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Summer reading: top book choices from CBC Arts

Categories: Books


The staffers at CBC Arts have eclectic tastes. Check out this video for some choice picks for your summer reading list -- titles ranging from guilty pleasures to new ideas to piercing insight -- offered by reporters Deana Sumanac, Eli Glasner, Zulekha Nathoo and Jelena Adzic. Additional selections from the CBC Arts unit are listed below.

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 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun

Literature (Random House)

The title alone piqued my curiosity about what 35-year-old Nigerian Orange-Prize-winning author had up her sleeve this time. Turns out she's been writing the big American novel. Americanah is the story of a young Nigerian woman who writes a sharp tongued, often hilarious blog about race in America, from the perspective of 'the Non-American Black.' Part social satire, big part epic love story spanning continents, once again, Adichie proves she's got the goods.

Crazy Rich Asians

 By Kevin Kwan

Satire (Doubleday Canada)

For those looking for an outrageous and stylish page-turner as a summer read, I recommend Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. The sassy debut novel both revels in and skewers the conspicuous consumption habits of the Asian uber-rich (from new and old money families), while also gently touching on issues of class, family and identity facing younger generations

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us

 By Michael Moss, winner of Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the dangers of contaminated meat.

Non-fiction (McClelland & Stewart)

A book I plan to dig into at the cottage is Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by New York Times journalist Michael Moss and released earlier this spring. I'm an unabashedly indulgent eater, but also fascinated by food science — even if the info he reveals doesn't bode well for my potato chip fixation. Moss exposes what the food processors know about their products' link to obesity.

My Life in Black and White

By Kim Izzo, author of The Jane Austen Marriage Manual

Commercial fiction (Harper Collins Canada)

This Toronto writer's first novel (The Jane Austen Marriage Manual) chronicled a 40-something woman testing if Austen's vintage courting lessons could be applied to "ladies" today. Her new book promises to be a fun frolic about a woman who becomes immersed in the world of film noir, inspired by the discovery of a lost screenplay.

Free Magic Secrets Revealed

 By Mark Leiren-Young, journalist, screenwriter and comedy writer

Humour/memoir (Harbour Publishing)

This multi-talented Vancouver-based writer retells his failed adolescent attempts to become a famous magician. His last memoir (Never Shoot a Stampede Queen) won the Leacock medal, so this promises similar levels of self-deprecating hilarity.

World of Glass

By Jocelyne Dubois

Debut fiction (Quattro Books)

Move over Silver Linings Playbook. This autobiographical novella tells a harrowing story of a Montreal woman dealing with bi-polar disorder. It is painfully truthful, yet ultimately hopeful. It has already received a rave in the Montreal Gazette.

River of Stars

 By Guy Gavriel Kay, author of Ysabel and The Summer Tree

Fantasy fiction (Viking Canada)

As a huge fan of HBO's Game of Thrones (the books are also on my list too, I swear), I was thrilled to read Guy Gavriel Kay's newest novel is of a similar category: an epic and tragic exploration of political and military power. River of Stars is a historical fantasy that tells the story of two main characters. We follow Ren Daiyan's climb to military power in the fictional empire of Kitai as well as Lin Shan, a girl who grows up to challenge women's traditional roles.

The Property

 By Rutu Modan, Israeli artist

Graphic novel (Drawn & Quarterly)

Well-done graphic novels have the ability to tell truths about human nature in simple, illustrated panels, and Rutu Modan does just that through her work. Published by Montreal-based Drawn and Quarterly, The Property follows Regina Segal and her granddaughter Mica to Warsaw to reclaim a family property lost in the Second World War. The themes of family, love, and the past are appealing, but also Modan's commitment to create real and lively characters. She hired professional actors to model movements and interactions and translated that to her sketches.

A Tale for the Time Being

 By Ruth Ozeki, author of My Year of Meats and All Over Creation

Canadian fiction (Viking Canada)

I'm definitely a sucker for stories about intertwined fates — people who have never met, and perhaps never will, establishing a connection. In A Tale for the Time Being, teenaged schoolgirl Nao writes a diary in a Tokyo café that eventually washes ashore on an island off the coast of B.C. A novelist named Ruth finds the diary and becomes engrained in Nao's world, joining two people separated by time and place.

The Dinner

 By Herman Koch

Psychological suspense (Crown Publishing)

This book's "dinner" is a microcosm of the greater family dynamic often at play for years within a family. Far more disturbing is the undercurrent of violence in the book which eventually starts to explode off the page, culminating in a shocking ending that shows what lengths parents will go to in order to protect their children and how a child's moral compass can be both shaped and skewed. A stunning read!


 By Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible

Fantasy/social satire (Mulholland Books)

Austin Grossman burst on the book scene with Soon I Will Be Invincible, a high-brow look at the world of super villains, cyborg heroes and unstoppable strong men. Now he's back, shifting the action from comic books to computer screens. You is set in the world of video games, following a group of outcasts from the days of text-based adventures to the age of xbox and sega. You works as a cubicle comedy tracking the rise and fall of the Black Arts game studio and an affectionate nod to fantasy adventures that many games were built on. Grossman's novel is populated with broken, shy or angry young men and women who bloom in this virtual area. If you can remember the whirring sound the cassette drive made as you waited for your Commodore 64 game to load, this one is for you.


 By Nick Harkaway, author of The Gone-Away World

Sci-fi with steampunk flavour (Vintage Contemporaries)

Steampunk stealth locomotives built by a fanatical caste of monk inventors. Tiny clockwork bees spreading chaos around the world. A Tommy gun-toting father and a son afraid of his own power. Imagine Hunter S Thompson and Philip K. Dick on a wild ride together and you can almost get a sense of the lurid pulpy pleasures of Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway. A novel with big ideas and an even bigger heart. Simply put, a great yarn.

