There are some writers who write books close to home, writers who celebrate the domestic, the ordinary, the way that a singular sliver of sunlight can shine off a china plate. The kind of authors who write about dust motes, you know?
And then there are the authors on this list whose weird and wonderful books get at the more peculiar, singular elements of human experience. Truly these books and their characters are one-of-a-kinds.
No TV For Woodpeckers, by Gary Barwin
About the book: In the pages of Gary Barwin's latest collection of poetry, No TV for Woodpeckers, the lines between haunting and hilarious, wondrous and weird, beautiful and beastly, are blurred in the most satisfying ways. No stranger to poetic experimentation, Barwin employs a range of techniques from the lyrical to the conceptual in order to explore loss, mortality, family, the self and our relationship to the natural world.
Many of these poems reveal a submerged reality full of forgotten, unknown or invisible life forms that surround us—that are us. Within this reality, Barwin explores the connection between bodies, language, culture and the environment. He reveals how we construct both self and reality through these relationships and also considers the human in relation to the concepts of "nature" and "the animal."
As philosophical as it is entertaining—weaving together threads of surrealism, ecopoetics, Dada and more—No TV for Woodpeckers is a complex and multi-layered work that offers an unexpected range of pleasures.
Why we're taking notice: Because this is a list of all things "wondrous and weird," plus Barwin is the author of the Giller-nominated Yiddish for Pirates, so one-of-a-kinds are definitely his thing.
A Hard Old Love Amongst Scavengers, by David Doucette
About the book: At 46, Miles Hann gives it all up for the little cottage he has built on the slopes of his native Ingonish, Cape Breton. Miles has five times circumnavigated the globe and in his years of wandering has grown weary of man’s work of mendacity and pursuit of pleasure. Mostly though, Miles is tired; even a trip around the harbour is a weighty prospect. He writes himself a letter to express better his commitment to stay away from all, to contemplate the animals of the slope and to try for even one day with no ill thought of others. He does not manage it. For, people climb the hill to his door. They know Miles is a quiet man, a polite man; that Miles has travelled everywhere there is to travel and that he alone must have the answers to the burning questions singeing their hearts. Also—who else is there free like this to drop in on any time you want? No one is who.
Miles listens to every word of how yet again the world has been maligning even these poor gentle folk. And, afterward, though he has told them nothing, each visitor agrees that: yes, Miles Hann is one wise man. On their way back down his hill they agree to it; they stop and turn to his lofty house and say aloud: “Yes! Wise if ever wise there was one. The man bothers with not a soul!” Miles waves his hand and he shakes his head too, turning for his trees: ‘Further proof of the pride,’ he says. ‘And that everyone is a wound.’ The next time that someone comes (and it is every day now), Miles runs for the cover of his trees, to crouch and hide from them. He spies at the same instant the little red fox that had been visiting him: ‘Charlie, the one who found my glasses! the one who now leads me haphazardly up the mountain proper and out onto the beautiful lonesome rockslide scree of a blackening evening. Here is one place I have not been up to in many, many years’, and as he remarks further at its utter forlornness, lurking in the black spruce fringe is a badly starved coyote pack, one grown desperate and bold, one that has killed.
Why we're taking notice: This third novel by Doucette (who won the Dartmouth Book Award in 2002) is about a singular kind of guy whose yearning for isolation only makes him more compelling company—it's a vicious cycle.
Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King's Secret Life, by Christopher Dummitt
About the book: When Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King died in 1950, the public knew little about his eccentric private life. In his final will King ordered the destruction of his private diaries, seemingly securing his privacy for good. Yet twenty-five years after King’s death, the public was bombarded with stories about "Weird Willie," the prime minister who communed with ghosts and cavorted with prostitutes. Unbuttoned traces the transformation of the public’s knowledge and opinion of King’s character, offering a compelling look at the changing way Canadians saw themselves and measured the importance of their leaders’ personal lives. Christopher Dummitt relates the strange posthumous tale of King’s diary and details the specific decisions of King’s literary executors. Along the way we learn about a thief in the public archives, stolen copies of King’s diaries being sold on the black market, and an RCMP hunt for a missing diary linked to the search for Russian spies at the highest levels of the Canadian government. Analyzing writing and reporting about King, Dummitt concludes that the increasingly irreverent views of King can be explained by a fundamental historical transformation that occurred in the era in which King’s diaries were released, when the rights revolution, Freud, 1960s activism, and investigative journalism were making self-revelation a cultural preoccupation. Presenting extensive archival research in a captivating narrative, Unbuttoned traces the rise of a political culture that privileged the individual as the ultimate source of truth, and made Canadians rethink what they wanted to know about politicians.
Why we're taking notice: Because King was the weirdest Prime Minister ever (which is saying a lot). This Canadian history is the opposite of dull.
Sputnik's Children, by Terri Favro
About the book: Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.
Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time. As a teenager growing up in Shipman’s Corners—a Rust Belt town voted by Popular Science magazine as “most likely to be nuked”—she was recruited by a self-proclaimed time traveller to collapse Atomic Mean Time before an all-out nuclear war grotesquely altered humanity. In trying to save the world, Debbie risked obliterating everyone she’d ever loved—as well as her own past—in the process.
Or so she believes . . . Present-day Debbie is addicted to lorazepam and dirty, wet martinis, making her an unreliable narrator, at best. A time-bending novel that delves into the origin story of the Girl with No Past, Sputnik’s Children explores what it was like to come of age in the Atomic Age.
Why we're taking notice: It's not just Cold War Nostalgia, or the book's one-of-a-kind genre bending, or how much fun this book sounds like it is. Instead, it's all of that! We can't wait.
Frequent Small Loads of Laundry, by Rhonda Ganz
About the book: In her debut collection, poet Rhonda Ganz, brazenly mixes darks with lights and dares to peg out the quirky and bizarre, both real and imagined, with all seams showing. From spontaneous combustion to suicide, from pterodactyls to pumpkin pie, Ganz is obsessed with the way people behave in moments of intimacy and domesticity. With her sharp wit and painterly abstractions, she pairs the banal with the absurd to expose the flaws of love –the frayed edges of belief and despair. Strung up, these poems are an authentic clothesline of hearsay, fabrication, doomsaying and half-truths. Ganz takes the ordinary, gives it a poke and a spin and snaps it out to dry.
Why we're taking notice: Because "from pterodactyls to pumpkin pie," obviously. And there is something so compelling about a book inspired by laundry loads (ed's note: but possible that's just my one-of-a-kind-ness being reflected).
Everything Life Has to Offer, by Shari Kasman
About the book: In this strangely endearing, wonderfully whimsical, and exquisitely hilarious collection of stories, life offers a free trip for two to Ethiopia and an imported cat, a pool of vegan gravy and an Internet Elvis wedding officiant, a confetti machine and a potentially life-changing hot tub. Everything Life Has to Offer is like nothing you've encountered and it's just what you've been looking for. Prepare to be amazed.
Why we're taking notice: With its cast of unique characters doing their best to not be broken by the world, this short and snappy collection is a testimonial to the one-of-a-kinders in our midst. We need each other, and we need to take care of each other too.
Mad Richard, by Lesley Krueger
About the book: Called the most promising artist of his generation, handsome, modest, and affectionate, Richard Dadd rubbed shoulders with the great luminaries of the Victorian Age. He grew up along the Medway with Charles Dickens and studied at the Royal Academy Schools under the brilliant and eccentric J.M.W. Turner.
Based on Dadd’s tragic true story, Mad Richard follows the young artist as he develops his craft, contemplates the nature of art and fame—as he watches Dickens navigate those tricky waters—and ultimately finds himself imprisoned in Bedlam for murder, committed as criminally insane.
In 1853, Charlotte Brontë—about to publish her third novel, suffering from unrequited love, and herself wrestling with questions about art and artists, class, obsession and romance—visits Richard at Bedlam and finds an unexpected kinship in his feverish mind and his haunting work.
Masterfully slipping through time and memory, Mad Richard maps the artistic temperaments of Charlotte and Richard, weaving their divergent lives together with their shared fears and follies, dreams, and crushing illusions.
Why we're taking notice: We've never heard of Richard Dadd before, but we're pleased that Lesley Krueger has seen fit to rescue him from obscurity. This is just the kind of character this list was made for.
A Van Full of Girls, by Michael Murray
About the book: Have you ever been in a van full of girls? All the girls are alive and they're happy. You're all heading off to do something whimsical and flirty and maybe a little bit drunk. You're going to see a Beach Boys tribute band. You're going to the casino to bet it all on red. You're going to a séance that you just know is going to end in skinny-dipping. Something like that. A Van Full of Girls is a collection of short, dizzy, funny things. It's zippy and unpredictable, like a mongoose, but it's dead sexy. You will want to take Polaroids of each precious, little missive contained within and then tape each one to your fridge. You will want to give this book to somebody you need to love you.
Why we're taking notice: Because the parenting advice column by Vladimir Putin made me laugh until I cried.
The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, by Joe Ollmann
About the book: In the early twentieth century, travel writing represented the desire for the expanding bourgeoisie to experience the exotic cultures of the world past their immediate surroundings. Journalist William Buehler Seabrook was emblematic of this trend—participating in voodoo ceremonies, riding camels cross the Sahara desert, communing with cannibals and most notably, popularizing the term "zombie" in the West. A string of his bestselling books show an engaged, sympathetic gentleman hoping to share these strange, hidden delights with the rest of the world. He was willing to go deeper than any outsider had before. But, of course, there was a dark side. Seabrook was a barely functioning alcoholic who was deeply obsessed with bondage and the so-called mystical properties of pain and degradation. His life was a series of traveling highs and drunken lows; climbing on and falling off the wagon again and again. What led the popular and vivid writer to such a sad state”
Cartoonist Joe Ollmann spent seven years researching Seabrook's life, accessing long neglected archives in order to piece together the peripatetic life of a forgotten American writer. Often weaving in Seabrook's own words and those of his biographers, Ollmann's The Abominable Mr. Seabrook posits Seabrook the believer versus Seabrook the exploiter, and leaves the reader to consider where one ends and the other begins.
