Year’s Best Books List

Mikale’s Top Picks for 2016

minnie

 

Dear 2016, see ya later.

Like so many of us, I’m sort of ready for this year to be over. While in my personal and professional life I’ve met a number of invaluable people, and had more adventures than I can count, in general I think it’s fair to say that on a global level 2016 was a bit of a dud. As such, I find myself looking forward to 2017 with anxious trepidation… With all these feeeeeeelings it’s been a great year to  escape into the beautiful, fantastical world of fiction.

2016 was a great year for books,therefore allow me to  present my top five reads of the past year. I noticed a few patterns in my reading this year (apparently I’ve read A LOT of depressing literary fiction) so in an effort to be a little less insular, I’ve broken my list down into five of my  go-to’s.

Hope you enjoy, and good luck out there.

 

Best Series:  Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels brilliantfriend

I am halfway through this four-part coming-of-age series which spans the life-long friendship of two intelligent and perceptive girls growing up in the Naples region of Italy.  Although the premise may seem simple, this character-driven series is all about the complexities and nuances of  both female friendship, and more generally of women’s lives. As such, it felt like one of the more fully developed explorations of a women’s experience I’ve ever read, with feminist themes throughout. Don’t let the awful cover art fool you: I can’t recommend this one enough and have already bought copies of My Brilliant Child for a few of my favorite women this Christmas.

*Still haven’t convinced you? Read this blog post about the author’s mysterious identity! 

Best Short Story Collection: B.J. Novak’s One More Thing 

onemorethingIf I were ever to decide to track down a celebrity and woo them with every ounce of wit and charm I posses, I’m pretty sure it would be for The Office’s B.J. Novak. While he didn’t do much for me as TV star, as an author? Oh boy.

He first came into the literary spotlight with the genius children’s story  The Book With No Pictures however with his latest collection of short stories Mr. Novak has proven himself capable of captivating audiences of all ages. In short, One More Thing is hilarious and charming. I listened to the audiobook, and found myself giggling like a lunatic on the seabus listening to a fictionalized John Grisham come to grips with a monumental typo, then later tearing up over the title story of a Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket draw which threatens to unravel a family.  Although I am not normally a huge short story fan, this book captivated me.

 

Best Dystopic Why-Bother-With-Life Fiction: The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver   mandibles

Word of advice: this is not an appropriate read when feeling down or financially pinched, during election time, or when travelling long distances on public transit.  Set in the not-too-distant future, The Mandibles is the story of one upper middle class Brooklyn  family as they struggle for survival following the crash of the US dollar in favor of an international currency called the Bancor.  Shriver’s story is less fantastical and more of an examination of how delicate our economic system really is, and thus is not only plausible but illuminating. Like a modern day Grapes of Wrath, this book  takes its readers down a seemingly endless hole of hopeless despair, and doesn’t offer a breath of air until ( thankfully unlike Grapes) the end. What I liked most about this book was how much I learned about economic theory. What I disliked? Well, it wasn’t the right choice of reading material during the US election…..

 

vegetarianBest Quirky and Compelling: The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian is an experience. This three-part South Korean novella is  about a “previously unremarkable” young woman who decides to quit eating meat after a violent, bloody dream; a decision that sets in motion a series of events which eventually tears apart her family and social circle. Reading this book reminded me of a more guttural Murakami, with imagery so startlingly visceral and bizarre that I wish there was an accompanying graphic novel. Many of my coworkers didn’t get into this one, but the fact that I’m still thinking about this book six months later tells me it deserves to be on this list.

Overall Favourite: The Course of Love by Alain de Botton  course-of-love

I spend too much a lot of time thinking about the nature of relationships and the concept of romanticism.  As such, this book hit me right in the gut by combining both a well-written story, and the theoretical examination of a marriage.  I’ve already talked about this book so often both on this blog and to my friends that I’ll keep it short, and rather point you to this. Since first reading my library copy, I’ve purchased two copies to give out to friends, and have a few more to handout as Christmas presents.

 

-Mikale Fenton

Mikale’s Fall Picks 2016

teabooks

Short, crisp rainy days. Slow-cooked root vegetables spiced with nutmeg and coriander. Crispy home-made bread. Wool sweaters. Tea. Thick books.After a whirlwind summer, there are not enough cliched nouns to describe how much I love and relish the fall season.

