read in The Bomber Mafia, laying out a battle of tactics and personalities that climaxes in one of the worst civilian slaughters in modern warfare. I’m yet to be disappointed by anything Gladwell writes. Sadly, I cannot say the same for Michael Lewis, of Liar’s Poker fame. Most of his books pull me in. But his attempt to make heroes of public health officials fighting COVID-19 in The Premonition needed to be boiled down to magazine article length.
Andrew Willis is the co-author of Unprecedented: Canada’s Top CEOs on Leadership During COVID-19 (Penguin Random House Canada, 2022)
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