THE ALMOST ARCHER SISTERS
By Lisa Gabriele, Doubleday Canada, 248 pages, $14
While her older sister, Beth, is living the dream in Manhattan, Peachy is sorting socks in a Belle River laundromat and looking after two little boys. Until the day she catches her husband having sex with Beth. Peachy decides to leave her sister in charge, and takes off for a weekend of shopping and dining in New York, including a blind date with the man Beth loves. Smart and funny.
By Kim Echlin, Hamish Hamilton Canada, 235 pages, $29
In 1979 Montreal, 16-year-old Anne Greaves falls in love with a Cambodian musician named Serey. Ten years later, she travels to Cambodia during a period of unrest, trying to track down her former lover. When she does find him, the reunion is not what she expects - nor is Cambodia itself. The book builds toward a complex expression of annihilating loss and eternal love that is inevitable and beyond the calculations of reason.
By Colin McAdam
Hamish Hamilton Canada, 368 pages, $32
Colin McAdam's second novel, Fall, is set at a tony Ottawa boarding school 12 years in the past, and the subject matter conjures up ghosts of other novels with similar, rarefied settings and, to a lesser extent, plots. There's a smattering of Lord of the Flies, more than a touch of A Separate Peace and an undercurrent of Catcher in the Rye, though McAdam writes for adults, not youth.
COME, THOU TORTOISE
By Jessica Grant, Knopf Canada, 412 pages, $29.95
Audrey Flowers, the main character of this novel, is brilliant. She's hilarious. I could read about her all day. The same goes for the tortoise. Oh, and the talking fruit fly. Come, Thou Tortoise is a sprawling but well-structured comic novel with many serious messages and much marvellous insight. It's extraordinary, original and simultaneously both deep and lightheartedly charming.
Diane Baker Mason
THE COLOR OF LIGHTNING
By Paulette Jiles, HarperCollins, 350 pages, $22.95
The great horsemen of the Texas plains, the Comanche and the Kiowa, are inscrutable to the whites who slowly begin to encroach on their territory around the time of the Civil War. With the war grinding to a close, the bureaucrats of Washington and Philadelphia decide that the time has come to herd the western Indians onto reservations. But what if these people do not wish be limited to a reservation?
Aritha van Herk
THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD
By Terry Griggs, Biblioasis, 224 pages, $19.95
Chockablock with winks and digs at the literary set, Thought You Were Dead is a gleeful Russian doll of novel. One trips along, revelling in its wordplay, its wit, its puns and allusions, and its jokes. Then there are the characters, the inventors, writers, realtors and reputation-management specialists who people the antic "sleepy town" of Farclas, Ont. The story is equal parts comic murder mystery, hero's journey and layered intellectual puzzle, and it satisfies on every level.
THE FACTORY VOICE
By Jeanette Lynes, Coteau, 285 pages, $21
Jeanette Lynes tells a rollicking good tale that shows regular ol' Canadians making the best of the worst of times. It's a fictional slice of Canadian history about a boxcar-manufacturing plant in Northern Ontario that won one of the biggest airplane commissions of the Second World War, the engineering pioneer who ran it, and the motley cast of players who were drawn there for guaranteed employment and shelter.
THE INCIDENT REPORT
By Martha Baillie, Pedlar Press, 195 pages, $21
The Incident Report is maddening. Inter-textual head nods run a dizzying gamut from Erik Satie to Giuseppe Verdi, the Brothers Grimm to Thomas Bernhard, Marc Chagall to Mark Rothko, Ray Bradbury to A. A. Milne. Baillie is a subtle portraitist and in Miriam Gordon creates an engaging heroine, with rich psychological nuance. Baillie's unsettling dreamscape seems to speak to a host of unsaid violations. But all is not darkness. The Incident Report is also very funny.
By Lisa Moore, Anansi, 308 pages, $29.95
February is the account of how one Newfoundland family carries on after the Ocean Ranger disaster, the sinking of the offshore oil rig on Valentine's Day, 1982, that killed all 84 men aboard, including the fictional Cal O'Mara. Cal leaves behind his wife, Helen, and four children. How Helen manages on her own, and doesn't, and the effect the loss of his father has on John, Cal and Helen's firstborn, amounts to a meditation on grief.
THE BISHOP'S MAN
By Linden MacIntyre, Random House Canada, 399 pages, $32
In his Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning novel, MacIntyre tackles the disturbing topic of sexual abuse of children, a subject easily given to theses and tirades, lectures and judgments, all thinly veiled as fiction. MacIntyre, his engrossing tale told through the eyes and experiences of Father Duncan MacAskill, sidesteps these pitfalls to deliver a serious examination of the theme with the page-turning energy of a thriller.
THE GOLDEN MEAN
By Annabel Lyon, Random House Canada, 276 pages, $32.95
As the book opens, Aristotle has been appointed tutor to the sons of his childhood friend, King Philip of Macedon. One is a "violent, snotty boy" who is also a genius, and who will eventually be known as Alexander the Great. While this Aristotle is an unpleasant man, he is also extremely believable. The Golden Mean, which has just won the Writers' Trust Award for fiction, is a crisply written, painstakingly researched book, and Annabel Lyon ably inhabits "the greatest mind of all time."
By Michael Crummey, Doubleday Canada, 356 pages, $32.95
The novel opens with a group from the fictional Newfoundland outport of Paradise Deep slaughtering a beached whale. The body of a man, pale and stinking, is cut from the whale's belly, and it turns out he's alive, though he cannot speak a word. He never does utter a word and he never loses his stench, but his presence ignites a spark in Paradise Deep that sustains the story for generations.
TOO MUCH HAPPINESS
By Alice Munro, McClelland & Stewart, 303 pages, $32.99
Too Much Happiness is, to my mind, one of Alice Munro's strongest collections. Memory is a great and moral tool for this writer, the way it allows our past to be freshly revealed to us by events in the present. Because of memory, our lives shift and make sense at the same time. This might be a definition of what it is to grow; it may also be why Munro's stories are living things that simply refuse to be still on the page.
