Valerie's Picks for 2018
Valerie has every book-lover's dream job: she coordinates the selection of print books for adults at Toronto Public Library. In other words, she's a nonstop reader who investigates nearly every book that we order. So when we wanted to know what books to get excited about in the new year, we knew who to ask.
This list contains Valerie’s picks of the most intriguing books coming out in early 2018 – books by new authors with compelling stories to tell, and books by great established writers that are sure to be fascinating reads, whatever the topic. Place your holds now to be first in line when these come in!
The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
“I have read everything Meg Wolitzer has written since "Surrender, Dorothy" in 1999. Her books are funny, wise, intimate, unafraid of rage ("The Wife" is one of the angriest novels I have ever read) or the absurd ("The Position"). She is wonderful at documenting the ordinary stages of women’s lives and at describing lives led in the contexts of families and societies. I think this book – so very timely in its themes of female mentorship, ambition and loyalty – will be told with her characteristic understanding and insight.”
First Person by Richard Flanagan
“Flanagan is a truly gifted writer who never writes the same book twice. His previous novel, "The Narrow Road to the Deep North" (which won the Booker Prize), was harrowing. I’m drawn to the premise of this novel, which is based on an incident in Flanagan’s own life and career: like the main character in this novel, Flanagan, at one financially desperate point in his life, agreed to ghost-write a memoir for an Australian con-man. As Flanagan says, it was profoundly unsettling for him as a creator of fiction to realize that he was dealing with someone who made his living encouraging people to invest themselves – and their money – in the stories that he created. This novel will play with the very idea of what fiction is and will also have tremendous resonance in this time of post-truth, where fictions are presented to us as realities, and reality seems fictional.”
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
“Although I am not a fan of gimmicky time-travelling novels, I have faith that Matt Haig can pull this off – he is a great fiction and a compelling nonfiction author. This one seems to be about the sadness that change inevitably brings in human lives, whether your lifespan is 85 years or several centuries.”
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman
“His other two books were so memorable and wonderful. This one is about the son of an art star who is abandoned by his adored larger-than-life father. Lots of great themes here: love, family, fame, the long shadow of parental expectation and the lasting legacy of abandonment.”
Anatomy of a Miracle by Jonathan Miles
“With his previous novels, Miles has shown that he is an acute and perceptive observer of our modern culture. In this new novel, he tackles the issue of celebrity, of what happens to the humanity of a person when they are transformed into a symbol of something.”
The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
“Unlike Richard Flanagan, Alan Hollinghurst is a writer who does write variations of the same book again and again. By that I mean that the themes he explores – social class, social mobility, sexual repression, homosexuality – are consistent, but he explores them with such stylistic flare and cutting social commentary that I can’t resist.”
A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey
“I'm looking forward to this because he is Peter Carey, because his publisher Sonny Mehta apparently called this “a late-career gift”, and because I think it will have resonance here in Canada as we deal with our own reconciliation process. In this novel, set in 1953 Australia, three white Australians are led literally off-road away from the country they know so well into an encounter with an ancient continent and an ancient people.”
Property by Lionel Shriver
“Lionel Shriver is always absolutely of-the-moment in the themes she chooses to explore in her fiction, and she writes about them with precision and humanity. In this collection of stories and novellas, she deals with property in all its senses – as real estate and as stuff. How do our possessions act as proxies for ourselves? How do they become part of the power dynamics in our relationships? How do they come to own us, rather than the other way around? Shriver is a deeply observant writer who is always looking to reveal what is lurking underneath the accepted conventions and expectations of our culture.”
Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley
“Unavailable in Canada until now, I have been eagerly awaiting this new collection of stories since they were published almost a year ago in the US and UK. Hadley writes masterfully and with exquisite delicacy about those moments in ordinary lives when things change forever.”
You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
“This is Sittenfeld’s first collection of stories. I have been a fan of most of her novels, so I am curious to see what she does with the short story form. At her best, she is a very astute chronicler of the inner – and outer – lives of all-too-human Americans."
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
“I am not a reader of Scandinavian crime fiction but this Hogarth Shakespeare series is tremendous, so I am going to commit to read Nesbo’s contemporary version of Macbeth.”
Sofie & Cecilia by Katherine Ashenburg
“The story intrigues me – set in the Swedish art world in the early decades of the twentieth century, the novel is about the friendship between the wives of Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn. I have liked many of these fictional character studies of real-life historical people – think "Loving Frank", "The Paris Wife" – especially when those characters are written with nuance and complexity. The author is a wonderful, accomplished non-fiction writer who is turning to writing fiction later in life – in her 60s – and I like that, too.”
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
“This is my token psychological thriller (there are at least 16 big thrillers coming out in the winter of 2018). I am not a big reader of this genre, but I was a fan of "The Silent Wife" – one of the first big-selling novels in this genre. This one sounds like it might have echoes of that book. Anyway, it has all of the tricks of the psychological-thriller trade: no one is who they appear to be, none of our assumptions are correct, everyone’s motivations are murky, there are unforeseeable twists and shocking final revelations.”
See What Can Be Done by Lorrie Moore
The Rub of Time by Martin Amis
Feel Free by Zadie Smith
“There are some writers whose grocery lists I would read if they were published. Three of them have essay collections being published in early 2018 – Martin Amis, Lorrie Moore, Zadie Smith. I know that they will be insightful, funny, sharply written, and – in Amis’ case for sure – sardonic and acerbic.”
“There are a number of fascinating memoirs coming out in early 2018, but these three, linked by the quality of their writing and the complexity of their insights, are my picks."
Educated by Tara Westover
"In the tradition of "The Glass Castle" or "Running With Scissors", Tara Westover had to find a way to survive her family. Raised in a cultish offshoot of Mormonism, taught only that the apocalypse was imminent, she had no birth certificate, no medical records, and had never attended school. This is her tale of becoming educated in the literal sense – she went on to graduate from Cambridge with a Ph.D. in intellectual history – and in a larger sense."
The Girl Who Smiled Beads by Clemantine Wamariya
""The Girl Who Smiled Beads" is about a young woman who, at six years old, fled the Rwandan genocide with her older sister, only to have to flee again from the civil war in the Congo. Eventually granted asylum in the US, the sisters went on to lead incredibly different lives. Clemantine was taken in by an American family and educated at good schools. Her story of surviving trauma is raw, bracingly unsentimental and unflinchingly honest."
I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O'Farrell
“This promises to be in the "When Breath Becomes Air" school of memoir. Writing about 17 near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life, this unconventional memoir is an extraordinary and compelling, yet understated, meditation on an awareness of mortality that most of us manage to avoid. O’Farrell is a wonderful novelist, so I am expecting that this will be gorgeously written.”
Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic by David Frum
"2017 was the year the “what happened to America?” book became a genre. This should be a worthwhile entry – since Frum’s previous incarnation as a speechwriter in the Bush White House, he’s become a Republican dissident and critic of the alt-right. Given his GOP bona fides, his principled stance against Trumpism is starting to make him look like an honest broker in an increasingly fractious body politic."
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning by Margareta Magnusson
“I am at that age, I guess, when you begin to wonder if you really want to spend what’s left of your life just looking after stuff. Wise and practical advice about minimizing your worldly possessions so that your loved ones don’t have to do it for you that actually sounds uplifting and positive. A gentler Scandinavian version of Marie Kondo.”