Warm Weather Reads: Recommended by Writers
The Writers’ Trust asked a number of prominent writers to share with us their reading recommendations for the summer of 2015. Below you’ll find out what books they are most looking forward to reading this summer.
Indian Nocturne by Antonio Tabucci
On the Move by Oliver Sacks
Dispatches from the Front by David Halton
A Time Such as There was Before by Allan Bowker
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
Indian Nocturne was one of the best books I've read in years.
James Bartleman’s most recent novel, Exceptional Circumstances, was published by Dundurn in May.
Aside from researching two different European conflicts for two different works in progress, I’m playing catch-up with my reading this summer. First, prompted by his recent induction into the Académie française, Dany Laferrière’s The Return—a book that won no less than four literary awards in Quebec and France, and was a finalist for the Governor General’s award. I absolutely loved his earlier I Am A Japanese Writer, and you’ve got to support our talent when it’s so large the rest of the world sings its praises.
Then, because they’ve both got new works coming in the fall, I’m going all the way back to Michel Houellebecq’s first novel, Whatever, which is the only one of his I haven’t read. Houellebecq is a divisive figure in French culture, but I’m firmly on the supporting side. Another controversial novelist in his homeland—love the troublemakers—is Vladimir Sorokin. The Ice Trilogy has been on my to-read list since I reviewed his marvelous Day of The Oprichnik, so it’s about time.
But I’ve already begun my summer reading, or in this case, re-reading. Early next year I’m having the privilege of introducing a book group to one of my favourite authors, Angela Carter, through her early masterpiece The Magic Toyshop. It’s a long way off, but once I began thinking about it, I just couldn’t wait. Carter’s unashamedly liberated imagination and mastery of the language had a huge impact on me.
Michel Basilières second novel, A Free Man, was published by ECW Press in May.
A book that I can’t believe I haven’t read yet—because I’m a colossal fan of her work—is Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels. Well, this summer that embarrassing oversight will be remedied, I assure you. And I’m currently writing a novel set during the Depression in Canada, so I’m going to read Pierre Berton’s The Great Depression, which I’ve heard richly evokes the time in all its dusty decrepitude. Oh, and you can bet I’ll be reading 13 Clocks, James Thurber’s tremendous fairy tale in blank verse, to my eldest son. Again. For what may indeed be the 13th time. Lucky me!
Michael Christie’s debut novel, If I Fall, If I Die, was published by McClelland & Stewart in January.
Chilling, scarily convincing and taut with danger, Elizabeth Mariaffi's The Devil You Know is not a novel to read late into the night, especially if you are alone. Daddy Lenin is a no holds barred collection of short stories. A master of the precise metaphor, Guy Vanderhaeghe's virile, fearless prose will capture fiction readers far beyond Saskatchewan.
Joan Clark's most recent novel, The Birthday Lunch, was published by Knopf Canada in June.
Lauren B. Davis
I have 437 books in my ‘to-read’ pile, so picking just a few seems a cruel task. But the ones whistling loudest for my attention are (in no particular order):
Boundless by Kathleen Winter. I can't imagine anything more wonderful than a book about the high north written by a writer of such shining talent.
The Confabulist by Steven Galloway. I was so impressed by The Cellist of Sarajevo and can't wait to read Galloway's latest. In a bit of trivia, I have a slight connection to Houdini, the subject of this novel, as my uncle was Len Vintus, the magician from Manitoba who founded the International Brotherhood of Magicians. At some point, Houdini and Vintus had a mysterious, and serious, row and I was told never to mention Houdini's name in my uncle’s presence.
Sweetland by Michael Crummey. Another book about place, this time Newfoundland, by another brilliant writer. Loss, memory, place—these two books seem like perfect companions.
The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart. I love Urquhart's writing and am a sucker for any book set in Ireland, as this one is. As a result of having been at the Cork World Book Festival this year I've been reading a number of wonderful Irish authors—Billy O'Callaghan, Jack Harte, William Wall, Madeleine Lane-D'Arcy, Paul McVeigh, Evelyn Conlon—so this will cap off a splendid literary sojourn.
Benediction by Kent Haruf. I can’t believe he’s dead. I adore his work, and his books Plainsong and Eventide are quite dog-eared from multiple readings. He’s one of those writers who makes me want to try harder and to be better not only as a writer, but as a human being.
Lauren B. Davis’ most recent novel, Against a Darkening Sky, was published by HarperAvenue in April.
Every summer I do a special reading project for fun because I usually have more time. I choose a writer and read everything they've written in chronological order. I especially enjoyed reading Virginia Woolf's fiction and her diaries, this way. This summer I'm going to read Alistair Macleod’s stories chronologically. Some other books I'd recommend from my year's reading are Colin McAdam's A Beautiful Truth, Rafia Zakaria’s The Upstairs Wife, and Jill Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman.