THE YEAR OF THE FLOOD
By Margaret Atwood, McClelland & Stewart, 434 pages, $32.99
This is a work of fearless imagination. Margaret Atwood never quails in the face of the future she has conjured. Or, rather, that we have conjured. For what distinguishes her imagined world is that it looks over the brink of our shared present and is marked by knowledge that we try to ignore. From the first page, we are in the grip of a storyteller who drives us on to fresh understanding and - amazingly - fresh enjoyment.
THE LAST SHOT
By Leon Rooke, Thomas Allen, 229 pages, $24.95
Leon Rooke is a national treasure. He eschews the dreary wet wool blanket of conventional realism, salting his stories with magic, myth, vituperation and improbability. Often, out of the darkest and most moribund situations, he wrestles a startling and uncanny beauty. Like his contemporary Alice Munro, he writes outside the box; he writes to push the idea of story to the limits and beyond.
By Ray Robertson, Thomas Allen, 292 pages, $32.95
The title character of Ray Robertson's complex and haunting novel is a light-skinned African-American man with green eyes and a good deal of anger. A white preacher saves the boy and his mother by leading them to the extreme southwestern part of what will soon become Ontario. The story takes David from his teenage years to his late 40s, through careers as a resurrectionist and a speakeasy keeper.
By Margaret Sweatman, Goose Lane, 332 pages, $22.95
In this historical novel, set in 1660s England and Northern Canada, Lilly Cole, whose mother has recently died, survives by working at her aunt's London brothel. There she meets playwright Bartholomew, who teaches her stagecraft and presents her to the king, Charles II, who takes the pretty, 16-year-old Lilly as his mistress. But when she kills a rapist in an alley, she must flee to Canada. Sweatman creates a memorable female character making her way in a world of men: Lilly Cole, player, survivor, early Canadian.
By Bonnie Burnard, HarperCollins, 317 pages, $34.99
Suddenly tracks a middle-aged woman living through the final stages of breast cancer. "Living" is the key word: Burnard delivers a novel about death, teeming with life that is "pressed down, shaken together and running over." We meet Sandra Rusano at her cottage on Lake Huron after she has packed her husband and their grandchildren off home. She wants to be alone with her private knowledge - and a glass of scotch.
Donna Bailey Nurse
8 X 10
By Michael Turner, Doubleday Canada, 164 pages, $27.95
Turner is known for his multimedia approach to literature, pasting together scripts, diaries, poems and various forms into his fiction. In 8 X 10, each section, rarely more than a few pages, is narrated in the third person. Characters do not have proper names, specific towns and cities are avoided, and things like race are not mentioned explicitly. 8 X 10 is an unsettling and daring work, a tangible symbol of our anxious world and the stark emotional devastation of war.
THE KINDLY ONES
By Jonathan Littell, translated by Charlotte Mandell, McClelland & Stewart, 935 pages, $34.99
The Kindly Ones is the harrowing, morally complex first-person fictional memoir of an SS captain named Maximilian Aue, who witnesses some of the worst Nazi atrocities of the war: The first 400 pages are devoted to the heartless massacre of thousands of Eastern European Jews. But by the time Aue reaches Stalingrad, reality and fantasy switch places. The destruction of Berlin and the end of the war are depicted as an unpleasant and deeply odd psycho-sexual nightmare.
EVERY MAN DIES ALONE
By Hans Fallada, translated by Michael Hofmann, Melville Press, 542 pages, $32
At 51, Hans Fallada was locked up in a Nazi insane asylum, where he defied Joseph Goebbels and wrote an anti-Nazi novel in code. After the war, a friend gave him the Gestapo file of a working-class couple who performed many acts of resistance in Berlin. In 24 days, Fallada produced Every Man Dies Alone, based on this file. In 1947, two weeks before the novel's publication, he died. This testament is Fallada's attempt to retrieve the few shreds of honour and courage the Nazis, no matter how viciously they tried, could not manage to destroy.
By Zoë Heller, Knopf Canada, 355 pages, $32
Some of the best contemporary writing is about subtle culture clashes, producing novels populated by characters with feet in two different worlds. Zoë Heller's latest novel focuses on the idea of having faith in what you belong to - and vice versa. The Believers is funny, serious, well plotted and well written, sympathetic without being sentimental, thought-provoking and enjoyable; in short, that rare specimen every reader hopes for when opening a new book.
J. C. Sutcliffe
THE ACT OF LOVE
By Howard Jacobson, Penguin Canada, 308 pages, $24
Felix Quinn, jilted in early adolescence by a movie date, feels compelled as an adult to re-enact the searing pain in order to vanquish it. He seeks out women who will cheat on him, then tells himself that this is what he actually likes. To Jacobson, love is still patient, still kind, still bears all things. It's just so much else besides: complicated, funny, cruel, sick and always worth one's while. Much like this wickedly terrific book.
THE CHILDREN'S BOOK
By A. S. Byatt, Knopf Canada, 615 pages, $36.95
The Children's Book follows a group of Fabian families from the closing years of the 19th century to the end of the First World War. Olive Wellwood is a writer of fairy tales and the mother of seven. The children's lives seem idyllic, with the socialist consciences of their parents not precluding big houses and expensive schools. The Children's Book is an intelligent, erudite and charming companion.
J. C. Sutcliffe
ALL THE LIVING
By C. E. Morgan, Knopf Canada, 208 pages, $29.95
C. E. Morgan's sensitive and wise debut novel is a passionate and deeply thoughtful tale of love and loss, set against an unforgettable southern landscape. When Aloma Earle and Orren Fenton fall in love, they aren't thinking about the future, but then Orren inherits a drought-ridden tobacco farm, the differences between them, disregarded in the heady rush of their first love, become painfully obvious. This is a story about endurance and commitment, and marriage as a calling to adulthood.
