Canada Reads 2016: Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

Minister Without Portfolio

Michael Winter’s Minister Without Portfolio was one of the five novels nominated as this year’s Canada Reads choices – which landed it squarely on my immediate TBR.

I have to admit that the initial description gleaned from the inside flap did not thrill me: man goes to Iraq with the military, has a bad experience, returns to Newfoundland to attempt to piece his life together.

But luckily for me, this is one of those cases where judging a book by its cover turns out terribly wrong, because Minister Without Portfolio is easily the best book I’ve read yet this year. I’ve only read two out of the five Canada Reads selections so far, but I already know which one I’m rooting for.

Fun fact: Minister Without Portfolio was nominated for the Giller Prize the same year as Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing (and you can read my review here) but didn’t even make it to the short list. (For the record: this is not a choice I agree with, Giller Prize Committee of 2013!)

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Canada Reads 2016: The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

The illegalLawrence Hill has been on my radar (well, everyone’s radar) since The Book of Negroes. I wasn’t surprised to see his name on the Canada Reads short list for this year, and actually pretty glad; while he’s on my to-read list, he’s not on my immediate to-read list, which means who knows when I would have gotten around to picking up his work. Canada Reads to the rescue!

Synopsis: Keita escapes the cruel dictatorship of his homeland (the fictional Zantoroland) to make a better life for himself in a new land (the fictional Freedomstate), by doing what he loves best – running marathons. But even in a new country, theoretically full of possibility and opportunity, he must fight: to ransom his kidnapped sister, to avoid the authorities who would deport him as “an illegal”, and to find happiness when the state seems bent on denying him even the basic rights of personhood.

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Weary and musty: Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

toomuchhappiness

Too Much Happiness was my first foray into Alice Munro. I have to say: as a Nobel Prize-winning author, and a staple of the Canadian canon, I expected to like it. But I didn’t.

(This is the part where the authorities kick down my door and take away my citizenship.)

It’s not that I actively disliked it. I just didn’t really like it, either. There were funny parts and sad parts and shocking parts. There were parts that I think worked well. There were just a good many more parts that I don’t think worked at all.

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Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa by André Alexis

despair and other stories of ottawaI just talked about Fifteen Dogs not too long ago, but as they say, you can never have too much André Alexis.

(Okay. I’m the only one who says that. But that doesn’t make it any less true.)

And in a stunning, Shyamalan-esque twist, I loved Despair and Other Stories of Ottawa even more that Fifteen Dogs. So here I am, continuing to spread the Good Word of André Alexis.

As you might guess, this collection largely takes place in Ottawa. Alexis grounds these stories in geographically-accurate cross streets, real community halls, endearingly local shop proprietors. Which turns out to be important, because otherwise these stories risk going off the rails – portraying a version of Ottawa peopled with blood-sucking monsters, cannibals, prostitutes who model their hands against burlap, and dozens of doppelgangers named André Alexis.

It’s creepy, and it’s awesome.

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The Giller king: Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

fifteen-dogs-by-andre-alexisHere it is: Fifteen Dogs, the book that won the Giller!(Which, for the record, I totally called.)

The place: a Toronto bar.

The players: Hermes and Apollo, somehow not quite out of place in a Toronto bar.

The bet: if granted human intelligence, might dogs be able to live happy lives – and die happy? Or is happiness naturally unable to coexist with the same sentience that makes humans, well, human?

That’s the book in a nutshell. Can dogs die happy? I knew going into it that it was going to break my heart in half and stomp on the pieces.

Which is why I was kind of surprised – and a little disappointed – when it didn’t.

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Have sex, stop time, rob banks: Big Hard Sex Criminals, Volume 1

big hard sexSuzie and John have great sex.

This is partly because they’re great for each other.

But it’s also partly because when they orgasm, they literally stop time.

Which turns out to be perfect, because robbing a bank or two while time is frozen turns out to be the best way to save their local library, which is about to be repossessed.

Everything is going according to plan – that is, until they realise they aren’t the only ones who can use sex to stop time, and a legion of sex police are hell bent for leather on stopping their sex-fueled crimes.

This is Big Hard Sex Criminals, Volume 1, a graphic novel written by Matt Fraction and illustrated by Chip Zdarsky. It’s hilarious, and raunchy, and surprisingly thoughtful.

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The sturdy, bitter heart of Lynn Coady’s Hellgoing

draft dodgers - lynn coady

It’s difficult to describe how I feel about this collection of (Giller Prize-winning) short stories but I’m going to try anyway.

This isn’t normally the sort of book I’d pick up, because short stories aren’t really my jam. But I’m taking a class in Canadian short fiction this semester and I think it’s going to be really good for me. I mean, even if I dropped out tomorrow it’s introduced me to Lynn Coady. That’s a win.

And while I keep saying short stories aren’t really my jam, I keep finding collections of short stories that punch me in the sternum, and new collections of short stories keep ending up on the to-read pile. So maybe I should revisit the prejudices I have against short stories.

But let’s talk about Hellgoing, as much as one can talk about Hellgoing.

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The best releases of 2015 (feat. The Cascade)

The Cascade, my student newspaper alma mater, runs a giant “Best Of” issue every January. Despite not holding a position at the paper since 2014, I still manage to sneak in every year to rave about the best books I’ve read. This year the list includes Martin John by Anakana SchofieldAll True Not A Lie In It by Alix Hawley, Bone Gap  by Laura Ruby, and seven others (including two reviewed by Katie Stobbart over at The Quotidien.

All in all, it’s a pretty great list. You can read the full feature here and browse the full issue here. Needless to say, I highly recommend all of the books below.   Continue reading