To read a new book in spring 2020 is to open a time capsule. Books written, edited and printed before the pandemic must now be read in an altered world – one that’s shrunk and retreated to the confines of four walls.
Something fascinating and almost shocking is to be found in the diurnal detail of a new novel. Take Cordelia Strube’s Misconduct of the Heart, centred around a small restaurant that would now be closed for all but takeout. Or Eimear McBride’s Strange Hotel, in which the protagonist flies off to a series of hotels and commits such unthinkable acts as pressing a concierge’s brass bell with her naked finger.
Dystopian fiction (of which there is plenty) carries a different echo of our present moment. Business tomes must be read through the lens of a new economy. Books about the beauty and power of nature and the resilience of the human spirit feel more urgent (and moving) than ever.
Whether you’re looking for escapism or for answers about our current situation, the spring has a bounty of new books to suit your needs.
Gil Adamson (House of Anansi, May)
When the real world has taken a sudden, seismic shift, there’s something comforting about retreating far into the past, where things still exist as they always were and as they ought, in our minds, to be. Gil Adamson’s 2007 road novel, The Outlander, was the unputdownable story of a young widow on the run through the Canadian wilderness at the beginning of the 20th century. Set some 15 years later, her follow-up is the story of a solitary drifter determined to steal enough money to secure his son’s future. Part literary Western, part historical mystery, it’s a vivid story that grabs you by the eyeballs on page one.
I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind
Marianne Apostolides (Book*hug, April)
Searching for answers about a failed affair and in need of money, a single mother in her 40s signs up for a research study: She is paid to live with an AI device called Dirk, which is capable of mapping her brain.
S.D. Chrostowska (Coach House Books, April)
Had any strange dreams lately? In near-future America, two travellers on a mission to combat the state-sponsored drugging of citizens for greater productivity travel through the dreams and nightmares of others.
Five Little Indians
Michelle Good (Harper Perennial, April)
In her debut novel, Good, a member of the Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, chronicles the desperate quest of five residential school survivors to overcome – or to forget – the trauma of their past.
Daughters of Smoke and Fire
Ava Homa (Harper Perennial, May)
A young Kurdish woman fights for justice for her younger brother, an activist who has disappeared in Tehran. This portrait of the stakes faced by 40 million stateless Kurds is the first novel by a female Kurdish writer to be published in English.
The Last High
Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster, May)
Earlier novels by Kalla, a Vancouver ER doctor and internationally bestselling thriller writer, include Pandemic (about a devastating mutation of the flu that begins on a farm in China) and We All Fall Down, about an Italian resurgence of the Black Death. So, his backlist is a must-read right now. In his latest, a detective and a doctor go up against the opioid crisis.
Things Worth Burying
Matt Mayr (Baraka Books, April)
When a man dies on his watch and his wife abandons the family, third-generation logger Joe Adler is left alone to wrestle with his conscience and to care for his seven-year-old daughter. Set among the black spruce forests of Northern Ontario, this is a story about the people who stay with the land even while the work and population ebb away.
All the Animals on Earth
Mark Sampson (Buckrider Books, May)
To solve the world’s depopulation problem, scientists find a way to turn birds and mammals into humanoid form. Then an accident causes Earth’s population to quadruple overnight and the human-like inhabitants are exhibiting some startling social behaviour. Struggling with the new social norms in the real world? Get lost in a different kind of social confusion instead.
Vivek Shraya (ECW, April)
Break your stuck-at-home social-media obsession with a book about … social-media obsession. Artist, author and musician Shraya’s second novel is a fiery take on Twitter culture, female friendship and making art and music in the modern era.
Misconduct of the Heart
Cordelia Strube (ECW, April)
Set in a small chain restaurant, Strube’s darkly comic novel feels from a different time. Transport yourself back to the world of a month ago in the company of Stevie, a recovering alcoholic and kitchen manager, as she tries to save her business from corporate takeover while caring for three generations of family, each with their own sets of challenges.
