Winner of the Pulitzer Prize

The Complete NP99: the best books of 2017

The National Post staff include Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees on their list of the 99 best books of 2017.

Eden Robinson comes in at No. 1 on the NP99.Mike Faille/National Post

Looking back on the books published in 2017, we’ve compiled a list of 99 of the best, most-talked about – or quite simply our favourite – reads. Why the NP99 and not 100? Because that last spot is reserved for the one we forgot. You’ll think of it soon.


Strange Weather by Joe Hill (William Morrow)

Following on the heels of two doorstopper novels (NOS4A2 and The Fireman), Hill turned his skills to these four novellas, each a powerful distillation of story and exploration of theme. All killer, no filler indeed. – Robert J. Wiersema.


What Happened by Hillary Clinton (Simon & Schuster)

If you hate Hillary Clinton, you’ll hate this book. It’s a damn good read: funny at the right times, poignant at others, captivating and page-turning throughout. But most of all, it’s a salve for those whose wounds from waking up on November 9, 2016 have yet to close. – Ashley Csanady


In the Cage by Kevin Hardcastle (Biblioasis)

In the Cage is a novel of toxic masculinity in a variety of forms, each more insidious than the last. And through Hardcastle’s style – sentences plain and broken, glinting with moments of beauty even in the depths of violence and pain – we become part of Daniel’s world, part of the very structure he fights against, inside the cage and out. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Weekend Effect: The Life-Changing Benefits of Taking Time Off and Challenging the Cult of Overwork by Katrina Onstad (HarperCollins)

A look at our obsession with overwork and overtime, and the benefits of taking off the odd weekend, Katrina Onstad’s The Weekend Effect doubles as self-help. Its terrifying accounts of the toll too much work can take on the average 9-5er is enough to make you want to never leave the office late again. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (Tor)

In the distant future, humanity lives in habitats scattered throughout the stars, connected by a series of hyperspace tunnels known as the Flow. Though entirely dependent upon it for survival, and while it forms the basis of vast interstellar monopolies and their resulting nobility, no one knows completely how the Flow works. But a few individuals know that it is about to stop working. – Paul Taunton


The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway (Portfolio)

Along with Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech, and Farhad Manjoo’s columns on the “Frightful Five” in the New York Times, Galloway’s book is an important read for citizens grappling with the effect of tech companies on both the evolving economy and our way of life. – Paul Taunton


All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to Be Famous Strangers by Alana Massey (Grand Central)

Alana Massey is many things, and in her debut collection of essays, she tries to capture the countless women in pop culture who have guided her throughout her many lives. Including hilarious and introspective analyses of everyone from Sylvia Plath to Fiona Apple to Britney Spears, Massey also brings her own stories to the forefront, touching on everything from mental illness to the sex industry, effectively marrying the personal and the popular. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Water Beetles by Michael Kaan (Goose Lane)

The Water Beetles is based on the experience of Michael Kaan’s father during the Second Sino-Japanese War as it bled into the Second World War. Shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the novel moves from occupied Hong Kong to rural China and finally, to university in America, where Chung-Man Leung begins to understand what has happened to him and his family. – Paul Taunton


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder (Norton)

Since the Great Recession, the retiree dream of an RV lifestyle is now a necessity for many older citizens who can’t afford to own a house or retire. Nomadland exposes the reality most of us don’t see, while humanizing those who must rely on a modern-day version of riding the rails. – Paul Taunton


Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (HarperCollins)

Many of the dystopic works of art that have been considered so timely this past year were in fact produced or begun long prior. Erdrich started her novel in 2002 when things seemed already to be “moving backward,” before setting it aside for two intervening books (which won the National Book Award and National Book Critics Circle Award, respectively). But Future Home of the Living God, exploring reactionary dogma and the regulation of childbirth, arrives squarely in the zeitgeist of 2017. – Paul Taunton


The Golden House by Salman Rushdie (Knopf Canada)

The Golden House doesn’t contain much of the author’s signature magic realism, but it is a story about extreme wealth, which, let’s face it, can be considered a type of magic. What we refer to as “Mary Sue stories” in fiction – where people live in impossible houses, where their life floats upon unspecified sources of income – exist in real life. In an odd reversal, the main characters in The Golden House reflect the kinds of people whose real lives are stranger than fiction. – Paul Taunton


The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown (Henry Holt)

This Oxford-educated British journalist took the helm of one of America’s most influential magazines in her early 30s, helping set the tone for what she refers to as “The Crazy Eighties,” a time of decadent affluence when the world of print journalism was awash with cash. Her diaries are juicy, vulnerable and jolly good fun. – Sarah Sahagian


Mississippi Blood by Greg Iles (William Morrow)

