The CBC Books winter reading list: 40 books to read to kick off 2020
It's cold outside, so curl up with a good book. Here are 40 books to read this winter season.
Angry Queer Somali Boy is a memoir by Mohamed Abdulkarim Ali, a young man who left Somalia, spent time in the Netherlands and ended up homeless in Canada. Canada was the promised land, but when he didn't fit in and life was more difficult than he expected, Ali turned to drugs and partying before finding his way.
Angry Queer Somali Boy combines Ali's personal story with the history of and commentary on the places he's called home: Somalia, Europe and Canada. It's his first book.
Celestial Bodies is a coming-of-age story about the country Oman, told through the perspective of three sisters as they witness waves of great change. Mayya, the eldest, is married to a devoted man named Abdallah, to whom she feels little attachment. Asma dreams of a marriage much different from Mayya's, while Khawla refuses proposals and remains steadfastly in love with a man who has emigrated to Canada.
Celestial Bodies won the 2019 Man Booker International Prize and 2010 Best Omani Novel Award. Jokha Alharthi is the first female Omani writer to be published in English. She has also published two other novels, two short story collections and a children's book.
Deemed "the next J.K. Rowling" by Entertainment Weekly, Tomi Adeyemi made a splash with her debut novel, Children of Blood and Bone. The next book in the Legacy of Orisha trilogy, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, returns to the maji Zelie and princess Amari, who have brought magic back to their land. But the ritual also brought magic back to their enemies — the nobles — and the two struggle to unite the maji before civil war breaks out and threatens the very existence of maji.
Adeyemi is a Nigerian-American novelist. Children of Blood and Bone, the first title in the Legacy of Orisha series, won the 2018 Andre Norton Award for YA science fiction and fantasy and was an international bestseller.
In The Yellow House, Sarah M. Broom chronicles 100 years of her family's history and their ties to a shotgun house built by her mother, Ivory Mae, in 1961. The Yellow House was located in New Orleans East, which was also home to a NASA plant during the space race. Hurricane Katrina erased the Yellow House, but its significance to the Broom family remains indelibly intact.
Broom is a writer now based in New York. She has written for publications like The New Yorker, the New York Times and O, The Oprah Magazine.
Set in the 1980s, Trust Exercise is about students at a rarified performing arts school in the American suburbs who are struggling to carve out their own paths in an esoteric bubble. Among the chaos of growing up, two freshmen — David and Sarah — fall headlong in love, going mostly unnoticed by the rest of the school and the outside world. That's until the outside world begins to penetrate the school's walls.
Susan Choi is a critically acclaimed writer and scholar. She has published five novels and has been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. She currently teaches fiction writing at Yale University.
In The Skin We're In, journalist and activist Desmond Cole chronicles a year of being black in Canada. He looks at the practice of carding, the treatment of black refugees and Cole's own activism in regards to the Toronto police and their treatment of black citizens.
Cole's writing has appeared in the Toronto Star, Toronto Life, the Walrus and several other publications. The Skin We're In is his first book. It was inspired by his 2015 magazine essay The Skin I'm In, which was published in Toronto Life. The Skin We're In was also a CBC documentary. You can watch it on CBC Gem.
The Blue Road is the first graphic novel by poet and writer Wayde Compton. In a swamp made of ink, a girl without a past or family lives alone. Lacuna decides to travel the storied and perilous Blue Road in hopes of finding others like her in the Northern Kingdom. With the help of a will-o'-the-wisp named Polaris, Lacuna faces a series of treacherous obstacles on her journey.
Compton is a B.C.-based author and creative writing teacher. Artist April dela Noche Milne is also from B.C. and The Blue Road is her first graphic novel.
Ivan Coyote is a filmmaker, storyteller and writer. Rebent Sinner is an essay collection from various aspects of Coyote's life: helping younger LGBTQ folks, paying homage to their heroes, dealing with legislation and governments and being part of protests. Rebent Sinner is about Coyote's journey and shares a message of resilience, inclusion and hope.
Coyote's previous memoir, Tomboy Survival Guide, was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction in 2017.
In Ordinary Girls, Jaquira Díaz writes about her difficult coming-of-age, being raised in the housing projects of Puerto Rico and Miami Beach by a mother who struggled with schizophrenia and a father who sold drugs. Díaz faced her own mental health battles in her youth, troubled by her queer sexuality in a homophobic community. She found a sense of empowerment at the age of 18 when she joined the Navy.
