Happy New Year, fellow bookworms! Hope the pandemic restrictions gave you more time to read if nothing else. If you follow me on facebook, you’ve already seen my monthly lists of books read. Happily, I more than doubled my goal of 52 books read in 2021. That being said I will keep the same quota for the upcoming year with an additional intention to finally dust off my copy of A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth that has been sitting on my bookshelf for close to 30 years now. At 1,349 pages, it will probably take me about a month to read that alone!
Let me know if there are any books on my list that you read as well. And do share your recommendations for the upcoming year.
I can’t wait to dive into a new year of books!
1. Last Friends — Jane Gardham
2. The Devil and the Dark Water — Stuart Turton ❤️
3. The Longest Journey — Rohinton Mistry ❤️
4. Keep Moving — Maggie Smith ❤️
5. Troubled Blood — Robert Galbraith ❤️
6. I am, I am, I am — Maggie O’Farrell ❤️❤️❤️
7. The Power of Kindness — Brian Goldman ❤️❤️❤️
8. The Way of Thorn and Thunder (The Kynship Chronicals) — Daniel Heath Justice
9. Feasting, Fasting — Anita Desai ❤️
10. Blackbird Song — Randy Lundy (poetry)❤️❤️❤️
11. Beethoven’s Hair — Russell Martin ❤️❤️❤️
12. Trickster Drift — Eden Robinson ❤️❤️
13. Such a Fun Age — Kiley Reid ❤️
14. Yellow Wife — Sadeqa Johnson ❤️❤️❤️
15. How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House — Cherie Jones ❤️❤️❤️
16. An Alphabet for Joanna — Damian Rogers ❤️❤️ (A memoir about the author’s mother who was diagnosed with dementia.)
17. The Children’s Train — Viola Ardone ❤️❤️❤️
18. An Anatomy of Pain —Dr. Abdul-Ghaaliq Lalken (Probably of more interest to those of us in the medical field. I was looking for hope in dealing with my own pain, going on 3 1/2 months now. If not hope, I did find validation.) ❤️
19. Johnny Appleseed — Joshua Whitehead (I had not read queer indigenous writing before this book and now that the ice is broken, I will read it again. The sexual descriptions initially come across as graphic and shocking but only because of my lack of knowledge, Once you get past those details, you appreciate the beauty of the writing and the poignancy of the protaganist’s story. A must-read not only because it won the Canada Reads competition, but also as a means of putting our money where our mouths are in support of the LGBTQ community.) ❤️❤️
20. Nothing the Same, Everything Haunted (The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy) — Gary Barwin (Not sure what to say except this was a delightful, off-the-wall read that had many quotable passages and made me laugh out loud.)❤️❤️
21. The Road Home — Rose Tremain (The immigrant experience from an Eastern European to England and back again trajectory.)❤️❤️
22. The Henna Artist — Alka Joshi (An enjoyable read. Definitely book club material. Would provoke easy and thoughtful discussion.)❤️❤️
23. Scorched — Wajdi Mouawad (The movie Inferno was based on this play. I didn’t realize why it seemed so familiar until near the end. Shocking and distressing but that’s because we are so sheltered in this party of the world.)❤️❤️❤️
24. The Idiot — Elif Batuman (Well-written and clever. Brought back so many awkward moments from my youth.)❤️❤️
25. Behold the Dreamers — Imbolo Mbue (Another book on the immigrant experience, this time from Cameroon to NYC to Cameroon. With challenges such as poverty, racism, lack of access to education and support systems, never mind no status, the great American dream soon loses its appeal.) ❤️❤️
26. The Birds that Stay — Ann Lambert ❤️❤️ (set in Montreal and up North)
27. The Windsor Knot — SJ Bennett ❤️❤️ (Queen Elizabeth solves this mystery. Timely as I read this just before Prince Philip died)
28. I Am a Truck — Michelle Winters (Reading this for McGill book club)❤️❤️
29. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning — Margarita Magnusson (This got me through some serious decluttering during my vacation. No epiphanies here, just a gentle nudge and a reminder that we can’t take this stuff with us, so why burden our children with it?)
