The fall literary award season is upon us celebrating exceptional literary talent. The Man Booker Longlist was announced late July with the shortlist being revealed on Sept.20th. Last year, for the second year in a row an American won this prestigious international literary award: George Saunders with Lincoln in the Bardo. Of the 13 titles on this year’s longlist, 8 are by UK authors and 5 by North American writers. We feature the North American selections below and will feature the shortlisted titles in the October Newsletter. Just click on the selection below for a brief description of these longlisted titles. Please note: It’s the 25th anniversary of the Giller Prize this year. The longlist announcement is September 17th and the shortlist will be announced October 1st.
By Nick Drnaso
While many were flabbergasted that a graphic novel had the audacity to make it onto the Man Booker longlist, increasing numbers of graphic novel readers knew it was only a matter of time. Sabrina is a natural choice. While ostensibly about a woman’s murder and the fallout for her boyfriend and sister, it encompasses a much larger canvas. This event becomes a consumer product that spins conspiracy theories and conjecture in a society where personal interaction, intimacy and responsibility is in retreat.
By Esi Edugyan
The author’s previous title Half-Blood Blues was shortlisted for the Man Booker and won the Giller Prize. She returns with a tale about a young field slave at a Barbados sugar plantation who becomes a domestic servant of an English master more interested in being a naturalist, inventor and abolitionist than running a plantation. A murder implicates the young servant and his master chooses to flee with his servant as a bounty has been placed on the young man’s head. Ultimately the journey they take must follow different paths, as betrayal and desperation leads down a harrowing trail to freedom.
By Rachel Kushner
Nominated for National Book Awards for two of her previous novels, Telex From Cuba and Flamethrowers, Kushner’s latest is a mesmerizing layer of narratives focusing on the life and times of one Romy Hall, a young woman facing two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional facility in California’s Central Valley, circa 2003. Like other women facing institutional time, she has to deal with being cut-off from her previous outside life; in her case, the vibrant San Francisco of her youth and her young son – Jackson. The new reality of fending for yourself in an environment where thousands of women are doing the same brings a level of absurdity, sporadic violence, humour, posturing and pageantry that is captured with the observational genius and richness that has suffused her previous work and entranced readers.
By Michael Ondaatje
A recent readers’ poll awarded Ondaatje’s The English Patient the Golden Man Booker Award for the best book amongst the last 50 Man Booker winners. Now Ondaatje finds himself back on this year’s longlist. The tension between the seemingly transparent and knowable present with the mysterious physics of memory is the template upon which Ondaatje builds his latest narrative sleight of hand. Two teenagers, Rachel and Nathaniel, are left in London after WWII when their parents move to Singapore. Their caretaker is someone they assume is a friend of the family who goes by the moniker of “The Moth”. Mr. “Moth” and his associates are perceived by Rachel & Nathaniel as being somewhat shady but they soon realize this group of eccentrics have their best interests at heart. When their mother returns without their father many months later without any explanation, the family seemingly picks up where it left off. It’s only years later that Rachel and Nathaniel are slowly able to piece together the strange details and truths of this most curious and baffling of times.
By Richard Powers
One of the unalloyed joys of being in this business is seeing one of the true greats get the recognition they so richly deserve. Many critics and book reviewers far more eloquent and insightful than we are (and with far more space), have extolled the virtues of Powers’ unique narrative skills over his extensive literary career. Suffice to say, his ability to seamlessly mix science, nature, art, psychology and philosophy into his fiction is simply astonishing. His latest is no exception and without giving anything away, what you experience when he starts tying his various threads together is an overarching story about our place in nature and the increasingly high price we pay for our separation from it.
By Melanie Hobson
Just because its September doesn’t mean you can’t read a book with “Summer” in the title – in fact we recommend it. This debut novel released late last month packs a wallop. Three adult sisters return to their family home on Lake Ontario in what appears to be an act of solidarity. This four-day reunion becomes an intensely contested excursion into long buried secrets, betrayals, desires and the unsettling consequences of past actions. If you have a hankering for dazzling domestic drama – here it is.
