Valerie's Picks: Spring and Summer 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, with her team of selectors, investigates nearly every book that we order. So when we want to know what new books to get excited about, we know who to ask.
This list contains Valerie’s picks of the most intriguing books coming out this spring and summer – 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!
Kudos by Rachel Cusk
"Kudos" is the final novel in this remarkable trilogy by British-Canadian writer Cusk, preceded by Outline and Transit. With Brexit as the background, narrator Faye travels to a literary festival in an unnamed European country. Like the other books in the series, "Kudos" has no traditional narrative, and Cusk uses conversation, dialogue and monologue to explore the nature of freedom, ambivalence toward marriage and family life, and the construction and unravelling of identity.
The Melody by Jim Crace
Jim Crace often writes about worlds on the brink of change. In his disquieting Booker-nominated 2013 novel Harvest, he brought to life a pastoral, pre-industrial British village, through the eyes of the man hired to destroy it. In his latest novel, "The Melody", he again creates a world that is at once familiar and strange. In a villa overlooking an unnamed sea, Alfred Busi, a musician, is attacked one evening by a creature. But who or what attacked him? One of an ancient race of people said to live in the surrounding forest, or one of the town’s poor who live at its edges? Amid a gathering media storm, Busi must take stock of his own life while bearing witness to a community in the throes of great change.
Tin Man by Sarah Winman
Sarah Winman’s first novel, When God Was a Rabbit, was a quirky and endearing coming-of-age story about love and friendship. "Tin Man", her third and (according to some early reviews) her best novel yet, also concerns childhood friendships – in this case a love triangle between Ellis, his childhood friend Michael and his eventual wife Annie – and the reverberations that the relationships formed and choices made while young have throughout entire lifetimes. Set during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, Winman writes with enormous empathy and restraint about grief, loneliness and regret.
From a Low and Quiet Sea by Donal Ryan
I have been so impressed by the work of this young Irish writer. His three previous novels – The Spinning Heart, The Thing about December and All We Shall Know – and his collection of stories A Slanting of the Sun, are all astonishing. He writes with quiet lyricism and compassion about the desperate lives of the dispossessed, the lonely and the broken. This new novel, divided into four sections, tells the stories of the ultimately intertwined lives of three characters, one of them a Syrian refugee journeying toward Ireland.
The Only Story by Julian Barnes
A new novel by Julian Barnes is a cause for celebration, and "The Only Story" promises to be vintage Barnes. Returning to the themes of The Sense of an Ending, this new novel opens with a question: “Would you rather love the more, and suffer the more; or love the less and suffer the less?” The melancholy contemplation of the passing of time, the trickiness of memory, the way that a single small choice can become the defining event of a life – these are the powerful ideas that Barnes explores in his exquisite and understated prose.
Whistle in the Dark by Emma Healey
Emma Healey’s previous novel, Elizabeth is Missing, brilliantly subverted the mystery genre by having as its “detective” an elderly woman whose memory has been ravaged by Alzheimer’s. In this new novel, the author lays out many of the plot elements of a thriller – a missing daughter, an unreliable witness with an imperfect recollection of events and a mother determined to find the truth – but this is not a psychological thriller. It is a beautifully and deeply rendered exploration of what it means to be lost and found and of the difficult but enduring bond between mothers and daughters.
Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison
It’s not easy to write humour and tenderness and be smart with both. Evison is one of those writers who does this with ease: his writing is always sharply observant, thought-provoking, witty and humane. In this latest novel, we follow Mike Munoz, a 22-year-old underemployed landscaper who, despite setback after setback, dreams of a better life.
Radiant Shimmering Light by Sarah Selecky
A debut novel for Canadian Sarah Selecky, whose first book was her fresh and impressive collection of stories This Cake is for the Party. What happens to those who are not temperamentally suited to the world we increasingly find ourselves in – not brave, not self-actualized and not in possession of a distinct personal brand? Lilian Quick feels herself to be such a person, but now she is being given a chance to enter a GOOP-like world inhabited by confident, spiritually awakened and personally empowered women. This sounds like it will be a wise and funny take on our modern culture of internet fame.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
A bold new literary voice, Ottessa Moshfegh's debut novel Eileen was shortlisted for a slew of awards, including the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her provocative new novel, written with compassion and a whole lot of black humour, examines one young woman’s attempts to heal her despair and alienation by literally sleeping through it. With assistance from a deranged psychiatrist, she constructs a plan to sleep away the pain using a truckload of pharmaceuticals. This is a bitter and hysterical trip through one woman’s heavily medicated pursuit of happiness.