30. The Dogs of Winter — Ann Lambert (local author. I am hooked on this series)❤️❤️
31. We Begin at the End — Chris Whitaker ❤️❤️
32. Speak, Silence — Kim Echlin(Tough but important subject- based on the Hague Bosnian war crimes trial )❤️
33. The World as We Knew It — Alice Hoffman (Well written; I zipped through it. A bit too magical for my taste.)❤️
34. Season of Fury and Wonder — Sharon Butala (a series of short stories about aging women. I could almost relate.)❤️
35. Group — Christie Tate ❤️❤️
36. Without Blood — Martin Michaud ❤️
37. Together in a Sudden Strangeness (America’s Poets Respond to the Pandemic — edited by Alice Quinn
38. Final Revival of Opal & Nev — Dawnie Walton
39. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line — Deepa Anaparra ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
40. Humane — Anna Marie Sewell ❤️
41. Notes on Grief — Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie ❤️❤️❤️
42. Fire Keeper’s Daughter — Angeline Boulley ❤️❤️❤️
43. A Stab at Life — Richard King 👎🏼 (I wanted to like this book, I really did, because I enjoy Richard King’s book reviews on CBC so much. But it was dreadful. Reading it is like taking off your outside shoes and putting on your inside shoes and a beige cardigan. In one scene, a character is stabbed and the author devotes a long, and very detailed paragraph on what the victim’s hands are doing: « The woman who was not on the phone rushed to Eric with a baby wipe. He took it with his right hand, his left hand covering his wound. He transferred the baby wipe to his other hand and rose slightly so as to be able to reach behind him and apply pressure to the wound. He tried to support himself by placing his right hand on the picnic table but found it too high so had to resort to using the rim of a garbage receptacle next to it. » After he is stabbed, his wife is stabbed too. He enters the hospital room where she is recovering and she greets him mildly, « Oh, hi. » I was half expecting her to ask him to take off his outside shoes.
44. Kiss of the Fur Queen — Tomson Highway ❤️ (I had a hard time concentrating on this one. Preferred Five Little Indians on the topic of residential schools)
45. Five Little Indians — Michelle Good ❤️❤️❤️ (It was really difficult to read about the suffering of the children in the residential school system but then I thought, I’m only reading about it. They lived through it or in many instances they didn’t live through it. The very least I can do is read this fictionalized testimony. All I can say it that the story does end on a hopeful note.)
46. How to Kidnap the Rich — Rahul Raina ( I enjoyed this book, recognizing many of the Indian cultural references and the parenting ones like the Indian back-hand slap.)❤️
47. History of the Rain — Niall Williams (This book was such a gift in more ways than one. It was a gift from a dear friend who said she thought of me when she read it because the story is set in a village where it never stops raining, much like my mother’s hometown in Wales. She also said the way the author described the characters in the book reminded her of my one-liners which is a huge compliment. The book used up a whole packet of post-its and then some. The writing is so beautiful you have to slow down and savour it, re-read it and bookmark it. How can you not love this line: « The immense loneliness of the world after love falls upon my mother. She stands there. She can’t speak out, she can’t shout out. She’s just taking this ice-cold knowledge inside her. » Niall Williams has ruined me for any other author. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
48. Interior Chinatown — Charles Wu (This book is written as a screen play, a clever format that took me a short while to get used to. An important perspective of the Asian experience in America, about always being dismissed for the important roles and being relegated to stereotypes. Read the NYT or Washington Post review before reading, and you will follow a little better. Essentially, Chinatown is a white construct, an Asian ghetto. After 200 years in America, Asians are still viewed as foreigners. I recommend reading it.)❤️❤️
49. Of Course You Did —Geoff Moore (Written by a friend of my husband’s. I like to support people I know albeit indirectly in this case. The author claims this is a Novello. If you are of my generation, spent your allowance on comic books as a kid, was into Science Fiction and had a pesky brother growing up, you will experience poignant nostalgia reading this book. Available from Amazon.ca. ) ❤️❤️
50. The Creep — Michael Lapointe (A really well-written thriller, a nice break from the serious stuff. May keep you up at night.)❤️❤️
51. Mary Jane — Jessica Anya Blau ( I wasn’t sure about this one at first but nostalgia for 70s music and fashion got me by the end.)❤️
52. This is Happiness — Niall Williams (What can I say except that this book is Happiness with a capital H. Ian surprised me with the hardcover version even as I was holding out for the paperback. When I asked him why, he said he had never seen me so happy reading History of the Rain above. It was as beautiful an experience as that one. I can’t recommend this one enough. Set in the same town with different characters, I found myself again feeling nostalgic for my mother’s hometown in North Wales. As I mentioned to my book buddy, you have to read this book in long chunks lest the experience be like having only one bite of dessert after dinner. Tasty but not as satisfying.)❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️
53. A Long Petal of the Sea — Isabelle Allende (I found myself getting impatient with the characters at time but what do I know of living through civil war and military coups and dictatorships. A well-written historical novel beginning at the end of the Spanish civil war and ending in Chile. I’ve been meaning to read something by this author for a long time.)❤️❤️
54. The Paper Palace — Miranda Cowley Heller ❤️❤️❤️ I really enjoyed this book; it was hard to put down. Beautiful writing and great, multifaceted character development. The people you start off disliking grow on you by the end.