LOVE AND OBSTACLES
By Aleksandar Hemon, Riverhead, 210 pages, $32.50
Hemon's virtues as a writer include his ability to straddle two distinct cultures, to twist stories in unexpected directions, to find startling uses for the English language. Born in Sarajevo in 1964, he arrived in the United States in 1992 as a tourist, only to find himself stranded when Bosnia descended into chaos. He worked a variety of jobs while teaching himself English, and this freshness of language helps him explore the mechanics of cultural dislocation.
By Sarah Dunant, Virago, 465 pages, $32
Serafina must be hastily cloistered at the convent of Santa Caterina when the man she was intended to marry prefers her sister. Her rebellion against imprisonment turns convent life upside down. Dunant interweaves multiple suspenseful tales with skill and ease. Her sumptuous writing style and talent at making history relevant and characters vivid mean that Sacred Hearts is like the feisty heroine in a highbrow costume drama: gorgeously dressed, highly accomplished and impeccably mannered, but with plenty going on between the ears.
J. C. Sutcliffe
KAHN AND ENGELMANN
By Hans Eichner, translated by Jean Snook, Biblioasis, 334 pages, $21.95
A fascinating family saga, Kahn & Engelmann chronicles five generations of Jewish life. Beginning in 1880 near Lake Balaton, Hungary, the narrative moves episodically from turn-of-the-century Vienna through the 20th century's convulsions, culminating in the Holocaust, the foundation of Israel and the battles for the survival of the Jewish state.
LOVE AND SUMMER
By William Trevor, Knopf Canada, 212 pages, $32
William Trevor's 14th novel, set "some years after the middle of the last century," begins with the death of a matriarch who specialized in hate, but its focus is love in all its needy, dangerous, difficult forms. For love, like truth, is always "blemished," Trevor suggests. The course of true love in this marvellously written, consummately plotted book is as unpredictable as it is imperfect - no mean feat for a story based on the time-worn romantic.
Janice Kulyk Keefer
A GATE AT THE STAIRS
By Lorrie Moore, Bond Street/Doubleday Canada, 322 pages, $29.95
Sarah Brink is a chef who runs her own restaurant, and the soon-to-be mother of an adopted biracial toddler. She hires the young Tassie Keltjin as a nanny. Sarah, somewhat inadvertently, initiates Tassie into in the ways of being a woman, and becomes an unwitting, wavering guide through love and motherhood, betrayal, loss, self-reliance and sadness. Sarah is vivid, poignant and multifaceted, but it's Tassie Keltjin, this novel's voice and moral compass, who grips the reader.
By John Crowley, Morrow, 400 pages, $33.99
Four Freedoms roots its narrative in the gritty particulars of the home front - specifically Ponca City, Okla. - during the Second World War, but through John Crowley's attention to detail and his considerable stylistic and character- building skills, it transcends those particulars and finds its terrain in the universal, a domain of sex, love, despair, loss and, too fleetingly, hope.
THE GATHERING NIGHT
By Margaret Elphinstone, McArthur & Company, 375 pages, $24.95
Elphinstone's fast-paced, intriguing story is set 8,000 years ago on the west coast of Scotland. Apart from being an utterly convincing historical fiction, it also includes a murder mystery, a spiritual quest, a family drama, a landscape-altering tidal wave, an exploration of tribal politics and a Stone Age "trial" to rival anything concocted by John Grisham, followed by a thrilling, harrowing chase scene.
H. J. Kirchhoff
By Victor Lodato, Doubleday Canada, 292 pages, $29.95
Mathilda is a devious, loquacious 12-year-old, thrust toward maturity by her changing body and the sudden, violent death of her 17-year-old sister. In a single day, a family of two college professors and their daughters is torn asunder. Playwright Victor Lodato's debut novel has just made the search for the best U.S. novel of 2009 much, much simpler. With its utterly captivating voice, brisk plot and timely but lasting philosophical investigations, this is one of the strongest debuts in decades.
By Nick Hornby, Riverhead, 406 pages, $32.50
This is a love triangle, born of CDs and e-mails and, finally, face-to-face confrontations between middle-aged adults: reclusive musician Tucker Crowe, English college lecturer and Crowe expert Duncan Thomson, and Duncan's lover, Annie. It is also about the muddled interactions between art and life, and between human beings. Hornby advances the story via his usual clever dialogue.
HOMER & LANGLEY
By E. L. Doctorow, Random House, 208 pages, $32
In 1947, two New York "disposaphobes," the wealthy Collyer brothers, died bizarre deaths in their mansion, which was packed to the ceiling with hoarded junk. It was three weeks before authorities discovered that Langley lay dead less than 10 feet from where the body of his brother, Homer, was found. Langley had been crushed by one of his own booby traps, made out of bales of newspapers. Doctorow's novel is not so much a recounting of the bizarre story as a journey inside it.
By Nicholson Baker, Simon & Shuster, 256 pages, $32.99
The Anthologist is a meditation on poetry framed as a novel. The main character (Baker's alter ego, it seems pretty clear) is Paul Chowder, a poet seized by self-doubt, so blocked that he can't even deal with his fallback job: writing the introduction to a poetry anthology. His girlfriend, Roz, is fed up and has moved out and he wants her back: We have the premise of a plot. But it's not the story that makes the novel such a page-turner. It's Baker's fabulous gift in parsing a thought entertainingly.
By Michael Connelly, Little, Brown, 374 pages, $34.99
Nine Dragons not only brings back popular Los Angeles homicide detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch, but also features an intricate, wide-ranging and compelling story, to go with credible, sympathetic characters and exotic locations, unusual for Harry, who seldom leaves L.A. There are more twists and turns in the final 40 or 50 pages of this novel than most books contain in their entirety, but it all makes perfect sense and ties together most satisfyingly.
H. J. Kirchhoff
LOVE IN INFANT MONKEYS
By Lydia Millet, Soft Skull, 177 pages, $17.50
Lydia Millet's book is an exploration of the worlds of celebrities and animals, which proves incredibly fertile creative territory. Each of the book's stories involves the relationship between a celebrity (ranging from Sharon Stone to Nikola Tesla) and at least one animal (a Komodo dragon and some pigeons, respectively). What these stories reveal, most of all, is that within the space of imagination, of fiction, is where our most revelatory and moving experiences occur.