By Patrick DeWitt
The author of Sisters Brothers, Undermajordomo Minor and Ablutions returns with an elegantly told satiric tragicomedy. Recently widowed by the flamboyant death of her prodigiously immoral husband, Frances Price is a resilient Upper East Side doyenne determined to thrive in her reduced circumstances. She, along with her ne’er-do-well son Malcolm and their cat Small Frank (who Frances believes houses the spirit of her late husband), set off to the City of Light to make a fresh start. What ensues is an inspired mother-son caper of riotous proportion.
By Kamila Shamsie
Winner of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction and Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, this novel examining the lives of an immigrant family expertly plots the tension between love and loyalty to a captivating and exceptionally powerful conclusion. After the death of her mother, Isma, the eldest daughter, is left to raise her younger siblings. As her younger sister and brother mature, Isma is finally given the opportunity to pursue her dreams in America. Although she is still worried for her stubborn sister and fiery brother back in London, she can no longer defer her future. The paths this family takes in pursuing their separate lives cross dramatically when the son of a powerful political figure enters the scene.
By Fredrik Backman
Beartown, Backman’s previous bestselling title about a small northern community and its deep relationship with its junior hockey team became a sort of Friday Night Lights phenomenon for hockey towns. This continuation of the story ratchets up the tension as news breaks that Beartown’s hockey team will soon be disbanded and their top players will be absorbed into their neighboring rival’s team. All is not lost however, as Beartown attempts to rebuild a new team around the nucleus of a young upcoming superstar. Things come to a head as a big game between the two rival towns approaches. Backman exposes the human drama behind the escalating tension that could derail any chance of coexistence between these hockey mad communities.
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
The sixth and final installment of Knausgaard’s epic literary autobiography is a truly bravura performance. For those who’ve read any of his previous installments, you know the astounding scope of personal material he explores – relationships, ambitions, desires, uncertainties and frailties that he draws with his signature unflinchingly honest and unguarded style. In his interview with Eleanor Wachtel on Writers and Company, his assertion that his memory is not the greatest, drew an incredulous response from Wachtel. He revealed that only through his writing process can he access the rich minutiae of his lived experience. This grand summation of a literary life that travels the border between private and public, while hardly without costs to himself and those who inhabit his world, has given us a magnificent achievement about literature, subjectivity and its essential relationship with reality. An exceptional and inspired antidote to the era of Trump and alternate facts.
By Lisa Moore
Although Moore is known for her novels (Alligator, February and Caught), she has released two previous short story collections, one of which- Open, was a finalist for the Giller Prize. As the title suggests, this third collection covers a lot of ground – so if you’re an adventurous reader, hop onboard. From the Fjord of Eternity to the streets of St. John’s and the swamps of Orlando, her characters portray the timeless, the tragic and the miraculous hiding in our everyday lives.
By Tom Hanks
Hanks’ collection was greeted with a variety of great reviews and revealed a hidden literary talent that has been somewhat eclipsed by his higher profile film career. These 17 stories feature characters facing unexpected incidents in their lives that reveal their own surprising resources. Obviously film and well-crafted short stories possess a narrative affinity and both Moore and Hanks have used their film backgrounds to great advantage in crafting their literary works.
By Imogen Hermes Gowan
Shortlisted for the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction, this smart work of historical fiction is an unusual look at how society in Georgian England was configured and how the pressures placed upon those attempting to “better themselves” played out. John Hancock is a successful businessman with a fleet of ships endeavoring to find a wife. When one of his captains trades a ship for a mummified “mermaid” his life takes an abrupt turn. The money and fame accruing from this unexpected discovery launches him into the company of high society. He meets Angelica Neal, a beautiful courtesan on the lookout for a more secure form of income and social standing. The bargain they make to secure their mutual future happiness could very well lead to their undoing.
By Michael Redhill
Newly released in trade paperback, last year’s Giller Prize winner is a darkly comic and unnerving literary thriller set right here in Toronto. Jean Mason and her family are starting a new venture in the city and she’s really starting to hit her stride. However, she’s a little unsettled to learn that she has a doppelganger who hangs out in Kensington Market. She starts to spend time in this deliciously unique part of town in the hope of catching a glimpse of her dead ringer. When she doesn’t see her, she becomes increasingly obsessed, leading to a disconcerting downward spiral. The first installment of Modern Ghosts trilogy, readers can only speculate where this journey will lead.