55. Sufferance — Thomas King ❤️❤️❤️ I’m a fan of Thomas King. In all his books, no matter the characteristics and circumstances of the narrator, I recognize his voice.
56. The Hero’s Walk — Anita Rau Badami ❤️❤️❤️ This has been on My to-read last since it was published twenty odd years ago. Worth the wait. There is something about South Asian writers that I love. Perhaps it is a familiarity of the culture.
57. The Divorce — César Aira 😐(meh) You may enjoy this book if you like the genre of magical realism or if you’ve read A Hundred Years of Solitude more than once. The best part of the book was the introduction by Patti Smith and the first chapter that promised a juicy divorce tale. It then segues to some bizarre, random stories about an Argentinian dude named Enrique who escapes a fire at his boarding school by entering a to-scale smaller model of his school that is also on fire, who knows an abused boy obsessed with dogs who was the apprentice of a cruel sculptor, whose mother was shot in the face five times in the pattern of the five dots on a dice, and who was besotted with a girl who evaporated into thin air when he embraced her. Thankfully, it was only 98 pages long.
58. The Other Black Girl —Zakiya Dalila Harris ❤️❤️
59. The Fall of Light — Niall Williams ❤️ I love Niall Williams but I’m not a fan of fables or magical realism. Reading this was a wee bit like slogging through 1000 years of solitude.
60. The Other Passenger — Louise Candlish ❤️❤️❤️ Grabbed me from page one. A well-written thriller with lots of twists. Must read everything by this author.
61. Letter in a Bruised Cosmos — Liz Howard ❤️❤️❤️ Indigenous poet. Beautiful and profound.
62. Premeditated Myrtle —Elizabeth C. Bunce ❤️❤️It’s been a really stressful couple of weeks and I needed to read something uncomplicated for kids. This did the trick, bringing me back to my days reading Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Like reading in a secret place on a warm summer day without a care in the world. Now, back to adulting. Sigh …
63. The Reading List — Sara Nisha Adams ❤️❤️❤️ I loved this book and the idea that shared reading fosters community and healing. I have certainly experienced that with my monthly list of books read. It also promotes the importance of libraries. These public institutions not only make books accessible to all but they also provide an opportunity for meaningful connection.
64. To Kill a Mockingbird — Harper Lee ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I’m so happy I finally got around to reading this book. It’s been referenced countless times over the years and I only had it in the house because my son asked me to buy him a copy recently. What really pushed me to read it though was that it was the first book of eight listed on The Reading List (see above). I’ve now read five out of the eight on the list and two of the three remaining unread books are on my bookshelf (The Kite Runner and A Suitable Boy). As much as I loved the writing, I was uncomfortable with the language used to describe the black characters of the book. I asked a black friend of mine for her thoughts. She read it in high school and enjoyed it then, putting the language in context for the time it was written, but questions whether she would feel differently reading it today. Another white friend of mine pointed out the white saviour role that Atticus Finch plays. I hadn’t considered that. Food for thought. Discussion to be continued at some future book club discussion, hopefully.