Kim Echlin’s most recent novel, Under the Visible Life, was published by Hamish Hamilton Canada in March.
Summer's the time I try to catch up on all the books I missed during the busy winter and spring. Top of my list are Lynn Crosbie's Where Did You Sleep Last Night, Rachel Kushner's The Strange Case of Rachel K, and the first volume of Zachary Leader's new Saul Bellow biography, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune. I'm a lifelong horror buff, so I'll also pick up the new Stephen King, Finders Keepers, and Andrew Pyper's The Damned.
James Grainger’s debut novel, Harmless, was published by McClelland and Stewart in May.
I'm looking forward to finishing my fellow Amazon.ca First Novel Award finalists' great books: Emma Hooper's Etta and Otto and Russell and James; Sean Michaels's Us Conductors; Guillaume Morrisette's New Tab; and Chelsea Rooney's Pedal. All spiky, assured, and exciting, like their authors. I also like big fat sagas for summer, so I'm going to dig into my friend Adam Lewis Schroeder's Empress of Asia—an Amazon prize finalist in 2006. What a scene.
Alix Hawley’s first novel, All True Not a Lie In It, was published by Knopf Canada in February. The novel won the Amazon.ca First Novel Award last month.
I am reading virtually nothing but old books these days. For instance, I am, at the moment, ploughing through the second volume of Peter C. Newman's huge 3-volume history of the Hudson's Bay Company, which was published way back in the 1980's! Fascinating. It helps, of course, that I'm a history buff and that I come from northern Manitoba where the HBC, as it called itself, took root. The result? Many of my people went to work for it away back when. I would recommend Company of Adventures, Caesars of the Wilderness, and Merchant Princes (which last I haven't yet read but am about to). Newman must be the greatest print journalist Canada's has ever had. He's amazing. So much ‘thick’ information but so entertaining to read.
And before that, I was in Italy for 3 months so read books by Italian authors such as Carlo Levi and Primo Levi—very interesting that they have the same family name, that both come from Turin, and yet they are neither related OR knew each other. I highly recommend Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo and If This is a Man by Primo.
Tomson Highway’s Henry Kreisel Lecture for the Canadian Literature Center was recently transcribed as A Tale of Monstrous Extravagance: Imagining Multiculturalism, which was published by the University of Alberta Press in February.
My Top Five novels are, in no particular order, The Thought Gang by Tibor Fischer, Memoir of Ant-Proof Case by Mark Helprin, Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz and The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. Two of the authors on that list, I’m excited to say, have new books out for the summer. After A Fraction came out in 2008, Australian author Steve Toltz took seven too-long years to write his second novel, Quicksand. In fact, it’s not even on the shelves yet: my edition is an Advanced Reading Copy that I had an operative sneak out of the Penguin/Random House/Doubleday fortress. (Thank you, Nicole.) Hanif Kureishi’s latest, The Last Word, has also required some patience: following his early, satiric novels, of which The Buddha of Suburbia is the best example, he took an awkward left turn and wrote an ennui-filled book or two – yes, I am a fan complaining that his early stuff was better. But now, by all reports, he’s back to his old, mordent self in The Last Word. It’s not often I buy hardbacks, but in this case I’ll make an exception. On the Canadian end of things, I think I’ll pick up Stuart Ross’s Confessions of a Small Press Racketeer, just because I love the title.
Robert Hough’s most recent novel, The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan, was published by House of Anansi Press in March.
Mark Anthony Jarman
I recently read in Vancouver with Guy Vanderhaeghe and Joan Thomas and very much enjoyed the event, so I want to get to their new books this summer, Daddy Lenin and The Opening Sky. My new book is set in Italy and I visited Trieste for the first time last summer, curious, as James Joyce lived and wrote there, Hemingway was wounded in WWI near there, the city has great cafes and architecture, and it was on my way to readings in Slovenia and Croatia. This is the far edge of Italy, across from Venice, an old rival, but Trieste was also a Habsburg port, and has been part of every empire you could think of that touched on the Adriatic and the city belonged to no country from 1945 to 1954 as the Iron Curtain came down. A haunted corner of Mittel Europa, so I am reading a novel titled Trieste, by Croatian writer Dasa Drndic; Jan Morris’s travel book, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere; and a very detailed historical book, The Italian Army and the First World War, by John Gooch. Not very summery, but fascinating.
Mark Anthony Jarman’s latest short story collection, Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, was published by Goose Lane Editions in March.