Why we're taking notice: According to The Montreal Gazette, Ollmann "has built a reputation...as a world leader in the school of social-realist cartoonist/writers, and his epic new graphic-novel biography...is his most ambitious and fully realized work yet."
The Only Child, by Andrew Pyper
About the book: Dr. Lily Dominick has seen her share of bizarre cases as a forensic psychiatrist working with some of New York’s most dangerous psychotic criminals. But nothing can prepare Lily for her newest patient.
Client 46874-A is nameless. He insists that he is not human, and believes that he was not born, but created over two hundred years ago. As Lily listens to this man describe the twisted crime he’s committed, she can’t shake the feeling that he’s come for her—especially once he reveals something she would have thought impossible: He knew her mother.
Lily was only six years old when her mother was violently killed in what investigators concluded was a bear attack. But even though she was there, even though she saw it, Lily has never been certain of what really happened that night. Now, this stranger may hold the answers to the questions she’s buried deep within herself all her life. That’s when he escapes.
To discover the truth—behind her client, her mother’s death, herself—Lily must embark on a journey to find him that will threaten her career, her sanity, and ultimately her life.
Fusing relentless suspense with surprising emotion, The Only Child is a psychological thriller about family, identity and monstrosity that will keep you up until its last unforgettable revelation.
Why we're taking notice: Well, for the title, obviously. And because we love Andrew Pyper's work, and how each of his novels are so singular in the richness (and terror) of their imagined worlds. And finally, because Client 46874-A sounds like a one-of-a-kinder himself, for better or for worse.
Shot-Blue, by Jesse Ruddock
About the book: Rachel is a young single mother living with her son, Tristan, on a lake that borders the unchannelled north—remote, nearly inhospitable. She does what she has to do to keep them alive. But soon, and unexpectedly, Tristan will have to live alone, his youth unprotected and rough. The wild, open place that is all he knows will be overrun by strangers—strangers inhabiting the lodge that has replaced his home, strangers who make him fight, talk, and even love, when he doesn't want to. Ravenous and unrelenting, Shot-Blue is a book of first love and first loss.
The road was like a portage: an opening that lets you in but makes no promise to bring you out on another side. Maybe the road narrowed to a dead end or was blocked by a swamp raised by a beaver dam. Maybe itled to a place they weren't welcome. She walked through the cut slowly and stopped, her dark hair falling across her shoulders heavily, and Tristan imagined that she meant to let her hair sweep the ground as it did. Most boys would have run out to meet their mothers. But he knew he couldn't understand. She was always telling him,you can't understand everything.
Why we're taking notice: Another novel about one-of-a-kind one-of-a-kind individuals living remotely, and then less remotely as company arrives, bringing with it its own complications.
Punch Up, by Kat Sandler
About the book: Duncan has always been a pretty boring guy, leading a simple life while working at a bread factory. Then he stumbles upon Brenda, a sad young woman who’s about to end her life. Convinced he’s fallen in love, Duncan strikes up a desperate deal: if he can get her to laugh, she'll give life another shot, but if she doesn’t even giggle, he'll help her go through with her plan. There’s just one catch: Duncan isn’t funny. At all. So he borrows Pat, his second-favourite comedian, to help him come up with the perfect routine. But Pat is having a hard time mustering his sense of humour after a bad break-up, and the last thing he wants to do is teach a lonely loser the difference between knock-knock jokes and schadenfreude while chained to a typewriter.
A tragicomedy of three misfits, Punch Up navigates a hostage situation and a life-or-death comedy lesson to show just how far we’ll go for a laugh.
Why we're taking notice: "The writing needed no ‘punching up’ at all; I want some of what Kat Sandler’s been drinking,” writes critic Crystal Wood.
Is Canada Even Real?, by J.C. Villamere
About the book: Is Canada even real? It’s a question that’s being asked more and more, thanks to our waterproof, see-through, supposedly maple-scented currency and our improbably hot prime minister’s assertion that Santa lives here.
In the age of Google Maps and #factcheck, how could the existence of Canada be questioned? And yet how could a nation that’s the home of toboggans, Drake, and KD exist in the same realm as, say, Belgium or Niger?
Is Canada Even Real? examines the cultural factors behind the twenty-first century monolithic myth of Canada, a nation that is lovable and real—if only in your imagination.
Why we're taking notice: Because it sounds like a lot of fun. What more can we ask for?
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