Díaz's writing has received two Pushcart Prizes. Ordinary Girls is her first memoir.
Based on the years Globe and Mail reporter Robyn Doolittle spent examining how police mishandle sexual assault cases, Had It Coming is an in-depth look at how attitudes around sexual harassment and assault are changing in the #MeToo era. Doolittle's investigative series Unfounded looked into sexual assault allegations using data gathered from over 870 police forces across the country and found that many cases were deemed "baseless" and not properly investigated.
Had It Coming is on the shortlist for the 2020 RBC Taylor Prize.
Doolittle is a journalist based in Toronto. Her previous book, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story, was published in 2014. She is also a judge for the 2020 CBC Nonfiction Prize, which is accepting submissions until Feb. 29, 2020.
Scotty Bowman is considered one of the greatest hockey minds to ever be part of the game. He's won more Stanley Cups and been around more of the game's greats than anyone else. In Scotty, Ken Dryden gets Bowman to share memories from his stellar career while also posing questions like, what teams would be in the top eight best teams of all time? And, if they played head-to-head in a playoff series, who would win?
Girl, Woman, Other follows the stories of 12 black British characters. Bernardine Evaristo traces the lives of these characters from the beginning of the 20th century to now in vivid and visceral prose.
Evaristo is a British writer, scholar and dramatist. Her work, including 8 other books, explores aspects of the African diaspora. She shared the 2019 Booker Prize with Margaret Atwood. She was made an MBE in 2009, and is currently a professor of creative writing at Brunel University of London as well as vice chair of the Royal Society of Literature.
When her twin sister Raven goes missing, Wren StrongEagle immediately reports it to the local police. Feeling dismissed and worrying the case won't be investigated properly, Wren launches into action and decides to find justice on her own.
- When extreme emotion makes us cry, words are there to tell us why': Carol Rose GoldenEagle on the power of words
In The Shape of Family, Keith and Jaya lead an idyllic life with their headstrong teenage daughter Karina and young son Prem. But a terrible tragedy creates a rift between the family members, and no one, besides Prem, seems to have any interest in repairing it.
In The Lost Sister, sisters Alisha and Diana are growing up at Jane and Finch in Toronto, a neighbourhood where many immigrants have come to start their lives in Canada. A terrible sadness descends when Diana, Alisha's role model and light of the family, doesn't come home. Her body is found in the woods and Alisha thinks she knows what happened. This novel is partially inspired by the experiences of a former resident of the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children.
Andrea Gunraj is also the author of The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha.
Not One of These Poems Is About You is a collection of poetry and illustrations from Toronto comics artist Teva Harrison. Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, an incurable illness, at 37. She began publishing short comics about her declining health and facing the end of her life in the Walrus. These comics were collected in the graphic memoir In-Between Days. Not One of These Poems Is About You continues to explore the same themes of living with an incurable illness, how one navigates social conventions and the medical system when one is dying and more.
Saeed Jones, an award-winning poet, describes the boyhood and adolescence of a young, gay black man from the American South in How We Fight for Our Lives. Over a series of vignettes, Jones tells stories of his family and romantic encounters, building a portrait of how identity, race and sexuality interact and manifest in America.
Jones is a New York-based writer. His previous book is Prelude to Bruise, which won the 2015 PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry and the 2015 Stonewall Book Award/Barbara Gittings Literature Award.
In 2020, celebrated Indigenous writer Thomas King will turn 77 years old. His first poetry collection, 77 Fragments of a Familiar Ruin, collects 77 poems that lament what we have lost, lecture us for what we have allowed and looks at what we might still be able to save.
In Frogcatchers, a man wakes up without his memory in a strange hotel room with an old-fashioned keychain. He thinks the building is empty, until he comes across a young boy, who begs him not to use the key for fear of releasing whatever else is locked away. What unfolds is a journey that reflects on memories, aging and what we lose when we get older.
Stéphane Larue had the least glamourous job at a restaurant — a dishwasher. But it gave him an inside look at the hard-living characters working in frenetic, stress-filled kitchens. He turned those experiences into a novel, The Dishwasher, that takes the reader into the demi-monde of restaurant kitchens.
The French version of the book, Le Plongeur, won the Prix des libraires du Québec and the Prix Senghor and was shortlisted for the Governor General's Literary Award for French-language fiction. The Dishwasher is Stéphane Larue's first book.
