Friday, January 10, 2014

Best Books I Read in 2013

I read mostly nonfiction this year, partly because I was researching a book. So my best-of list is a little shorter than usual, but as you'll see some of the nonfiction was really really good:

Cornwallis: The Violent Birth of Halifax by Jon Tattrie - 
 Jon's a friend of mine and I was a captive audience in a sense, but I was surprised by the details of this apparent baffoon who founded my city, and the bizarre, sadistic tactics he used to subdue the French and Mi'kmaq.
Click here for more.

 Conversations With a Dead Man by Mark Abley - 
This is sort of a biography of Duncan Campbell Scott, who led the Indian Residential School system thru its period of greatest expansion. 
But it's also a series of imagined conversations between the author and the subject's ghost. 
Abley's a great writer and writes a lot about language and culture, so the book had a lot of great insights and solid storytelling throughout. I was fascinated.
Click here for more.

Everything is So Political edited by Sandra McIntyre - 
This is a collection of short fiction with political themes, which happens to have one of my stories. 
But I was genuinely impressed with these stories and how well they preached without preaching. I also loved the international flavour - stories of strife and struggle from around the world.
Click here for more.

Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - 
I picked this up at Value Village for a buck. I knew it'd been a big hit and had an entire chapter in PowerPoint, so I figured why not give it a shot? One of my top 2 reads of the year. It's all about musicians. Each chapter is really a short story but the people are all connected. It jumps around in time and relationships and you eventually get several life stories. Really well written, fun and tragic.
Click here for more.

The Hermit of Africville by Jon Tattrie - 
I liked this one even better than the Cornwallis one. It's the true, and crazy story of Eddie Carvery, who has maintained an onsite, tent-in protest against the destruction of Africville for more than forty years. They call him "Crazy Eddie" for a reason, but as crazy as he may be, the things that happened to him were crazier.(Did I just say "crazy" several times?)
Click here for more.

 Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang by Mordecai Richler - 
I read this to my 4-yr-old aloud, in one sitting, and he was riveted, and also cracking up constantly. I tried to read Richler when I was in high school and couldn't get into him - might have been over my head then. Should have read this one I guess, more at my level.
Click here for more.

My other top-2 favourite read of the year, Song for Night by Chris Abani is an amazing short novel. I bought it for $2 from a library discard bin in Toronto and it's one of the most beautiful haunting books I've read. It's the first-person narrative of a voiceless child soldier doing evil deeds masterfully told, with a twist. I still think about it five months after reading it. Can't recommend it enough.
Click here for more.

What Lies Across the Water by Stephen Kimber - 
The story of the Cuban Five, Cuban spies in Florida operating on practically nil budget until they got busted and put away forever, almost. The response is laughable (or would be if it weren't causing so much harm) given how little they were capable of and what they actually did, which was prevent a few bombs being set off in Havana by Cuban-American radicals. Oh and there was that incident where a plane got shot down - many sides to that.  Fascinating story, top-notch research by Kimber.
Click here for more.

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Chris, that's an impressive list. I visited Halifax for the first time this summer and would love to know more about the history and now I have some resources. I know about Africville (Jazz CD recommend, "Joe Sealy's Africville Suite") but not much about the founding of our wonderful nation. So thanks for that. Try Mordecai Richler again. I spent a summer reading all his books - some I like better than others but they all fascinate.
Thanks Estelle. Missed this comment before. Yes, at some point I'll give grown up Mordecai another try.
This year I've read East of Eden, and Hitch-22, in addition to tons of non-fiction, mainly anthropology and astronomy.

Both authors are excellent writers. But I have to say: Steinbeck's novel was a beautifully and terribly powerful work that helped me understand a lot about how dark human natures can develop in many ways. Or how some select few seem to be born monsters, and there's nothing we can do to change that fact.

Regardless, his prose is flowing crystal. Hitch is obviously Hitch. I don't always agree with him, but I appreciate his clear thinking.

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