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December 14, 2011

My Favourite Not-New Books of 2011

Saving Rome by Megan K. Williams: This short story collection had a mixed response when we read for my book club in October, but I devoured it, adored its depiction of expatriate life, thought Williams’ writing was fabulous, funny and surprising, and now whenever I hear Williams reporting on the CBC from Rome, there’s a whole new dimension to the broadcast.

Virginia Lee Burton: A Life in Art: If you thought that Burton’s books were interesting, you don’t know the half of it. She was a fascinating woman, a textile designer, and her ideas about book design and children’s books are so subtly presented in her books that you’ve probably taken them for granted, but to have them illuminated makes the books so much richer. It’s a quick read, a beautiful book full of lovely images. Plus her sons have nothing but good things to say about her, which is unusual for a successful woman writer, no?

White Stone: The Alice Poems by Stephanie Bolster: Bolster won the Governor General’s Award for this book which re-examines the mythical girl Alice from every angle. I love its metafictional elements, its bookishness, cross-textual references and that it was an absolute pleasure to read.

The 27th Kingdom by Alice Thomas Ellis: Here was the surprise of the year, this paperback which had been languishing on my shelf forever and ever turned out blow my mind with goodness. Think Muriel Spark and Graham Green ala Travels With My Aunt, hilarious (see the bit about eating babies) and an Anglophile’s dream (see the bit about the tea). You’ve got to read it. I love the bit about the horse meat. I read most of this during a brilliant 2 hrs at Huron Washington playground sprawled in the backseat of the play jeep while Harriet put sand in a  bucket and dumped it out over and over again.

All the Little Living Things by Wallace Stegner: I’ve never read Stegner before, and was afraid there might be too much rugged western manliness here, but here was a West I recognized from women authors (Sharon Butala in Lilac Moon and Joan Didion in Where I Was From) and I fell in love with the place. And with Stegner’s writing: the party scene is the best scripted party scene in the entire history of literary party scenes.

Pathologies by Susan Olding: I hadn’t heard of Olding when we both placed second in the Edna Staebler Contest last year, and so I didn’t understand what it meant that we were even acknowledged in the same stratosphere. And then suddenly her name started popping up in conversations everywhere, so I had to check out Pathologies, and it’s kind of the definitive book of amazing essays. She writes about troubled family relationships, infertility, her daughter’s adoption from China, and the challenges of motherhood with an admirable gutsiness, and amazing grace. She asks probing questions about and sets an inspiring example for how writers might be advised to consider the role of the self in non-fiction.

The Torontonians by Phyllis Brett Young: Imagine Betty Draper, but in suburban Toronto rather than Ossining NY, and armed with a buckwheat lawn instead of a shotgun. This novel anticipates Betty Friedan and Atwood’s The Edible Woman, but also invokes a Toronto of which much is now lost to us, and much has also stayed the same. This is the novel everybody wants to read once they’ve finished reading Imagining Toronto (and rightly so).

Elizabeth Bowen by Victoria Glendinning: Oh, the pleasure of a brilliant biography. And so few writers are really capable of it, but Glendinning is a master. Bowen herself wasn’t even the most important reason why this book was wonderful, but this book was the reason I came away with a whole new appreciation of her work.

A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews: I was officially the very last person on earth to read this book, and had held its hype against it, but that’s ridiculous. The book is amazing. But you already knew that.

4 thoughts on “My Favourite Not-New Books of 2011”

  1. theresa says:

    Some wonderful books here. Pathologies, yes! And the biography of Elizabeth Bowen. I loved that. Also the Stegner (a perfect companion to this one is Angle of Repose…). Meant to say yesterday too that I think The Forgotten Waltz is a kind of masterpiece.

  2. Melanie says:

    What a wonderful list of titles! So many here that I would love to read, and few that I have read. I keep meaning to read Stegner as I am, of course, from the West originally — not the only reason, but one of them.

    And sadly, I must admit that I was underwhelmed by A Complicated Kindness. Probably the only person I know to have that reaction.

  3. Linn says:

    Bolster’s White Stone has held a special place on my “ALICE” shelf for many years…yes I am a big ALice fan…my son’s nursery was all decorated as a trip down the rabbit hole and I still have mad tea parties…

  4. Linn says:

    Loved the Torontonians and like your connections of this work with Friedan’s classic, Atwood’s Edible Woman and of course Amy Lavendar Harris’ Imagining Toronto

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