By Kate Atkinson
The acclaimed author of Case Histories, Life After Life and God in Ruins returns with an engrossing tale of how a young woman is drawn back into the dangerous world of espionage after her experience of working for British Intelligence during WWII. Juliet Armstrong is surviving as a dissatisfied radio producer in 1950s London. As she and the city begin to regain normalcy after the precarious war years, it seems that her life codebreaking for MI5 is ancient history. When a shadowy figure from her Intelligence operation days resurfaces, the repercussions of her knowledge and experience come roaring into her new life with a vengeance.
By Dionne Brand
A poet brings a generous perspective and spirit to their works of fiction. This latest by Dionne Brand is no exception. Fiction readers are in for a treat in this very clever foray into the life of a graduate student determined on writing a thesis they believe will set the academic world on its collective ear. Their ambitious subject covers the past, present and future of art, culture, race, gender, class and politics. To add some festivities to the proceedings, the writer, over the course of constructing this grand opus has romantic relationships with three women with very different temperaments representing, the heart, head and spirit. As each relationship unfolds, the anonymous narrator’s dissertation mutates to reflect the dominant sensibility of their current partner making for some surprisingly poignant results. Only a writer with serious smarts could pull this off and Brand delivers an astounding work rich with observations both timely and timeless on love, personhood, family, race, gender and politics.
By Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This is the long awaited final volume in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series begun with The Shadow of the Wind and followed by Angel’s Game and Prisoner of Heaven. The series finale introduces Alicia Gris, a woman who lost her parents when she was a child during the bombing of Barcelona by Franco’s fascist forces in 1938. Twenty years later, she now works as an investigator for Madrid’s secret police. Feeling burnt out and wanting to move on to a new career she is persuaded by her boss to solve one last case: the enigmatic disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture. A rare book acts as a clue to a group of writers who were imprisoned in Barcelona by Franco in WWII. With the help of booksellers including Juan Sempere, Alicia begins to uncover a web of murders the Franco regime orchestrated which continue to poison the current Spanish political environment.
By Mary Beard
Sub-titled: The Body, The Divine and the Question of Civilization, this volume was conceived as a companion to the PBS Civilisation series. Here, renowned classicist Mary Beard focuses on how we view art. Part 1 examines the Olmec heads of early Mesoamerica, the colossal statues of Amenhotep III & nudes of classical Greece. She explores the power, hierarchy and gender politics of the art of the ancient world and how it came to define the “civilized world”. Part II explores the power of spiritual imagery from Angor Watt, Ravenna, and Venice along with Jewish and Islamic calligraphy to show how all religions, both ancient and modern have faced irreconcilable problems in conceptualizing the divine.
By Anne Applebaum
Stalin’s star has risen sharply of late in the Russian firmament. Stalin impersonators now regularly turn up in public spaces where Russians of all ages have their pictures taken with them. This is a far cry from when Khrushchev first denounced him back when he took control of the Politburo, but things have obviously changed during the transition from the Gorbachev to Putin regime. Applebaum, the honoured historian and Pulitzer Prize winning author of Gulag and Iron Curtain, returns with a devastating examination of Stalin’s greatest crime. Previous histories of Stalin’s agricultural collectivization policies have largely focused on the bad planning and bureaucratic bungling in the transition from small inefficient farming communities to modern collective organization and improved farming methods. Applebaum makes clear that this scheme was actually a well-planned policy intended to starve millions of Ukrainians so as to replace them with pliant and cooperative Russian peasants more suited to Stalin’s plans for a unified buffer zone bordering Europe. Moscow’s current activities in the Ukraine still resonate with this earlier period.
