Zeitgeist: 2015 Through a Bookish Lens

Every year has its preoccupations: cultural, political, and psychic. Here's a snapshot of what 2015 felt like (feels like!), as reflected in recent (and great) Canadian books.

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The Geist: Identity Crisis

Every year is strange, but 2015 was stranger. We lurched from angst about wars and injustices to Instagram and its marvelous filters. It was the year of the selfie – and its helpful new stick for optimal posing. The news informed us of refugees, mass drownings, Halloween candy rankings, and the current Chinese headwear fad. Who better to make sense of the state of humanity in 2015 than robots, teenagers, porn stars, and parrots?

 

Boo, by Neil Smith

Oliver Dalrymple, nicknamed "Boo" because of his pale complexion and staticky hair, is an outcast at his Illinois middle school—more interested in biology and chemistry than the friendship of other kids. But after a tragic accident, Boo wakes up to find himself in a very strange sort of heaven: a town populated only by 13-year-old Americans. Read more.

 

Fishbowl, by Bradley Somer

A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He's longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents. Read more.

 

Welcome to the Circus, by Rhonda Douglas

A teenage boy marks himself with the poetry of John Donne; God explains the collapse of the cod fishery; Mata Hari stands trial; and two sisters try to reconcile their respective places in the family porn emporium business before everything blows up. And more.

 

Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis

A bet between the gods Hermes and Apollo leads them to grant human consciousness and language to a group of dogs overnighting at a Toronto veterinary clinic. Suddenly capable of more complex thought, the pack is torn between those who resist the new ways of thinking, preferring the old 'dog' ways, and those who embrace the change. Read more.

 

Tuco: The Parrot, the Others, and a Scattershot World, by Brian Brett

Both a biography of an irreverent African Grey parrot—given to asking “Whaddya know?” and announcing “Party time!”—and an exploration of the history of birds/ dinosaurs, the relationships between humans and birds, our notions of language and intelligence, and our tendency to “other” anything that is different from us, Tuco also describes Brett’s own painful experience of being othered as an androgyne. Read more.

 

Where Did You Sleep Last Night, by Lynn Crosbie

Evelyn, a lonely 16-year-old, embarks on a relationship with Kurt Cobain. When Evelyn is taken to the hospital after an overdose, she awakens to find Cobain—who has little to no memory of his former life—convalescing in the bed beside her. Once united, they quickly become addicted to drugs and each other. And things only get crazier after that. Read more.

 

Daydreams of Angels, by Heather O'Neill

A robot feels emotion for the very first time; untamed children run wild through the streets of Paris; forgotten dolls tell stories of woe and neglect; a gypsy searches for empathy with a bear. And more.

 

Circus, by Claire Battershill

Fed up with his long history of failed blind dates, a shy English bureaucrat gives himself thirty-one days to find love on the Internet. A father buys his daughter a blue plastic tent to ready her for outdoor adventure, but neither is prepared when the tent becomes a neighbourhood sensation. The granddaughter of a former circus performer (who played the role of a man-wrestling bear) finds herself grappling with the capriciousness of life and love. And more.

 

The Geist: Blue Jays Fever

In his amazing article, "Don't Waste These Days, Jays Fans," Jay Baumann writes, "It’s precisely because baseball is so torturous when it’s bad that it can be so intoxicating when it’s good." There is so much romance and heartbreak in baseball, and the Blue Jays' unforgettable season makes this a perfect year to read books about the beautiful game.

 

Hope Makes Love, by Trevor Cole

All former major league baseball player Zep Baker needs to put his life back on track is to revive his marriage by convincing his wife to return to Tampa with their daughter. But his wife won't fall for his pleading or his old tricks. He needs a new game plan. Enter Hope, a neuroscience researcher who he persuades to help him. Read more.

 

Baseball, by George Bowering

George Bowering's ode to baseball combines mythology, autobiography, literary history and pop culture in an inimitable book-length poem that explores all the nuances of the sport. Read more.

 

Full Count: Four Decades of Blue Jays Baseball, by Jeff Blair

A must-have for all Blue Jays fans, and a great read for Toronto and Canadian sports fans in general. Jeff Blair takes us back to the days when the Toronto Blue Jays were "the Cadillac of franchises," and shows us exactly what they did right to become baseball's premier club. Then he explores the disappointing aftermath, when the league's fourth-largest market became an also-ran: seemingly destined to languish behind the big-spending Yankees and Red Sox and free-wheeling Rays—until the offseason of 2012. Read more.

 

The Geist: Distraction

You may not even have made it this far down the list because something's beeping at you or a Kardashian's sprouting new lips.

Diversion, by George Murray

What poetry comes from the multitude of channels—ambient office radio, TVs at the gym, rampant social media alerts, eavesdropped conversations within crowds, 24-hour-news cycles, texts, telephone and voicemail, email pings—that constantly interrupt the brain from cogent thought? The result is alternately dark and hilarious, straddling the line between aphorism and poetry and creating an atmospheric narrative through connections that form between seemingly unassociated lines. Read more.

 

Friend. Follow. Text., edited by Shawn Syms

Tales told through texting. Pinterest prose, LinkedIn lit, irony over Instagram—or Facebook flash fiction. Friend. Follow. Text is a short-fiction anthology that explores the intersection between social media and literature. This book brings together highly creative work whose content and form are inspired by social media—great, often funny writing that moves beyond using digital forms as mere gimmicks. Read more.

