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With the start of the new year, we polled Globe Arts writers and editors to find out what’s on their 2021 reading lists. Below you’ll find the books they’re currently engrossed in and the ones that are next in their piles, from new releases to old favourites to ones they’ve been meaning to read.
Judith Pereira, Books editor
I’m finishing up The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, which is a detailed account of the year right after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in May, 1940. Hitler had just taken France and Churchill was looking at an invasion of Britain. Last year’s U.S. election was unsettling and since the month after continued to be chaotic, I found it cathartic to read about a leader who was able to inspire a nation with his words. His speeches roused the British people and kept them from falling into despair. He gave them hope and showed them that they would survive and thrive.
The other title I read over the Christmas vacation was Matt Haig’s The Midnight Library, which looks at the infinite possibilities of different lives (represented in the novel as volumes of books). After Nora Seed attempts suicide, she finds herself in a library working through different versions of her life – in one she’s a rock star, in another she’s a mother. It’s a compact, satisfying novel that examines regret and also strangely celebrates the messiness of life.
Barry Hertz, Film editor
It’s only one week into January and I already think my 2021 reading list is far too ambitious for what seems like a tremendously difficult year. But I’m trying (really trying!) to read the following: Dune by Frank Herbert, which I’ve somehow never picked up; Barack Obama’s A Promised Land, which I received for Christmas; and Jason Guriel’s Forgotten Work, which I’ve heard nothing but good things about. Wish me luck.
Marsha Lederman, Western arts correspondent
I made an unplanned stop at the bookstore this month. Despite having a gigantic pile of to-be-read books on my bedside shelf, I couldn’t resist just one more. Globe Books editor Judith Pereira has been telling me for ages that I must read Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies, there was a parking meter available right outside the shop and I felt this work of auto-fiction calling to me.
It will become my third read of the new year, after Julia Zarankin’s memoir Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder, which I devoured over 2021′s first weekend, and Jael Richardson’s Gutter Child, which I am reading ahead of a Jan. 20 Incite event with the Vancouver Writers Fest, where I’ll be talking to the author. My fourth book will be the novel Apeirogon by Colum McCann, whom I will be interviewing at a Jan. 28 event for a Toronto synagogue book club.
Beyond that, I am excited about so many books coming out this year, including four by some of my favourite authors: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun – his first novel since winning the 2017 Nobel Prize; Camilla Gibb’s The Relatives – her first novel since her searing memoir This Is Happy; a book of essays by the great Joan Didion, Let Me Tell You What I Mean; and Deborah Levy’s Real Estate – the highly anticipated (by me! And many others) third and final instalment in her living autobiography. Whatever this year brings, I know good books will help me through it.
Cathal Kelly, columnist
Harold Bloom said a couple of generations must pass before you can declare a book canonical. That puts me in a lifelong rear-guard action, trying to get to all the great books I’ve missed. Currently in queue: The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt, The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, Transit by Rachel Cusk, as well as a bunch of trashy spy novels. Also, like I do every year, I’ll re-read a few favourites – off the top of my head, The Easter Parade by Richard Yates, The Blue Flower by Penelope Fitzgerald and The Burn by Vasily Aksyonov.
Brad Wheeler, music critic
I’m currently reading The Mobster’s Lament, the third installment in Ray Celestin’s City Blues Quartet of atmospheric novels that plot the intertwined history of jazz and organized crime through six decades of the 20th century. The latest is set in New York in the 1940s. Previous books in the series (which I plan to read next) live in the New Orleans of the 1910s (The Axeman’s Jazz) and the Chicago of the 1920s (Dead Man’s Blues). By the time I finish them, perhaps author Celestin will have finished the finale, set in 1960s Los Angeles.
Upcoming new releases that interest me include Johnny Cash: The Last Interview and Other Conversations (March 16, published by Melville House), Dave Bowler’s Music is the Drug: The Authorised Biography of Cowboy Junkies; Peter Ames Carlin’s Sonic Boom: The Impossible Rise of Warner Bros. Records, from Hendrix to Fleetwood Mac to Madonna to Prince; and The Spotify Play: How CEO and Founder Daniel Ek Beat Apple, Google, and Amazon in the Race for Audio Dominance, by Sven Carlsson and Jonas Leijonhufvud.
Kate Taylor, visual arts critic
I have just started One Madder Woman by B.C. writer Dede Crane, a fictionalized biography of the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot. Perhaps because she is known for such luminescent domestic scenes, I had sort of assumed Morisot had a light or gentle personality … not at all. High drama in artistic circles in fin de siècle Paris.
J. Kelly Nestruck, theatre critic
I recently watched an online stream of Théâtre du Nouveau Monde’s stage adaptation of L’avalée des avalés. The 1966 debut novel by the late reclusive Quebec writer Réjean Ducharme who couldn’t find a publisher in Canada at the time and then was nominated for the Goncourt after being published in France. I’m now slowly savouring Swallowed, Madeleine Stratford’s beautiful brand-new English-language translation of this Quebecois classic about an angry young Salingeresque girl named Bérénice Einberg who can’t stand the “crappy cow crap” of the world around her.
My household bubble, the three adults in it anyway, have started a book club, and our first selection is Ayad Akhtar’s Homeland Elegies, which landed on many best-of-2020 lists including the Globe 100. I know Akhtar from his Pulitzer-winning play Disgraced and I’m interested to see how he mixes together fact and fiction regarding his theatre career in this faux memoir.
I’m also looking forward to digging into This is Not My Memoir, in which the avant-garde director André Gregory of My Dinner with André fame revisits his artistic and spiritual path through life as if a “wondrous fever dream” (co-written with Todd London). The book comes with some serious blurbs – including from Mikhail Baryshnikov, Adam Gopnik and Wes Anderson.
Craig Offman, Arts editor
As a voracious reader of historical spy thrillers, I’m excited to read Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris, set in the early days of the German Occupation of France. A few reviews say it echoes the work of Alan Furst, but with a twist: This novel focuses on an American female assassin working for British intelligence. Lots of layers to enjoy.
One of my side interests is artificial intelligence, so Kazuo Ishiguro’s upcoming novel, Klara and the Sun, appeals greatly. The Nobel Laureate’s first title since winning the big prize, it’s about Klara, a smart and emotional bot in search of friendship. My parallel read is going to be Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom’s landmark book on the topic from 2014.