By Franklin Foer
Subtitled “The Existential Threat of Big Tech”, this title now available in trade paperback illuminates our deeply entrenched digital malaise. This, along with Move Fast & Break Things: How Facebook, Google & Amazon Cornered Culture & Undermined Democracy by Jonathan Taplin (now in paperback as well) along with Tim Wu’s paperback release Attention Merchants: Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads all present some very pressing issues. A society that actively promotes cultural and economic monopolies that weaken personal autonomy and undermine democratic values and institutions pays a huge price in the development of a digital economy. Just recently we witnessed many Canadian cities falling over each other lobbying Amazon to locate a large North American centre in their areas. The insidious but hidden downside of “convenience” and the significant number of jobs that will be lost in many local markets to these monopolies always seems to be forgotten in the short-term rush to secure limited job possibilities. The much larger and corrosive consequences of continually empowering these digital behemoths to increase their already gargantuan corporate and political reach is a major concern that is fully evaluated in these three titles.
By Yuval Noah Harari
The author of Sapiens and Homo Deus turns his attention from human societies of the past to the pressing concerns of our contemporary world. Learning how not to become embroiled in the mistakes of the past takes a clear-eyed and informed perspective of the present. While examining larger issues such as international terrorism, fake news and migration, Harari also looks at personal issues like how much pressure and stress we can actually handle to how the quality of life depends on the amount of leisure time we can access. This thoughtful instruction manual for the 21st century provides meaningful lessons and provocative discussion points with which to find deeper meanings and patterns behind contemporary events and on-going tensions.
By Dylan Jones
Jones is a multi-award winning British editor who has compiled over 180 interviews with a wide variety of Bowie’s confidants, friends, lovers and musical collaborators, some of whom have never before spoken publicly of their relationship with the late mercurial and shape-shifting artist. Jones also includes interviews he himself had with Bowie that span over 20 years and reveal little known elements of Bowie’s personality and creative motivations. From revealing his profound relationship with his schizophrenic half-brother Terry, to examining the myriad influences he absorbed and projected, to discussing those he collaborated with (and those he quickly dropped), this oral biography offers a wonderfully gossipy yet well-rounded overview of one of contemporary music’s most legendary performers
By Sarah Weinman
Not many of us know that Vladimir Nabokov’s unsettling novel Lolita was inspired by the real-life 1948 abduction of eleven year-old Sally Horner in Camden, New Jersey. Here, Weinman marshals together original true-crime reporting of the case along with an examination of the cultural and social history of the era. By using investigative reports, legal documents, public records and interviews with relatives, she examines how much Nabokov knew of the case and the efforts he made to disguise this knowledge during the writing and publication process. Sally Horner’s story reverberates through the lives of countless girls and women who never had the chance to speak for themselves. Weinman gives her center stage and provides the access to directly witness the dark event behind this work of fiction.
By Ben MacIntyre
This magisterial work of Cold War espionage illuminates the career of Oleg Gordievsky, the Russian double-agent whose secret work aided the collapse of the Soviet Union. Considered to be the Russian counterpart to the infamous British double-agent Kim Philby, Gordievsky was the son of KGB agents and schooled at all the best Soviet institutions. Growing up, he came to view Soviet communism as criminal and philistine. He began his career in Russian intelligence in 1968 and became the Soviet Union’s top man in London while secretly working for the British from 1973 onwards. MI6 never revealed its high level source to the CIA, but the Americans became obsessed with finding out. MacIntyre details the 3-way high stakes cat and mouse game between the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the U.S. which culminated in Gordievsky’s dramatic escape from Moscow in 1985. Le Carré’s dangerous world of espionage comes to life in this well researched epic Cold War expose that reveals how one man’s hatred of Soviet communism helped instigate major geopolitical and societal shifts.
By Elizabeth Hay
Most Canadian readers know Elizabeth from her works of fiction: Student of Weather, Late Nights on Air (2007 Giller Winner) and His Whole Life. Her latest is a family memoir detailing the lives of her formidable parents, herself and her siblings as they transit through their overlapping orbits. While her mother was a talented artist, she was also incredibly frugal. Her father was a well-mannered schoolteacher who invariably exploded. While Elizabeth got the “difficult” and “selfish” label, she always had a sense, that she was the one who was going to end up looking after her parents in their final years. This feeling was very much borne out. As her very independent parents became more dependent upon her, Elizabeth charts the family’s shifting dynamics, sibling rivalries, miscommunications, simmering resentments and family upheavals – all underlain by love and devotion to her larger than life parents.
