Top 5 book recommendations from local authors
By: Sheniz Janmohamed // February 10th, 2021
Got the Winter Blues?
Cuddle up with these book recommendations from local authors.
Allan Briesmaster Recommends… “Underland: A Deep Time Journey”, by Robert Macfarlane
For me, on the long cold nights there is no better reading material than a long, richly-languaged, wide-ranging true-adventure narrative. That’s especially so if the book serves up new levels of understanding of the world along with perspective-altering human concern. Underland takes a series of disparate journeys into darkness in search of hidden knowledge.
For nearly 500 pages, the author explores what lies under or has been buried beneath the earth’s surface in such locations as Bronze Age burial chambers, Paris’s catacombs, the melting glaciers of Greenland, sea caves, and the fungal networks under forest soil. Macfarlane’s other books, like the marvelous The Old Ways, are also (in his words) “about the relationships between landscape and the human heart” – an interest I share in my own writing. But this book takes me into depths in space and time I’d never imagined. It’s a must-read, and now I plan to re-read it, more slowly.
Allan Briesmaster is a poet, freelance editor and publisher who has been active on the Toronto-area literary scene for many years. He has read his work, given talks, and hosted literary events across Canada. His eighth full-length book is The Long Bond: Selected and New Poems (Guernica Editions, 2019). He runs a small press, Aeolus House, specializing in books of poetry. He lives in Thornhill.
Natasha Ramoutar Recommends… “Saturn Peach”, by Lily Wang
Lily Wang’s debut poetry collection is like a series of dreams that I don’t want to end. Like any dream though, each of these poem plants itself in my mind and shadows me throughout the day.
Long after I have closed these pages, I am left thinking about the grand worlds that she has built – about places “in which stories are peaches and grapes” or where “lavender light takes the window and even/ shock can soothe.”
I was delighted by the way these pieces conjured an dreamspace with no true certainty, such as when the narrator of “There Came A Great Buzz” ponders “what if you put your ear to a seashell and it drowns you?”
In a time where many of us are forced to stay inside – both from the pandemic and the cold weather – I can’t think of any better escape for myself than Saturn Peach.”
Natasha Ramoutar is an Indo-Guyanese writer by way of Scarborough (Ganatsekwyagon) at the east side of Toronto. She is the Social Media Assistant at the Festival of Literary Diversity and the Fiction Editor of FEEL WAYS, an anthology of Scarborough writing. Her first poetry collection Bittersweet was published by Mawenzi House in 2020.
Sheung-King, Aaron Tang Recommends… “Amrita”, by Banana Yoshimoto
Everything is weird, but nothing is uncomfortable. I love Banana Yoshimoto’s work because the surreal and taboo events are presented in such a casual way that it makes readers question how ‘normal’ everyday life is to begin with.
Here’s a snipped: The main characters in this book meet a woman named Sasego, a Japanese person living in Saipan, whose name literally translates to “public toilet” (her mother, an alcoholic, died when she was three and her mother’s husband, a yakuza, found out that Sasego is not his daughter but “the result of a casual fling’. To get revenge on his late wife, the man changed the daughter’s name to ‘free public toilet’ and put her in an orphanage). Sasego, despite her traumatic past, is one of the friendliest people, living a perfectly ordinary and peaceful life in Saipa, where no one thinks twice about her name.
Sheung-King, Aaron Tang is a writer and educator who grew up in Hong Kong and is currently based in Toronto. His debut novel, You are Eating an Orange. You are Naked. (2020), is named one of the Globe and Mail’s best debut books of 2020. Sheung-King is currently a lecturer of creative writing at the University of Guelph and an artist in residence at the ADA-DADA Residency, where he is working on his second book and researching the datafication of human behaviour.
Hyacinthe M. Miller Recommends… “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”, by Rachel Joyce.
Harold, a retired sixty-five-year-old brewery office worker, receives a strange letter on ‘Turkish Delight pink’ stationery from a former work colleague – Queenie Hennessey, a small dark-haired sixty-year-old woman who reconnects to inform him she’s dying of cancer.
Harold has time to contemplate his too-ordinary life, the mistakes he made, the missed do-overs. He tosses his wallet and focuses on the now – putting one blistered foot in front of the other. Really seeing what’s around him. And like all satisfying life quests, Harold finds his true self. He gets to the root of what made his life not ordinary, but worth living. He rediscovers the value of forgiveness, friendship and enduring love.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Jim Broadbent, in the pause between Christmas and the New Year, in the midst of enduring an isolating pandemic and doom-scrolling news of the political shenanigans south of the border. Broadbent’s measured, sonorous delivery is perfectly paced to match Harold’s quest. And when Harold decides to return home, it’s because he has triumphed over foes he didn’t know he’d ever fight – self-doubt, regret, loneliness.
Hyacinthe M. Miller is an award-winning author of short stories, magazine and newspaper articles, contemporary women’s fiction and non-fiction. She’s been published in Borealis Magazine and in Herotica 7, Whispered Words, and Allucinor, The Elements of Romance anthologies. Her debut novel, Kenora Reinvented, (Investigations, Mystery and Seasoned Romance) was published in 2019. Her current works-in- progress include The Fifth Man, book two of the Kenora & Jake series. Order her book here: mybook.to/KenoraReinvented. Hyacinthe is a founding member and Past President of the Writers Community of York Region. She belongs to professional organizations including Crime Writers of Canada, the Alliance of Independent Authors, The Writers Union of Canada, Romance Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.
Learn more about Hyacinthe via https://hyacinthemillerbooks.com
Paul Vermeersch Recommends… “Castle Faggot”, by Derek McCormack
Derek McCormack is one of Canada’s most fascinating writers, and one of my favourites. The world McCormack creates in his books is one of kitsch, carnivals, country music, and fabulous, flamboyant queerness.
In his latest novel, Castle Faggot, he turns the kitsch factor up to eleven. This is the story of Count Choc-o-log, McCormack’s darker doppelgänger of breakfast cereal mascot Count Chocula, master of the titular castle, the centerpiece of a licentious amusement park called Faggotland. The lowbrow backdrop belies a story that grapples, often hilariously, with deathly serious themes. This is the spoonful of sugary cereal that helps the methadone go down.
Raunchy and decadent, this book is a neon gothic funhouse that will have you screaming, so be sure to buy a second copy for your parents.
Paul Vermeersch is a poet, multimedia artist, creative writing professor, and literary editor. He is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Shared Universe: New and Selected Poems 1995-2020. He holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Guelph for which he received the Governor General’s Gold Medal. He teaches in the Creative Writing & Publishing program at Sheridan College and is senior editor of Wolsak and Wynn Publishers Ltd. He lives in Toronto.