17 Books to Read in 2017

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Amber Dawn

In Anne of Green Gables—that beloved Prince Edward Island saga—Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, “Tomorrow is always fresh with no mistakes in it.” Well, Lucy Maud Montgomery wasn’t around for 2016. The tomorrows (and yesterdays and todays, hours and even minutes) of 2016 were not only marked by mistakes, but by catastrophic anguish and an alarming amount of apathy. I won’t even mention the mistakes of 2016 in this blog post for fear of giving them more power. If there is power in naming, then I want to give that power to 17 forthcoming books that will surely help remember what bright and remarkable beings we are, and to move forward knowing that possibility always exits. Books do this for us, right? (The answer is damn right.) I name these 17 Books to Read in 2017. 


1. Son of a Trickster, Eden Robinson (Knopf Canada) 

Last November, Eden Robinson contributions to Canadian literature were honoured with the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Award. Her now iconic novel Monkey Beach (2000) was followed by the gritty Blood Sports (2006) set in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Robinson fans, like me, have been savouring these two Indigenous, speculative narratives while anticipating her next novel. The wait is over! Son of a Trickster, available February, is the first of three in Robinson’s trickster trilogy. Expect Robinson’s hallmark blend of humour and heartache. 

2. Rough Patch, Nicole Markotic (Arsenal Pulp Press) 

When a book is described as “A YA novel about Keira, a figure skater just entering high school who’s intrigued about kissing both boys and girls” I am sold. The literary world absolutely needs more dynamic, bisexual stories. I know Markotic best as a poet—a poet with an extraordinary and distinctive relationship with language. I look forward to seeing how her poetic talents have imagined the YA genre. 

3. Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall, Suzette Mayr (Coach House Books) 

After her gripping last novel about bullying and suicide, Monoceros (2011), I will forever be a Mayr reader.  Since her new novel was announced on Coach House Books forthcoming list, I’ve been eagerly googling to find out what to expect. So far, I’ve gathered that the book is about a tumultuous lesbian relationship, a mysteriously missing best friend, and a swarm of competitive and backstabbing professors at a high-ranking university. Coach House Books’ catalogue calls the novel as “an unholy collision of … The Haunting of Hill House … and Alice in Wonderland.” 

4. This Accident of Being Lost, Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (House of Anansi) 

Recently, at a literary reading, a colleague told me she had never heard of Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, to which I replied, “if you’re not reading Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, you're doing yourself a disservice.” Was I being melodramatic? Definitely not. Why not make 2017 the year to read this award-winning Nishnaabeg storyteller’s entire body of work? I suggest starting with her debut short story collection Islands of Decolonial Love (2013) and thoughtfully concluding with This Accident of Being Lost, available in April, which promises to be a knife-sharp new collection of stories and songs.


5. Voodoo Hypothesis, Canisia Lubrin (Wolsak & Wynn)

The title poem of Voodoo Hypothesis opens,Before sight, we imagine/ that while they go out in search/ of god/ we stay in and become god/ become: Curiosity …” That juxtaposition of “becom[ing] god” and capital C “Curiosity” deeply resonates, it reminds us of what poetry can and should be. Toronto author Canisia Lubrin understands the vastness of poetry, and shares it with us in her debut poetry collection.

6. Common Place, Sarah Pinder (Coach House Books)

I suppose this post is as good of a place as any to admit I have a crush on Sarah Pinder. I saw Pinder read once (and only once) from Cutting Room—a debut poetry collection that Shameless Magazine said “had teeth.” Shameless is right. A few minutes in to the reading, I understood there was something sharp, something precisely cutting and pointedly alluring about her poetry. Pinder’s poetry guts our uncomfortable, complex world. Cutting Room is an apt title, indeed. Her second book’s title is Common Place—which again seems to be an apt title for a forthcoming collection that’s described as “poems navigate domestic and ‘natural’ spaces as landscapes charged with possible violence and desire.”   

