We embark upon this round-up of great books for Father's Day with a really novel premise: that fathers are as diverse and interesting as people themselves are. That not all dads are old, golf-loving, and cantankerous, culinarily inept save for the barbecue. The kind of guy who can only be gifted the literary equivalent to a tie. And so.
We have assembled here a list that presumes that dads are as smart and funny as you are, that they read books from a whole host of genres (and some of them are even written by women). Regardless of the dad in your life—whether it be your own dad, the father of your children, or that special person who's been like a dad to you but only better—we trust you'll find a book on our list that will be absolutely perfect.
New Tab, by Guillaume Morissette, has been receiving some nice reviews lately; it's the story of a video game designer in his 20s who decides to do a reset of his entire life. In David Foster Wallace Ruined My Suicide and Other Stories, D.D. Miller writes of young men who are similarly troubled by the space between their own circumstances and where they want to be in life, including a grad school drop-out who loses his girlfriend to a roller derby league. Greg Kearney's The Desperates is hilarious, or at least that's how it was described by the dad I encountered reading it on the deck at swimming lessons a while back, and yet it's also about death and loneliness—intriguing…
Claire Cameron's The Bear was nominated for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and is a harrowing story of two children who must fend for themselves in the wilderness after their parents are killed in a bear attack. In our Shelf Talkers series, David Worsley of Words Worth Books in Waterloo sells Ray Robertson's I Was There the Night He Died so well when he writes that the book "doesn't read like a lot of Canadian fiction. It's urban, it has a lot of alt country and obscure rock and roll in it, and it's not trying to turn anyone into a better human being. It's just a great story populated by some very real, very flawed characters." And now we go back to the woods for Gillian Wigmore's novella, Grayling, about a young man who embarks on a journey by canoe in northwestern BC and encounters a most mysterious companion.
Anthony de Sa's Kicking the Sky has just come out in paperback; it's a coming-of-age novel set against the backdrop of the Emanuel Jaques murder which transformed Toronto during the summer of 1977. Another Shelf Talker, Samantha Fraenkel from Book Warehouse on Broadway, Vancouver, BC, writes of Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay, that the book is "one of the best books I've ever read. If a customer comes in looking for a great epic fantasy novel I eagerly thrust Tigana into their hands and tell them their search is over. Everything Kay writes is brilliant but Tigana is special." (For more fantasy/sci-fi picks, do peruse the 2014 Aurora Awards Shortlists). And for crime fiction lovers, may we suggest Blood Always Tells by the acclaimed Hilary Davidson, a novel whose twists will rock you.
Darren Greer's new novel, Just Beneath My Skin, tells the story of three generations of troubled father/son connections in a small town, and of the price some men must pay for hope. Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer's All the Broken Things got great reviews when it was published this winter; it's a book that features bear-wrestling and the tragic effects of Agent Orange, all the while turning Toronto's The Junction Neighbourhood and High Park into mythical terrain. And Timothy Carlow of Bolen Books in Victoria, BC, shelf-talks Cadillac Cathedral by Jack Hodgins: "Hodgins, with his trademark mastery of place, takes us on a journey through rural Vancouver Island alongside an eccentric gang of petulant but lovable seniors on a quest to bring a recently deceased friend home to rest from the city. Heavy though it may sound, Cadillac Cathedral is great for a laugh. This is a perfect summer read."
Dads currently ensconced in domestic chaos will appreciate the humour and love present in Ali Bryan's Roost, which won the Alberta Lit Awards George Bugnet Award for Fiction last week. It's a book I read and loved, and passed right on to my husband who loved it, too. He also loved Sue Sorensen's A Large Harmonium as much as I did, which is a sharp and original examination of modern marriage and parenthood as smart as it is funny. And there is a fine line between domestic bliss and murder, as demonstrated in A.S.A. Harrison's blockbuster hit, The Silent Wife, a gripping novel that your spouse will appreciate even if he hasn't been googling hit men.
