The Sunday Magazine·The Sunday Edition

Michael's essay - The TSE (First) Best Reads for the Summer List

Michael's "arbitrary, biased and personal" list of recommendations.
Reading is one of the great summer pleasures.

I see by the old calendar on the wall that it's that time again, time for The Sunday Edition's annual Best Reads for the Summer list. Actually since this is the first year we've done this, it won't become annual till next year. Herewith, an entirely arbitrary, biased and personal list of books I've loved this past year that may be worthy of your attention this summer.

Anne Enright
By far the best novel I read this year is The Green Road by the Irish writer Anne Enright. It tells the story of the Madigans, a family of factions, of children lost to the world and to themselves. Each child is given a kind of separate short story. Enright moves the narrative over time and years, culminating in a family meeting. The language is lyrical and haunting.

In non-fiction, the runaway leader is The Bully Pulpit by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. The relationship between two presidents, Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft is the core of the book. It turns out that Taft was not the overweight buffoon that some histories have suggested. He was a statesman, a smart politician and later a great Chief Justice of the  Supreme Court. In addition, Kearns Goodwin writes beautifully about the Gilded Age and the muckraking journalist Ida Tarbell.

Donald Hall is a renowned American poet, editor and literary critic. He lives on a farm in New Hampshire, needs a wheelchair these days and pretty much keeps to himself. His latest book is called Essays After Eighty and it is just that, about aging and the life of the mind as the body wears down. And he writes about nature like no one else.

Alfred Hitchcock ((Canadian Press))
In the field of biography, few can touch the British writer Peter Ackroyd.This time out, he catalogues the fabulously successful career and troubled life of Alfred Hitchcock, the greatest master of film technique in Hollywood history, Hitchcock was terrified of everything, especially women and especially blonde women. Ackroyd is sympathetic without being maudlin. His portrait of the man is succinct but complete.

The Ward is a book of photographs and essays describing the downtown Toronto area which was home to thousands of immigrants between 1840 and 1945. The Ward was Toronto's Lower East Side. Its dingy streets housed many of the poor of the world; Italian, Irish, Chinese, Jews. It was a land of bootleggers, brothels, crushing poverty and disease.The photographs are  extraordinary The Ward should be of interest to Canadians anywhere, reminding us that we all came from some place else.

Author Richard Price ((Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images))
To my mind the best crime novel of the past year is The Whites with Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt. Billy Graves is an erratic New York police detective haunted by a tragic past. He has been exiled to a unit called Manhattan Night Watch, which handles violent crimes committed after midnight. Price is a consummate plot creator and the best writer of street dialogue since Elmore Leonard. Read it in a day and a half.

And finally in poetry, two offerings; Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck and the Collected Poems of Jack Gilbert.  Gluck writes about mystery, about the confluence of the real and the mythic in a language that grabs you by the heart. Jack Gilbert, on the other hand is rough and raw. His is the poetry of the every day. He died a couple of years ago and his collection contains his work from 1962. Both are great to read at night.

And as you head into your reading summer, don't forget the words of my old As It Happens pal P.J. O'Rourke: `"Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it."

(audio to come)