This is the time of year where I typically pull-back from my social calendar, take a break from weekend adventuring and settle in for some serious nesting. It also happens to be one of the greatest seasons for literary fiction as publisher’s unleash many of their heavy-hitters for awards season and early Christmas shopping. The only issue I had choosing this fall’s picks was limiting the list to a reasonable number because so many of my favourite authors are releasing new titles, and each book looks so, so good.

And thus begins a new season of glorious hibernation….at least until ski season.

 

The Course of Love by Alain de Bottoncourse-of-love

If we have crossed paths in the past couple of weeks then you’ve probably already heard me raving about this book. It is essentially a cross between a novel and literary essay, as we follow Kristen and Rabih through the ebbs and flows of their long-term monogamous relationship. The story is told in two parallel voices: one follows the two central characters as they navigate “happily every after” and the challenges which blossom after love’s original conception– raising children, adultery, laundry etc.. The other voice  objectively analyzes each of the character’s thought patterns and actions with remarkable clarity and psychoanalytic prowess.  I truly loved this book, and look forward to reading it again–albeit next time on my own copy so that I can scribble in the margins and underline my favorite passages.

wenjack.jpgWenjack by Joseph Boyden

Nearly 50 years after his tragic death, 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack’s story may finally be getting the attention it deserves.  As noted in this recent Maclean’s article,  this year three Canadian artists are using each of their respective mediums to shed light on the Residential School experience using Chanie as their voice and focus. Boyden, alongside Tragically Hip front man Gord Downie and graphic novelist Jerry Lemire,  mobilize the incredible power of narrative and one boy’s tragic story to illuminate this horrific chapter in the history of Canada’s First Nations peoples.  In Wenjack, Boyden has created an imagined re-telling of Chanie’s last hours alive as he runs away from a North Ontario Residential School realizing too late just how far away home is.  Like all of Boyden’s novels, Wenjack is already being touted as a literary masterpiece full of haunting landscapes, imagery and characters.

By Gaslight by Steven Price bygaslight

Back in 2014 Victoria, BC authorSteven Price made literary headlines when his latest novel, By Gaslight caused a highly competitive auction at the Frankfurt Book Fair before being sold for a rumored record-breaking advance. Since then, anticipation has been building among readers everywhere to get a chance to dive into this Victorian period piece and see what all the fuss is about. At nearly 800 pages, it is a spellbinding thriller embedded with dark, poetic imagery and detailed descriptions.

 spawninggroundsThe Spawning Grounds by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

I have been a fan of Anderson-Dargatz since picking up her brilliant debut novel Cure for Death by Lightning many moons ago. Since then, the author has written numerous other beautiful novels which each with a distinct sense of place rooted in our beautiful province and the struggles which erupt as nature and man intertwine and collide. Her latest novel weaves multiple-generational stories of settlement along a fictional river in south-central B.C., not far from Kamloops. The Spawning Grounds has been receiving excellent reviews as an instant BC classic with a supernatural twist.

Nutshell by  Ian McEwan nutshell

Aside from the fact that Ian McEwan is undoubtedly one of our country’s strongest writers, his new novel sounds so fantastically bizarre that it’s hard to resist. Set within a mother’s womb, the story is told from the perspective of what McEwan describes as “a rather old fetus nostalgic about the times when he was small enough to float freely around in the womb” in this Globe and Mail interview, who bares witness to murder, deceit and all other matters of thriller intrigue. Again, impossible to resist.

Moonglow: A Novel by Michael Chabon

moonglowReading Chabon is to read magic. Ever since The Adventures of Kavalier and ClayI have been a loyal Chabon-ist, and felt that his novels sparkle with an electric sense of playful history. In his latest book, Chabon blurs the lines between fiction, memoir and biography as he tells the story of his grandfather, whose life as an engineer, veteran, and felon offers an entree into themes of heroism and imagination.  Although the author tends to obsess over detailed side plots, such as the craft of comic making in the 1940’s in Adventures, and has at times been accused of losing track of the central story, I find these tangents  fascinating.

 

Happy nesting!