A Delicate Truth

 By John le Carré

Spy thriller (Penguin)

So,...(mild spoiler) after I finished reading Angelmaker I found out courtesy of this New York Times magazine article, that Nick Harkaway is actually the son of John Le Carré. Realizing the great cloak and dagger novelist of our time was Nick's father actually added another layer of subtext to Nick's story of a son battling to separate himself from his father's infamy. But it also reminded me there's a new John Le Carré novel I've yet to read: A Delicate Truth. As bracing as he is pointed, I always find Le Carré's books addictive and illuminating . Few do the post-War-on-Terror age we live in better than the 81-year-old author. I can't wait dip back into his murky depths.

The Purchase

 By Linda Spalding

Historical fiction (McClelland & Stewart)

As a Quaker family struggles to survive in the American south in the late 18th century, the decision to buy a slave throws a shadow on their fortunes. Spalding sets in motion a crisis of conscience that reverberates throughout their lives. There's nothing like being immersed in the past to throw light on the problems of the present.

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and

the Conquest of Everest

 By Wade Davis, mountaineer, ethnobotanist and explorer-in-residence for National Geographic Society

Nonfiction (Random House)

Into the Silence tells the story of George Mallory's doomed ascent of Mount Everest in 1924 and its roots in the Great War. Especially intriguing is the Canadian connection — Edward Oliver Wheeler, the Ottawa-born surveyor who, on the reconnaissance expedition of 1921, discovered the way up the mountain. I loved reading Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, about an even more disastrous Everest expedition. Since I do my mountain-climbing vicariously, Into the Silence seems a cooling trek for hot days.

Everything is Perfect When You're a Liar

 By Kelly Oxford, microblogger

Nonfiction, Humour (HarperCollins)

Twitter may be short on characters, but this book is full of them. Written by the funny, saucy mom who owes her fame to the social networking site, Kelly Oxford delves into OMG stories from her past. And for those of us who absolutely judge books by their covers, here's one worth judging for its title alone. It says it all. Picture your lips raised in the corners, and your eyes wet at the edges. That's how you'll look from start to finish.

Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

 By K. Eric Drexler

Non-Fiction, Science (Publicaffairs)

If Neitzsche had read this book, he would have said 'God is in the Nano-details'. This is a shoulder-shaking attempt by K. Eric Drexler — the founding father of nanotechnology — to explain how unprecedented rapid scientific progress is set to rock our world on a global scale. Have Google at the ready, because Drexler isn't interested in dumbing it down, but somehow he still manages to make his point in a clear and engaging way. Namely, that thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon be able to produce WAY more of what people want at a way lower cost. Imagine buying laptops and life-saving gadgets for a song. It's beyond good or bad, but more so a warning that the change is coming at lightening speed and we have no clue as to how drastically the way we do everything (in the West) is about to change. Scary and awe-inspiring at once.

Paper, An Elegy

By Ian Sansum

Nonfiction (HarperCollins)

Paper junkies take note: we're all paper junkies. This book is an outrageous and loving accounting of something we take for granted, and so easily dismiss in our haughty digi-daze. From art to origami to packaging to money, the author cedes dry chronology in favour of juicy story-telling. It really works, on paper.

The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese

 By Michael Paterniti, U.S.-based journalist

Nonfiction (Random House)

I have decided to start the summer with my two favourite luxuries in life: travel and cheese. The Telling Room is set in a Spanish village, where journalist Michael Paterniti found himself embroiled in a real-life mystery of murder and theft spun by a cheesemaker. If that strange explanation doesn't reel you in, I don't know what will.

Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad

By Brett Martin

Celebrity, Nonfiction (Penguin Press)

(Don't books have simple titles anymore?) I love the idea of dissecting these fictitious characters and the writers behind them. I mean, who doesn't want to psychoanalyze Don Draper anyway? And since I have read a string of good female comedian memoirs (Mindy Kaling, Samantha Bee and yes, Tiny Fey's Bossypants is still my fave), it's time to look at the men.


 By Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code

Thriller, mystery (Random House)

Professor Robert Langdon awakes in a hospital in Florence, Italy, with a head wound, without his beloved tweed jacket and worse yet, without that famous eidetic memory. But there is no time to dilly dally as he's pursued by competing gangs of black-suited men and women who are trying to kill him. Oh, and he has to get over the whole "short-term memory loss" thing because he alone can crack the code that can stop the spread of a biological weapon that will decimate humanity. Thus begins the breathless chase through cities, time, and macabre clues that constitutes the plot. Pretty prose it isn't, but Inferno has the hallmarks that made The Da Vinci Code so popular, including the travelogue-like descriptions of gorgeous cities, and the link to a famous work of art — Dante's Divine Comedy.


 By Edward Rutherford, author of London and New York.

Historical Fiction (Doubleday Canada)

Edward Rutherford is not as famous among the historical fiction buffs as, say, Hilary Mantel, but those who like him like him a lot. The man has a fondness for 800-page tomes, but the prose is so lush it's a painless journey. This novel weaves together a tale of a grand city as seen through the eyes of its inhabitants through centuries. We follow Parisians rich and poor, French and Jewish, medieval and modern, as their loves, hopes and disappointments interlock with the fortunes of their city. The chapters move back and forth in time — but there is great fun to be found in trying to connect characters with their ancestors or descendants from previous chapters. Rutherford succeeds in pointing out the essential truth about history: that it is not some abstract tale of grand cities, wars and military conquests, but merely a patchwork of individual human hopes and pains.

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