Take a holiday from the flickering screen and settle into a noteworthy novel and some comfortable Cancon
Pieces of Me, by Charlotte Gingras, trans. Susan Ouriou (Kids Can Press), 144 pp.
If you have a young adult in your life, you might consider giving him or her a copy of Ouriou’s superb translation of Gingras’s La liberté? Connais pas (which received the 2009 Governor General’s Award for French-to-English translation). This lyrical novel reveals the fragile soul of Mirabelle, and honours the original text with compelling, well-crafted translation that shines a light on many of the foibles of adolescent self-discovery. (MJS)
Breaking Lorca, by Giles Blunt (Random House Canada), 272 pp.
Okay, so it’s not the easiest novel in the world to read, but during the holiday season, when spiritual issues are supposed to eclipse consumerism, perhaps it’s the ideal gift. This disquieting novel about El Salvadoran death squads, complete with extreme depictions of torture, examines the outer reaches of love, forgiveness and redemption. Blunt’s writing is hard-boiled, but this soul-breaking story will resonate with guaranteed satisfaction long after the final page has been read. (MJS)
The Wife’s Tale, by Lori Lansens (Knopf Canada), 384 pp.
Once the holiday season kicks into high gear, temptation abounds, whether it’s food, drink or getting a little too crazy at the office party. Well, The Wife’s Tale is the perfect counterbalance. Lansens, author of the bestseller The Girls, has created another remarkable novel about small-town Ontario, this time a cautionary tale about appetite. When the husband of obese Mary Gooch abandons her just before their 25th wedding anniversary, Mary sets out on an odyssey that takes her to Los Angeles. In the land of the superficial, the skinny and the sun-tanned, Mary experiences an epiphany that is as touching as it is hilarious. (MJS)
This Way Out, by Carmine Starnino (Gaspereau Press), 78 pp.
If you have a poet on your gift list, you might want to pick up a copy of Starnino’s latest, the recipient of the 2009 Quebec Writers’ Federation A.M. Klein Award for verse. Filled with nostalgic references, This Way Out is rich with twists and turns that circumnavigate the poet’s sense of belonging, while his playful use of language is lyrical and restless, accenting a bemused wonderment as he grapples with space and time and his ever-changing place within the world. (MJS)
The Children’s Book, by A.S. Byatt (Vintage Canada), 624 pp.
It’s hard not to get all rapturous about A.S. Byatt – she’s a master of the novel, and her latest blends deeply realized characters of all ages, family strife, historical fiction (from late-19th-century England to post-WWI Europe), art, science, feminism and love (and sex!), all the while weaving her own grim(m) fairy tales throughout. Gorgeously written, wise, harsh and beautiful at once. (RF)
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s), 342 pp.
Eggers, who has written movingly in his creative non-fiction books about Sudan and orphandom, may be the country’s greatest living writer in that genre. In Zeitoun, he sets his sights on New Orleans after Katrina, following Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant, and his family’s experience before and after the flood. This book will leave you changed. (MK)
The Rocket: A Cultural History of Maurice Richard, by Benoît Melançon (Greystone Books), 304 pp.
When in doubt, there’s always hockey. Translated by Fred A. Reed, with a forward by Roy MacGregor and an afterward by Jean Béliveau, this entertaining and richly illustrated book traces the Rocket’s apotheosis from mortal to hockey god. Melançon’s superbly researched history draws from a variety of sources, from sports journalists, artists, politicians and ordinary Joes. (MJS)
Jacques Plante: The Man Who Changed the Face of Hockey, by Todd Denault (McClelland & Stewart), 350 pp.
Los Angeles Dodgers and Montreal Royals baseball legend Tommy Lasorda once told me, "One time I was eating with goalie Jacques Plante in a [Montreal] restaurant called the Chicken Coop and he was drawing something [on a napkin]. I said, ‘What’s that?’ He drew the first hockey mask. Plante said, ‘I want a mask like your catchers wear.’" That anecdote is the only one not in Todd Denault’s terrific bio of the legendary Habs goalie most famous for introducing the goaltender mask during an NHL 1959-60 regular season game. (RB)
Gretzky’s Tears: Hockey, Canada, and the Day Everything Changed, by Stephen Brunt (Knopf Canada), 272 pp.
Award-winning sportswriter Stephen Brunt digs beneath the headlines to explain how NHL legend Wayne Gretzky changed the rules of the game, both on the ice and in corporate boardrooms, when then-Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington sold Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings on Aug. 9, 1988. Brunt chronicles how Canadians felt betrayed that August day and how the consequences of the deal are still felt in today’s NHL. Brunt also explores how Gretzky’s stature subsequently only grew – ironically – in Canada. (RB)
Just Watch Me: The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau 1968-2000, by John English (Knopf Canada), 832 pp.
The sequel to Canadian scholar John English’s 2006 bestselling biography of Trudeau, Citizen of the World l9l9-l968, begins with Trudeau mania in 1968 and ends with Trudeau’s death on Sept. 28, 2000, at the age of 80. Given full access to Trudeau’s letters and private papers, English reveals everything from the October Crisis though the repatriation of the Constitution to the Charlottetown Accord, plus a dab of Trudeau’s sexual exploits, making for an enjoyable read of Canada’s first superstar politician. (RB)
The Canadian Weather Trivia Calendar 2010, by David Phillips (Fifth House Ltd.)
Before climate change set in for real, weather was a go-to topic of conversation between strangers and friends alike. As Canadians, we’re not about to give up on that, though – sprinkle your weather talk with this calendar’s daily gusts of crazy historical weather trivia. (RF)
Le Dernier continent, by Jean Lemire (La Presse)
The Québécois biologist turned filmmaker’s documentary Le Dernier continent followed his expedition to deepest Antarctica from the Magdalen Islands and gave us a crucial look at how global warming affects the ecosphere, especially the Far North and South. Lemire’s isn’t the first or the only expedition to travel these routes, winter with icebergs and film penguins, starving polar bears and huge, impossibly beautiful glaciers floating on dusk-blue Arctic waters, but his images are among the most startling I’ve ever seen, and almost more so as stills collected in this gorgeous coffee-table book. (MK)
The Peep Diaries, by Hal Niedzviecki (City Lights Publishers), 256 pp.
The celebrated Toronto-based indie-cultural commentator offers a stinging critique of our mass move towards erasing privacy, as online social networking sites, reality TV and an obsession with celebrity encourage us to display our every detail to the entire world. An important book that encourages critical thinking about how this shift affects our society and communities. (SC)
Save the Deli, by David Sax (McClelland and Stewart), 335 pp.
David Sax was born in Toronto, schooled in Montreal and lives in Brooklyn, and is now, according to his book’s jacket, the "world’s foremost authority on deli." A few old guys on my street might contest this, but anyhow… Sax, who travelled across America’s great cities and beyond in search of the "perfect pastrami," is man’s man kind of writer: down to earth, funny, light – not like any of the meat he’s writing about. (MK)