-Mikale

Mikale’s Summer Picks

It seems fitting that one of the last tasks I’ve left myself to do before going on vacation is to assemble my top literary picks for summer.  Let me begin by stating that I take my summer reads very seriously, in the way that under no circumstances should summer reads be too serious. While I always love a good dystopic-fantasy,  as stated in this hilarious New Yorker “think-piece” from 2014, “my ideal summer novel is delicately balanced on the edge of frivolity….The drama should feel VERY real to the characters but be very silly in contrast to anything you read in the world-news section of the New York Times.” In those dark, brooding rainy West Coast winter nights I love to curl up and be challenged by a serious piece of literature, but…. poolside? Not so much.

And so, here we go… Summer 2016.

I’m Just a Person by Tig Notaro Notaro

Ok so maybe this one is going to be a bit too dark for my aforementioned “Summer Reads Rules of Conduct”, however I recently heard Tig Notaro tell a story about repeatedly meeting 80’s pop star Taylor Dayne on This American Life  and found myself laughing so hard on my run that I had to pull over to breathe properly, so I have faith there will be balance.

Her new book talks about a span of only four months in 2012 where Notaro was hospitalized for a debilitating intestinal disease called C. diff, her mother unexpectedly died, she went through a breakup, and then she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. She then took her grief onstage to become one of the most intimate, and startling stand-ups out there today. For more information on her story, and the way her comedy has changed since that fateful period of time, I highly recommend checking out this great interview she recently gave with The Guardian. 

Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn

A beach-read of a different sort of variety…..Capturing the distinct rhythms of Jamaican life and dialect, Dennis- Benn uncovers a world hidden among pristine beaches and the wide expanse of turquoise seas. Set at an opulent resort in Montego Bay, Here Comes the Sun offers a dramatic glimpse into a vibrant, passionate world most outsiders see simply as paradise.

Heroes From The Frontier by David Eggers heroeofthefrontier

I’m an unabashed Dave Eggers fan and will basically read anything he publishes. While his storylines may not always be as tight as they could be, Egger’s breezy writing-style is both punchy and compelling, and his novels (The Circle, and A Hologram for the King) consistently tackle complex ideas like online privacy and economic collapse in an accesible, and entertaining fashion . His new novel is about a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness that is plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.

 

mandiblesThe Mandibles; A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

Set in a not-too distant future Brooklyn, The Mandibles breaks down the struggles of one upper-middle class family as they cope with extreme water and food shortage, and general societal meltdown. Blending satire and parable with today’s headlines, Shriver creates a terrifying look into the not to distance future.

 

The Girls by Emma Cline girls.jpg

In this remarkable debut novel , the obsession with 1960s California cults comes to horrifying and electrifying life. While cults usually orbit charismatic men, Cline’s protagonist is teenage Evie, whose attraction to impossible-to-resist cool girls leads to her fate. An indelible portrait of girls, the women they become, and that moment in life when everything can go horribly wrong.
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modernloversModern Lovers by Emma Straub

For fans of The Vacationers, comes Straub’s latest hit which promises to deliver sympathetic, well-developed characters and a story filled with humour and heartache.

Friends and former college bandmates Elizabeth and Andrew and Zoe have watched one another marry, buy real estate, and start businesses and families, all while trying to hold on to the identities of their youth. But nothing ages them like having to suddenly pass the torch (of sexuality, independence, and the ineffable alchemy of cool) to their own offspring.

Back in the band’s heyday, Elizabeth put on a snarl over her Midwestern smile, Andrew let his unwashed hair grow past his chin, and Zoe was the lesbian all the straight women wanted to sleep with. Now nearing fifty, they all live within shouting distance in the same neighborhood deep in gentrified Brooklyn, and the trappings of the adult world seem to have arrived with ease. But the summer that their children reach maturity (and start sleeping together), the fabric of the adult lives suddenly begins to unravel, and the secrets and revelations that are finally let loose—about themselves, and about the famous fourth band member who soared and fell without them—can never be reclaimed.

Happy reading!

 

-Mikale

 

 

 

 

Mikale’s Spring 2016 Picks

Oh boy, here we go. Spring is undeniably here and so begins my serious season of reading. As a fair-weather cyclist and wannabee-marathoner, this is my season for audiobooks coupled with languid days of sitting in the sun trying desperately to inhale all the Fiction. All of it. Here’s a list of what I’m most excited for this season:

March

Audiobooks: 

March has been my month of guilty pleasures.  For whatever reason, my new policy is that celestengif I want to read something non-fiction, classic or not-in-season, I have to do it via the library’s collection of downloadable audiobooks, hence the following list of 2015 titles that slipped by during the fall and winter.

This month I listened to Celeste Ng’s haunting yet beautiful novel, ‘Everything I Never Told You’, as well as J.K Rowling Robert Galbraith’s ‘Career of Evil’. Career_of_Evil_Oct_2015I’ve never been a huge mystery-reader, however this is the third Cormoran Strike mystery I’ve listened to and can’t get enough of Robert Glenister’s narration style and voice.  Finally, I also listened to Aziz Anzari’s modernromanceModern Romance, a funny and insightful sociological examination at the often baffling world of modern heterosexual dating, which admittedly resonated a bit too eerily for this twenty-something-reader. Added bonus: Anzari narrates the audio-version and includes lots of bonus commentary. Plus, he is hilarious.

 

Morning Star by Pierce Brown

mornignstarSpeaking of guilty pleasures…. I just finished the final installment of Pierce Brown’s ‘Red Rising’ Trilogy and was not disappointed. While Brown’s writing style is a bit too sci-fi  “Bro-talk” for me, he is an undeniably gifted story teller and I’d recommend the trilogy for anyone looking for a page-turning action thriller.

 

This is Happy by Camilla Gibb

In anticipation of the upcoming North Shore Writer’s Festival, I just picked up a copy and this is happyam already enthralled by Camilla Gibb’s new memoir ‘This is Happy.’ The book reveals the intensity of the grief that besieged her as the happiness of a longed-for family was shattered when Gibb was eight-weeks pregnant and her wife announced she was leaving.  Reflecting on tangled moments of past sadness and joy, alienation and belonging, Gibb revisits her stories now in relation to the happy daughter who will inherit them, and she finds there new meaning and beauty.

April

Moving forward, here are the new spring titles I’m most excited to read this April.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang 

Celebrated by critics around the world, and  longlisted for the 2016 Man Booker International Prize, The Vegetarian is darkly allegorical, Korean Kafka-esque tale of power, obsession, and one woman’s struggle to break free from the violence both without and within her. A beautiful, unsettling novel about rebellion and taboo, violence and eroticism, and the twisting metamorphosis of a soul
Before the nightmares began, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary, controlled vegetarianlife. But the dreams–invasive images of blood and brutality–torture her, driving Yeong-hye to purge her mind and renounce eating meat altogether. It’s a small act of independence, but it interrupts her marriage and sets into motion an increasingly grotesque chain of events at home. As her husband, her brother-in-law and sister each fight to reassert their control, Yeong-hye obsessively defends the choice that’s become sacred to her. Soon their attempts turn desperate, subjecting first her mind, and then her body, to ever more intrusive and perverse violations, sending Yeong-hye spiraling into a dangerous, bizarre estrangement, not only from those closest to her, but also from herself. .

 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah nightingale

Viann and Isabelle have always been close despite their differences. Younger, bolder sister Isabelle lives in Paris while Viann lives a quiet and content life in the French countryside with her husband Antoine and their daughter. When World War II strikes and Antoine is sent off to fight, Viann and Isabelle’s father sends Isabelle to help her older sister cope. As the war progresses, it’s not only the sisters’ relationship that is tested, but also their strength and their individual senses of right and wrong. With life as they know it changing in unbelievably horrific ways, Viann and Isabelle will find themselves facing frightening situations and responding in ways they never thought possible as bravery and resistance take different forms in each of their actions.

My Brilliant Friend by Ella Ferrante

Admittedly, I need to start this series from the beginning, but with the release of the final installment, I’ve decided to listen to the first three, then read the final book next month, brilliantfriendwish me luck!

Here’s a synopsis from the publisher: ” A modern masterpiece from one of Italy’s most acclaimed authors, My Brilliant Friend is a rich, intense and generous hearted story about two friends, Elena and Lila. Ferrante’s inimitable style lends itself perfectly to a meticulous portrait of these two women that is also the story of a nation and a touching meditation on the nature of friendship. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her two protagonists.”

May

 

The Bad Mother by Marguerite Andersen (on order at NVCL)

Translated from the award-winning French novel La mauvaise mère, prolific author Marguerite Andersen fictionalizes the important moments of her life resulting in this unflinching account of her relationship with her three children and her years spent following her caprices and lovers, trying to regain the agency she lost when she became a mother.Born in Germany, Marguerite was just into her twenties when she moved to Tunisia with her French lover. She thought she was choosing a life of adventure and badmotherfreedom, but what she got was children and a marriage that quickly became abusive. Constrained by the minutiae of everyday life, Marguerite longs for the agency to make her own choices. Eventually she flees, leaving her children behind for a year and a half.
As the world labels her a wife, a mother, and eventually a bad mother, Marguerite wrestles with her own definition of personhood. Can you love your children and want your own life at the same time? A half-century later, this fictionalized account of Andersen’s life is written with brutal honesty, in spare, pithy, and often poetic prose, as she expresses her own conflicted feelings concerning a difficult time and the impact it had on her sense of self. Andersen confronts the large and small choices that she made—the times she stayed and the times she didn’t—all the while asking, “What kind of mother am I?”

Barkskins by Annie Proulx barkskins

In the late seventeenth century two penniless young Frenchmen, René Sel and Charles Duquet, arrive in New France. Bound to a feudal lord, a ” seigneur ,” for three years in exchange for land, they become wood-cutters–barkskins. René suffers extraordinary hardship, oppressed by the forest he is charged with clearing. He is forced to marry a Mi’kmaw woman and their descendants live trapped between two inimical cultures. But Duquet, crafty and ruthless, runs away from the seigneur, becomes a fur trader, then sets up a timber business. Proulx tells the stories of the descendants of Sel and Duquet over three hundred years–their travels across North America, to Europe, China, and New Zealand, under stunningly brutal conditions–the revenge of rivals, accidents, pestilence, Indian attacks, and cultural annihilation. Over and over again, they seize what they can of a presumed infinite resource, leaving the modern-day characters face to face with possible ecological collapse.

The Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler 

Could the taming of Shakespeare’s shrew, Katherina, happen today? Find out in this funny, off-beat version from one of our most beloved novelists. ovinegargirl Anne Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew asks whether a thoroughly modern, independent woman like Kate would ever sacrifice herself for a man. Its answer is as individual, off-beat, and funny as Kate herself.

 

 

 

Happy reading!

-Mikale

Literature, Empathy and the Migrant Experience

As the migrant crisis continues to unveil its complexities over news screens everywhere and Canada contemplates how to best welcome and make room for refugees in our communities, I have been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a human being and citizen of the world.

How do you build friendships with people from an unfamiliar culture where etiquette, language and customs collide with your own? How can our community be as welcoming and inclusive as possible when, for many Canadians, understanding what it’s like to continually worry about the safety and well-being of you and your family is an alien concept?

In other words, how do you build empathy?

Many have written excellent pieces and done studies on how literature can help readers to better understand and connect with others.  In his Atlantic article, author Joe Fassler explains this process best by saying that, “Literature gives us a broad spectrum of human possibilities. It teaches us how to feel other people suffering. When you read a good novel, you forget about the nationality of the character. You forget about his or her religion. You forget about his skin color or her skin color. You only understand the human. You understand that this is a human being, the same way we are. And so reading great novels absolutely can remake us as much better human beings. ”

Below I’ve put together a short list of Canadian novels which explore the migrant experience for readers who are interested in pushing their limits of human understanding. You’ll notice that while many of the titles are contemporary, I have also included American novelist John Steinbeck’s American classic Grapes of Wrath, which although it was published in 1939 is still as relevant today as ever as it chronicles the hardships faced by a poor Midwest family forced off their land and into the sea of migrants heading West during the American Dust Bowl. empathy exams

In addition to these titles, NVCL’s March Book Club will be taking a look at Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams . If you’re interested in learning more and participating, please join us on March 2nd for what promises to be an interesting discussion (It’s also my first book club at NVCL!).

Finally, February 22nd is also the deadline for the Library Small Grants program, an initiative we are piloting here at the library to build creative and community-led cross-cultural relationships here on the North Shore.  The deadline is Monday so please don’t hesitate to apply, we’d love to hear from you!

 

Recommended Reads:

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill theillegal

One of my most anticipated reads of the year is Canadian author Lawrence Hill’s first novel since the bestselling epic, The Book of Negroes. The Illegal tells the story of Keita, an elite marathoner and refugee from a fictionalized country in the centre of the Indian Ocean called Zantoroland who uses his running prowess to escape to Freedom Land—a familiar stand-in for the wealthy, democratic Western world.  In an interview with CBC, Hill said “I think we have trouble imagining the lives of refugees and stateless people. With refugees, you see all these pictures of these people who are displaced or on the move… It’s important to remember that each of these people has a story: has a mother and a father and perhaps children, lovers, aptitudes and skills. There are doctors, engineers and lawyers in those groups of displaced people, as well as people of every other economic class.” 