 

Blind Items, by Dina Del Bucchia

What would you do if you met Lindsay Lohan in a Walmart parking lot? James Franco in a thrift shop? The Olsen twins behind a dumpster? Blind Items puts you in contact with celebrities in the ways you’ve always dreamed. These hypermodern confessional poems are funny, strange, and very, very sexy. Del Bucchia tears down the fourth wall of tabloid journalism with her teeth. Read more.

 

 

 

 

 

The Geist: Malaise

Depending on how you look at it, 2015 was both a huge year for escapism and the year that wouldn't let us escape. Not with a conscience intact.

Tragedy in the Commons: Former Members of Parliament Speak Out About Canada's Failing Democracy, by Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan

Alison Loat and Michael MacMillan, founders of the non-partisan think tank Samara, draw on an astonishing eighty exit interviews with former Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum to unearth surprising observations about the practice of politics in Canada. The former MPs describe arriving at their political careers almost by accident; few say they aspired to be in politics before it “happened” to them. In addition, almost without fail, each MP describes the tremendous influence of their political party: from the manipulation of the nomination process to enforced voting in the House and in committees, the unseen hand of the party dominates every aspect of the MP’s existence. Read more.

 

The Myth of the Muslim Tide, by Doug Saunders

A short, powerful debunking of the myth of the Muslim tide, which is being deployed to dangerous effect by numerous commentators and politicians in Canada, the United States and Europe. Saunders shatters the core claims that have built a murderous ideology and draws haunting historical parallels showing how the same myths stuck to earlier groups, such as Jews and Roman Catholics. Read more.

 

Children of War, by Deborah Ellis

Ellis interviews young people, mostly refugees living in Jordan, but also a few who are trying to build new lives in North America. Some families have left Iraq with money; others are penniless and ill or disabled. Most of the children have parents who are working illegally or not at all, and the fear of deportation is a constant threat.Ellis provides an historical overview and brief explanations of context, but other than that allows the children to speak for themselves, with minimal editorial comment or interference. Read more.

 

Stolen Sisters: The Story of Two Missing Girls, Their Families, and How Canada Has Failed Indigenous Women, by Emmanuelle Walter

In 2014, the nation was rocked by the brutal violence against young Aboriginal women Loretta Saunders, Tina Fontaine and Rinelle Harper. But tragically, they were not the only Aboriginal women to suffer that year. In fact, an official report revealed that since 1980, 1,200 Canadian Aboriginal women have been murdered or have gone missing. Journalist Emmanuelle Walter spent two years investigating this crisis and has crafted a moving representative account of the disappearance of two young women, Maisy Odjick and Shannon Alexander, teenagers from western Quebec, who have been missing since September 2008. Via personal testimonies, interviews, press clippings and official documents, Walter pieces together the disappearance and loss of these two young lives, revealing these young women to us through the voices of family members and witnesses. Read more.

 

The Geist: Back to Basics

In the midst of so much fragmentation and confusion, Canadian writers are making us remember what we can do to be happier, more powerful people who can make a difference in the world.

The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diane Beresford-Kroeger

Orphaned at an early age, Beresford-Kroeger was raised by elderly relatives in Ireland in the Druidic tradition, taught the overlap between the arts and sciences, and the triad of body, mind and spirit. After pursuing a PhD in medical biochemistry, Beresford-Kroeger set out on a quest to preserve the world's forests. In this warm and wise collection of essays, she gives us a guide for living simply and well: which foods to eat and which to avoid; how to clean our homes and look after pets; how we can protect ourselves and our loved ones from illness; and why we need to appreciate nature. She provides an easy dose of healing, practical wisdom, blending modern medicine with aboriginal traditions. This inspiring, accessible book emphasizes back to basics, with the touchstone not an exotic religion or meditation practice, but the natural world around us. Read more.

Born to Walk: The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act, by Dan Rubenstein

At a personal and professional crossroads, writer, editor, and obsessive walker Dan Rubinstein travelled throughout the U.S., U.K., and Canada to walk with people who saw the act not only as a form of transportation and recreation, but also as a path to a better world. There are no magic-bullet solutions to modern epidemics like obesity, anxiety, alienation, and climate change. But what if there is a simple way to take a step in the right direction? Combining fascinating reportage, eye-opening research, and Rubinstein’s own discoveries, Born to Walk explores how far this ancient habit can take us, how much repair is within range, and guarantees that you’ll never again take walking for granted. Read more.

 

The Wild in You, by Lorna Crozier and Ian McAllistair

A testament to the miraculous beings that share our planet and the places where they live, The Wild in You is a creative collaboration between one of our time’s best nature photographers and one of North America’s most talented and critically acclaimed poets. Inspired by the majestic and savage beauty of McAllister’s photographs, Crozier translates the wild emotion of land and sea into the language of the human heart. Featuring over thirty beautiful full-size photographs of wolves, bears, sea lions, jellyfish, and other wild creatures paired with thirty original poems, The Wild in You challenges the reader to a deeper understanding of the connection between humans, animals, and our earth.

 

The Optimistic Environmentalist: Progressing Toward a Greener Future, by David R. Boyd

Endangered species—from bald eagles to gray whales—pulled back from the precipice of extinction. Thousands of new parks, protecting billions of hectares of land and water. The salvation of the ozone layer, vital to life on Earth. The exponential growth of renewable energy powered by wind, water, and sun. The race to be the greenest city in the world. Remarkable strides in cleaning up the air we breathe and the water we drink. The banning of dozens of the world’s most toxic chemicals. A circular economy where waste is a thing of the past. Past successes pave the way for even greater achievements in the future.

Providing a powerful antidote to environmental despair, this book inspires optimism, leading readers to take action and exemplifying how change can happen. Read more.

 

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Thanks to publishers for their wonderful cover copy.

October 7, 2015
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