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Brilliantly Backlist

A recommended reading list by author of The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

Book Cover Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the debut novel by Eva Jurczyk, is up for giveaway right now

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For some writers, their first book is their best book, but for all writers, their first book offers a glimpse of the setting, subject matter, or style that will make their later works so beloved.

Everyone on this list of esteemed Canadian writers has well-loved popular works, but going back to their debuts will give you literary cred, allowing you to say that you knew all about them before they were big.


Book Cover 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, by Mona Awad

Awad’s debut, set in the terrible suburb of my youth, is a novel in thirteen vignettes about a girl and her relationship with her body, about the way that women are looked at and the way they look at themselves. Awad is best known as the author of the delightful and unhinged Bunny—the New England-set campus horror novel—but there’s a tenderness in her debut that I’ve never been able to shake from my memory.


Book Cover Soucouyant

Soucouyant: A Novel of Forgetting, by David Chariandy

Chariandy took ten years between this lauded debut and the more commercially successful follow-up Brother. His debut is about a family struggling with a woman’s dementia but it’s really a novel about memory and about being an immigrant, all rooted in Caribbean folklore. It’s a haunting, sometimes tough read but it’s a really beautiful treatment of myth and a lovely gift to yourself if you enjoyed Chariandy’s later works.


Book Cover Generation X

Generation X, by Douglas Coupland

Coupland didn’t invent the novel of the malaise of twenty-somethings, he didn’t even coin the term Generation X, but this dark and funny novel is a classic tale of the overeducated and underemployed generation. Coupland, as writer and artist, looms large in culture and it’s worth revisiting the text that brought him to prominence.


Book Cover Ayesa at Last

Ayesha at Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin

Jalaluddin’s 2018 debut is a loose re-telling of Pride and Prejudice, set in Toronto’s Pakistani-Canadian community. The Toronto Star columnist followed it up with Hana Khan Carries On, a tribute to the movie You’ve Got Mail. This second book is equally delightful but reader appreciation for her debut has grown and grown and grown since its publication and her fans include Mindy Kaling who is set to product a film adaptation of the charming romantic comedy.


Book Cover The Pitiful Human Lizard

The Pitiful Human Lizard, by Jason Loo

In the first volume of this Toronto-set comic book, Loo’s superhero battles bad guys in Honest Ed’s. In the real Toronto, Honest Ed’s is long gone, Loo ended his series in 2019, but the artist and writer’s style is now a bit of a part of the city’s firmament. He had brushes with virality with his tributes to CBC’s Kim’s Convenience and has gone on to win an Eisner award for a comic collaboration with the writer Chip Zdarsky but the true heads will always have a soft spot for Loo’s hapless original super hero.


Book Cover Last Night in Montreal

Last Night in Montreal, by Emily St. John Mandel

Mandel’s debut, published by the selective but small Colorado-based Unbridled Books, follows Lilia Albert as she moves from city to city, evading some unknown follower. It’s a love story, it’s a thriller, it’s a well-reviewed but modestly selling debut that is absorbing because everything you love about Mandel’s later works—the spare, clean writing, the multiple timelines, the fluidity of the story—is already right there on the page.


Book Cover They Said This Would Be Fun

They Said This Would Be Fun, by Eternity Martis

Can a writer make this list of debut books if they’ve only published one book? They can if I’m making the rules! Martis’s memoir tells the story of her undergraduate years as one of few Black students at a notorious Canadian party school. You’ll cringe when the cashier calls a price check on her pregnancy test and will come to understand a lot about campus culture, and Canadian culture through this narrative of a student of colour finding her voice. And while we’re still awaiting Martis’s follow up book, her writing has appeared all over the place and Toronto-based production company Temple Street has acquired the rights to her memoir.


Book Cover This Strange Way of Dying

This Strange Way of Dying, by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

I have Mexican Gothic on my nightstand just like you do, and the buzz around that book made it seem like Moreno-Garcia was an overnight success. In fact, she might be the most prolific writer on this list. In 2013, the tiny Canadian press Exile Editions published This Strange Way of Dying, a collection of science fiction and horror short stories, infused with the elements of Mexican folklore for which she’s become so well known.


Book Cover The Imperfectionists

The Imperfectionists, by Tom Rachman

Okay, okay, Rachman came out of the gate swinging with this debut. The multiple timeline, multiple perspective novel about an English language newspaper in Rome is something like a workplace dramedy if such thing included moody European settings and the complicated inner lives of a fascinating cast of characters. Now, The Imperfectionists was lauded on the front cover of The New York Times Book Review and went on to be a best seller, so it doesn’t need my recommendation, but it’s worth a revisit of this beguiling book.


Book Cover House of Sighs

House of Sighs (La Vie comme une image), by Jocelyne Saucier

Saucier is quietly a national treasure. Our Francophone Alice Munro. She’s best known for And the Birds Rained Down but only because her debut is a little harder to get your hands on. House of Sighs is a strange, sometimes disturbing book. It deals with a dissolving marriage, with women’s bodies. It’s a book that makes ordinary life seem so terrifying as to render it a thriller.


Book Cover Department of Rare Books and Special Collections

Learn more about The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections:

Anxious People meets the delights of bookish fiction in a stunning debut following a librarian whose quiet life is turned upside down when a priceless manuscript goes missing. Soon she has to ask: what holds more secrets in the library—the ancient books shelved in the stacks, or the people who preserve them?

Liesl Weiss long ago learned to be content working behind the scenes in the distinguished rare books department of a large university, managing details and working behind the scenes to make the head of the department look good. But when her boss has a stroke and she's left to run things, she discovers that the library's most prized manuscript is missing.

Liesl tries to sound the alarm and inform the police about the missing priceless book, but is told repeatedly to keep quiet, to keep the doors open and the donors happy. But then a librarian unexpectedly stops showing up to work. Liesl must investigate both disappearances, unspooling her colleagues' pasts like the threads of a rare book binding as it becomes clear that someone in the department must be responsible for the theft. What Liesl discovers about the dusty manuscripts she has worked among for so long—and about the people who care for and revere them—shakes the very foundation on which she has built her life.

The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections is a sparkling book-club read about a woman struggling to step out from behind the shadows of powerful and unreliable men, and reveals the dark edge of obsession running through the most devoted bookworms.

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