Florida by Lauren Groff
This is the first published collection of stories by the author of three novels including the much-praised Fates and Furies. The stories are all set in Florida but, as you might expect from Groff, it’s a stranger, hotter, stormier and altogether more threatening Florida than the tourists’ land of sun, sand and surf.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
A new novel by Michael Ondaatje is a literary event. This one, set in London in the immediate aftermath of World War II and full of both historical and family secrets, sounds like it will be mesmerizing.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
Kushner electrified the literary world with her stunning novel The Flamethrowers, and this new one promises to be even more of a stunner. As the novel opens, single mother Romy Hall is serving two consecutive life sentences for murder at a California women’s prison. From prison, she narrates her drug-addled, hard-bitten past in San Francisco, where she worked as a stripper at the Mars Room, as well as her present, where she serves her sentence alongside the thousands of other women trying to navigate the violence and absurdity of life behind bars. An unflinching and unforgettable look at life on the margins.
His Favorites by Kate Walbert
Kate Walbert is the author of a number of resonant, profound and elegantly written novels about the inner lives of women. This new novel, seemingly ripped from the headlines, is about a young woman reeling from trauma and trying to make sense of her treacherous new world and its betrayals.
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
I was a huge fan of Diana Evans’ previous novel, 26a, and have been waiting for more than a decade for a new book by her. "Ordinary People" is a chronicle of the mid-life and marital malaise of two couples living in contemporary London, an exuberant and loving portrait of life in that city, and an exploration of black identity in a world in which Barack Obama is President.
There There by Tommy Orange
This debut by Cheyenne and Arapaho author Tommy Orange is getting a lot of fantastic advance critical attention. Set in Oakland, the novel weaves together the points of view of 12 different characters as they all converge on an event called the Big Oakland Powwow. Sounds like this is going to be an important and powerfully told story of identity and history.
Calypso by David Sedaris
Who doesn’t welcome a new book by the always-hilarious Sedaris? In this collection of 21 observational essays, he fixes his bemused gaze at, among many other things, settling into middle age, the enduring craziness and poignancy of family bonds, the inane conversations overheard in airports, hotels and checkout lines. Expect to laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh.
I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You: A Letter to My Daughter by David Chariandy
Acclaimed Canadian novelist and Scarborough native Chariandy has written – in the form of a letter to his daughter – an intimate and reflective meditation on the state of race relations in Canada and the world today. In a time of growing divisions within society, this should be a must-read for everyone.
The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House by Ben Rhodes
There is this sub-genre of non-fiction that I am calling Obama Nostalgia wherein young Obama staffers write memoirs detailing in glowing terms their years in the Obama White House. We sigh, and remember those happier days when sane, intelligent, thoughtful people inhabited that centre of power. The latest, and most intriguing for me, of these is by Ben Rhodes. Rhodes, speechwriter, Deputy National Security Advisor and presidential confidante, was one of four Obama appointees featured in the recent documentary The Final Year. He struck me in that film as impressively straight-talking and deep-thinking and I am interested to hear his version of the events he was so much a part of for the past decade.
Cost of Living: A Living Autobiography by Deborah Levy
We seem to be living in a golden age of memoir-writing. My must-read memoir of the summer is by the immensely gifted British novelist Deborah Levy. Written with grace and piercing honesty, this is a book about the creative and emotional costs of femininity, about the end of a marriage and the death of a mother, and about how to “find a new way of living” after the old way has collapsed.
Activist, investigative journalist and trained scientist Ehrenreich wants us to live well, even joyously, while accepting our mortality. No matter how much kale we consume, how many anti-aging products we use or how many miles we log on the treadmill, we are all destined to someday depart from this world. Ehrenreich urges us to question more the claims made by the wellness industry and to worry less about what is inevitable.
In this fascinating blend of science, history, journalism and memoir, food writer Pollan explores the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs. He outlines the history of psychedelics across cultures and generations, explains the neuroscience of its effects and examines the recent revival of research on its potential to heal mental illness. For everyone who read Ayelet Waldman’s A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life.