Favourite Reads of 2017

Sunday 7 January 2018

In no particular order, here are the books that floored me, caused me to take pause, or entertained me in 2017. They are books that I dog-earred, wrote in the margins of (unless they were library books, obviously), and, in many cases, reviewed either here or elsewhere. I recommend each of them without hesitation.

Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear
Doubleday Canada
"Books have given me great stores of happiness, but if I am honest with myself I can see they have also taken something away. I glimpsed the real world between paragraphs of novels. I traced words when I might have touched the ground.”

The first books you read at the beginning of the year risk being forgotten by the time "best of" lists roll around in December and January. That wasn't the case for Birds Art Life by Kyo Maclear, one of the first books I read in 2017, that remained one of my favourites. Seeing Maclear read from it at the Hamilton Public Library during gritLIT Festival weekend was a literary highlight of 2017.

To read my review of Birds Art Life, click here. Here's a snippet of it:
"Birds Art Life takes readers to city parks, harbours, and trails as Maclear seeks joy and solace through birding following a period in which her father's failing health consumes her. Though it is deeply appreciative of our feathery friends, Birds Art Life is hardly a manual for want-to-be birders. Rather, it's a contemplative journey exploring the ways in which the natural world can shape or influence our lives and art, yet at the same time, allowing us to escape them."

Brother by David Chariandy
McClelland & Stewart
"Memory's got nothing to do with the old and grey and faraway gone. Memory's the muscle sting of now. A kid reaching brave in the skull hum of power."

David Chariandy's Brother — a coming-of-age story that takes place in The Park, "a cluster of town houses and leaning concrete towers in the disparaged outskirts of a sprawling city" — should have won the Giller Prize, or at least, found itself on the shortlist. Small, at only 180 pages, it packs so much emotional force and each sentence is intentional and perfect. If there's one book from 2017 that I've been telling people they have to read, it's Brother.

All Is Beauty Now by Sarah Faber
McClelland & Stewart
"Still, his memories live in these streets — all those nights of dancing and drinking and swarming with joy — and the degradation brought with it a kind of decadence and seediness he has sometimes sought."

Sarah Faber's All Is Beauty Now is a stunning debut novel from an author I can't wait to read more from. With lyrical prose and complex characters, Faber has the ability to whisk readers away to the beaches of 1960s Rio de Janeiro, where the Maurer family is engulfed in tragedy after Luisa, the eldest daughter/sister, walks into the waters of off a crowded beach and is presumed drowned.

This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
House of Anansi
"I watch his back as he disappears and I wonder about the kind of love that exists before you really know someone. The kind that seems so pure but never lasts. The kind that is light, unencumbered by damage and issues and talking. Just I love you as you are right now in this breaking moment."

Quotes like the one above from This Accident of Being Lost by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson stunned me. I was lucky enough to review this one for THIS Magazine:
"Unique in its fragmented and casual, yet lyrical and elegant language, This Accident of Being Lost introduces readers to memorable and resilient characters, most grappling with uncertainty. From boreal forests to the Great Lakes, and from urban centres to rural communities, This Accident of Being Lost forces readers to look at Canada differently."

The Abominable Mr. Seabrook by Joe Ollmann
Drawn & Quarterly
Like most people, I had never heard of William Buehler Seabrook — the journalist and bestselling travel writer who "was willing to go deeper than any outsider had before" — until I read Joe Ollmann's graphic novel, The Abominable Mr. Seabrook. Advertised as "the daring and destructive life of the man who popularized the word "Zombie," The Abominable Mr. Seabrook is much more than that. To read about The Abominable Mr. Seabrook, read the glowing review in The Guardian.

The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy by Julia Cooper
Coach House Books
"The eulogy is a particularly vexed art form, partly because it's a necessity, and partly because at its very heart it is an amateur's art."

I love each book I've read in Coach House's Exploded Views series; however, Julia Cooper's The Last Word: Reviving the Dying Art of Eulogy is my favourite so far. Exploring public mourning in the age of social media and celebrity culture, it's a tiny glimpse into grief in the modern age. As someone who is guilty of offering "bite-sized condolences" and "micro-eulogies" for favourite celebrities on social media, I was instantly intrigued from the first page.

Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant
Harper Trophy
In Quill and Quire, I called Short for Chameleon by Vicki Grant a near-perfect book, and I stand by that. I have no doubt it is highly entertaining for children, but it's also a great example of a YA book that will be enjoyable for adults as well.

From Quill and Quire:
"Short for Chameleon is a near perfect book. It bursts with a unique voice and a delightfully surprising plot. This is a novel with incredible heart, telling the story of a boy who can “fade into the background with the rest of them,” but who slowly begins to create his own identity."

The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline
Dancing Cat Books
"Snow fell in a light dusting now. It looked like glitter scraped from the underside of clouds by the scrubby top branches of the pines. The skeletons of the green trees curved under the elegant weight of the snow, bowing and twisting like ribbons in the wind."

When I reviewed The Marrow Thieves by Cheri Dimaline for Quill and Quire, I knew it was something special; however, I didn't know that it would quickly become one of the most talked about books of the year.

From my Quill and Quire review:
"Dimaline thrusts readers into the complex lives of rich and nuanced characters forced to navigate a world that too closely resembles our own. At first glance, the book appears to be dystopian fiction swarming with adventure and danger; however, readers with an interest in social justice and a grasp on colonial history will extract much deeper meaning. The book is, above all, a cautionary tale, revealing an exaggerated version of what could happen to Earth in the not-so-distant future. It is a timely and necessary read referencing pipelines, melting northern territories, rising water levels, and the consequences of government policies that don’t protect the environment. Powerful and endlessly smart, it’s a crucial work of fiction for people of all ages."

Read. This. Book! It's so important, but also endlessly entertaining.

Honourable Mention
Here are the books that I loved this year that were not published in 2017:
  • The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides (1993)
  • Northern Light: The Enduring Mystery of Tom Thomson and the Woman who Loved Him by Roy MacGregor (2010)
  • In My Humble Opinion: My So-Called Life by Soraya Roberts (2016)
  • The Killer Whale Who Changed the World by Mark Leiren-Young (2016)
  • You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (2016)


  1. We definitely have a few favourites in common (Brother, The Marrow Thieves, Birds Art Life, and This Accident of Being Lost) - such good books. Glad to hear you've had an awesome reading year. (I was contemplating that Eugenides a few months ago and am pleased to see it included here; I was wondering whether it would have remained as powerful as it seemed to be on publication. Maybe I'll get to it in 2018 after all!)

    1. Sounds like you had a great reading year too! I was definitely wondering the same thing about the Virgin Suicides, but I really felt it held up, especially in the wake of Me Too and similar movements (in the way it really speaks to how girls are sexualized from a young age). Definitely recommend it! Happy reading!


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