Doreen Vanderstoop (Freehand Books, May)
Water, not oil, holds the power in this dystopian page-turner about the human cost of climate change. As a woman waits for the water pipeline that will save her Prairie farm from catastrophic drought, she wrestles with her son’s secrets and departure. This debut provides both a disturbing vision of the near future and a reminder of how people come together in hard times.
Megha Majumdar (McClelland & Stewart, June)
In the wake of a catastrophe in contemporary India, three characters with big dreams find their lives entwined in a story about fate, power and class in a country spinning towards extremism. This anticipated debut has big hit written all over it.
Eimear McBride (McClelland & Stewart, May)
A changing list of cities you might dream of visiting again one day provides a periodical refrain in this slender novel from the author of A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing as a nameless narrator travels the world visiting hotel rooms from her past.
A Children’s Bible
Lydia Millet (WW Norton, May)
Contemptuous of their neglectful parents, a group of children on a forced lakeside family vacation runs away. Outside the estate they find apocalyptic chaos that begins to mimic events in a little boy’s dog-eared Bible. His sister, narrator Eve, devotes herself to his protection.
All Adults Here
Emma Straub (Riverhead, May)
From the author of The Vacationers, this warm, funny novel about adult siblings, aging parents and the intergenerational consequences of decisions made long ago provides an escape into to an alternate family for those forced into time either together or apart from their own.
Latitudes of Longing
Shubhangi Swarup (One World, May)
A love story between humanity and the earth, this sweeping debut unites its cast of characters – a scientist who studies trees, a geologist, a clairvoyant, a yeti seeking human companionship and more – through a search for connection and a vision of life.
Comics & Graphic Novels
Catherine Ocelot (Conundrum, April)
This tragi-comic, slightly fantastical tale that explores the impact of others on oneself was named the best graphic novel in Quebec in 2018. Translated from the French by Aleshia Jensen.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist
Adrian Tomine (Drawn & Quarterly, June)
What happens when a childhood hobby grows into a career? Touching, funny and sad, this memoir is for fans of Tomine, of course, but also for anybody who has ever fumbled their way through work and life.
Talking to Strangers: A Memoir of My Escape from a Cult
Marianne Boucher (Doubleday, April)
In this powerful graphic memoir that will appeal to listeners of Uncover: Escaping NXIVM, a teenage girl lured into a cult fights to escape and reclaim her identity.
Memoir, Social Science, Business & Politics
What I Remember, What I Know: The Life of a High Arctic Exile
Larry Audlaluk (Inhabit Media, May)
Born in Uugaqsiuvik, northern Quebec, Audlaluk was relocated with his family to the High Arctic in the early 1950s, when he was two years old. As he chronicles in this memoir, they were promised a land of plenty that did not exist, and lead into a struggle to survive between two cultures.
Humankind: A Hopeful History
Rutger Bregman (Little, Brown & Co., June)
Replete with advance praise from readers as diverse as Quiet author Susan Cain, former U.S. presidential candidate Andrew Yang and Brian Eno, this big-buzz book from a viral sensation (Google his name with “Davos” or “Tucker Carlson”) argues – refreshingly, hopefully – that humans are innately co-operative and good. Translated from the Dutch by Elizabeth Manton and Erica Moore.
In Praise of Paths: Walking through Time and Nature
Torbjorn Ekelund (Greystone Books, May)
For many non-essential workers, life has slowed these past weeks. In this love story to travelling by foot, Ekelund walks in urban landscapes and in nature, and asks what we lose when we view the world always from the window of a car, guided by an electronic map. Translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook and with a foreword by Geoff Nicholson.
Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy
David Frum (HarperCollins, May)
Looking ahead to the 2020 U.S. election and beyond, the Atlantic senior editor and former George W. Bush speechwriter asks what happens when a third of the electorate refuses to abandon Trump under any circumstance.
Still: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Motherhood
Emma Hansen (Greystone Books, April)
Stillbirth is experienced by more than two million women each year but rarely spoken of publicly. In this devastating personal account about learning to live after loss, the author expands on her essay that went viral after her first son was born still at 39 weeks and 6 days.
