What should you read this year? We asked staff members at six independent Canadian bookstores which upcoming releases they were most excited about. Read on to learn about the most anticipated fiction, memoir, nonfiction and poetry hitting Canadian bookstore shelves in 2020.
Rupert McNally of Toronto’s Ben McNally Books recommends Sharks in the Time of Saviors (Penguin Random House), a mythological family saga set in Hawaii. Of this debut effort by Hawaii-raised writer Kawai Strong Washburn, McNally says: “It’s my type of book. One that switches perspectives with each new chapter, jumping back and forth between members of the Flores family and their separate attempts to come to terms with son Nainoa’s apparent magical affinities. His gifts prove a burden for his siblings who feel left behind, for his parents who struggle to make ends meet, and for Nainoa himself, bent by the responsibility of being special. But, through the cracks of the dysfunction shines a little bit of love.”
B.C.-born author Emily St. John Mandel’s 2014 novel Station Eleven was a runaway success, so Jessica Paul (of Munro’s Books in Victoria) is understandably excited about Mandel’s latest book. “Jumping back and for through time, from Vancouver Island to New York City, The Glass Hotel (HarperCollins) weaves together the lives of characters linked by a massive Ponzi scheme and the New York financier who orchestrated it,” Paul says. “With a captivating story that is just as compelling as Station Eleven, Mandel’s latest is sure to please new and old fans alike.”
Flying Books is a small press and independent bookstore with three locations in downtown Toronto, and co-owner Martha Sharpe has two titles she’s dying to put on the store’s shelves. First up is Harriet Alida Lye’s memoir Natural Killer (Penguin Random House). “At 15, Lye was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia called Natural Killer, and survived; at 30, her body surprised her again when she discovered she was pregnant — highly unlikely due to her cancer treatments,” Sharpe says. “I read amazed not only at all the odds Lye defied, but also at how exquisitely she writes about death, life, love, the body, what it is to deeply care for oneself and for others.”
Sharpe also recommends the first title in Flying Books’s publishing program, Marlowe Granados‘s Happy Hour. “Set in New York City during the summer of 2013, Isa and her best friend, Gala, aim to live a life of glamour and adventure despite having to contend with rent and less than ideal suitors. It’s utterly original, weaving in shades of How to Marry a Millionaire with a portrayal of self-creation, ambition, and friendship as no one I’ve read has done.”
This spring will also feature several highly anticipated poetry collections from Canadian LGBTQ authors. Audrey Wolfe of Vancouver’s Spartacus Books is particularly excited about Amber Dawn’s My Art Is Killing Me and Other Poems and Jillian Christmas’s The Gospel of Breaking, both published by Arsenal Pulp. Of these collections, Wolfe says: “both writers live on the unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam people. Both writers are unabashedly queer. At the dawn of this decade, libraries are silencing the voices of queer and trans people and sex workers … we need to take back our stories.”
Massy Books is another Vancouver indie bookstore and features a hidden rare book room. This year, owner Patricia Massy is looking forward to stocking titles by two of this country’s most renowned young Indigenous writers. Governor General Award-winning poet Gwen Benaway’s third book, day/break (Book*hug) is a lyric exploration of life in a trans woman’s body. In May, Griffin Prize-winning poet Billy-Ray Belcourt will release A History of My Brief Body (Penguin Random House), a collection of essays and vignettes on grief and violence.
Massy and Wolfe both also recommend Vivek Shraya’s The Subtweet, out in April from ECW Press. Shraya’s second novel follows a musician as she rides the unpredictable roller coaster of internet fame. (She also published a graphic novel about hate mail last year; you can read her interview with Alexandra Valahu here).
For those on the hunt for a children’s book, Lisa Doucet from Woozles Children’s Bookstore in Halifax recommends When Emily Was Small, which she describes as “a thoughtful, sensitive account of Emily Carr as a young girl.” Written and illustrated by Lauren Soloy, this picture book depicts a young Carr exploring “her father’s garden with a sense of reverence and awe for all the beauty and goodness therein. While she often feels helpless and small in her every day life, her wilderness explorations give her the chance to become Small: a daring, joyful, wonder-filled creature who delights in immersing herself in nature’s bounty.”
Christina Turner is an assistant editor at rabble.ca.
Bookstore images via Unsplash.