The stunning conclusion of Iles’s Natchez Burning trilogy, Mississippi Blood is a harrowing, disturbing examination of racial violence in the contemporary south in the guise of a pot-boiling thriller. While the storyline may occasionally be over-the-top, Iles’s recent history of the role of racism in the American south – from the political assassinations of the 1960s to post-Katrina reconstruction – is the stuff of all-too-vivid nightmares. – Robert J. Wiersema


Earthly Remains by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly Press)

It’s been 25 years since Commissario Guido Brunetti entered the world of crime fiction. And what an entrance it was. Leon knows her world intimately, yet never overloads the reader with research. She shows only the tip of her iceberg, confident in the richness that lurks underneath. The cast is small but memorable. The square miles she covers are few but exploding with life – at least where humans have yet to quash it. – Howard Shrier


The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson (Quirk)

Imagine the daunting prospect of going through a museum that covers the history of women and feminism (or lack thereof) in comics. You don’t know where to go, or where to start. The emergence of independent publishing and wider representation in webcomics? The soap opera stylings of the romance comics genre? The dichotomy of the all-powerful superheroes and stereotypical damsels-in-distress? Then a guide appears, and with a wink and a smile, says, “Want a special tour? Follow me. Your guide is author Hope Nicholson, publisher of Winnipeg-based Bedside Press, and your personal tour culminates with The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen. – April Flores


Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine by Joe Hagan (Knopf Canada)

When Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner approached Joe Hagan about a biography, Hagan took the job on the condition of independence. As is often the case when a mogul is profiled, Wenner’s discomfort with the final product is the reader’s gain. Fifty years after Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco (and while it is up for sale for a fraction of its former worth), Sticky Fingers is a true legacy of the magazine, its creator and a host of the rock stars who’ve graced its covers over the decades. – Paul Taunton


Fugue States by Pasha Malla (Knopf Canada)

In Fugue States, Pasha Malla flips the tried-and-true story of the second generation immigrant discovering their family history and heritage through Kashmiri-Canadian Ash Dhar. Compelled to learn more about his recently deceased father’s life, Ash instead sends along his stoner BFF Matt to do the discovering in his place, making for a thought-provoking and polarizing exploration of self-identity and masculinity. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Power by Naomi Alderman (Little, Brown)

The Power is unintentionally timely. It was written before #MeToo, before Harvey Weinstein and his sorry band of brothers seized public consciousness – but, of course, it could never not be timely. We’ve all played the game of idly wondering what the world would be like if its current power structure were reversed; this novel is a long, serious, and sometimes bleakly funny engagement with that question. – JC Sutcliffe


Arrival: The Story of CanLit by Nick Mount (House of Anansi)

Arrival is Mount’s second book and, in many ways, he’s the only one who could possibly have written the thing. By turns professor, editor, advocate and critic, Mount’s voice is rarely absent from any meaningful discussion of Canadian literature. He’s part and parcel of it, too, both taking and leaving jobs as acts of defiance when debates heat up. It’s from these oscillating perspectives on CanLit – buzzing around and rooted within – that Mount documents our country’s literary history, centred chiefly on Canada’s mid-20th century boom. – Terra Arnone


White Tears by Hari Kunzru (Knopf)

The appropriation of black music by those who want to be “authentic” is the tip of the (vanilla) iceberg in Kunzru’s fifth novel, which traces systematic racism by slipping back and forth from the present day to the late 1920s, when the Delta Blues were first recorded. What starts as a dark comedy focused on a “hipster Jesus” trust-fund kid and his hapless sidekick morphs into a horror novel designed to give American pop culture an existential shock. – Mike Doherty


Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson (Hamish Hamilton)
Eliza Robertson captures something often ignored about the B.C. coast in Demi-Gods, her quiet, menacing first novel. There’s a coldness to the place, an absence among all that splendour. Demi-Gods is an uncomfortable, propulsive and deeply enjoyable read. It has an air of coastal gothic to it, a sense of chaos barely restrained amid all the calm. – Richard Warnica


We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (One World)

Coates, #1 on the NP99 in 2015 for Between the World and Me, returns with the signature essays he wrote during Barack Obama’s eight years as president, enhanced with new reflections. Past is prologue in this collection, and his voice remains indispensable. – Paul Taunton


The Mariner’s Guide to Self-Sabotage by Bill Gaston (Douglas & McIntyre)

With stylistic command and heart-wrenching insight, Gaston has been a writer’s writer for too long. This collection of stories continues the Victoria writer’s chronicling the lonely and the outcast, individuals struggling for meaning and significance in a hostile, frequently surreal world. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur (Simon & Schuster)

Kaur self-published her first poetry anthology, milk and honey, on Amazon in 2014. The book spent 52 consecutive weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, and has since sold over a million copies. Her follow-up, the sun and her flowers, is bound to come close if not exceed its predecessor’s numbers – if the growth of her digital footprint has anything to do with it. Kaur has become not only a voice for the marginalized, but a social media commodity as well – and she is very well aware of it, readily capitalizing on all those likes and follows from a community that had never seen itself represented quite so loudly before. – Sadaf Ahsan