7. a place called No Homeland, Kai Cheng Thom (Arsenal Pulp Press)

Kai Cheng Thom’s debut poetry collection will arrive on the heels of her first book, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir (Metonymy Press, 2016). Both prose and poetry probe themes of race, trans feminism, transformation and place-making—which make these back-to-back books compelling to read in close succession. Prior to publishing, Thom spent years of illuminating spoken word stages, including prestigious residencies at ARISE at Buddies and Bad Times Theatre and the Banff Centre for the Arts Spoken Word Program. You can almost hear her well-honed lingual talents when reading her poetry on the page. 

8. Admission Requirements, Phoebe Wang (McClelland & Stewart)

Often reading poetry in Canadian literary magazines is like following a trail of breadcrumbs. This is very much the case with Phoebe Wang. I first read Wang in Ricepaper’s Migrations Issue in 2013, and was struck by her poem’s ability to show landscape in an entirely non-precious and utterly unique rendering. Soon after, another poem (another breadcrumb) appeared in The Malahat Review. Then NewPoetry.ca. Then PRISM International. And so on. After reading and being wonderfully gobsmacked by a handful of Wang’s poems, I did what any keen reader might do—I poured over websites (alittleprint.com) and followed her on twitter. The breadcrumbs recently led me to a much-anticipated book. Admission Requirements, Wang’s debut poetry collection, will launch this spring. 

9. An Honest Woman, Jónína Kirton (Talonbooks)

Last October, Jónína Kirton was presented with the 2016 Literary Arts Award for Emerging Artist at the Vancouver Major’s Arts Awards. Kirton is truly a well-loved poet in Vancouver, with contributions to West Coast magazines and anthologies including Ricepaper’s Asian/Aboriginal Issue and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Her debut collection, page as bone (Talonbooks, 2015) was widely and glowingly reviewed across Canada. Her sophomore collection is sure to endear and engage an even wider audience. Talonbooks describes An Honest Woman as “candid views on sex, love, and marriage from the perspective of a mixed-race woman whose parents lived through the turbulent fifties and sixties.”


10. Gentlemen of the Shade: My Own Private Idaho, Jen Sookfong Lee (ECW Press)

You know those “if you could” icebreaker games? As in, if you could have an endless supply of a certain food, what food would your choose? For me, the newest forthcoming title on ECW Press’ Pop Classics Series feels like the result of one of those fantastic icebreaker games. If one of your all-time favourite authors could write about one of your all-time favourite movies …? Jen Sookfong Lee is known for her keen understanding of media and pop culture, and also for her ability to critically overturn it. With Gentlemen of the Shade, I foresee incisive thoughts on the legendary director Gus Van Sant’s now cult classic film My Own Private Idaho, in conjunction with inquiries into gender roles, queer and male intimacy and pushing back against the dominant narrative. 

11. Deep Salt Water, Marianne Apostolides (Book Thug)

Since August 2016, monthly exclusive excerpts from Deep Salt Water have appeared on Room’s website. Room readers have responded enthusiastically to this thought-provoking interdisciplinary collaboration between author Marianne Apostolides, collage artist Catherine Mellinger, photographer Melanie Gordon, and composer Paul Swoger-Ruston. Whether you are one of such readers, or if this is new news to you, I strongly point you towards Apostolides’ complete, book-length memoir about loss and love, unwanted pregnancy and abortion. Launching this March, Deep Salt Water will include eight full colour plates of mixed media collage by Catherine Mellinger.

12. Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me, Stacey May Fowles (McClelland & Stewart)

It is difficult to wrap my head around the idea that Stacey May Fowles has become an award-winning baseball blogger. I know Fowles best through the groundbreaking anthologies like Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender and Conformity, and as the previous publisher of Shameless Magazine, posting quintessential bad-ass feminist articles like “I Have the Entire Christian Right Community In My Vagina” during her tenure. Perhaps my dubiety is because I’m the kind of bad-ass feminist who considers sports stadiums to be the most frightening places on earth. Comparatively, Fowles asks “What is it about a man hitting a small white ball with a slim wooden bat out of a park that’s so beautiful?” The question alone—from the pen of one of Canada’s foremost feminist cultural purveyors —intrigues me. For Fowles, I will face my fear of team sports and explore her unabashed enthusiasm for the game. 