65. A Slow Fire Burning — Paula Hawkins ❤️❤️❤️ British thriller!
66. Crying in H-Mart — Michelle Zauner ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ A memoir of the author’s Korean mother who died of Cancer. Loved it. Prompted me to try Korean food for the first time: Bibimbap: egg on rice.
67. Everything Happens for a Reason (And Other Lies I’ve Loved) — Kate Bowler ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I loved this book. So much so, I’ve ordered her new one.
68. Immigrant City — David Bezmozgis 👍 I enjoyed the first short story very much but it went downhill from there and I had a hard time concentrating. Good have been my fatigue that gives this book a bum rap. Read it for yourself.
69. Falling — T.J. Newman ❤️❤️❤️ Super thriller! Read this in 24 hours! Don’t read right before flying.
70. How to Get Away with Myrtle — Elizabeth C. Bunce ❤️ Must be at least 12 yeRS OLD.
71. Swimming Back to Trout River — Linda Rui-Feng ❤️❤️❤️ « to love someone is to figure out how to tell yourself their story » Gorgeous writing set in China during the cultural revolution.
72. The Death of Francis Bacon — Max Porter ❤️❤️ A small but delightful book of prose-poetry, very clever wordplay. Not for everyone perhaps but I am a fan of this author.
73. The Only Good Indians — Stephen Graham Jones ❤️❤️❤️ Horror genre with a twist. Took me about 40 pages to get into it. Finished it the next day. Gripping and original
74. Swing Low, a Life — Miriam Toews ❤️❤️❤️I finished the book this morning with my morning coffee for company and wept at the poignant epilogue. A beautiful, sad, at times funny memoir of the author’s father, his mental illness and his final unravelling. I will definitely read more books by this author.
75. The Strangers — Katherena Vermette ❤️❤️❤️ I loved her book The Break. This book is an intergenerational saga about a Métis family.
76. Nishga — Jordan Abel ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ «From Griffin Poetry Prize winner Jordan Abel comes a groundbreaking, deeply personal, and devastating autobiographical meditation that attempts to address the complicated legacies of Canada”s residential school system and contemporary Indigenous existence. » The format is interesting, a collection of photographs, writing and transcribed interviews. At one point, another indigenous man tells the author that he cannot be Nisga as he does not speak the language. Intergenerational trauma as a result of the residential school system kept the author isolated from his extended family.
77. Rubbish Pet Portraits — Hercule Van Wolfwinkle ❤️ I shouldn’t even count this one but I am. Follow his facebook page for a sampling of rubbish pet portraits for a good cause.
78. Embers, One Ojibway’s Meditations — Richard Wagamese ❤️ Wonderful meditations with nature front and centre. My one heart review is more a reflection on my difficulty to chill these days than anything else.
79. Ruth Orkin a Photo Spirit — Photography book ❤️❤️❤️ Read about this book on one of my photography groups. If you want to be a better photographer, study the greats. Ruth Orkin was a pioneer in her field. It is as much a celebration of her gritty journey as a female photographer as it is of her photography
80. All My Puny Sorrows — Miriam Toews ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Love this Canadian author. I am on my way to reading everything she has ever written.
81. The Southern Bookclub’s Guide to Slaying Vampires — Grady Hendrix ❤️❤️❤️ Clever and fun horror genre. I am a fan of Grady Hendrix
82. Our House — Louise Candlish ❤️❤️❤️ Thriller-mystery genre with lots of twists. The last paragraph will leave you with your mouth agape.
83. The Four Letters of Love — Niall Williams ❤️❤️❤️ Beautifully written, wonderfully descriptive as always.
84. On the Outside Looking Indian — Rupinder Gill ❤️ I could relate to much of this but not to being a blue-eyed Indian.
85. The Book of the Raven in Art and Legend — Caroline Roberts & Angus Hyland ❤️❤️❤️ I am a big fan of anything CORVID. Not COVID!!