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat, illustrated by Wendy MacNaughton (Simon & Schuster)

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat represents 17 years of culinary experience. Chef and writer Samin Nosrat arrived at her theory of the four elements of good cooking through practice, using it as a mnemonic device to guide her. Whereas cookbooks squarely centre on recipes, Nosrat designed Salt, Fat, Acid, Heatto “give people independence” – highlighting the science and techniques that underscore good cooking. This is a book that can help you decide what to cook, how to cook it and why. – Laura Brehaut


The Customer is Always Wrong by Mimi Pond (Drawn & Quarterly)

Madge spends her days working in a cruddy Oakland café filled with degenerates and lowlifes while trying to get her start as a cartoonist. A charming, loosely autobiographical story of Pond’s early years, before she found success as an illustrator for National Lampoon and the Los Angeles Times. – Michael Melgaard


The Stone Sky: The Broken Earth Book 3 by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

The Stone Sky, the final novel in Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy, fixes the series as perhaps the defining fantasy work of the early 21st century. The first two volumes won back-to-back Hugo Awards for Best Novel in 2016 and 2017. The Stone Sky will – if there’s any justice – make it a hat trick. – Robert J. Wiersema


So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum (McClelland & Stewart)

So Much Love isn’t a Gillian Flynn fling-your-fork-in-fear kind of crime fiction. It’s not a tea-bite breed of keen and patient reading like Miriam Toews might ask, either. It isn’t exactly a yield of the two, but So Much Love borrows a couple tablespoons from the recipe for both: something macabre in its undercurrent, enough to be unsettling, but the story is tempered with a cerebral sub-plot that lets the mind drift a little for relief. You wouldn’t call So Much Love a thriller, but sometimes sharp insight draws interest in much the same manner as suspense, and here Rosenblum uses both to propel her story. – Terra Arnone


Game Change: The Life and Death of Steve Montador, and the Future of Hockey by Ken Dryden (Signal)

Ken Dryden had already planned to write a book about concussions in hockey, but needed a focus to make people care. He found it in a person, a well-liked person and teammate in the case of NHLer Steve Montador, who died in 2015 and had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Game Change says a lot that fans and league officials don’t necessarily want to hear, but it does so by profiling a player they didn’t want to lose. – Paul Taunton


South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion (Knopf)

If Joan Didion is anything, she’s her own archivist. Here, we see her sometimes scattered, always profound ruminations on the connections she drew between her childhood in California and her travels through the American South, via pages from her hallowed notebooks, circa the 1970s. – Sadaf Ahsan


Bookshops: A Cultural History by Jorge Carrión (Biblioasis)

Part travelogue, part history, Jorge Carrión’s ode to bookshops captures the feel of browsing shelves at your favourite bookstore. Filled with anecdotes for deep bibliophiles and the merely curious, Bookshops is an endlessly fascinating read. – Michael Melgaard


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy (Hamish Hamilton)

Roy has spent the last two decades, since becoming globally famous for The God of Small Things, as an activist and polemicist. She has sparked outrage in her native India by speaking out against nuclear testing, the rise of Hindu nationalism and, in recent years, human rights abuses in Kashmir. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness is an explicitly political text. It is, on some level, an effort to make sense in fiction of the senselessness she has seen and written about in decades of essays and journalism. – Richard Warnica


A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré (Viking)

The artistry behind A Legacy of Spies only comes into focus when you reflect on its most thrilling sections. Almost all take place in the narrator’s memory. The outcomes are already known. The stakes have already been measured. And yet, it’s gripping. There are two main pleasures to be gained by reading le Carré: 1) the sensation of reading a riveting tale; and 2) the secure knowledge that you’re experiencing a master at work. – Dustin Parkes


Unbuttoned: A History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life by Christopher Dummitt (McGill-Queen’s)

I recall years ago interviewing the late Texas journalist Molly Ivins, a liberal from the Lone Star State who just doted on Canada. Some of her praise, however, was not entirely pleasing. Canadians are the only people who eat up all their oatmeal, she said, as if that was the most endearing trait you could imagine. We were just that boring. I thought at the time that I might mention our famous Prime Minister, Pierre Trudeau, cuckolded (we all assumed) by one of the Rolling Stones. That was not eating your oatmeal. But really it was Mackenzie King who put all the American presidents to shame in the weirdness department. – Philip Marchand


I’m Not Here by GG (Koyama Press)

Sparsely illustrated pages, panels seen through a camera lens; I’m Not Hereis a haunting tale of the loneliness and isolation that comes with family responsibility. A quiet, powerful book. – Michael Melgaard


The Handover: How Bigwigs and Bureaucrats Transferred Canada’s Best Publisher and the Best Part of Our Literary Heritage to a Foreign Multinational by Elaine Dewar (Biblioasis)