13. The Science of Orphan Black: The Official Companion, Casey Griffin and Nina Nesseth, with Graeme Mason and Cosima Herter (ECW Press) 

Casey Griffin is a graduate student pursuing her PhD in developmental and stem-cell biology at the University of Southern California. Nina Nesseth is a staff scientist at Science North in Sudbury, Ontario. Judging from their bylines, Griffin or Nesseth aren’t the type of authors found on my bookshelf. But where do brainy scientists and dreamy artists overlap? Science Fiction! In April 2016, Griffin and Nesseth became The Mary Sue contributors with their well-loved Orphan Black Science Recap posts, which accessibly breaks down the science of the Emmy-winning Canadian feminist science fiction TV series Orphan Black. Following their online popularly, Griffin and Nesseth will gift geek girls everywhere with their upcoming official companion book.   

14. Where It Hurts, Sarah de Leeuw (NeWest Press) 

Sarah de Leeuw is a triple threat. More accurately, her highly accomplished and incredibly varied body of work reveals that she’s an octuple or nonuple threat, but triple threat sounds better. For the last decade, de Leeuw has written poetry, literary nonfiction and scholarly books—mainly with a focus on Indigenous and social justice issues in Western Canada. In Where It Hurts, a collection of personal essays, de Leeuw explores the profound responsibility of bearing witness and grieving missing geographies and people, including missing women. 

15. The Winona LaDuke Chronicles: Stories from the Front Lines in Battle for Environmental Justice, Winona LaDuke (Fernwood Publishing) 

In 2016, Winona LaDuke was the first Indigenous woman to receive an electoral vote for Vice President of the United States. She is the executive director of Honor the Earth, one of the forefront organizers in the current Dakota Accesses Pipeline protests. She is the author of six books (all USA titles), including All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life (1999), and she’s been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame (also USA). I was surprised to find this champion of Indigenous and environmental activism’s next book being published by an indie Halifax-based house. Though, Fernwood has garnered a strong reputation of being a leading critical-thinking and social justice-minded publisher.  Their forthcoming catalogue describes The Chronicles as “a collection of current, pressing and inspirational stories of Indigenous communities from the Canadian subarctic to the heart of Dine Bii Kaya, Navajo Nation.” With chapter titles like “Enbridge Plays Unfunny Game with Oil Pipeline” and “Treaties in the New Millennium” I feel this would be a valuable book to read in a book group and/or to foster intentional discussions with friends and colleagues.  


16. Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal, Kiera L. Ladner & Myra Tait, editors (ARP Books)

My 2017 anthology recommendation is Surviving Canada. Co-editors Kiera L. Ladner and Myra Tait are faculty partners at Mamawipawin—a community research space on Indigenous teachings that respects Indigenous protocols and ceremonies—housed at University of Manitoba. While I’ve only visited U of M once, Ladner and Tait’s change-making leadership is well known to me. Their forthcoming anthology, available in May, will be a collection of essays, visual art, and literature that examine the struggles of Indigenous Peoples, as well as celebrate Indigenous culture and creativity. Contributors include Mary Eberts, Leroy Little Bear and Buffy Sainte-Marie. Repeat: Buffy Sainte-Marie! 


17. Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me, Lorina Mapa (Conundrum Press)

2017 wouldn’t be much of a literary year to look forward to without an eye-popping, heart-wrenching graphic memoir. Drawn and written by Montreal-based artist Lorina Mapa, Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me explores growing up in the Philippines in the 1980s with Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and the EDSA Revolution. Conundrum Press calls it “a love letter to her parents, family, friends, country of birth, and … perhaps even to [Mapa] herself.” 

Amber Dawn is a writer living on unceded territory of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations (Vancouver, Canada). Her memoir How Poetry Saved My Life: A Hustler’s Memoir won the 2013 Vancouver Book Award. She is the author of the Lambda Award-winning novel Sub Rosa, and editor of the anthologies Fist of the Spider Women: Fear and Queer Desire and With A Rough Tongue. Her newest book Where the words and my body begins is a collection of glosa form poems. She currently teaches creative writing at Douglas College and the University of British Columbia, as well as mentors at several community-driven art and healing spaces.

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