By Sherman Alexie, Grove Press, 256 pages, $30.95
Alexie's collection of short stories and poetry is a leap forward. War Dances, for all his trademark energy and bravery, shows a more mature voice that does not see economy as a betrayal of passion. A paradox in his writing is that you can be in the middle of delighted laughter when he will hit you with a sentence so true to the core of a character's pain that you are startled to realize you are crying.
Gale Zoë Garnett
UNDER THE DOME
By Stephen King, Scribner, 1,074 pages, $39.99
In 100 years, Stephen King will, I guarantee, be in the canon. And one of the main reasons will be his whopping novel Under the Dome. It begins with shocking immediacy, when an invisible dome encapsulates the town of Chester's Mill, Me., without warning. This novel will keep readers up all night, then haunt their dreams when they sleep. It is perhaps King's finest novel since The Stand, and that's just about the highest praise I can give.
HOW TO PAINT A DEAD MAN
By Sarah Hall, Faber & Faber, 289 pages, $24
There are four characters, four stories, four time periods, which while linked thematically, touch one another only in oblique ways. While there is a plot in the book, one that compels us to keep turning the pages, the novel is more of a meditation on the effects and consequences of loss. Hall suggests that art, its appreciation as well as its creation, is a kind of compensation, and is a path through beauty to a more profound understanding of life.
THE WINTER VAULT
By Anne Michaels, McClelland & Stewart, 336 pages, $32.99
This is a book that proposes great themes: a critique of progress, an exploration of the nature of human suffering, an interrogation of the relationship between past and present. And yet, for all of that, it remains at bottom a deeply affecting love story about intimacies and distances that grow, shift and dissolve between people.
By Colm Tóibín, McClelland & Stewart, 262 pages, $32.99
Eilis is a young woman torn between Ireland and the United States in Tóibín's Brooklyn. The mirroring between Ireland and America - Eilis's two jobs, two boyfriends, two futures - is effective because the intent isn't simply ironic; there are no easy choices. Rather, we see that the star of the story is never the place but the person; it is always Eilis who compels, because she holds both worlds - quietly, paradoxically, essentially - within her.
By John Donlan, Brick Books, 75 pages, $18
A brilliant wordsmith, Donlan writes circles around many of his contemporaries and, in so doing, creates a world where all remains redolent with the radiant sheen of life, writ lush with largesse and a kind of courage to express both humour and humility through deeply moving meditations that leave "the mutter and ache/ and fuss of self" in the rubble and ruin of so-called contemporary civilization.
By Margaret Avison, McClelland & Stewart, 80 pages, $17.99
The radiant authority of Avison's art, everywhere on display in this affective as well as effective volume, derives from a life spent observing, assimilating, listening and, most crucially, taking note of all that fills her senses. She opens her heart to the universe and, in so doing, finds fulfilment within its wondrous and often incomprehensibly wicked ways.
By A. F. Moritz, Anansi, 84 pages, $18.95
The prolific Moritz is incapable of putting a metrical foot wrong; he has a velvety, seductive technique through which we're immersed in a poetic dreamtime, especially memories of a lost civilization that was decayed even at its height. Moritz is deft at creating alternative universes and can summon ravishing lines such as "the sort of root a canoe's hull or the belly of a tern/ offers to water, moving on its own pressure and soft shadow."
By Karen Solie, Anansi, 94 pages, $18.95
Canadians obsess about weather and landscape. More than a dozen poems here address ways we inhabit, and often overuse, our natural environment, specifically rivers and lakes. As much as Pigeon sings with metaphor and language-love, it is also infused with a subtle formality that feels like listening to the echoing footsteps of someone walking by deep in thought. In wilderness, perhaps self-discovery, but also distance and solitude exist.
By Joseph Epstein, Yale University Press, 191 pages, $26.75
This is as much an attempt to set the record straight as it is an appreciation of a preposterously famous man who somehow managed to preserve an air of mystery. Nicely paced, almost scientifically analytical in explaining why Astaire became a legend while others merely became movie stars, and filled with illuminating asides and unexpected wisecracks, Fred Astaire manages to draw a direct line from Denis Diderot to Alexis de Tocqueville to Marcel Proust to Fred Astaire. My top hat's off to this guy.
Robert Burns, a Biography
By Robert Crawford, Princeton University Press, 466 pages, $39.95
The mercurial quality of Scottish poet Robert Burns (the 250th anniversary of his birth was in 2009) is not easily captured. But Robert Crawford does so with assurance and fluency. He manages to combine narrative richness with a close reading of the work that sets it in both its literary and historical context. In lengthy, deeply rewarding chapters, Crawford brings a poet's ear and a novelist's technique to bear to bring a lost world to life.
ANGELS AND AGES
By Adam Gopnik, Knopf, 211 pages, $27.95
How Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln (born the same day in 1809) established "moral modernity" is the broad subject of Angels and Ages. The two are emblematic figures in the spread of what Gopnik calls "bourgeois liberal democracy." With his own memorable tropes and bounding, often giddy prose, along with passionate storytelling, Gopnik shows that Lincoln and Darwin weren't only inspired and brave, they were eloquent and persuasive.
A Memoir of Living and Almost Dying
By Wayson Choy, Doubleday Canada, 208 pages, $27.95
In this memoir, Wayson Choy almost dies twice, his heart failing him a second time, four years after the 2001 multiple cardiac events. His representation of illness and recovery is as sensitively and sensuously rendered as immigrant experience was in his first novel, The Jade Peony, with the same degree of candour, humour and authenticity. Choy's craft enables his book to transcend the illness and suffering he endured and to become a virtual journal of his fighting through the soul's darkness to light.
