I’m terrible at picking favourites — that old saw about apples and oranges, which doesn’t even dare touch anything like durian — so instead, here are a few Canadian-authored books that I happen to be reading right now, plus a list of several more that have accumulated on the Berton House bedside table, and which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading in 2020.
Candas Jane Dorsey is best known for her prize-winning, gorgeously written, and exuberantly, innovatively queer feminist science fiction — so colour me entirely unsurprised to find that her first mystery novel, The Adventures of Isabel, is brilliantly written, gender-and-genre bending, and immensely fun while nonetheless elegantly and insightfully touching on a variety of social issues. Isabel is an unemployed social worker considering sex-work as a backup plan when she gets hired to investigate the murder of her friend’s granddaughter (who was herself a sex-worker). As a narrator, Isabel is irreverent, smart, and funny, with a tendency to grammar-police the world around her; every major character is revealed as more than they seem in ways that feel both surprising and plausible; and the plot moves at breakneck speed without ever sacrificing depth of character, humour, or crackling dialogue. I picked it up last night, laughed out loud several times within the first 10 pages and kept reading until the wee hours of the morning, entirely unable to put it down.
For the past few weeks, I’ve also been rereading C.J. Lavigne’s In Veritas in small doses, savouring each sentence and chapter. This novel’s gorgeous language and pyrotechnic structural play — facilitated in large part by its deeply synaesthetic protagonist — are all in service of the story, which is one of the freshest (and most believable) takes on magic in the so-called “real world” that I’ve read in a long time. Add to that a (maybe) angel, a magician, and a dog who’s a snake who’s a shadow, all in contemporary Ottawa, and I was sold. And then, having followed the twisty plot to its end, I couldn’t resist going back to reread and luxuriate in the elegance of the writing.
I’m also currently reading Kai Cheng Thom’s collection of essays and poetry, I Hope We Choose Love: A Trans Girl’s Notes from the End of the World. It is not an “easy read,” but it feels (to me, at least) like an important one. The book emerges from Thom’s experience of (and deep investment in) queer social justice activism, as well as her own personal stories, and dares to imagine that this broken world we live in could be better than it is — without ever abandoning keen intellect, insightful critique, or empathy. And it’s that last part that really gets me: the empathy. The essays and poetry are simultaneously raw, beautiful, and elegant in their explicit self-exposure of moral imperfection, wrestling with how to embrace the inevitable messiness of human interaction in their attempts to explore how one might ethically, empathically, and radically give, accept, and share love in a profoundly unjust world.
Other Books on the Berton House bedside table (all read and enjoyed in 2020):
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed
This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
The Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone
Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone
Bury Your Horses by Dan Dowhal
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir