The Recommend: March 2014 #2

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we're starting our new series, The Recommend. Every two weeks, we'll reach out to people—readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others—whose taste we respect and ask them to tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of Karen Connelly, author of The Lizard Cage; Katherine Govier, author of The Ghost Brush; Madeleine Thien, author of Dogs at the Perimeter; and Gillian Jerome, author of the poetry collection Red Nest. See our recommenders' bios below their picks for more of their books.

*****

Karen Connelly picks Nicholas Pengelley's Traitor’s Gate: "This is Quattro Books' first mystery, and the first book by Nicholas Pengelley. While I am not a dedicated reader of mysteries, this novel sucked me in immediately because of the wonderful story. Ayesha Ryder, Middle East specialist with a secret past, is called in by Scotland Yard to assess the scene of the grisly 'terrorist' murder of the renowned Jewish professor who mentored her. The murder threatens to derail historic peace talks between Israel and Palestine, but Ayesha sees through the ‘terror’ hype to various signs the professor has left behind.

What follows is a wild and surprisingly believable journey through London and into the past—spies, Lawrence of Arabia, a secret treaty between Britain and Palestine, the underground Roman catacombs of London, double-crossing agents, Ayesha’s violent confrontation with her own history. It was meticulously researched and a real pleasure to read. It reminded me how important small Canadian presses are ..."

Karen Connelly writes that she is "a writer of various genres about various countries, though [her] latest book, Come Cold River, is a memoir in poetry about a very Canadian family." Her forthcoming novel, The Change Room, out in 2015, is "full of housework and sex." We would add that Karen has received the Orange Broadband New Writers Prize, the Governor General’s Award, and has been shortlisted for BC National Award for Nonfiction, and that her work has been published and translated in North America, Britain, and Asia.

Katherine Govier picks The Purchase, by Linda Spalding: "I loved it. A satisfying, complex, unsentimental historical novel. Birds come home to roost, as they do. Strong on feeling but not artificial in any way—no false hopes offered herein! This novel is a big achievement, and feels right in the moment with its look at the social costs of slavery."

Katherine Govier has published 11 novels, most recently The Ghost Brush, which has been translated into six languages. It appears in Japan in June. Her newest book is Half for You and Half for Me, a book of nursery rhymes and the stories behind them, inspired by reading with her mum.

Madeleine Thien would not stop at one, so try to choose (or read them all!): "I first read Martha Baillie’s The Incident Report on the train between Toronto and Montreal, and this slim novel gave me 4.5 hours I’ve never forgotten. The Incident Report is composed of a series of reports filed by 35-year old Miriam Gordon, 'an employee of the Public Libraries of Toronto.' Report by report, the novel becomes curiouser and curiouser, riveting and profound. In the library, patrons lick the lingerie ads, give gifts of condoms to librarians, photocopy the contents of their briefcases, and meticulously strip wire, among other pursuits; the novel is partly about what we do, what strangers do, about the report we give of our lives, it’s about clues, traces and disappearances.

I’m forever telling people to read this novel: it’s a book lover’s book, a library patron’s book, a book of a thousand books, a book that is open to the world, no matter what world we come from. 'There are moments,' Baillie writes, 'when time dilates like the pupil of an eye, to let everything in.'

It’s hard to recommend just one book, and simply thinking about Martha’s book reminds me of a dozen others: Anita Rau Badami’s Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? about lives caught up in the Air India disaster; Shaena Lambert’s masterful Radiance; Bernice Morgan’s Cloud of Bone; Nelly Arcan’s Paradis, clef en main; Rawi Hage’s Carnival, Marita Dachsel’s Glossolalia; David Chariandy’s Soucouyant; Rosemary Sullivan’s Shadow Maker: The Life of Gwendolyn McEwan; and a collection I’ve just finished reading, Matt Rader’s What I Want to Say Goes Like This, forthcoming from Nightwood Editions in the fall. Matt's stories are courageous, wide-ranging, and superbly written."

Madeleine Thien is the author of three books of fiction, including her most recent novel, Dogs at the Perimeter. She is a recipient of the Amazon.ca First Novel Award, Ovid Festival Prize, Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, Vancity Book Prize, CAA Award, and City of Vancouver Book Award, and was a finalist for the Kiriyama Prize and a Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her essays and novels have been published around the world. All together, her three books have been translated into 27 languages. She is the 2013–14 writer-in-residence at Simon Fraser University.

Gillian Jerome recommends Aisha Sasha John’s Thou: "Thou consists of two long poems whose lines refuse a predictable form, whose leaps and turns consider what it means to be a person with and among others. The first half of the book, a long poem called 'Physical,' written while John was an artist in residency at Dar Al-Ma’ mûm in Morocco, fathoms the physical and social consequences of consciousness: what does it mean to be in a world crowded with other minds/bodies, constantly thinking and feeling and choosing and moving? The consciousness that announces itself in these poems is a consciousness of brilliant cognitive machinery so intensely embodied that, as John writes, it 'want[s] to embarrass you.'

At every turn, John insists upon the body’s presence in the poem with a shrewd self-consciousness about being both an object observed by others ('He said, You’re from Africa? Yes./Which country?/Canada') and a powerful subject with a playfully seditious streak. The 'I' of the poem meanders her way into social space 'with so much faith in the world' and as much uncertainty about the possibilities of being known—to one’s self, another, the reader and book she so adroitly addresses. A delicious enquiry emerges from the pages. John’s poetry is a turn on. It’s gorgeously erotic in its insistence upon the body. To read this book is to experience the poem happening to you—and to want in."

Gillian Jerome’s first book of non-fiction Hope In Shadows, Stories and Photographs from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (with Brad Cran) won the 2008 City of Vancouver Book Award and was shortlisted for a BC Book Prize. Her first book of poems, Red Nest (Nightwood), won the ReLit Prize for Poetry in 2010 and was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2010. She teaches literature at UBC, edits poetry at EVENT magazine, and is the founder and outgoing chair of Canadian Women in the Literary Arts (CWILA).

*****

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Trevor Cole, Farzana Doctor, Cory Doctorow, and Mark Leslie Lefebvre here.

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Ali Bryan, Steven Galloway, Jowita Bydlowska, Eliza Robertson and Cathy Marie Buchanan here.

See The Recommend featuring the picks of Trena White, Trevor Corkum, Missy Marston, JC Sutcliffe, and Alexis Kienlen here.

March 27, 2014
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