By Adrienne Clarkson, Penguin Canada, 200 pages, $26
Adrienne Clarkson's strength is her knowledge of Canadian social, cultural and political history, into which she inserts Bethune. The Chinese have claimed him as their own, though he spent only 20 months in their country. Clarkson reclaims him, showing how thoroughly a Canadian product this original médecin sans frontières was. Perhaps the most inspired pairing of author and subject in Penguin Canada's Extraordinary Canadians series to date.
A Memoir on Death, Dementia, and Coming Home
By Heather Menzies, Key Porter, 240 pages, $21.95
Though the memoir of losing a parent or partner to the devastations of dementia may be all too familiar, Heather Menzies takes fresh ownership of this tale by looking at how daughter and mother find new ways to connect as disease hacks away old ones. It is this constant psychological tension, along with Menzies's exploration of self and language, that elevates Enter Mourning from a lament to a magnificently memorable memoir.
MY JUDY GARLAND LIFE
By Susie Boyt, Bloomsbury, 285 pages, $27.50
If there has been a more candid, insightful, empathetic, intelligent, endearing, poignant and surprising work of non-fiction published in the past few decades, I haven't read it. Susie Boyt yanks truths out of her messy life and Judy Garland's messier career like teeth, roots dripping with awkward candour. This is thoughtful, tempered writing, the product not only of decades of interest in a celebrity, but years of introspection on the nature, purpose, value and results of the attachment millions of us feel to famous people we've never met.
THE MUSIC ROOM
By William Fiennes, Random House Canada, 216 pages, $ 29.95
William Fiennes's family's estate was a broad-moated medieval castle in Oxfordshire. But memories of the great hall and glorious grounds were tempered by fear and anguish caused by the Fiennes' eldest son, Richard, brain-scarred by epilepsy, who would erupt violently. With exactitude of diction that makes lingering thoughts shine all the brighter, this is a memoir of subtle word music and even subtler patterning of consciousness about an extraordinary childhood challenged by a brother's major dysfunction.
THE BOY IN THE MOON
By Ian Brown, Random House Canada, 293 pages, $29.95
In attempting to make sense of the life of his radically disabled son, Walker, Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown reveals himself as a raw, flawed man in search of his mute, unknowable boy, or at least a way to be proud of him. More than anything, that's the secret of this book's success: Brown boldly goes where even he - smart-mouthed, combative scribe - has never gone before, into the very core of compassion and anger and pain.
A Love Story
By Karen Connelly, Random House Canada, 463 pages, $32
This recounting, reimagining, of Connelly's several months in the mid-1990s on the Thai-Burmese border, including several weeks in Rangoon, reveals a brave, even foolhardy, idealistic, beautiful young woman utterly seduced, co-opted, transformed by Burmese culture, but one who at the same time was in the fertile, pre-writing soil of a novel, the award-winning tale of dissidence and punishment, The Lizard Cage.
Marian Botsford Fraser
THE STRANGEST MAN
The Hidden Life of Paul Dirac, Mystic of the Atom
By Graham Farmelo, Basic Books, 539 pages, $37.95
Anyone interested in the psychology of genius will find physicist Paul Dirac's story, as told in this superb biography, compelling. The book is also a wonderful romp through the golden age of quantum physics and a cast of characters including Einstein, Bohr, Heisenberg and Fermi. And the story is set against a background of epochal world events: the regimes of Hitler and Stalin, the Second World War and the atomic bomb.
AFTER THE FALLS
Coming of Age in the Sixties
By Catherine Gildiner, Knopf Canada, 342 pages, $32.95
Psychologist Cathy Gildiner takes up the delightful tale she began in Too Close to the Falls in this coming-of-age (barely) memoir. The new story is as engaging as the first, though it is farther-reaching, covering the breakdown of fifties conservatism, acid trips, a murder and brushes with the FBI over her civil-rights activities. Throughout, Gildiner's period references remain as bang-on as they were in her earlier memoir, and her caustic humour is much in evidence.
M. A. C. Farrant
JUST WATCH ME
The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1968-2000
By John English, Knopf Canada, 789 pages, $39.95
In the second and last volume of his life of the most provocative, controversial, flamboyant and intellectually profound prime minister in Canada's history, John English devotes nearly as much scrutiny to Trudeau's personal life as to his political one. He examines Trudeau's relationship to his mother, Grace Elliott, and his tempestuous marriage to Margaret Sinclair. This becomes the standard biography of Trudeau for the sheer scope and thoroughness of the research. And it's a good read.
L. M. MONTGOMERY
By Jane Urquhart, Penguin Canada, 161 pages, $26
Given the sheer volume of source material, including Montgomery's journals and letters, the challenge to compress into 150 pages so voluminous a life might daunt a lesser writer. Urquhart, however, gracefully advances chronology by focusing each chapter on a relevant theme. Her fierce admiration of Montgomery carries the day.
General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008
By Thomas E. Ricks, Penguin Press, 394 pages, $31
Thomas Ricks of The Washington Post traces the risky, narrowly won battles, some in Iraq, many in Washington, inside the Pentagon and for the ear of George W. Bush, that averted U.S. defeat in Iraq. In a masterful unveiling of the murky ways Washington often works, Ricks traces how a handful of think-tank experts, a retired general and academics convinced an embattled president that the only chance to avert defeat was to stake everything on a surge of troops.
WHO WE ARE
A Citizen's Manifesto
By Rudyard Griffiths, Douglas & McIntyre, 232 pages, $29.95
Rudyard Griffiths shines a spotlight on the most cherished stories Canadians like to tell about themselves, and asks us to rewrite them. The central myth he sets out to challenge is the one that describes Canada's essence as its diversity and lack of a single "national" story. Taking on myths might seem very un-Canadian, but in writing this book, Griffiths distinguishes himself as one of the very best Canadians of his generation.