 

The Cockroach by Rawi Hage  cockroach cover

Published in 2008, The Cockroach was the finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and was also selected as one of CBC’s Canada Reads finalists in 2015.  Through flashbacks and conversations with his therapist following a failed suicide attempt, The Cockroach tells the story of one former refugee’s violent childhood in a war-torn country, forward into his current urban life, and out into the frozen night-time streets of Montreal, where the thief survives on the edge of society.

 

Year of the Runaways The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota

Nominated for this year’s Man Booker Prize, this book takes a slightly different look at the migrant experience by highlighting the plight of economic migrants, in this case by telling the story of the difficult, lonely, and at times despairing lives of four illegal migrants who made their way to Sheffield, UK from India in search of a better life.

 

Ru by Kim Thúy

In vignettes that shift back and forth between past and present, Ru tells the story of a young woman forced to leave her Saigon home during the Vietnam War. Thúy traces the woman’s journey from childhood in an affluent Saigon neighbourhood to youth in a crowded Malaysian refugee camp and then to Quebec, where she struggles to fit in — all aspects of the author’s own life story.

 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck   JohnSteinbeck_TheGrapesOfWrath

One of my all-time favourite reads, this is one of those stories which has the power to reach and touch readers who have difficulty stepping outside their North American experience. It examines the plight of the Joad family as they are forced off their Midwest homestead and join the sea of migrants heading west to California during the 1930’s Dust Bowl. One thing that I found most striking about the book is how Steinbeck is able to fully realize what happens when dehumanizing labels like “migrant”, “refugee” and in this case “Okie” are assigned as tools to allow others to step back and withdraw their responsibility to care and empathize as fellow human beings.

 

-Mikale Fenton

Meet our new Community Librarian

Name: Mikale Fenton

Mikale sailing in Clayoquot Sound while enjoying a good book

Mikale sailing in Clayoquot Sound while enjoying a good book

Job Title:  Community Librarian

Best book I have read this year: This is a tough one! I think that I’d have to say Rachel Cusk’s “The Outline”. At its core it’s about a woman who travels to Greece to teach a writing course, and the mostly one-sided conversations she has with the people she encounters along the way. While it may not sound like much, the novel is written with such delicate precision that through each fascinating conversation Cusk explores philosophical questions and universal themes surrounding relationships, memory and interpretation. I’ve heard mixed reviews for this book, but personally I was devastated when it was over.

On a side note, although I tend to gravitate mainly towards literary fiction I’m also a complete junkie for dystopic fantasy and thoroughly enjoyed Emily St. John Mandel’s “Station Eleven”, a quiet and dark dystopic tale set in the familiar Great Lakes landscape. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a more mature entry into the apocalypse genre.

Rachel Cusk's Outline

Rachel Cusk’s “The Outline”

 

I will read any book by: John Valliant, Joan Didion, Michael Ondaatje, Joseph Boyden, John Steinbeck, & Haruki Murakami.

Best place to curl up with a book on a rainy day: Currently my favorite reading nook is in my new apartment on the couch nestled in with the radio, my house cat and an endless supply of licorice spice tea!

Best place to lounge with a book in the sun: I spend a lot of time camping and hiking on the North Shore mountains and on the west coast of Vancouver Island where I always make sure to bring my book along. That being said, I think some of my most memorable and sureal reading sessions have been atop of a BC ferries sundeck battling with cross winds while keeping an eye out for marine life.

A book I know I should read, but haven’t: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I’ve had it on my nightstand for longer than I’d care to admit, but I always seem to come up with an excuse to read something else. The shame…. the shame…

The book I push on all my friends because it is soooooooo good: A good friend recently referred to me as an “audiobook evangelist” after listening to me preach the same tired sermon about the library’s incredible collection of downloadable e-audiobooks and how to find the goodies. Like anyone, I have a hard time finding as much time as I’d like to read, however as an avid runner and cyclist  audiobooks are my go-to. Top recommendations: the audiobook version of “World War Z” is enough to make anyone an audio convert. As an “oral history” told from the perspectives of a dozen Zombie apocalypse survivors (just bear with me), this audiobook takes advantage of its format by employing dozens of A-list actors to narrate each chapter with their own unique voice and dialect. Trust me and skip the terribly-adapted movie, all you need are headphones to enjoy this story.

For classics, one of my favourite books of all time is “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck. I feel like this book is as close to perfection as a novel could possibly be. It’s a beautifully-written, sprawling epic about three generations of two families in California’s Salinas Valley who inadvertently re-enact the story of Cain and Abel.

Where you can find me: When not out in the community, I spend my Fridays and Saturdays helping library customers choose their next read at on the Reader’s Advisory desk and the 3rd floor Info desk here at NVCL.

I love to talk books and would love to hear from you. Tweet me at @mikalefenton and tell me what you’re reading!

 

Michael’s Top Ten Reads of 2015

The year is winding down and it has been fun to look back at all the great books of 2015. Here are my top ten:

ShedThatFedThe Shed that Fed a Million Children, by Magnus MacFarlane Barrow

Best for fans of: Inspiring stories about individuals making a difference in their world, eg. Little Princes by Conor Grennan

What’s the appeal? A compelling narrative with an unlikely hero that shows what is possible in helping the developing world

The Reason You Walk, by Wab KinewReasonYouWalkcover

Best for fans of: Father-son relationship narratives and thought-provoking First Nations material – eg. Up Ghost River, by Edmund Metatawabin

What’s the appeal? A moving and hopeful story about a well-known aboriginal Canadian and his journey to healing

FallenFallen: A Trauma, a Marriage, and the Transformative Power of Music, by Kara Stanley

Best for fans of: Terrific writing and engaging page-turners about love, recovery, and brain science – eg. My Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor; The Brain’s Way of Healing, by Norman Doidge

What’s the appeal? Norman Doidge’s books have put neuroplasticity on the cultural radar. This book gives us the personal journey of the author’s husband and his slow recovery from a traumatic brain injury. Plus it’s by a local (Sunshine Coast) author

Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis NuttBecomingNicole

Best for fans of: Inspiring stories about love, family, and achieving identity – eg. She’s Not There, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

What’s the appeal? This is a remarkable biography that offers insight into the life of a young trans girl, and the impact her circumstances have on her twin brother and other family members

StolenSistersStolen Sisters, by Emmanuelle Walter, Translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

Best for fans of: Social justice narratives and background material for current events – eg Missoula, by Joh Krakauer

What’s the appeal? I’m not sure “appeal” is the right word here. The missing and murdered indigenous women of Canada are (finally) much in the news. This sobering work of investigative journalism puts a human face on the victims

Beyond the Call, by Lee Trimble with Jeremy DronfieldBeyondTheCall

Best for fans of: World War II histories, Cold War relations, and highly personal biographies/memoirs of extreme circumstances – eg. And No Birds Sang, by Farley Mowat

What’s the appeal? Covers a little known aspect of the Second World War, and reads like a novel. Also illustrates the personal costs paid by military personnel put into harms way

OnTheMoveOn the Move: A Life, by Oliver Sacks

Best for fans of: Honest memoirs that reveal surprising aspects of the subjects’ lives. Also, the humanistic approach to medicine – eg. Awakenings, by Oliver Sacks

What’s the appeal? Sacks refusal to treat his neurology patients as a bag of symptoms has long been an inspiration. Here is the story of his life, told by the man himself

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, by Jonathan Franklin438Days

Best for fans of: Epic true accounts of stamina, self-reliance, and survival – eg. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

What’s the appeal? This is a true version of Life of Pi. A storm knocked out the outboard motor of a fishing boat that then drifted 9,000 miles in fourteen months – an astonishing story of Macgyver solutions and strategies to maintain sanity

InRealLifeIn Real Life: My Journey to a Pixelated World, by Joey Graceffa

Best for fans of: Youthful exuberant writing focused on the online experience – eg. Binge, by Tyler Oakley

What’s the appeal? Youtube celeb Graceffa discloses the difficulties he faced as a young gay man. Directed to the young adult reader, this uplifting memoir provides insight into the birth of Youtube culture

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie BlackallFindingWinnie

Best for fans of: Picture books that deal with true events and subjects – eg. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla, by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

What’s the appeal? Beautiful illustrations, and a compelling story about the original bear that inspired Winnie the Pooh. Great for parents who get asked to re-read the same story over and over….

Happy Reading!