By Mallika Chopra
While mindfulness and meditation has been a growth industry for anxious and stressed out adults, – educators, therapists and parents have become increasingly aware of how beneficial this practice is for kids as they navigate their young lives through the hothouse of social media and the invasive digital world. These accessible and easeful meditation and mindfulness exercises for 8-12 year-olds by the daughter of Deepak Chopra gives kids advice on breathing techniques and guided meditations. Topics range from dealing with stress and anxiety, getting to sleep, building self-confidence to focusing on tests and specific tasks. It also provides kids with ideas on how to make their own meditation spaces. All things considered, not a bad way to start the school year.
By Susin Nielsen
This middle-grade tale of family and friendship by multiple –award winning Canadian children and YA author tackles the real-life dilemma of a kid with a precarious existence with humour and sensitivity. When 12 year-old trivia wiz Felix and his mom have to temporarily move into a camper van until they can find a new place to say, they do it in a spirit of adventure. When a few weeks drag into months and Felix has to hide his “temporary” address from his new classmates, the adventure starts to wear thin. When he gets to compete on a national quiz show he’s determined to win so he can use the cash prize to help them find a permanent home. As is often the case however, life has other ideas…
By Kenneth Oppel
This veteran children’s author joins forces with illustrator Sydney Smith (Town is By the Sea) to create an inspired tale about the mysterious wellspring of creativity and how our own resources can be brought to bear in dealing with life’s inevitable challenges and losses. The Rylance family is stuck in a number of ways. Mr. Rylance is a graphic novelist with writer’s block but when a mischievous inkblot escapes from one of his sketchbooks and creates some surprising images in the kids’ books, their assorted problems and obstacles change into something remarkably different.
By Wab Kinew
Inspired by President Obama’s “Of Thee I Sing”, this rap song by Wab Kinew with illustrations by Joe Morse is a tribute to historic and modern-day Indigenous heroes. From Sacagawea, Tecumseh and Crazy Horse to former NASA astronaut John Herrington and NHL goalie Carey Price, to lesser known everyday Indigenous heroes, these diverse stories empower the reader with this message: “We are the people who matter, yes, it’s true; now let’s show the world what people who matter can do.”
By Patricia MacLachan
For young readers 6-10, this Newberry Award winning author (Sarah, Plain & Tall) returns with a beautiful, heartrending story about two children, a poet and a dog & how they help each other survive loss and recapture love. Teddy is a gifted dog who was raised by a poet who wrote in a cabin in the woods. The poet always claimed that only poets and children could hear Teddy speak. When Teddy finds two children lost in a snowstorm, he tells them that he can help. They understand and follow him to the safety of the poet’s cabin. The poet is now gone and as Teddy and the children wait out the storm, Teddy wonders what will happen to him when the children leave to go home.
By Anna James
The first of an original three book series, this is one to watch out for. Tilly’s favourite place in the whole world is her Grandparent’s bookshop. She has been living with them since she was born and her mother disappeared. When Tilly discovers a box of her mother’s books, characters from them begin to appear in the store and she discovers she can travel into the pages of her beloved books. Her grandparents reveal to her that people who truly love books can become “book wanderers”. They take her to the Underlibrary in the basement of the British Library where there is a treasure trove of resources for book wanderers like herself. So begins her own unique literary adventures that will be sure to catch the imagination of a huge range of readers. For ages 9 and up.
By Leigh Bardugo
Newly released in trade paperback, this NYTs bestselling sequel to Six of Crows sees Kaz Brekker and his crew survive the most dangerous and daring heist of their careers. Rather than enjoy the fruits of their spoils however, they are soon double-crossed by former allies out to outmanoeuvre and destroy them. Amongst these old rivals, new enemies arise to sorely test their resources and resolve. Will they be able to survive the upcoming battle of revenge and redemption? This edition includes new art, an interview with the author and a sneek preview of her next book.
By Patrick Ness
The talented YA author of A Monster Calls (amongst numerous others) returns with a mirror version of Moby-Dick where whales hunt the world of men. With illustrations by Rovina Cai, the re-telling of this epic tale asks searing questions about power, loyalty, obsession and the monsters we make of the “other”.