Middle England – Jonathan Coe

A contemporary novel of the last decade in England, a time of profound societal change: the rise of populism, rage against change, the chaos of Brexit and much middle-aged angst. A quirky set of characters undertake some brilliantly funny actions. Thanks Mary & Mike, for this enjoyable recommendation.

Evolution: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin (1860-70)

– Edited by F. Burkhardt, S. Evans and A.M. Pearn.

Darwin was chronically ill and thus confined to his home in Kent. Consequently, letter writing in the decade following the publication of The Origin of Species was his almost exclusive means of communication: the exchange of opinions and information with suggestions for experimentation. Darwin’s breadth of knowledge is most impressive and the literary style of letter writing is delightful. These collected letters provide incredible insight into one of the great scientists of all time. Thanks Erin, for this recommendation.

In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo – Claire Tacon

This delightful novel is about complicated family relationships. Henry and Kath have two grown daughters; Starr is the oldest and is special-needs (Williams Syndrome). Part of the story recounts a disastrous road trip by Henry, Starr and Darren (Henry’s co-worker) to a ComicCon convention in Chicago. How can a father get the correct balance between being protective, to hold on tighter, to hold off the future, with the absolute need to let go? In parts the story is hilarious but also poignant and at times heart-breaking. Henry can be frustratingly hapless at times, full of contradictions. All the characters have rich complex personalities, proving that life is messy and complicated: a very fine read. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.

Split Tooth – Tanya Tagaq

Ms. Tagaq is an Inuit throat singer and Polaris Prize winner in 2014. She can now add author to her artistic gifts. This is a remarkable first novel. There is the often difficult reality of living in Nunavut as a young person: endless summer sunshine, the dark and brutally cold winter, and human difficulties like substance and sexual abuse. And there is a magical imaginary component, sometimes based on dreams. Ms. Tagaq’s prose is accompanied by graphic poems and a few illustrations. Highly imaginative writing.

Little Yellow House: Finding community in a changing neighbourhood – Carrisa Halton

This is a collection of stories and vignettes of living in a  “shitty neighbourhood” in Edmonton: Alberta Avenue (118 Avenue between 101-82 Streets). This is low-income housing with lots of social problems: drug houses, crime, prostitution … the list goes on. But the inhabitants are resilient and the area acquires a distinct personality.  But there is a warning in the last pages: “gentrification is the new colonialism”. A fabulous read, with a breezy style of writing. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

Our Souls At Night – Kent Haruf

This is a short but meaningful book about two widowed people in their 70s who are willing to take a risk, to start a relationship based on gentle companionship. The storytelling has a wonderful authentic simplicity: “they ate a supper of macaroni and cheese casserole and iceberg lettuce with Thousand Island dressing and canned green beans and bread and butter and iced tea from an old heavy glass pitcher and there was Neapolitan ice cream for dessert”.  They key feature in this book is the recognition that relationships, at any age, are complicated but especially for older people in the 70s and yet they have the courage to try, to see what happens.Thanks Karen, for this recommendation.

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy - Patricia LockwoodThe author leaves her Mid-Western home at age 19 to be married but after 12 years, financial constraints forces her and her husband to return to the parental home. This gives her the opportunity to remember an unconventional upbringing: a flamboyant and charismatic guitar-playing father usually (un)dressed in only his underwear, who, by the way, is a Catholic Priest with a wife and 5 children (how can that be, you may ask?); and a long-suffering over-protective mother. There are some eye-popping childhood experiences like attending an anti-abortion rally at a very young age. Ms. Lockwood also takes this opportunity for reflection, producing a memoir that is often comic but also poignant. And for a published poet, her writing is wonderful such as this description of a church space: “The ceiling is low and the lights flicker fluorescently and emit an insect whine. The whole place smells like where coffee goes to die”. Highly recommended; thanks to Sarah’s friend Elizabeth for this recommendation.