Agnes, Murderess is inspired by the local legend of serial killer Agnes McVee, a 19th-century roadhouse owner from British Columbia who allegedly killed miners for gold during the Cariboo Gold Rush. The tale of Agnes McVee has never been verified, but in this graphic novel, her life is imagined as one filled with ghosts, betrayal, passionate love affairs and, of course, murder.
Sarah Leavitt is a Vancouver comics creator and writing teacher. Her first book was the comic Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer's, My Mother, and Me.
In The Topeka School, Adam Gordon is a successful high school student from an accomplished family. While he's a popular and talented debater, his parents run a world renown psychiatry clinic and his mother is a famous feminist writer. When Adam befriends a loner named Darren Eberheart — without realizing he's one of his father's patients — it unleashes a devastating chain of events.
An acclaimed writer, Lerner is also a poet, Fulbright scholar, Guggenheim and MacArthur fellow and distinguished professor of English at Brooklyn College.
The Man Who Saw Everything is about a historian named Saul Adler. He has been invited to do research in Communist East Berlin, but only if he writes a favourable article about the German Democratic Republic. While waiting to take a photograph on Abbey Road — intended as a present for his translator's sister — Saul's life is changed when he's hit by a car.
- Deborah Levy fuses the personal and political in her mind-bending new novel, The Man Who Saw Everything
The book was longlisted for the Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize. Levy has been shortlisted twice for the Man Booker Prize, for the novels Swimming Home and Hot Milk.
Beverley McLachlin became the first woman to hold the office of Canada's chief justice in January of 2000. Throughout her 17 years as chief justice and 28 years on the Supreme Court, McLachlin helped shape Canadian law and governance, including legislation on sex work and mandatory minimum prison sentences. She shares her story in the memoir Truth Be Told.
McLachlin is also the author of the fictional thriller Full Disclosure.
Since Hazel Ellis returned home to Spirit Bear Point First Nation, an old crow has been visiting her dreams to tell her he's come to save her. As Hazel investigates what this could mean, she discovers an old magic awakening in the quarry on her late father's land. The adventure Hazel embarks on will have a lasting impact on her family and community.
Karen McBride is an Algonquin Anishinaabe writer from the Timiskaming First Nation in the territory that is now Quebec. Crow Winter is her first novel.
The Wagers, Sean Michaels's second novel, follows a Montreal grocer named Theo Potiris who works at his family's shabby supermarket by day and bikes to open mic nights at night, never telling the same joke twice. He's been waiting 15 years for his big break, but with his girlfriend overseas with a wealthy benefactor, Theo decides to trade in his dream for the promise of something more. The gamble takes Theo to a fantastic alternate reality of Montreal filled with peacocks, luck thieves and sports-mad mathematicians.
Michaels's first novel, Us Conductors, won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2014. Michaels is also a music critic who founded the popular blog Said the Gramophone.
Chanel Miller was known as Emily Doe, the student who was sexually assaulted on campus by Brock Turner at Stanford University. Her victim impact statement, published online at Buzzfeed, went viral and ignited an international conversation about on-campus sexual assault, rape culture, student safety and more. Miller has written a powerful memoir, Know My Name. In it, she tells her story and explores all the topics everyone was discussing when her statement was shared online.
Two Earth Protectors are charged with saving the planet from evil pioneers and cyborg sasquatches in Dakwäkãda Warriors. The comic, translated into two dialects of Southern Tutchone, serves as an allegory for colonialism.
Cole Pauls is a Tahltan comic artist. He created Dakwäkãda Warriors as a language revival initiative. In 2017, it won Broken Pencil Magazine's Best Comic and Best Zine of the Year Award.
Cyril Conroy began his real estate empire with a single lucky investment after the Second World War, effectively raising his family from poverty to wealth in a single blow. But another purchase, a lavish estate known as the Dutch House, will prove to be his family's downfall. The Dutch House is the story of his children, Danny and Maeve, who find themselves exiled from the family by their stepmother and thrust suddenly into poverty.
Ann Patchett has written seven previous novels, including Commonwealth. The Nashville-based author's work has been published in over 30 languages and she is the co-owner of Parnassus Books.
Beyond the Known is a book about exploration. It looks at major periods of discovery — such as in ancient Greece and Rome, the age of European exploration and the scientific revolution — to show how being curious and inquisitive can lead to unimaginably great things.
Andrew Rader is a Mission Manager at SpaceX. Beyond the Known is his fourth book.