86. The Pull of the Stars — Emma Donoghue ❤️❤️❤️❤️ This book came out at the time of the current pandemic. It is set during the end of WWl, in the middle of the Spanish flu pandemic. Well-researched and beautifully written. I love this author’s writing. Have only read The Wonder before this and intend to read more.
87. The Maidens — Alex Michaelides ❤️ I was fooled until the unexpected twist and reveal at the end.
88. No Cure for Being Human —Kate Bowler ❤️❤️❤️ Wonderful read, filled with humour and gratitude. Hard to imagine from someone diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer but here you have it, several years after the fact.
89. The Bell Jar — Sylvia Plath 😢 Well-written and subtly tragic, especially if you know what happened to the author.
90. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes (& Other Lessons from the Crematory) — Caitlin Doughty ❤️❤️❤️❤️ I loved this book, its humour and the ways the author questions the whole industry, determined to restore a more natural and humane approach to death. It may be a little too morbid and descriptive for some but if you’ve gone through gross anatomy you won’t bat an eye. It appealed to my pragmatic side to the point that I am now reconsidering the body farm option, a way to give back to the earth.
91. Welcome Home — Najwa Zebian 🤤 I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought this self-help book. At 58, the only self-help I should be buying are decluttering books but that would be an oxymoron. I read this book with my eyes glazed over. « One thing that pops out at me from my journey is that everything really does happen for a reason. » No, it doesn’t! Or how about: « Ask yourself: Am I chasing a dream? Or am I living it? » The only dreams I want to experience these days are the kind I get when I’m asleep. I’m sure it will appeal to some, namely those looking for a « home for their souls », who are willing to do the work.
92. Indian Horse — Richard Wagamese ❤️❤️❤️ I never thought I would be so transfixed by descriptions of playing hockey but this was done so beautifully running parallel to the story line. I’m glad I finally read this book.
93. Aftershocks — Nadia Osuwu ❤️❤️ A well-written albeit heart-breaking memoir. Of mixed race, the author’s Armenian-American mother abandons her when she is only two years old leaving her in the care of her Ghanaian father who eventually remarries. Her father then dies of cancer when she is only thirteen years old and she is left in the care of her stepmother.
94. The Sentence — Louise Erdrich ❤️❤️❤️❤️ I loved everything about this story: the likability of its flawed characters, its indigenous perspective, the haunted bookstore as setting during pandemic times and of course, the lists of books included. The Pulitzer prize winning author, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is herself a bookstore owner. In her acknowledgements, she writes: «To everyone’s amazement, Birchbark Books is doing fine now. If you are going to buy a book, including this one, please use your nearest independent bookstore and support its singular vision. Yours for books, Louise »
95. Shame on Me — Tessa McWatt ❤️❤️❤️ I’ve been wanting to read this book because the author is also mixed race albeit with a much more complicated background than me. The book examines the anatomy of race and belonging through a series of essays titled after body parts.
96. Stiff (The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers)— Mary Roach ❤️❤️❤️ A bit gorey though I was able to read it just before eating dinner and still have room for dessert. Having dissected bodies and handled prosections (body parts) in my university anatomy course, my threshold for what I consider gross is pretty high. Ideally, I would like to be made into compost after I die, if only to make up for all the live plants I killed during my lifetime, but I am also open to donating my body to science. I can imagine taking part in some macabre experiment (from bed head to dead head, literally) or being surrounded by medical students lamenting over my “anomalies” and excess body fat during dissection. I’d like to think of my death as contributing to some useful purpose, a sort of encore after my last hurrah.
97. If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi — Neel Patel ❤️❤️ A book of short stories: “Neel Patel gives voice to our most deeply held stereotypes and then slowly undermines them. His characters, almost all of whom are first-generation Indian Americans, subvert our expectations that they will sit quietly by.”
98. The Vegetarian — Han Kang ❤️❤️❤️ A disturbing but well-written story set in South Korea. It won the 2016 Man Booker International Award.
