2018 was a banner year for books in Canada, with compelling memoirs and exciting fiction published by both small and large presses. Below, our staff share their favourite new titles of the year. Read on, and tell us your favourite book of 2018 in the comments!
I've Been Meaning to Tell You by David Chariandy
Phillip Dwight Morgan, Jack Layton Journalism for Change Fellow (2017/18)
As a Black writer, I am acutely aware of the ways that experiences of love, joy and vulnerability are routinely denied to Black people in literature and in film. These experiences assert our humanity and, as such, disrupt the dehumanizing work of white supremacy. Within this context, David Chariandy has written a letter to his daughter that brims with generosity, insight and the quiet intimacies of a love shared between parent and child. The letter begins with a moment of bigotry that occurred while Chariandy’s daughter, three years old at the time, played in a park. It then develops into a larger meditation on national history and memory, slavery, class difference and ancestry. While I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is a stunning letter and a memoir, it is perhaps, most notably, an act of love. It is a generous offering to all people resisting Canada's ongoing legacies of racist and colonial violence.
Read Tavleen Purewal's interview with David Chariandy here.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
Christina Turner, Books and Weekend Editor
I didn’t expect to like Heti's hybrid memoir-novel about a woman trying to decide whether or not to have a baby, but the fact that I initially found the concept self-indulgent just shows how hard it is to shake the biases our culture has against women and their choices. In any event, I loved this book, which was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize. It's a beautiful meditation on how we heal from trauma, how we honour our mothers, and what it means to create, with a healthy dose of wry humour. "I want to make a child that will not die -- a body that will speak and keep on speaking, which can’t be shot or burned up," Heti’s narrator declares. "You can’t burn every copy of a single book. A book is more powerful than any murderer, than any crime." These lines point to a utopian impulse in Heti’s narrative that I find compelling in these cynical times.
A Dangerous Crossing by Ausma Zehanat Khan
Victoria Fenner, Executive Producer of the rabble podcast network
My top pick in the book category for 2018 is A Dangerous Crossing by Ausma Zehanat Khan. After I read the book, I had the privilege of interviewing Khan for rabble. The story is a classic suspense thriller with a difference -- the setting is a refugee camp where an NGO worker has disappeared. What is remarkable about the book is that the story also provides a learning experience about the Syrian refugee crisis. The skillful narrative by Khan demonstrates that fiction is also a way of seeking and finding truth about important issues of our time.
You can hear Victoria's interview with Ausma Zehanat Khan here.
The Rule of Stephens by Timothy Taylor
Michelle Gregus, Managing Editor
In The Rule of Stephens, Timothy Taylor tells the story of a plane crash survivor who miraculously walks away from a disaster that should have claimed her life. In the accident's aftermath, scientist Catherine Bach grapples with why she survived, trying to make sense of what happened. This is not just an account of survivor's guilt, however; Catherine's search for meaning takes an unsettling turn into questions about the very nature of reality. Does the world work according to the rational rules of Stephen Hawking or the uncanny mystery of Stephen King? Coincidences, doppelgangers and strange accidents twist the story -- set in Vancouver amid scenes of screaming seagulls on Kitsilano Beach -- into a tense psychological thriller with a touch of the supernatural.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
Tania Ehret, Operations Coordinator
In Women Talking, the latest by Miriam Toews, a subsection of women, often rendered powerless and silent, is given a platform to speak. This is a fictionalized account based on real-events which occurred in a remote Mennonite community in Bolivia. I like the book because it provides very specific insight into what the #MeToo movement can mean for women in rural communities, never once giving up agency for its characters. The book goes into the communal gaslighting inflicted on the women in the aftermath of sexual assault, and what it means for women with little proximity to power to take justice into their own hands when there is no legal system to fall back on.
Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography by Andrea Warner
Kim Elliott, Publisher
I’ve long been drawn to Buffy Sainte-Marie’s music and activism. Before picking up Andrea Warner’s authorized biography, I never realized the full extent of the Cree singer’s cultural significance. We learn that one reason she is not better known is that for a period the American government actively campaigned to keep her music out of U.S. radio stations because of her connections to Indigenous rights movements. Similarly, little known is Sainte-Marie’s ground-breaking use of new technologies in the music industry, beginning with her use of the emerging internet in sound recording. She merged her passions for technology and the empowerment of Indigenous communities through her foundation, and in her innovative work in developing educational technology projects for Indigenous students.
Sainte-Marie developed her own approaches to reconciliation and social change. Part of her practice of decolonization has also included strategies for reaching out to settler audiences through her music. Warner writes: "She asks the listener to bear witness. Her testimony becomes a light, an awakening, and the listener might at first dwell in the shame of complicity. But Sainte-Marie knows the futility of that guilt...One can't just talk about white people’s complicity in colonization, Sainte-Marie says adamantly, without addressing their own victimization by the same forces." Throughout the book is the undercurrent of Sainte-Marie’s ability to overcome obstacles with a humble, determined resilience. As a reader I was left with the sense this is a person deeply grounded by her love of land, animals and people. The book leaves me wanting to learn more from Buffy Saint-Marie.
What was your favourite book of 2018? Let us know in the comments!
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