This summer I'm looking forward to reading Patrick Gale's A Place Called Winter, which is a British novel set in Saskatchewan in the early 20th century. It's a fictionalised account of the author's great grandfather, a "remittance man" who abandoned his wife and young daughter for Canada under mysterious circumstances. In Gale's fictional account, the reason is his great grandfather is gay and fleeing charges of buggery. In Canada, British remittance men found a hardscrabble society where men outnumbered women 20 to 1. You can guess what happens next. It's meant to be a brilliant novel and the only thing that annoys me slightly is that it took an Englishman to write the great gay historical Canadian novel!
And speaking of Canadian fiction, I'm also looking forward to reading Russell Smith's new collection of short stories, Confidence, as well as Miriam Toews much-lauded All My Puny Sorrows, which has been sitting on my nightstand for far too long. Both deserve a quiet dock and a Muskoka chair, hopefully I'll be able to find both this summer.
Leah McLaren’s second novel, A Better Man, was published by HarperAvenue in March.
Because I teach, and spend a lot of time reading student work, I find that I store up “all-the-reading-I've-wanted-to-do-for-a-long-time” for my summer breaks. This spring, I was fortunate to have been invited as Faculty to the Writing Studio at the Banff Centre. I had one of the best writing/reading/discussion times of my life and came away with books I'd missed because I spend a lot of time in the UK. So, this summer I am going to catch up on some of the books from the wonderful faculty at the Writing Studio: Dionne Brand’s Love Enough; Rabindranath Maharaj’s The Amazing Absorbing Boy; Greg Hollingshead’s Bedlam; Karen Solie’s The Road In Is Not The Same Road Out; and Tim Lilburn’s Orphic Politics. I am also going to venture into Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk, tentatively, not knowing if I will be able to handle the profundity with which she apparently handles the aftermath of the death of her father. Another memoir I'm going to catch up on is Alison Pick’s Between Gods, for the beautiful writing and intelligent honesty that she is known for. Finally, I'm really looking forward to savouring Anne Enright’s The Green Road.
Tessa McWatt’s most recent novel, Higher Ed, was published by Random House Canada in March.
When it comes to summer reading, one's eyes are always bigger than one's stomach. I have a novel-reading initiative going, since my busyness has been crowding out novels too much, and I want to contradict that. I hope to read or re-read lots of Simenon and George Eliot and Par Lagerkvist...
I'm really looking forward, on the Canadian side, to reading Ray Robertson's recent one, I Was There the Day He Died and finally catching up with Michael Helm's Cities of Refuge, which I started when it was new but then got stalled by tasks and have been waiting ever since for the right moment to finish. This is it!
I ought to say something about my own beloved vocation, poetry. The recent Griffin Awards, and the fact that he's a stablemate at House of Anansi Press, have alerted me to Shane Book's dynamic Congotronic. There's so much good to mention in this field right now that one could go crazy just trying to limit what someone should read to an imaginably possible few. Haven't finished Adam Sol's Complicity yet, or Patrick Lane's wonderful Wakusta, or Robyn Sarah's My Shoes Are Killing Me. Can't wait to try to do them justice.
What's Bruce Powe: a poet, an aphorist, a lyric philosopher-historian, a master of the post-modern fiction-essay cybot...? Well, anyway, one of our best writers, and I'm really looking forward to enjoying his brand new Where Seas and Fables Meet: Parables, Aphorisms, Fragments, Thought.
A.F. Moritz’s most recent collection of poetry, Sequence, was published by House of Anansi in March.
This summer I'll be reading poetry. New books just out this spring, a bumper crop, all Canadian:
Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent by Liz Howard
The Thought House of Philippa by Suzanne Leblanc (trans. Oana Avasilichioaei and Ingrid Pam Dick)
Limbinal by Oana Avasilichioaei
Undercurrent by Rita Wong
The Pemmican Eaters by Marilyn Dumont
Plus rereading Rosalía de Castro's 19th century classic in Galician, Follas Novas, as I am going to be translating it. And the 2014 María Xosé Queizán novel A boneca de Blanco Amor and Breathturn into Timestead: The Collected Later Poetry of Paul Celan (translated by Pierre Joris with his wonderful commentaries). And rereading and considering the collection of essays by the American thinker Judith Butler, Senses of the Subject, which assembles philosophical essays written over 20 years on the formation of the subject, the role of the body and ways of thinking the body and sensation or affect, and the way all these are linked together to form a sense of self.
Erin Moure’s most recent poetry collection, Kapusta, was published by House of Anansi Press in March.
From the pile on my desk:
Adeline: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Norah Vincent
Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Love Enough by Dionne Brand
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Sabrina Ramnanan’s debut novel, Nothing Like Love, was published by Doubleday Canada in April.