The Shoe Boy: A Trapline Memoir
Duncan McCue (UBC Press, April)
Raised in the south, an Anishinabe boy moves, at 17, to join a James Bay Cree family in a one-room hunting cabin in the wilderness of northern Quebec. This coming-of-age memoir from the host of CBC radio’s Cross-Country Check-Up is a tour of a young man’s culture shock and the Cree struggle to protect their way of life.
The Soul of an Entrepreneur: Work and Life Beyond the Startup Myth
David Sax (PublicAffairs, April)
A book about work, passion and hope, this is the latest from the author of The Revenge of Analog and Save the Deli. A business book written in the prepandemic economy, it carries a hopeful message for would-be entrepreneurs now, and celebrates small businesses as the fabric of our economy.
Rivers of Power: How a Natural Force Raised Kingdoms, Destroyed Civilizations, and Shapes Our World
Laurence C. Smith (Little, Brown Spark, April)
For fans of Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari, or for anybody sitting at home pondering civilization’s dependence on the natural world, geographer Smith provides a fascinating tour of the natural force that has shaped the course of human civilization more than any other: the river.
Health & Science
Soap and Water & Common Sense: The Definitive Guide to Viruses, Bacteria, Parasites, and Disease
Dr. Bonnie Henry (House of Anansi, April)
As a calm, authoritative voice on the virus then heading our way, BC’s provincial health officer became a household name across the country in the weeks before Canadians were sent home. This new edition of Dr. Henry’s 2009 book includes a new introduction on protecting yourself and others from COVID-19.
On Pandemics: Deadly Diseases from Bubonic Plague to Coronavirus
David Waltner-Toews (Greystone Books, May)
A leading epidemiologist answers questions about how animal diseases jump to humans. First published in 2007 as The Chickens Fight Back, this book has also been updated for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Little Gardener: Helping Children Connect with the Natural World
Julie A. Cerny, Illustrations by Ysemay Dercon (Princeton Architectural Press, March)
Homeschooling doesn’t have to happen at a desk. Help children explore the natural world through gardening with this illustrated guide: part how-to, part teaching tool, part inspiration.
Houseplants for All: How to Fill Any Home with Happy Plants
Danae Horst (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April)
Start with a quiz to find out what plants suit your home and lifestyle best, then follow the steps to bring the outside in and help it flourish. For experienced plant parents and newbies alike.
Modern Container Gardening: How to Create a Stylish Small-Space Garden Anywhere
Isabelle Palmer (Hardie Grant, March)
No garden? No idea what to do in one even if you did? No problem! This novice’s guide to container gardening will help you bring life to your windowsill, window box or balcony.
Simply Living Well: A Guide to Creating a Natural, Low-Waste Home
Julia Watkins (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April)
This timely motivational guide from the creator of @simply.living.well on Instagram, comes complete with aspirational photography and house-and-garden hacks to help you cut back on waste.
Gwen Benaway (Book*hug, April)
The new collection from the winner of the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry (for Holy Wild) celebrates the Indigenous trans feminine body, asking what it means to be a trans woman both within the text and in the physical world.
John Elizabeth Stintzi (House of Anansi, April)
The winner of the 2019 RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers has both a debut poetry collection and a debut novel hitting shelves this spring. In Junebat, Stinzi maps their struggle coming to terms with their gender identity. In Stinzi’s novel, Vanishing Monuments (Arsenal Pulp Press, March), the protagonist returns home to their long-estranged mother now suffering from dementia.
Irfan Ali (Brick Books, April)
Set in Toronto amid the struggle of an immigrant family to instill an old faith under new conditions, this debut unfurls against the backdrop of an ancient Persian love story and to a soundtrack of modern hip-hop.
Claire Caldwell (Invisible Publishing, April)
This second collection from a poet praised by John Irving as an “environmental doomsayer” and “comedic, antic storyteller” explores what it means to be a settler woman in the wilderness, whether in the Klondike, at summer camp, or on the frontier of outer space.
As Far As You Know
A.F. Moritz (House of Anansi, April)
The Toronto Poet Laureate’s 20th collection unfolds in six movements revolving around “Terrorism” and “Poetry” in all the forms they might take.
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