A Child Soldier's Story
By Emmanuel Jal with Megan Lloyd Davies, St. Martin's Press, 257 pages, $27.95
Emmanuel Jal's profound memoir, about his life as a boy and child soldier in Sudan's civil war in the mid-1980s, offers another human face for child soldiers, an experience that may seem far-fetched to many, but believable if we allow ourselves to see the humanity of others. His journey has brought us to see intimately what war does to children, families and societies, the struggle to recover and - more important - the strength and resilience of children.
A SOLDIER FIRST
Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War
By Rick Hiller, Harper Collins, 509 pages, $34.99
What is most important about General Rick Hillier's book is what he writes about the world context in which Canada lives. Soft power - peacekeeping and values - is well and good. But without the capacity to deploy effective, well-trained, well-led hard power, no one will pay attention to Canada. Hillier superbly makes the case that we cannot allow the Canadian Forces to go down that road again.
J. L. Granatstein
By Eric J. Sundquist, Yale University Press, 296 pages, $30.95
King's Dream is an eloquent, encyclopedic and exhaustive examination of a cultural icon and "happening" of the 1960s, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, a triumphant and transcendent act of oratory. It is also a paean to that era of popular struggle for expanded civil and human rights, as well as an elegy for the Dreamer Generation - the baby boomers - whose protests made that progress happen.
George Elliott Clarke
A SHADOW ON THE HOUSEHOLD
One Enslaved Family's Incredible Struggle for Freedom
By Brian Prince, McClelland & Stewart, 280 pages, $32.99
Prince, a descendant of slaves, tells the shocking story of the black Weems family, torn apart by slavery. He chronicles the family's courageous struggle, against impossible odds, to reunite in freedom and the unflagging commitment of the abolitionists who aided them. Prince's concrete details of a desperate time and place bring the family fiercely to life. It is a superb piece of scholarship.
Donna Bailey Nurse
A Memoir of the Armenian Genocide, 1915-1918
By Grigoris Balakian, translated by Peter Balakian with Aris Sevag, Knopf, 505 pages, $42
Grigoris Balakian's massive memoir, first published in Armenian in 1922 and now making its debut in English thanks to Balakian's distinguished great-nephew, author Peter Balakian, is a first-hand, harrowing account of the author's experience during the 20th century's first genocide, with more than one million Armenians exterminated by the Ottoman Turks. Weighted with eyewitness accounts and Balakian's prodigiously sharp memory, this book is not a scholar's history, but an educated prelate's, with an enviable grasp of Ottoman and European history.
THE WARSAW GHETTO
A Guide to the Perished City
By Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, translated by Emma Harris, Yale University Press, 906 pages, $75
Translated from the 2001 Polish edition, this is a stunning work, one of the most important books on the Nazi Holocaust. Presenting an astonishing amount of information, carefully evaluated and usefully organized, The Warsaw Ghetto is not only a lasting guide to a great Jewish city, it is a monument to contemporary Polish scholarship and a moving memorial to the nearly half a million Jews who suffered in one of the Nazis' most grotesque creations.
Michael R. Marrus
THE TALL MAN
The Death of Doomadgee
By Chloe Hooper, Scribner, 251 pages, $32
Australia's best work of literature so far this century is a non-fiction account of aboriginal tragedy. The book is The Tall Man, an account of the pointless death of a black man in police custody on tropical Palm Island, off Australia's northeast coast, but it is in fact hugely more than that. It's a haunting moral maze, described with such intimate observation and exquisite restraint that I kept pausing to take a breath and silently cheer the author. Chloe Hooper has more than done justice to a worthy story.
THE PEEP DIARIES
How We're Learning to Love Watching Ourselves and Our Neighbors
By Hal Niedzviecki, City Lights, 296 pages, $18.95
Social critic and indie-culture poster boy Hal Niedzviecki explores, with humour and insight, how we got hooked up to this IV drip of perpetual connectivity, of watching and being watched. It's a great read; it mixes frank interviews with people pushing the boundaries of voyeurism and exhibitionism, alongside a bracing critique of the social context that got us into peep culture and the forces that now exploit our participation in it.
THE THIRD REICH AT WAR
By Richard J. Evans, Penguin Press, 800 pages, $50
Evans's trilogy - of which this is the final volume - is an invaluable synthesis. Highly readable, it brings together the mass of recent scholarly studies on the Third Reich. The first two volumes, on the rise of the Nazi Party and its effect on German society, attempted to answer pressing questions we still have about the era. The Third Reich at War, engaging and compelling, continues the very high standard. Evans's trilogy has a good claim to be "definitive."
The Future of a Radical Price
By Chris Anderson, Hyperion, $34.99, 274 pages
Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine and author of the bestselling The Long Tail, ruminates in this much-discussed work on the free economy and where it's taking us. Anderson's pithy, breezy reports on how companies are succeeding or failing in their efforts to adapt to "free" make this book a pleasure to read. More important, his central idea - that free is the price we have to pay to do business - is one we can't afford to ignore.
By Dave Eggers, McSweeney's, 351 pages, $30.95
Zeitoun is the story of Syrian-American businessman Abdulrahman Zeitoun. During Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun, a devout Muslim, canoes the swamped streets, rescuing and feeding stranded neighbours, checking on his buildings and tending to abandoned dogs; until police and soldiers arrest him on vague charges of theft and treat him abominably. In telling his story in an unadorned style, Eggers reveals himself as an important writer with a big heart, as conscientious as he is prolific.
A Rebel History of Rural Life
By Brian Brett, GreyStone, 373 pages, $35
Brett distills 18 years of experience of rural life into a single day. He hangs meditations of farm life, observations on biology and botany, and musings about the modern world on this Joycean structure. His writing is so vivid, the observations so telling, that a reader can virtually feel the smooth heft of a collected egg in the palm of a hand. Brett's wise and witty work - which this week won the Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prose - makes a compelling case for a simpler existence in a rural world.
THE IDEA OF JUSTICE
By Amartya Sen, Belknap Press/Harvard University Press, 468 pages, $35.95
This book by a Nobel Prize-winning economist takes on difficult subjects, and respectfully follows centuries of philosophical debate while imaginatively rethinking them. At its centre is an argument for political process as an essential element of human interaction. Even more, it is an argument for political pluralism. A call for civility in the best sense of the word, and a model of gracious intellectual engagement.
