The Recommend: May 2015

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 run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of Steve Burrows, author of the birder mystery, A Siege of Bitterns; Gail Bowen, author of the Joanne Kilbourn Shreve mysteries; Julie Joosten, author of the poetry collection Light Light; Diana Davidson, author of the historical fiction novel Pilgrimage; and Steve Stanton, author and former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors.

*****

Steve Burrows picks The Bedside Book of Birds: An Avian Miscellany, by Graeme Gibson

"As symbols and muses, omens and deities, birds have always been an inspirational part of the human experience. Graeme Gibson’s book is a fascinating overview of the many varied forms the relationship between birds and humans has taken throughout the ages. But this book is more than just a celebration of the positive. It examines the entire spectrum of the human connection with birds, and provokes sober reflection at times. Some of the entries are profoundly moving, even disturbing, but it is this willingness to consider all aspects of our relationship with birds that makes it such a fascinating work.

Gibson draws upon a rich source of material running the gamut from folk-tales to mythology to scientific discovery, and the stunning illustrations capture birds in all their myriad forms and colours. It is a book rich in content, in every sense of the word.

Despite its title, this is not just a book for your bedside; it will also find a place in your heart."

Steve Burrows has pursued his bird watching hobby on five continents. He is a former editor of the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Magazine, and a contributing field editor with Asian Geographic, where he covered stories on everything from silk villages to seahorses. Steve has written articles on travel and environmental issues for publications around the world, and is a past recipient of a "Nature Writer of the Year" award from the BBC’s Wildlife magazine.

Steve’s first novel in the Birder Murder series, A Siege of Bitterns, was a Globe & Mail Top 5 Crime Fiction selection for 2014, and was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best First Novel award. Steve lives in Oshawa, Ontario, and can be found on Twitter at @birddetective.

 

Gail Bowen picks Flying Time
, by Suzanne North


"On April 26, 2015, Suzanne’s North’s Flying Time was named Book of the Year at the Saskatchewan Book Awards. The jurors got it right. This gracefully written account of an ordinary young woman’s life in Calgary in the years between 1939 and 1942 is witty, insightful and, in the end, both heartbreaking and hopeful.

The narrator, Kay Jeynes, is now in her late 80s but as she records her memories it becomes clear that Kay was most fully alive during the three years when, because she was the only member of her typing pool that did not fear the stigma of working for 'a Jap,' she became the secretary of Japanese-Canadian businessman Hero Miyashita. The relationship between Kay and her family and Hero Myashita and his wife begins with cool formality but moves gradually to warm intimacy.

However, as the two families grow close, the clouds of war and prejudice are gathering. Flying Time closes as the Japanese navy is preparing to attack Pearl Harbour. For the second time in a half-century the world will be at war, but this time the collateral damage will include Canadian civilians whose only crime is their ancestry. 

Flying Time deals with a dark chapter in Canadian history, but it is shot through with light and hope. North’s belief in the innate goodness of human beings illuminates even the novel’s darkest passages. Read this book. You’ll be very glad you did."

Gail Bowen's first Joanne Kilbourn mystery, Deadly Appearances, was nominated for the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada Best First Novel Award, and A Colder Kind of Death won the Arthur Ellis Award for best crime novel; all 13 books in the series have been enthusiastically reviewed. In 2008 Reader's Digest named Bowen Canada's Best Mystery Novelist; in 2009 she received the Derrick Murdoch Award from the Crime Writers of Canada. Bowen has also written plays that have been produced across Canada and on CBC Radio. Now retired from teaching at the First Nations University, Bowen lives in Regina.

 

drink

Diana Davidson picks Ann Dowsett Johnston’s Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol

"Ann Dowsett Johnston’s Drink is a sobering read. Dowsett Johnston finds that illusive balance of creative nonfiction in that she is painfully honest about her own life while presenting thoughtful cultural commentary in the hopes of policy change and social shift. Whether she is chronicling her own struggle with alcohol, her childhood memories of her mother’s drinking, or pointing out how marketing wine as 'Mommy Juice' or vodka as a 'Skinny Girl Cocktail' changes a woman’s relationship to booze, Dowsett Johnston doesn’t hold back. She uses the term 'alcogenic' to explore how from our adolescence to our senior years, Western culture glorifies the end-of-day glass of wine, the round of shots at the campus bar, the glass of champagne to mark milestones. She points out that as women’s places in corporate and public sectors have risen, so too have rates of women’s consumption, addiction, and cirrhosis.