In Steve Burrows' A Siege of Bitterns, the murder takes place out of doors when a celebrity ecologist is found hanging from a willow bough, and Inspector Domenic Jejeune must employ his birdwatching skills to solve the crime. Readers who loved The Road might like Lauren Carter's Swarm, a CanLit dystopia in which a small community must survive in a not-so-far-off future of diminished energy reserves and collapsing economies. And who wouldn't want to check out the story of a kick-ass kung-fu heroine with an insatiable appetite for adventure? For all other readers, we point you toward The Wondrous Woo, by Carrianne Leung.
Canada's two big Waynes had celebrated books out last year that might pique the interest of a father or two. Wayne Johnston's was The Son of a Certain Woman and Wayne Grady's was Emancipation Day, and both are stories of complicated family ties. And while his name isn't Wayne, Russell Wangersky's Whirl Away has been lauded by readers anyway and was a finalist for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize in 2013, and was another book I passed along to my husband as soon as I was finished reading it—I can't think of a person who wouldn't the ideal reader for this wonderful literary hybrid. Lynn Coady's The Antagonist, with its consideration of manhood and masculinity, and fathers and sons, is another one not to miss. And have you given your father a copy of Alexander MacLeod's Light Lifting yet? If you haven't, then you really can now consider all your Father's Day present-problems solved. For this year at least.
For dads looking for a bit of culture, you could try Metal on Ice: Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes, by Sean Kelly, which draws on interviews with such legends as Helix, Anvil, Coney Hatch, Killer Dwarfs, Harem Scarem, and Honeymoon Suite. Or In Love With Art, Jeet Heer's excellent biography of Francoise Mouly, who is sometimes best known as Art Spiegelman's wife but who is a groundbreaking figure in the world of comics in her own right. Dan Falk's The Science of Shakespeare is the perfect pick for a dad who loves the Bard, a book which probes the connections between Shakespeare's art and the significant scientific advances that occurred during his lifetime. And here's a poetry collection for the dad who likes baseball: Dwayne Brenna's Stealing Home, which was recently nominated for two Saskatchewan Book Awards.
Getting back to nature, check out the Tom Rand's bestselling Waking the Frog, which suggests innovative solutions to our current climate change paralysis. The Once and Future World, by J.B MacKinnon, was shortlisted for all kinds of prizes last year and explores geography and ecology as a grand history of transformation. Trevor Herriot's The Road is How recounts the naturalist's pilgrimage across the Canadian prairies on foot. And in Becoming Wild, Nikki van Schyndel describes the 19 months she spent in the remote rainforest near Northern Vancouver Island.
Fatherhood sure isn't what it used to be, an idea explored in a few recent books. In A Family By Any Other Name, Bruce Gillespie curates an anthology of essays that show how LGBT connections are changing the nature of family and family life. In Blood Marriage Wine and Glitter, S. Bear Bergman rearranges our ideas about family as a daughter, husband, father, and friend. Alison Wearing recounts her experiences growing up with a gay dad in Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter. And in his newest comic, A User's Guide to Neglectful Parenting, Guy Delisle demonstrates how even the most hands-on dad can benefit from a laissez-faire approach to fatherhood.
My husband received the Guy Delisle book for Father's Day last year, and the year before we gave him the exceptional cookbook Canadian Living: The Barbecue Collection (from which our entire family has benefitted). Other great books for dads in the kitchen include How to Feed a Family, by Laura Keogh and Ceri Marsh, and Back to Basics, by Michael Smith. For the drink he's sipping while dinner's cooking, how about Cocktail Culture or any of the books on our All About Beer List (including new ones Beerology, by Mirella Amato, and Ontario Beer: A Heady History, by Alan McLeod and Jordan St. John).
And we can't forget the political books for those dads looking for an in-depth look behind the headlines. Dan Leger's Duffy charts the rise and fall of that beleaguered former-senator who can't seem to stay out of the news. Former Prime Minister Joe Clark's latest book is How We Lead, which examines Canada's place on the world stage. Television host Steve Paikin provides his unique perspective on Ontario provincial politics in Paikin and the Premiers. Paul Wells examines the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in The Longer I'm Prime Minister, which recently was awarded the Dafoe Book Prize. And in Shopping For Votes, Susan Delacourt studies how Canadian political parties are using modern marketing techniques to woo voters, and how this strategy is changing the Canadian political landscape.
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