When Candace Savage decided to research the first owner of her Saskatchewan home, she did not expect to uncover an entire largely untold Prairie history. The first occupant was Napoléon Sureau dit Blondin, who built the home in the 1920s — a man who hid his French identity and Anglicized his family in order to fit in and be safe. She shares this remarkable story in her book Strangers in the House.
- 'Not easy being French in Saskatchewan': Author takes on history of French/English relations in Sask.
In 2017, explorer Adam Shoalts decided to undertake a journey that had been deemed impossible: he would traverse Canada's Arctic from west to east. Beyond the Trees, Shoalts' third book, chronicles this adventure and captures the majestic beauty and very real danger of Canada's north.
Shoalts is an explorer and a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society. He is also the author of Alone Against the North and A History of Canada in Ten Maps.
Year of the Monkey chronicles a single year in Patti Smith's life. After a series of shows in San Francisco, Smith begins the New Year with a solitary journey along the west coast. Smith contemplates loss, aging and politics on her trip, all the while encountering strangers and listening to a testy talking sign that hangs over her head.
Smith is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and award-winning author. Her previous books include the National Book Award winner Just Kids and M Train.
Zadie Smith's collection of short stories, Grand Union, features 10 new works, as well as previously published pieces. The stories include a mother looking back on her personal history of desire, a disgraced cop unable to pick up the pieces of his life and a teenager racing through virtual reality.
Smith is the British author of acclaimed books like White Teeth, Swing Time and On Beauty. Her work has won the Whitbread First Novel Award and the Orange Prize for Fiction and has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
Chasing Painted Horses follows four young friends from a reserve called Otter Lake, located north of Toronto. One day, Ralph and Shelley's mother installs a large chalkboard at home and challenges the four friends to a weekly art contest. The quietest of them, Danielle, draws a stunning horse and wins, an inconspicuous event that will reverberate throughout their lives.
Drew Hayden Taylor is an Ojibway playwright, author and journalist from Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. His other books include the YA novel The Night Wanderer, the novel Motorcycle and Sweetgrass and the sci-fi short story collection Take Us to Your Chief.
In 1956, five evangelical Christian missionaries were killed when they ventured into the Ecuador rainforest to convert the Waorani, a group of Indigenous people who had no previous contact with the outside world. Five Wives fictionalizes the story of the women left to deal with the fall-out of their husbands' actions and deaths, which were widely covered by the media.
- Why Joan Thomas wrote a novel about wives of missionaries killed trying to convert Ecuador's Waorani people
Joan Thomas is the author of three previous novels. Her novel The Opening Sky was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2014.
In the graphic novel Plummet, Amelia "Mel" Eichenwald wakes up to discover that the Earth has disappeared and left her in an endless state of freefall. Surrounded by falling knick-knacks, homes and a few other humans — some friendly and some not — Mel must figure out a way to survive in this strange gravity-centric reality.
Sherwin Tjia is an illustrator from Montreal. Plummet is his 11th book.
One Drum is a collection of stories and ceremonies inspired by the foundational teachings of Ojibway tradition. Wagamese's original plan was to focus on each of the seven lessons, known as the Seven Grandfather Teachings, but he died before completing the manuscript. The Seven Grandfather Teachings are humility, courage, honesty, wisdom, truth, respect and love. One Drum will focus on the lessons of humility, respect and courage and will feature four ceremonies that anyone can do.
Wagamese died in March 2017 at the age of 61. He is also the author of the novels Medicine Walk, Ragged Company, Him Standing, Dream Wheel, the poetry book Runaway Dreams and memoirs For Joshua, Embers and One Native Life.
Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten has a mantra: if you've got the patience to find it, and the skill to tell it, there's a story behind everyone and everything. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has now applied that credo to his book One Day: The Extraordinary Story of an Ordinary 24 Hours in America. The idea was simple: pull a random date out of a hat and find as many compelling stories from that day as possible.
Weingarten is also the author of I'm with Stupid: One Man, One Woman, a collection of his humour columns, the nonfiction book The Hypochondriac's Guide To Life. And Death, and the children's book Me & Dog.
In Jeanette Winterson's novel Frankissstein, it's 1816 and Mary Shelley dreams up a story where a doctor brings something to life. Just over two centuries later, a young doctor falls for a professor called Victor Stein, a leading voice on the AI debate in Britain. Meanwhile, a cryogenics lab in the U.S. is readying resurrection experiments and a recently divorced inventor named Ron Lord prepares to release a new set of sophisticated sex dolls.