How such a thing came to pass – not only the transition from living entity to virtual publisher in the case of McClelland & Stewart, but the demise of a decades-old Canadian determination to foster our culture and cultural institutions – is the subject of Dewar’s narrative. For Dewar, few things are as important as the creation and maintenance of a culture shared by Canadians. The stories we tell ourselves are vital to our well-being – they must be, to a significant degree, our stories. – Philip Marchand


4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (McClelland & Stewart)

Auster’s new novel has a litany of resemblances to previous ones – the kind of intertextuality for which he’s already well-known. In a way, each new Auster novel is its own retrospective, something of which many readers can’t seem to get enough. It reminds me of Angus Young telling the New York Daily Newshe’s sick of hearing that AC/DC has made the same album 11 times: they’ve made it 12 times. – Paul Taunton


Barrelling Forward by Eva Crocker (House of Anansi)

Barrelling Forward is Eva Crocker’s first book, and it comes at you in about the same way as her title would suggest: brazen, brash even, but entirely enthralling. Crocker may well be our modern Munro, if you’ll humour me, or at least something close when it comes to Canada’s greatest short storytellers. – Terra Arnone


At the Strangers’ Gate: Arrivals in New York by Adam Gopnik (Knopf Canada)

The New Yorker writer tells the story of moving from his native Montreal to the Big Apple in the 1980s, what the magazine world, the city and life was like at the time – and how it has all changed. – Paul Taunton


The Last Word by Julia Cooper (Coach House)

Following the “year of celebrity death” in 2016 (David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen, not to mention Muhammad Ali, Harper Lee, Carrie Fisher and mother Debbie Reynolds), 2017 brought a retrospective of Princess Diana’s death 20 years ago. Cooper’s short book is a fascinating meditation on how and why we eulogize. – Paul Taunton


The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit (Haymarket Books)

Candid as ever, to a biting and witty degree that lends a comforting familiarity, Solnit admits that she herself has never wanted children because she desires solitude in life and the room to invest the majority of her time into her work. To have or not to have children is not the question, she explains, but rather to ask the purpose of a woman to begin with. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can be broken if we even just ask, “Would you ask a man that?” – Sadaf Ahsan


Logical Family: A Memoir by Armistead Maupin (Harper)

With his irrepressible humour and his insights now focused inwardly, Maupin’s memoir traces his growth from a southern conservative to a beloved elder of the gay community, via service in Vietnam and a halcyon life in San Francisco in the 1960s. Haunted by memories of the plague years, and the losses of friends and loved ones, these are Maupin’s tales of his city, a remarkable account of a life remarkably lived. – Robert J. Wiersema


Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me by Stacey May Fowles (Doubleday Canada)

There are as many questions to be asked about the game of baseball, posed in such great number and so many ways, as about life itself. Fowles probes damn near them all in her debut collection, a remarkable compilation (with several new additions) of the essayist’s best work. – Terra Arnone


Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Knopf Canada)

A sacred voice for feminists today, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is a must-read for not just women, but men. In it, she provides a comforting and nurturing screed for how to respond to inequality in a world that is learning everyday. Carrying this guide around is sort of like having your mom in your back pocket. – Sadaf Ahsan


Catherine Parr Traill’s The Female Emigrant’s Guide: Cooking with a Canadian Classic by Nathalie Cooke and Fiona Lucas (McGill-Queen’s)

Cooke and Lucas designed the edition with “culinary explorers” in mind. Following the presentation of the Guide in its original form, they describe the foodways of Traill and her family. Resources such as measurement conversions and strategies for interpreting historical recipes (including 21st-century substitutions for 19th-century ingredients) are central to the toolkit for historical cookery. They also offer sample seasonal menus, based on details in Traill’s body of work, as well as that of her sister, fellow author Susanna Moodie. – Laura Brehaut


They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib (Two Dollar Radio)

It’s sometimes flowery, and other times direct. Whether comparing Johnny Cash to Migos or writing about the day Allen Iverson made Michael Jordan look like a fool, Hanif Abdurraqib’s essay collection on the convergence of identity politics, music, sports and culture feels important. There’s a sense that the reader is getting in on the ground floor by recognizing a voice whose significance is only going to grow in the decades to come. Appreciating this book is like being a Radiohead fan before they got famous. – Dustin Parkes


The Changeling by Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)

A vivid, often vicious, contemporary fairy tale, The Changeling cements Victor LaValle’s reputation not only as one of the pre-eminent creators of dark fantasy today, but as one of the most significant figures on the modern literary landscape. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Idiot by Elif Batuman (Penguin Press)

The Idiot is an accidental period piece. The world it depicts – Harvard in 1995 – appears all the more alien now for the role that email, of all things, plays in the narrative. The Idiot is, on some level, about the limits of language. It’s about facts that don’t change no matter how many words are spun around them.  It is a difficult book to describe. It is also, from beginning to end, a complete pleasure.
– Richard Warnica


Little Sister by Barbara Gowdy (HarperCollins)

It would take only a few minor adjustments, in tone and narrative, for Barbara Gowdy’s Little Sister to qualify as a horror novel. The protagonist, Rose, 34, owner and manager of a repertory cinema, has the preternatural ability to enter the psyche and the body of another human being, in this case a books editor named Harriet. But Little Sister is not horror. Fiction writers who work with normal human characters perform much the same trickery in their imagined worlds. To hear some writers talk, the relations between them and their characters are positively uncanny, the characters occasionally taking the author by surprise with their unexpected responses. Author and character, it seems, need only a nudge to experience their own episodes. – Philip Marchand


Draft No. 4 by John McPhee (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Draft No. 4 is an odd book to be getting the kind of attention it has attracted from the mainstream media. It is, after all, a writing manual – not the sort of book that normally reaches an audience beyond writers and editors – the kind of book that generates little noise and creeps quietly onto university and college reading lists. In this case, though, the author in question is John McPhee, the legendary New Yorker staff writer, author of 32 books and a preeminent figure in creative nonfiction. He is also the instructor of an equally legendary course at Princeton called “Creative Non-Fiction” whose alumni include the current New Yorker editor David Remnick and a slew of other professionals scattered throughout the media. But really, Draft No. 4 could engage anyone who is an avid reader and has ever tried to effectively express themselves in writing. – David Hayes


Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America by Michael Ruhlman (Harry N. Abrams)

Food is fascinating. Try to remember the last social gathering you partook in that didn’t at one point broach the subject of food. Yet, for all our discussions on the topic, there are still a lot of questions we haven’t considered. Michael Ruhlman’s examination of the grocery store answers all the curiosities we didn’t know we had about the place where we buy most of our sustenance. – Dustin Parkes


Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage by Ken McGoogan (Patrick Crean Editions)

The history of the Northwest Passage suffers greatly from the colonial recorders of it; Victorian explorers focused on their own accomplishments for the glory of the British empire at the cost of those whose exploits went unrecorded: the indigenous guides. McGoogan reconsiders the established narrative, giving these early explorers their due and “dragging Arctic discovery into the 21st century.” – Michael Melgaard


Turning: A Year in the Water by Jessica J. Lee (Hamish Hamilton)

I didn’t much like swimming or my life when Jessica J. Lee wrote a book about those two things together, but her lyrical debut was enough to sell me on the sport, at least, and maybe mortality as well, water making good metaphor for both: calm in some times, violent in others, but constant, at least, lapping over and wrapping you entirely; inescapable, if nothing else. – Terra Arnone


Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta (Scribner)

The idea that disappointment engrosses the modern life is nothing new. Nor is the idea that we might find some semblance of satisfaction – despite the overwhelming and persistent feeling of coming up short – through sex. But what Tom Perrotta accomplishes with these two themes is to introduce technology as a factor in both, and thereby make it a modern retelling of something that seems ancient. To summarize, Mrs. Fletcher is an awful lot like Mrs. Robinson – only she has a smartphone. – Dustin Parkes


Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (Riverhead)

This is a novel that demands. It impeaches and implores. It insists that the reader look at people – Muslims, or migrants, Hijabis or unbelievers – as people unto themselves, possessed of agency and quirks and humanity, even as that last is sometimes stripped away by dislocation, violence and fear. – Richard Warnica


This Is All a Lie by Thomas Trofimuk (Enfield & Wizenty)

The new novel from Thomas Trofimuk has all the trappings of a postmodern, metafictional experiment (with pages and chapters counting down, intrusive authorial commentary and the like), but at its heart it is a deeply moving examination of love, sex, fidelity, loss and loneliness. Akin, in different ways, to both Italo Calvino’s If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World by Peter Wohlleben, translated by Jane Billinghurst (Greystone/David Suzuki)

Through research, reason and anecdotes, The Inner Life of Animals leaves readers with an important epiphany: the emotional intelligence we attribute to animals is legitimate. It’s not a projection. Animals in the wild and our domesticated pets are capable of feeling love, shame and a sense of loss. And appreciating an animal’s ability to ascertain the common themes of life only enhances our own. – Dustin Parkes


The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron (Doubleday Canada)

A couple of years ago, novelist Claire Cameron was taking a wintry hike along a rugged stretch of the Niagara Escarpment when she chanced on an ancient limestone cave. That was enough to transport her back 40,000 years to the days when Neanderthals inhabited our planet – and to the book that was taking shape in her mind. – Jamie Portman


American War by Omar El Akkad (McClelland & Stewart)

If anyone were fit to write a fictional world of war, terror, climactic demise and deadly biological weaponry, it’d make sense for that individual to be Omar El Akkad. He’s observed and recounted tragedy around the globe – from Middle America to urban battlegrounds a few oceans eastward – and written about those experiences extensively; that National Newspaper Award is not the only metal on Omar’s mantle. – Terra Arnone


Hunger by Roxane Gay (Harper)

Roxane Gay’s Hunger is about the struggle between one’s relationship with food and with their own body. It’s complicated and personal, offering a rare and honest insight into what it means to be overweight when you see yourself one way, and the world sees you in quite another. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis (Hamish Hamilton)

For those who recognized Willis as a bold new voice in Canadian fiction, it comes as a relief that her second collection, The Dark and Other Love Stories, has finally been published after a few delays and more than lives up to the promise of her debut … Still, Willis says she now sees the stories as a reaction to those in her first book, which focused on faded or lost connections. Willis wanted to concentrate on the things that bind people, whether they be romantic partners, one night stands, father and son, or lonely teenage girls at summer camp. – Eric Volmers


The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir by Ariel Levy (Random House)

The Rules Do Not Apply is a very physical read; you will laugh, you will cry, you will want to break things, and then you will cry again. Her memoir picks up a month after she leaves for a reporting trip in Mongolia, suddenly no longer pregnant, her marriage falling apart. It feels painfully human as she catalogues her ex-wife’s alcoholism and her own adultery, longing for a time when things were far easier and, well, happier. – Sadaf Ahsan


Uncertain Weights and Measures by Jocelyn Parr (Goose Lane)

Nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, Parr’s debut novel is a love story set against the backdrop of the early years of the Soviet Union, when the dream of a better world came up against the reality of an increasingly authoritarian regime. – Michael Melgaard


American Fire: Love, Arson, and Fire in a Vanishing Land by Monica Hesse (Liveright)
Hesse’s journalistic reconstruction of a series of arsons that terrorized the citizens of rural Accomack County, Virginia for months veers away from a simple true-crime story to a larger socio-political portrait of the community and a stranger-than-fiction love story. Longform journalism at its best. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press)

The Pulitzer Prize winner for The Sympathizer (2015) returns with a collection of stories spanning the decades since the Vietnam War, from the conflict in Saigon to conflicted new lives in California. – Paul Taunton


Bad Endings by Carleigh Baker (Anvil Press)

A finalists for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Bad Endings is a collection of tales where things end badly, but more with a wince – and realization. It’s a debut that has made readers look forward to more short stories, a perennially undervalued form. – Paul Taunton


Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez (Arsenal Pulp)

With Scarborough, artist and writer Catherine Hernandez tells a story never told and often considered not worth telling. The novel follows the interconnected stories of three marginalized children from low-income families living in the Kingston/Galloway area as they begin to understand what it means to live on the fringes. While it might tackle a laundry list of messages, it strikes deep, shining a spotlight on the cultural subtext Scarborough was built on. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Longest Year by David Grenier, translated by Pablo Strauss (House of Anansi)

Sprawling, time-warped, and a translation to boot, Grenier’s book is pure genre-bending genius. An ambitious story told deftly with great care, the author’s century-straddling story demonstrates an incredible feat of written restraint, tightening up Grenier’s big tale to make it bingeworthy. – Terra Arnone


One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul (Doubleday Canada)

Ever opinionated and with words to spare, Scaachi Koul goes even longer form with her hilarious debut collection of essays, meditating on growing up on the internet as a South Asian woman in western culture. Tackling everything from race and gender to body image and family, Koul comes off far more motivating and inspiring than her title (and brand) might suggest. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill (HarperCollins)

A magical rendering of love and loss, triumph and despair, the magic of art and the art of magic, The Lonely Hearts Hotel is a powerful, singular work. And you’ll never look at clowns the same way again. – Robert J. Wiersema


Borne by Jeff VanderMeer (HarperCollins)

Science-fiction writing often gets away with using tropes that other genres can’t, simply because it’s setting up a grand allegory or there’s some sequence of parables that depends on easily understood metaphors. Borne, the story of a scavenger named Rachel who finds and raises an all-consuming bioengineered being, doesn’t condescend to its readers, instead it offers a fresh plot with rich images and symbolism. But above all else, it’s a good old fashioned suspenseful read about survival. – Dustin Parkes


Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann (Doubleday)

Part history, part mystery, Grann’s investigation of the murders on the Osage Indian nation in Oklahoma in the 1920s is a stunning work of narrative nonfiction, drawing together disparate strands and new information to shed light on a largely forgotten American tragedy. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Doll’s Alphabet by Camilla Grudova (Coach House)

Over the course of The Doll’s Alphabet, Grudova isn’t merely creating a collection of stories. Read as a whole, one feels swept into an entire universe. The Doll’s Alphabet is a singular collection from a unique talent, stories with the force of dreams, a reading experience from which you may never awaken. – Robert J. Wiersema


The Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi)

A finalist for the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, this collection of stories, poems and songs from a major Indigenous voice, is a singular demonstration of the different ways an idea can manifest. Reviewers have often not quite known where to begin, and then just kept going and going. – Paul Taunton


I Hear She’s a Real Bitch by Jen Agg (Doubleday Canada)

As one of the most polarizing figures in the Canadian food industry, Jen Agg knows she has a reputation. And in I Hear She’s A Real Bitch, that fact may be how she pulls you in, but in recounting how she got to where she is as a successful restaurateur with an exacting work ethic and as impressive a palate, she writes a personal and motivating memoir. However you feel about her, Agg proves she’s a force to be reckoned with (and aspire to). – Sadaf Ahsan


The Accusation by Bandi (House of Anansi)

Smuggled out of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea 25 years after they were written, this pseudonymous collection covers the final years of the rule of Kim Il-sung. Depicting everyday citizens trying to make the best of a bad situation, The Accusation gives a human face to the people living under a brutal regime. – Michael Melgaard


Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear (Doubleday Canada)

Readers often like to know the inspiration behind an author’s story, but in Birds Art Life the inspiration is the story. In this charming memoir, a year of urban birding leads to a host of realizations about living creatively. – Paul Taunton


The Bone Mother by David Demchuk (ChiZine)

Fairy tales – as in the real kind, the scary kind – form the backbone of this unique debut. In Eastern Europe in the last century, the monsters of the Old World are cornered by the coming wars and mostly eradicated, with their survivors scattered into the New World in what the author has called “a supernatural diaspora.” – Paul Taunton


History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund (HarperCollins)

It’s tough reading a book with a ceaselessly changing timeframe, when a writer barrels through chronology and catches you in their upheaval. Emily Fridlund does this without restraint, apology or fair warning. But somehow it works, and with her debut novel History of Wolves, Fridlund might well find herself literary fiction’s newest golden girl. – Terra Arnone


The Dark Dark: Stories by Samantha Hunt (FSG Originals)

The Dark Dark, more than anything else, is an example of the sheer force of storytelling, of the power of narrative to elicit understanding and emotional response at an unspeakable, unspoken level. What seems at the outset as perhaps a stylistic experiment pays off, repeatedly, at an emotional level, never losing sight of the characters, a regressive storytelling that spirals on the page and in the reader’s mind, looping fractally, perhaps endlessly, the shape of chaos made beautiful. – Robert J. Wiersema


Boundary by Andrée A. Michaud; translated by Donald Winkler (Biblioasis)

Boundary is a book about murder – two, actually – but somehow reads with a warmth and familiarity that makes me question my own subconscious predilections. Michaud’s latest spin on thriller easily overtakes the genre’s more traditional approaches (many ruling bestseller lists this year); a singular story, entirely unique, but laced with classical crime’s nostalgic flair. – Terra Arnone


Lost in September by Kathleen Winter (Knopf Canada)

A finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the much-anticipated follow-up to Winter’s 2010 bestseller Annabel, Lost in September finds a reincarnated General Wolfe (as in the foil to Montcalme) stricken with PTSD and living on the streets of Montreal. It is an inventive personification of past and present, and the way historical violence bleeds into the future. – Paul Taunton


Hostage by Guy Delisle (Drawn & Quarterly)

A graphic non-fiction account of Christophe André’s kidnapping and imprisonment by Chechen rebels, Delisle creates tension out of a relatively static situation: André chained to a radiator in a locked room for over a hundred days, waiting for an opportunity to escape. – Michael Melgaard


Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie (Riverhead)

Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, which made this year’s Man Booker longlist, brings Sophocles’s Antigone to the now, in five acts, taking the reader from England to Massachusetts to Istanbul to Syria to Pakistan in a story that not only crosses waters but families, in their efforts to reach for something more, weighed down again and again by the anchor of home. – Sadaf Ahsan


Minds of Winter by Ed O’Loughlin (House of Anansi)

Minds of Winter is a mystery, sort of, but it’s more a profound ode to land, legend, and love. I had good mind for but no money on O’Loughlin bringing home this year’s Giller, and his loss doesn’t take a thing away from the shortlisted book itself: beautifully drawn and expertly told, Minds of Winter is gripping from the start. – Terra Arnone


Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan (Scribner)

After the experimentation of her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel-in-stories A Visit From The Goon Squad, a straightforward historical novel might seem a step back for Egan. Perish the thought. Manhattan Beach is at once an utterly convincing historical piece while maintaining a contemporary approach and sensibility. Blending several storylines, Manhattan Beach will break your heart. – Robert J. Wiersema


Boundless by Jillian Tamaki (Drawn & Quarterly)