THE PRICE OF A BARGAIN
The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization
By Gordon Laird, McClelland & Stewart, 347 pages, $32.99
Gordon Laird tells the story of bargain retailing from the first mall to no-frills box stores and the dollar stores popping up everywhere, and the massive scale of shipping today, with investment in global transport and logistics approaching 14 per cent of the world economy. A revolution of falling expectations was forestalled in what appeared to be a continuing rise in consumer buying power as people flocked to Wal-Mart stores. Laird lays bare the cost of those bargains in compelling detail.
MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS
The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son
By Michael Chabon, HarperCollins, 308 pages, $32.99
The various roles and functions of the "husband, father and son" that is Michael Chabon preoccupies Manhood for Amateurs. The majority of the 39 forays into "amateur" manhood are hilarious and all of them contain insights. A few are outright pioneering. Line for line, Chabon is also a blazing stylist. His prose is elegant, alert and no less inclined than his imagination to follow a notion, a riff, even simply a cadence, wherever it leads him.
By Jonathan Safran Foer, Little, Brown, 252 pages, $31.99
Here's a young, hot-shot American novelist taking on a tough non-fiction topic like factory farming, devoting three years of his life to researching and interviewing slaughterhouse workers, small-scale ranchers and various animal activists. He has emerged with an accessible, snappily written work destined for mainstream media focus and a wide readership, even among the thinking classes who have done their level darnedest not to think about who's on the end of their fork and how he or she got there.
Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent
By Andrew Nikiforuk
GreyStone, 214 pages, $20
Andrew Nikiforuk lays bare the idiocy of this malignant neglect that is the Alberta oil sands. The book is a blush-making case for Canada to develop integrated energy and environmental regulation suitable for the post-carbon age. And swiftly enforce it. As Nikiforuk shows all too clearly, the massive and growing project gulps fresh water, destroys valuable boreal forest, poisons air, water and soil and uses up a substantial portion of the energy it produces.
THE END OF THE RIVER
Dams, Drought and Déjà Vu on the Rio São Francisco
By Brian Harvey, ECW, 376 pages, $19.95
A brilliant and instructive book, alive with the author's seditious intelligence, his inner compulsions and restlessness, in a way that recalls the writing of Sir Richard Burton, who during the mid-1800s explored the São Francisco River that obsesses Harvey. But mainly it is the story of the depredations - the dams, the redirection, the pollution, the deforestation - that have been visited upon one of South America's signature rivers, and on its declining and abused fish populations.
Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day
By Diane Ackerman, Norton, 248 pages, $31
This is a book about paying attention to the perpetual dawning of the present moment. Like a crystal turned in the hand or the still surface of a pond, Dawn Light is a mirror held up to the splendour of the day. The lens that focuses this eclectic array of narrative detail, leaping from history to cosmology to linguistics to biology, is the author's "pattern-mad brain," sifting through nature's jumble sale and finding wondrous synchronicity, meaning and connection under every stone and leaf.
THE WELL-DRESSED APE
A Natural History of Myself
By Hannah Holmes, Random House Canada, 351 pages, $29.95
As the title suggests, the book is essentially a field guide to Homo sapiens, in which Holmes describes humans with the sort of dispassionate eye usually reserved for squirrels or spiders. This is not only a charming and entertaining book, it's an important read, too. It's like examining English and wondering why we only have one way to say "I" when the Japanese have many. We are a great species, but maybe not quite as great as we've been led to think. Alison Motluk
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
An Annotated Edition
By Kenneth Grahame, edited by Seth Lerer, Harvard University Press, 273 pages, $45.50
If Seth Lerer's exquisite new annotated edition of Kenneth Grahame's masterpiece produces the same sedative effects on other children as on mine, adults will have the good fortune of going back on their own, savouring not only the story but also lingering over a gallery of colour illustrations, E. H. Shepard's drawings and a running commentary. By turns ecstatic and elegiac, and always without pathos, sentiment or pyrotechnics, The Wind in the Willows is also always there, ready to provide us, when we feel lost, with all the comforts of Home.
The Global Ocean in Crisis
By Alanna Mitchell, McClelland & Stewart, 238 pages, $32.99
Alanna Mitchell addresses the degradation of the entire ocean. To do this, she has to discuss individual components of the vast system that covers more than 70 per cent of the planet and makes up 99 per cent of all living space. What makes this book so important is that Mitchell visits the threatened areas, sees with her own eyes the tragic results of human ignorance and irresponsibility, and talks to the scientists who just might be able to suggest solutions.
MOTHERS AND OTHERS
The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
By Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Belknap/Harvard University Press, 422 pages, $38.95
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's much-awaited new book is a mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting, rigorously scientific yet eminently readable treatise. Hrdy believes that the origin of pro-social behaviour in humans is to be found in the way our ancestors raised their offspring. Co-operative breeding, she claims, provided the evolutionary foundation for bigger brains, longer lifespans and language, by making the extended childhood and the high caloric resources possible in conditions very unlike those of modern humans.
GRASS, SKY, SONG
Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds
By Trevor Herriot, HarperCollins/Phyllis Bruce, 273 pages, $32.95
Trevor Herriot weaves personal experience, natural history and bird lore into a sort of book-length prayer for the preservation of the last native grasslands and the birds that call them home. The book is as beautifully rendered as the land it celebrates. The writing, the illustrations and the design all rise to the level of art. Grass, Sky, Song is a mandatory buy for anyone who cares about birds and wild places.
THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH
The Evidence for Evolution
By Richard Dawkins, Free Press, 470 pages, $39.99
In making the case for evolution, Richard Dawkins follows the path set about 150 years ago by Charles Darwin through detailed discussion of how humans have changed species through selective breeding and via an illuminating trip through various branches of biological inquiry. No one can write about science as well as Dawkins; again and again, one is left breathless with admiration for the skills of the storyteller. Even the technical material becomes riveting in his hands.
