Bookends: Book Gift Guide

Eight local writers share the best books they read in 2017 to help you find the perfect literary Christmas gift

December 1, 2017

Photography by Daniel Wood

Books provided by Indigo

Michael Hingston

The best book I read this year was The Intuitionist. Colson Whitehead has basically set the literary world on fire with his latest novel, The Underground Railroad, but his debut, from 1999, is a slick and endlessly inventive story about the secret lives of elevator inspectors. Part noir, part fantasy, and part meditation on race and racism, it kept me on my toes right up to the last page.

Michael Hingston is the publisher of the Short Story Advent Calendar, the author of The Dilettantes, and the author of Let’s Go Exploring: Calvin and Hobbes, out in May 2018.

Marty Chan

Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right is a must read for those who are still scratching their heads over how Donald Trump became president. This book doesn’t delve into his campaign. Instead, it reveals some keen insight into the frustration that drove conservative Americans to vote for change, even when it might be against their own self-interest. I was riveted from page one, and the ideas in the book forced me to examine the echo chamber that blinded me to the pain that some conservative Americans were feeling. 

Marty Chan is a playwright, the author of over a dozen children’s books, and the host of numerous writing workshops.

Janice MacDonald

Walter Mosley's The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey reminded me in some ways of Flowers for Algernon. An old man with dementia is given medicine in a questionable medical study, and finds the capacity to finish all the deeds he was meant to accomplish. It's Mosley's deft writing of confusion without being confused, and of the blossoming of memories as they occur, not linearly, but like raindrops falling on water, and rippling outward, overlapping and joining other ripples, that is glorious to read. 

Janice MacDonald is the author behind the Randy Craig Mysteries, and recently released a creative non-fiction book, Confederation Drive.

Angie Abdou

This year, more than ever, I needed a heart-warming story that made me happy. I found it in Glenn Dixon’s Juliet’s Answer: One Man’s Search for Love and the Elusive Cure for Heartbreak. This book brings joy into the world. We need it. Thank you, Glenn Dixon.

Angie Abdou is an author and assistant professor of creative writing at Athabasca University. Her novel The Bone Cage, was a CBC Canada Reads finalist in 2011, and her novel Between was named a Best of 2014 Book by PRISM.

Paula Simons

Imagine Harry Potter, if Harry Potter had grown up in Kitimat, with a vicious sense of humour, a side business baking gourmet marijuana cookies, and a meth-taking mom. That’s Son of a Trickster, by Eden Robinson. A mix of gritty social realism and soaring magic realism, combining West Coast Indigenous myth with some hard truths about being an Aboriginal teen in Canada today.  It’s funny and brutal and beautiful and achingly authentic.

Paula Simons is a reporter and city columnist for the Edmonton Journal, and wrote the play, Onions and Garlic, which enjoyed a sold-out run at the 2017 Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival.

David van Belle

In Up Ghost River: A Chief’s Journey Through the Turbulent Waters of Native History, by Edmund Metatawabin with Alexandra Shimo, Metatawabin gives a plain-spoken, first-person record of his experiences at the notorious St. Anne’s Residential School in Fort Albany, Ontario, and of how his response to those experiences shaped the course of his life. I think that part of the journey toward reconciliation between settler and Indigenous peoples is hearing and bearing witness to the personal, every day effects of colonization. Metatawabin provides that important witness.

David van Belle is the 2017 EPL Writer-in-Residence.

Jessica Kluthe

One of the novels that has most stuck with me this year is Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind of People. It’s a sharply written, tough and complicated story about a family in an American upper-class small town. This family is facing the repercussions of the allegations that the father has committed sexual assault; their reactions, their relationships, and the response of the town is never simplified. This novel echoes, and echoes, and echoes off the pages, mixing with all-too-familiar news headlines making it a timely read that contributes to the necessary discussion of rape culture.

Jessica Kluthe is an author, instructor at MacEwan University, and co-creator of Third Verb writing workshops — and a Top 40 Under 40 alumna.

Todd Babiak

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead is a clever and powerful reimagining of history, blending historical facts and certainly emotional ones with a feat of the imagination I don't want to spoil for any readers. My favourite literary novels are also page-turners, and The Underground Railroad doesn't sacrifice intelligence, heart or narrative drive.

Todd Babiak is the co-founder of Story Engine and the author of several books including, most recently, the thriller Son of France.

This article appears in the December 2017 issue of Avenue Edmonton. Subscribe here.


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