At the top of my list is The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times: A Memoir by Peter Kavanagh. My book is about the transformative benefits of walking, and his promises to be a deeply personal and insightful take on a subject I'm obsessed with. I'm also planning to read Frostbike: The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling by Tom Babin and Running Toward Stillness by Stephen Legault. I did a few book events with Tom and Stephen in Alberta this spring, and I cycle and run nearly as much as I walk, so I'm excited about both books. Christopher McDougall, the author of bestseller Born to Run, has a new book out: Natural Born Heroes: How a Daring Band of Misfits Mastered the Lost Secrets of Strength and Endurance — I can't wait to get my hands on it. And I'm late to the party, but as soon as my wife finishes reading her paperback copy of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections it will become my beach and cottage read.
Dan Rubinstein’s first book, Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act, was published in April by ECW Press.
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
The Gluten Lie by Alan Levinovitz
Rust: The Longest War by Jonathan Waldman
The Bear by Claire Cameron
Genius at Play: The Curious Mind of John Conway by Siobhan Roberts
Mark Schatzker's most recent book, The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor, was published by Simon and Schuster in May.
Michael V. Smith
I’ve just started Rob Gray’s collection of short stories, Entropic, which is freaking amazing. The characters live in a kind of quiet terror, like everyone is inside a domestic downtime in a thriller. Great writing. I have The Blondes by Emily Schultz on my list, which is long overdue. Same with Karen Hoffman’s After Alice. And everyone is talking about Ashley Little’s Anatomy of a Girl Gang, a multi-award winner, that I should have read as soon as it came out, so that is a must.
My poetry for the summer: Kathryn Mockler’s The Purpose Pitch and David McGimpsey’s Asbestos Heights, both of whom wow me with their sense of play. Zany, inventive poems, full of thrills. Enviable language, enviable approaches to what a poem can be and do. Really grown up stuff, but, like, with their pants down or something.
Michael V. Smith’s memoir, My Body is Yours, was published by Arsenal Pulp Press in April.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. A Hello Kitty lunchbox washes ashore on a remote island off British Columbia years after a tsunami hits Japan. Inside the lunchbox is the mysterious diary of a sixteen-year-old girl named Nao. This 2013 novel by a Canadian-American Zen Buddhist priest is a mix of speculative and fantastic fiction. It came out in 30 countries, won a slew of awards, and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Because I’ve started doing literary translation, I might read the French version (En même temps, toute la terre et tout le ciel). I also plan to read two Quebec authors: Nicolas Dickner (Six degrés de liberté) and Heather O’Neill (The Daydreams of Angels).
Neil Smith’s second book and debut novel, Boo, was published by Knopf Canada in May.
I am very much looking forward to reading André Alexis’s clever allegorical novel Fifteen Dogs, a story about a bunch of dogs given human intelligence by the gods. And Hollie Adams’ tragicomic novel Things You’ve Inherited From Your Mother. I gave a reading with André and Hollie in Windsor, Ontario, when we were touring our new books together, and I laughed at both their readings, and was pleased to be with both of them.
Russell Smith’s second collection of short fiction, Confidence, was published by Biblioasis in May.
My summer reading list is pretty eclectic: By the Book by Diane Schoemperlen, Eating Habits of the Chronically Lonesome by Megan Gail Coles, Migraine by Oliver Sacks, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gliman, Your Illustrated Guide to Becoming One with the Universe by Yumi Sakugawa, Earthling by Aisha Franz, and the latest issue of the Newfoundland-based literary magazine, Riddle Fence. I recently finished Caught by Lisa Moore and This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, and would recommend them both as ideal summer reading.
Sara Tilley’s second novel, Duke, was published by Pedlar Press in March.
I’ll call this a wish list because with an infant and a four year old to entertain, my reading time will be scant this summer. I’m not worried—these titles will be just as ripe in the seasons that follow:
Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald
In the Slender Margin by Eve Joseph
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Toms River by Dan Fagin
The Green Road by Anne Enright
Born to Walk by Dan Rubinstein
The Wrong Cat by Lorna Crozier
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
Emily Urquhart’s first book, Beyond the Pale: Folklore, Family, and the Mystery of Hidden Genes, was published in April by Harper Avenue.
Even though summer has not yet officially arrived, my reaction to warmer temperatures is not just to rejoice but to increase my reading. I have just finished Joan Thomas’s latest book The Opening Sky, one of the finest and most deeply affecting books about the contemporary family that I have ever encountered. I have also ordered and can hardly wait to read The Birthday Lunch by the wonderful Joan Clark, whose novels I have admired for years. And because the short story has always interested me, I am very much looking forward to Heather O’Neill’s Daydreams of Angels and Russell Smith’s Confidence.
Summer is a good time for poetry, as well, and I look forward to reading the books by Griffin nominees, two in particular: The Road to Emmaus by Spencer Reese and The Stairwell by Michael Longley.
Jane Urquhart’s most recent novel, The Night Stages, was published in April by McClelland & Stewart.