Deryn Collier picks Giles Blunt’s Forty Words for Sorrow “I read Forty Words for Sorrow again this week, just to make sure it was the book I wanted to recommend to you. From the first paragraph, in which Giles Blunt touches his readers down in ‘the very definition of winter’—Algonquin Bay in February—I was entranced. Again. I’ve read this book at least three times. And we’re talking a crime novel here. I remember how it ends. But Forty Words for Sorrow is not just a crime novel. I’d say it’s the crime novel. It’s Canada’s Maltese Falcon. The book that gave Canadian crime writing a good shake and sent it in a new and improved direction. The writing is poetic, the characters (good guys and bad) face situations you hope you’ll never face, in a setting that is eerily like that town you used to drive through on your way to summer camp. In the ongoing conversation that is crime fiction, Forty Words for Sorrow is a must-read entry. And of course there’s no need to stop there. There’s the entire John Cardinal series to enjoy, each one as good as or better than the last. I can hardly wait for you to get to the latest installment, Until the Night. You won’t believe what happens.” Deryn Collier is the author of Confined Space, which was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best first crime novel. Her second novel, Open Secret, was recently published. Originally from Montreal, she is a graduate of McGill University. After a short career as a federal bureaucrat she ran away to the mountains of British Columbia where she has been ever since. She is on Twitter at @deryncollier.
Doretta Lau picks Light, by Souvankham Thammavongsa “In 2002, I visited Toronto for a month. I went to a zine fair and met a few women who were part of a collective called Big Boots. I wanted very much to be their new best friend. One of the members of Big Boots—Souvankham Thammavongsa—was selling a poetry chapbook, which I bought, and then promptly lost at another table before I had the chance to read it. The next year I saw Thammavongsa had published a book: Small Arguments. Later, she released another volume, Found. I was delighted: here was a poet whose work married brevity and emotion, who understood space and the visual impact of a poem on the page. Her fantasy of what poetry should be was lightyears beyond my limited imagination—I grew as a reader when I encountered her poetry. Thammavongsa’s latest book, the Trillium Book Award-winning collection Light, is expansive in scope, yet retains her trademark concise and disciplined approach to language—all without sacrificing feeling. The poems meditate on some aspect of light and touch upon art, the natural world, personal narrative, and cities. I read and re-read the poems and I ask myself: How can she say so much while practising this graceful economy of language? Why in her hands does the word ‘light’ seem so much more elegant and poignant and powerful than it does in regular life? When will I get to read her next book?” Doretta Lau is the author of the short story collection How Does a Single Blade of Grass Thank the Sun? (Nightwood Editions, 2014). She is an arts and culture journalist and she can be found on Twitter at @dorettalau.
Nathan Maharaj picks Ken Babstock’s Mean “I went to Queen’s to get my MA in English Literature right after undergrad. The story I was telling myself was that I was working sensibly toward a career in academia, but I knew even then that I was just delaying real life another year like everyone else. Over a breakfast of yogurt and granola I’d read poetry, but never anything I’d been assigned. For the first semester, it was actually just one book: Ken Babstock’s Mean. I’ve always been a sucker for books about work, and what I love about Mean is how work of all kinds weaves through it. Maybe that’s overstating it. There’s mostly work of the blue collar kind, and work of the struggling writer kind. At the time I had some inkling that I’d grown up in the midst of some retail-refined version of the former, but I was fumbling toward the latter (and eventually, predictably fumbled right off course). I don’t remember if I bookmarked Mean or just picked it up and started from a random page every morning. But I did have my favourite poems. Especially ‘Finishing.’ I can recall the last two lines even now: ‘Just finish. Get paid. At night, alone, you’ll redeem or undo what your hands have made.’ It’s become my little prayer. On good days, it’s what drives me to do something meaningful in the evening, whether that means working on a project or just being mindfully present with my kids at bedtime. On less good days, it’s how I remind myself that there’s more going on in my world than the problem in front of me.” Nathan Maharaj is director of merchandising for Kobo, the Toronto-based global ebookseller. He is on Twitter at @nrmaharaj.
David McGimpsey picks Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach “I first read Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach about 12 years ago as a title to read for an on-air book club. Oh, there were lots of books in that discussion group but this is only novel from those titles that I really remember. Good reason, too. Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach is simply one of the best novels I have ever read. Not just for Canadians, it’s both a page-turner and a big-L literary classic. Extraordinarily compassionate, wonderfully expressed, full of the kind of rich, intimate detail which makes the Native settlement of Kitamaat in the novel every bit the equivalent of Lawrence’s Manawaka or Richler’s Montreal. Uniquely comfortable with both the legacy of hard-won legends and the quotidian importance of basketball tournaments and the music of Led Zeppelin, Monkey Beach seamlessly transforms its story of loss (both historical and personal) into an unforgettable statement about life as it is today.” David McGimpsey is Montreal-based writer. He is the author of several poetry collections, including Lardcake and Sitcom, and his most recent collection, Li’l Bastard, was named one of the Books of the Year by both the National Post and Quill & Quire and was nominated for Canada’s Governor General’s Award. David is on Twitter at @DaveMcGimpsey.
John Vigna picks Nancy Lee’s The Age and Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk “Nancy Lee’s The Age and Richard Wagamese’s Medicine Walk are both exceptional works that reaffirm my faith in the novel. They each wrangle with the idea of interconnectedness that must begin with the world in a microcosm, one’s own family. Both books burst with a visceral, physical, and spiritual consciousness of the world, whether in Lee’s 1980s’ Vancouver and post-apocalyptic North Shore, or Wagamese’s unforgiving, rugged BC Interior. Both explore the complexities of their characters and their desire for connection and reconciliation.
At their heart, the storylines are simply those of parent-child relationships: in The Age, it’s a mother-daughter story while in Medicine Walk, it’s a father-son story. But this is too narrow a scope to offer a satisfactory description of their universality. These are novels about family and forgiveness, life and death, hubris and humility. Novels about our eternal desire for connection that lead to heroic, epic, and tragic journeys that transcend the worlds in which the characters struggle. Finally, these are novels that have muscle, grace, and authenticity in every line of luminous prose, challenging the reader with their resolute vision. Each sentence, deceptively simple and unfettered, unfurls like a detonation, creating masterful works that are suffused with what O’Connor calls ‘mystery and manners.’ I can’t recommend them enough. They are the real deal.” John Vigna’s first book of fiction, Bull Head, was published to critical acclaim in Canada and the US (forthcoming in France by Éditions Albin Michel in 2015). It was selected by Quill & Quire as an editor’s pick of the year and was a finalist for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. John was named one of 10 writers to watch by CBC Books. He is a lecturer at UBC in the Creative Writing Program. John is on Twitter at @john_vigna.