Canadian illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s latest feels weighed down by nostalgia, by expectation, and by longing; three common bedfellows that here are given new life not only in her mostly black-and-white renderings, but through her anxious eye. It’s almost as if she knows something the reader doesn’t, instilling an infectious hope from page to page. – Sadaf Ahsan


The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State by Graeme Wood (Random House)

The winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction, The Way of the Strangers is the extension of Wood’s Atlantic feature “What ISIS Really Wants,” and an expansive but incisive look at why so many around the world have been radicalized. – Paul Taunton


Transit by Rachel Cusk (HarperCollins)

It’s strange: a novel which largely eschews narrative (renovations are about the only thing that happens in Transit) is one of the most powerful assemblages of storytelling of the year, disparate recollections weaving and circling through fundamentally human questions and concerns. A surprising, disarming novel. – Robert J. Wiersema


Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicineby James Maskalyk (Doubleday Canada)

In a memoir that won the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction, Dr. James Maskalyk relates the universality of emergency room medicine around the world (and between his two hospitals in Toronto and Addis Ababa in particular), and the shared experience of those who find themselves there. – Paul Taunton


We’ll All Be Burnt in Our Beds One Night by Joel Thomas Hynes (HarperPerennial)

The winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction, Hynes’s newest novel is an epic road trip across Canada and into the past, as Johnny Keough delivers his girlfriend’s ashes to a Vancouver beach while reflecting on the series of mistakes – and maybe one last chance – that have brought him there. – Paul Taunton


Too Much and Not the Mood: Essays by Durga Chew-Bose (HarperCollins)

It feels like an injustice to describe Chew-Bose’s book as a memoir; that genre alone doesn’t capture the wide-ranging abstraction of her own memory and thought process. In fact, it feels more like a collection of music than of personal essays, each vignette demanding an emotional pause by the end, to think about what you’ve just read and then think about it again. – Sadaf Ahsan, on her No. 1 book of 2017


Annie Muktuk and Other Stories by Norma Dunning (University of Alberta)

Inuk writer Norma Dunning’s debut collection passed under the radar of the big awards despite being the year’s best short fiction collection. The stories infuse Inuit myth with reality, explore the effects of colonialism, and delve into settler-writer portrayals of Inuit, all told with heart and humour that is infectious. – Michael Melgaard, on his No. 1 book of 2017


I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters (Invisible)

My favourite of 2017; landing top spot entirely despite itself. In fewer pages than the average graduate thesis, Winters uses some inexplicable, paradoxical, somehow decadent simplicity to paint no less than six profound character studies against the backdrop of – wait for it – rural Acadia. Va savoir. – Terra Arnone, on her No. 1 book of 2017


Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga (House of Anansi)

Tanya Talaga investigates the deaths of seven Indigenous teens in Thunder Bay – Jethro Anderson, Curran Strang, Robyn Harper, Paul Panacheese, Reggie Bushie, Kyle Morrisseau and Jordan Wabasse – searching for answers and offering a deserved censure to the authorities who haven’t investigated, or considered the contributing factors, nearly enough. – Paul Taunton


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House)

On January 3, 2013 (pay attention to that date), the New York Timeswrote of the about-to-be-published Tenth of December, “George Saunders Has Written The Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” They were right then, and they would have been right if they had said something similar this past January. Lincoln in the Bardo was one of the earliest books I read in 2017, and it set the bar for fiction so high few other books even came close. A master class in literary pyrotechnics and fundamental human empathy, Lincoln in the Bardo continues to impress. – Robert J. Wiersema, on his No. 1 book of 2017


Bellevue Square by Michael Redhill (Doubleday Canada)

The winner of the 2017 Scotiabank Giller Prize, Bellevue Square is a literary thriller – about a Toronto bookstore owner who becomes obsessed with a doppelgänger roaming Kensington Market. Redhill’s victory was roundly cheered by fans of his books back to his debut Martin Sloane (2001), itself a finalist for the Giller Prize. – Paul Taunton


Brother by David Chariandy (McClelland & Stewart)

Winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, Chariandy’s sophomore novel further establishes him as one of Canada’s best writers. Set in the nascent hip-hop scene of Scarborough in the 1980s, Brother is a deeply emotional story of family, community, and coming to terms with grief. – Michael Melgaard


Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson (Knopf Canada)

The book perhaps most widely praised by Canadian prize juries, booksellers and media this year, Son of a Trickster was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and a favourite among the National Post‘s contributors.

Terra Arnone says, “Eden Robinson is one of Canada’s best writers, wry and somehow subtle in always-weighty subject matter, and Son of a Trickster is one of her finest books.”

Robert Wiersema says, “My favourite Canadian novel of the year, a brilliant marriage of teenage-burnout realism and Indigenous mythology, breathtakingly unique in Canadian letters. A propulsive read and, thankfully, just the first volume in a projected trilogy.”

For those who think the second instalment of a trilogy is almost always the best, there’s a lot to look forward to.


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