HOPE FOR ANIMALS AND THEIR WORLD
How Endangered Species are Being Rescued from the Brink
By Jane Goodall, Grand Central, 392 pages, $34.99
Hope for Animals, about the efforts of thousands of dedicated people to rescue endangered species, is intensely moving, and Goodall's measured prose conveys urgency and crisis without panic. It soars above even the most interesting of Goodall's previous books because she is writing for the life of the planet, and gambling that she will galvanize a critical mass of sympathizers and converts to take action rather than merely wring their hands.
A HISTORY OF CANADIAN CULTURE
By Jonathan Vance, Oxford University Press, 500 pages, $39.95
This book by historian Jonathan Vance is full of stories that will have you muttering, "I didn't know that." With pleasure too, because the guy really is a storyteller. Beginning with a survey of what is known of the aboriginal cultures, Vance's narrative path carries us through the long transformation of the arts in Canada, from an establishment tool for controlling public behaviour to an instrument of self- and national expression.
THE LETTERS OF SAMUEL BECKETT, 1929-1940
Cambridge University Press, 750 pages, $52
Samuel Beckett's letters are essential reading for any admirer of his work. The letters are tricky, amusing, bitter, filled with puns in several languages, accounts of his sadness, criticism of writers Beckett is reading (Jane Austen is "the divine Jane"), appreciations of music (loves Beethoven's late string quartets but finds his Sixth Symphony vulgar) and painting (his words about Cézanne's Mont Sainte-Victoire are striking). Reading these is like being let into a writer's laboratory.
THE THIRD MAN FACTOR
By John Geiger, Penguin Canada, 295 pages, $24
The Globe and Mail's John Geiger, taking his lead from Ernest Shackleton's tale of an unseen presence, collects dozens of these accounts and arranges them so as to lead to a tentative explanation of their origin. The stories, which range from the poles to the mid-ocean to Everest, make fascinating reading, but Geiger's tracking of the psychology behind the "sensed presence" is equally compelling. This is a mystery story that takes place in some of the most horrific environments imaginable.
THE CASE FOR GOD
By Karen Armstrong, Knopf Canada, 405 pages, $34.95
The Case for God is written not so much against the recent spate of books promoting atheism as with those books very much in mind. Nor is the book, strictly speaking, a defence of the modern believer's position. Rather, Armstrong has written an absorbing book that is meant to provoke both sides of the argument - atheists and believers - into a fresh consideration of what it is under discussion: God, the Bible, belief and "unknowing."
WHY YOUR WORLD IS ABOUT TO BECOME A WHOLE LOT SMALLER
Oil and the End of Globalization
By Jeff Rubin, Random House Canada, 265 pages, $29.95
The former CIBC World Markets guru presents a compelling argument that our entire global economy has been propped up by seemingly endless supplies of cheap oil. But take heed: The day of cheap oil is over. We are drilling through thousands of metres of sea water and bedrock to get at the stuff, and boiling it out of the frozen, mucky sand of northern Alberta. A great read, required for anyone with a long-term interest in Canadian energy, transportation, manufacturing or agriculture.
THE LOST CITY OF Z
A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon
By David Grann, Doubleday, 339 pages, $32
In 1925, at a time when much of the physical world's "veil of enchantment" had already been lifted by the burgeoning science of cartography, famed English explorer Percy Fawcett set off into one of the planet's last uncharted regions, the Amazon rain forest of western Brazil. And disappeared. In his own quest for the solution of the mystery, New Yorker writer David Grann follows in Fawcett's footsteps and produces an old-fashioned epic quest narrative of the first order.
A 560-Mile Walk Across Northern Ireland on Sore Feet
By Will Ferguson, Viking Canada, 396 pages, $32
Walking the Ulster Way, Will Ferguson experiences blisters, scabies, brushes with death and breathtaking scenery. The narrative crackles into life when he recounts conversations along the way: the rhythms of speech, the quick-witted and slightly surreal sense of humour. It's also punctuated with historical and political musings, triggered by the places he visits and the encounters he has, all written with a fine sense of historical irony.
David A. Wilson
Why Ancient Wisdom Matters in the Modern World
By Wade Davis, Anansi, 263 pages, $19.95
Wade Davis goes far afield and presents many striking cases of so-called primitive cultures that made mind-boggling contributions to the sum total of human knowledge, before being overrun by the juggernaut of progress. Why does ancient wisdom matter? Because these people lived on Earth for millennia without destroying it, whereas Europeans have been "improving" the New World (having already trashed the Old) for barely 500 years, and have already brought it right to the edge of ecological extinction.
By David Mazzucchelli, Pantheon, unpaginated, $34
This is an epic, emotionally rich, symbol-laden work that promises to redefine the graphic novel. Asterios Polyp is a "paper" architect who has won countless awards for his countless groundbreaking designs, none of which has ever been built. He's a textbook womanizer and major-league egoist. David Mazzucchelli has made a beautiful, elaborate construction that coyly juggles style and content in a way few cartoonists are capable of.
By Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, illustrations by Alecos Papadatos and Annie Di Donna, Bloomsbury, 347 pages, $28.50
Logicomix is a mix of powerful ideas, ingenious storytelling, compelling illustration, wit and even a love story or three. (How could any narrative with Bertrand Russell and other famous philosophers and scientists at its core not be?) The common theme tying it all together and driving it on is an abiding curiosity about math. No thinking person could leave this book without recognizing the ineluctable connections between arithmetic and the humanities.
THE BOOK OF GENESIS ILLUSTRATED BY R. CRUMB
By Robert Crumb, Norton, 214 pages, $31
The marriage of R. Crumb illustrations and a biblical storyline works with surprising harmony and fluidity to recast the Genesis story as an unfolding linear account of the history of a tangible tribal people. There are few precedents for Crumb's ambitious project, but end result is a visceral, fascinating vision that invites the reader to view the Book of Genesis with a renewed freshness.