99. Aggie Morton Mystery Queen, Peril at Owl Park — Marthe Jocelyn ❤️❤️ For mystery-loving kids and the young at heart.
100. Neglected No More — André Picard ❤️❤️❤️❤️ A comprehensive, well-written, well-researched book about Canada’s eldercare crisis, written by a veteran health reporter and columnist for the Globe and Mail. As much as I love reading for pleasure, I routinely push myself to read books that make me feel uncomfortable, particularly those that address social issues close to my heart. My friend Peter is interviewed in the book. If you live in Quebec, you will likely recall his story: both his parents were living the private long term care facility, Herron, when the pandemic hit. The other reason I read this book is that I have worked with the elderly as a home care physiotherapist for the past 25 years. Reading through it, the frustrations of my practice were put in historical, political and socioeconomic contexts and completely validated. Here are some quotes that struck home: 1. « Do you have family that can take care of you? » and « Do you have money? » If you are a senior in this country, those are the two elements that will determine your future. 2. « The system sucks—please excuse my language, » Frank says. « When it comes to home care, they will give you the bare minimum, and it you’re capable pour paying anything privately, they will give you even less. » 3. The idea that elders with chronic health issues could be care for at home rather than in institutions like long-term-care homes was considered a good idea in principle but only to be pursued as « resources permit. » In the short term, broader provision of home care services was deemed unrealistic and too expensive. Once again, Canada made the decision to cling to its hospital-centric approach and elders would be kicked to the curb or, rather, into institutional care. 4. Home care is the only publicly funded health service where care is provided based on hard financial caps and arbitrary limits rather than medical need. Imagine if we told a cancer patient: « You need twelve hours of radiation treatment , but—sorry—we have a three-hour-limit. » 5. Home care clients are allotted blocks of care, but not necessarily the care they need or want. I highly recommend this book and encourage you to express your outrage in whatever way, shape or form you can.
101. The Love Songs of W.E.B Du Bois — Honoree Fanonne Jeffers ❤️❤️ A masterpiece really but way too long for my taste, an 800 page tome. I also didn’t care for the historical segues between the story line though they were linked to the characters. I probably would have appreciated it more had I read it in daylight rather than over a series of evenings, eyes drooping in fatigue from my work day.
102. Cloud Cuckoo Land — Anthony Doerr ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ If you loved All the Light We Cannot See, you will love this book as well. Beautifully written, the story spans several centuries. The author describes his book as a paean to other books and it is indeed that. How incredible that certain stories and texts have survived the ravages of time, war, and weather, a testament to human resilience, determination and courage. I’m already looking forward to his next book …
103. Small Things Like These — Claire Keegan ❤️❤️❤️❤️ A gem of a book that may, in as little as 114 pages, provoke action through some small act of courage, or at the very least, bring awareness to complicity. Perfect reading for this time of year.
104. Flights — Olga Tokarczuk 👍 I might have named this book “Interminable Flights” as it was very tedious to read with no chapters, no cohesiveness and only the underlying themes of travel and the human body tying the different passages together. One goodreaders review described it as a series of random notes taken from someone’s travel journal. Disappointing because I loved her book Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead.
105. Sour Heart — Jenny Zhang 👍 I’m giving this book one thumb’s up because it is well-written but I did not enjoy this book with its shock-value vulgarity, wholly unlikeable characters and unflattering portrayal of Chinese Americans during the Cultural Revolution.
106. Take My Advice: Letters to the Next Generation from People Who Know a Thing or Two — edited by James L. Harmon ❤️ I read this book because it was referenced more than once on everyone’s favourite blog « The Marginalian » , formerly « Brain Pickings ». It was a light read with 85 separate contributors, mostly writers and artists. I dog eared about a dozen passages for future reference. Published in 2002, some of the advice was somewhat outdated, much was tongue in cheek and most, still relevant.
107. Figurings — Maria Popova ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️ I loved this book by the same author of the blog The Marginalian, formerly called Brain Pickings. I bought the hardcover copy when it was first published over two years ago and there it sat on my bookshelf until I picked it up last week-end. The book chronicles four centuries of human accomplishments featuring artists, writers and scientists, most of them woman and most of them queer. If you are a fan of her blog, you will enjoy this book. Keep in mind that the text is so richly woven with references to notable historical figures, science, art, poetry, literature, feminism and social issues that you will need to budget extra reading time for googling.