At 49th Shelf, list-making is an all-year-round concern, and a task we take very seriously. Which means that this Books of the Year list is one of the best you're going to find anywhere, expert-compiled with a mind to critically acclaimed titles that readers have loved.
We have added annotations springing from chats and posts we've enjoyed featuring the authors of these 13 books over the past year—please follow the links to learn more.
As ever, we remind you that a books list is only the beginning. Make sure to explore the whole site to discover more great books from this year, and all the years before it.
Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick de Witt
Utterly original, hilarious, and beautiful, Undermajordomo Minor is both a black comedy of manners and an otherworldly love story. It's deWitt's follow-up to his hugely successful The Sisters Brothers, and it does not disappoint. We completely agree with this caution from The Independent: "The challenge for the reader is to resist the temptation to devour a novel which should be savoured."
Captive, by Claudine Dumont, translated by David Scott Hamilton
Captive has been compared to Emma Donoghue's Room, and for good reason: the protagonist wakes to find herself confined to a small grey room and she has no idea why she’s there. The National Post calls it "short and intense ... a book well worth picking up."
Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis
"No one has asked me 'what is the connection between happiness and power?' The question is at the heart of the novel but it’s slightly hidden, as the heart always is."
Circle of Stones, by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew
"In an era when we broadcast only versions of our happiest selves and highest achievements on social media, it’s comforting to read books that go to the depths of complexity, chaos, and crisis and to stumble along with their characters. One of the questions I’m interested in as both a reader and an author is not only the universal how do we live, but also more specifically, how do we live in the jumble and scramble of today’s vast and ever-changing cities."
Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking With Creativity, by Patrick Finn
"In Canada we actually call these people 'the foreign affairs critic,' or the 'environment critic.' Do we ever hear these people offer creative contributions that could improve the lives of the citizens they represent? Of course not—no matter what the government says, the critic disagrees. So bad is this sort of gridlock that governments in the United States seem unable to pass any kind of legislation. They would rather the population suffered than cede the point on any issue."
Life Among the Qallunaat, by Mini Aodla Freeman, edited by Julie Rak and Keavy Martin, with Norma Dunning
"I think they were afraid that I might talk badly about residential schools. And remember: at that time, Northern Affairs kept denying, denying about residential schools. When an Indian person came up and talked about it really badly, they would shut them up. And then, I think they thought I wrote something bad about residential schools, which I should have, but I didn’t [laughing]. I think that was the worry, and when they discovered there wasn’t something about residential schools, they decided to put it out."
Debris, by Kevin Hardcastle
"In recently discussing the stories in my book, Debris, the idea of what the characters in the stories were fighting and struggling for kept coming up. In the end, I figured the fight itself, and enduring the hard things that happen in their lives, is what drives the stories. The characters endure and sometimes that is enough."
Sir John's Table: The Culinary Life and Times of Canada's First Prime Minister, by Lindy Mechefske
"Food is, after all, at the most basic level, about life and our very survival as a species. Food tells the story of the past and present. From the origin of mankind, to the cave dwellers to the Roman Empire; from the First Nations people who roamed this continent 20,000 years ago, to the European colonialists, to contemporary locavores at trendy urban restaurants; from the Garden of Eden to Goldilocks—food is at the heart of everything that matters."
Red Jacket, by Pamela Mordecai
"So I owe this book to a few people here, as I’ve said. I am deeply grateful! Set on another fictive Caribbean island, St Chris is one of several locales in Red Jacket. A friend suggested that I ought to set aside the pretense and admit that St Chris is Jamaica, since being coy does not become me, but I am clearly not the only coy one. And ever since I described 'the Mona moon' as rising 'out of the sea' in a poem (it doesn’t, but I wanted the rhyme), and my friend, Kamau, tackled me about it, I have grasped the virtue of fictive places. Lack of accountability!"
Born to Walk, by Dan Rubinstein
"I wanted to write about a string of characters on a range of different types of journeys, some of which were rather commonplace, but an essential part of our daily lives, not an extreme adventure in a far-off land. Which is how I view walking overall: something that needs to be part of our daily rhythms, not something that we go out our way to do. So instead of drawing structural inspiration from other non-fiction books, I approached Born to Walk as a series of interrelated magazine features. Each chapter kind of reads like a magazine story with its own narrative arc and a blend of my personal experiences, third-person reporting, and a deep dive into the scientific literature around the theme at the core of that chapter."
Twenty-One Cardinals, by Jocelyn Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins
"Ominous is a good word for [the book]. I remember when I first read it getting to a certain point and thinking 'uh-oh.' Again, Jocelyne is a very good storyteller and in each of her books she manages to create a world that you can immerse yourself in. Of course I spent an awful lot of time with a book I’m translating, so I end up feeling like I can move around in space inside the story, but I think anyone who reads one of her books, in English or in French, ends up inhabiting the world she creates for the time they spend there. It’s a special talent she has."
Martin John, by Anakana Schofield
"I wanted to find and trap that same hopelessness in the syntax and language of that passage. The escalator that never brings you anywhere you would want to be. The terminal you can never get out of. There was a time when you simply would not have been believed but I hope and pray and do feel that time has passed. We are listening now in a way it was not possible to be heard before."
Hope Makes Love, by Trevor Cole
From the Globe and Mail: " ... A novel of vivid emotional truths, grounded in characters so skilfully drawn they emerge as human beings captured on the page, rather than created. Zep and Hope are the unforgettable foundation for a novel that is gracious and graceful, powerful and clear-eyed, thoughtful, and full of life.”
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