Dowsett Johnston tackles the shame, silence, and stigma around problem drinking for women head-on by sharing her own exit from public life and long road to recovery. She interviews women from many walks of life who say they would rather come out as mentally ill than alcoholic (and acknowledges the connection of self-medicating). The book questions why Western women who are trying 'to have it all' and/or 'find balance' use alcohol in increasing rates as a coping mechanism. Whether a reader is a teetotaler or a cosmo connoisseur, Drink is an important book about how social policies around mental illness, the alcohol industry, addiction and recovery are failing North American women. And, in some ways, how we are failing ourselves."

Diana Davidson lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Her debut novel Pilgrimage (Brindle & Glass) was a finalist for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award in 2014 and was called “a work of frontier feminism” by the Edmonton Journal.  Davidson’s writing has won a Writers Guild of Alberta award, has been a finalist in Alberta Views’ short story contest, and has been longlisted for CBC Canada Writes. Her next novel explores terrorism in England.

 

Julie Joosten picks M. NourbeSe Philip's Zong

"M. NourbeSe Philip's book-length poem, Zong, explores a seemingly inconceivable event—the murders of 150 African slaves thrown overboard the slave ship Zong for the insurance money their deaths will bring the ship's owners. But these murders are devastatingly conceivable—both within the history of the last 400 years and within eighteenth-century law. What does it mean, the poem implicitly asks, that such events are conceivable and in such terms?  Revising Wittgenstein, the pyschoanalytic theorists François Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudillière have written, 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one cannot stay silent,' and Zong brilliantly takes up this dictum, playing with the tension between the conceivable and the inconceivable (while tracing and retracing the terrain between them), stuttering the inconceivable into a fractured and fracturing articulation.  

Zong excavates the legal document Gregson vs. Gilbert, a case that considers who is responsible not for the atrocity of the slaves’ deaths but rather for the money lost in those deaths—the insurance company or the ship’s owners—to give life to the inconceivable: stuttering languages, fractured words, aborted rhythms, and silence emerge as modes of attention to and care for the murdered slaves and their history. Philip gives the murdered ancestral lines presences in Zong’s lines. Through them, the inconceivable takes on a form, becomes perceptible in the fracturing of language and history into a counter-narrative that summons up what has been lost and never stops being lost. Zong gives this lostness space and time in language."

Julie Joosten is originally from Georgia but now lives in Toronto. She holds an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers Program and a PhD from Cornell University. Her poems and reviews can be read in Jacket 2, Tarpaulin Sky, the Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. She recently guest edited an issue of BafterC, a journal of contemporary poetry. Light Light is her first book.

 

Steve Stanton picks The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

"Using the intimacy of first-person narrative, award-winning author Robert Charles Wilson takes readers into the world of Adam Fisk, a young man who leaves a dysfunctional family in upstate New York to attend art college in Toronto, where he undergoes rigorous psycho-social testing and qualifies for the Tau Affinity, one of the largest of twenty-two social profiles that are redefining humanity. Each Affinity is a mix between a fraternity, a religious cult and an extended family—a communal group that sweeps across class, culture, and all aspects of business. As the testing technology spreads and the social networks expand globally, the exclusive Affinities begin to usurp the traditional roles of government and financial corporations. Power struggles arise and war seems inevitable, and Adam Fisk finds himself caught in a dangerous new world where allegiance has been reduced to brain-mapping and genetics.

Robert Charles Wilson has a gift for delicate characterization, bringing technology down to earth by using believable people in familiar situations—love and sex, drugs and alcohol, abuse and betrayal. He writes with great insight into humanity and a sense of hope for a better future, that mankind might overcome natural adversity to build a beautiful world. The Affinities is about belonging to something bigger than yourself, about serving sacrificially and fighting for your friends."

Steve Stanton is the author of a Canadian sci-fi trilogy, The Bloodlight Chronicles, and is the former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors. You can find him on Twitter @SFStanton.

 

*****

Read more of The Recommend! A whole year of incredible picks by Canada's finest authors awaits you here.

May 6, 2015
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