by Camilla Gibb

Judged by its title alone, you might take Camilla Gibb’s memoir to be a Pollyannaish portrait of a successful author in mid-career. And with four well-received novels (including The Beauty of Humanity Movement and Sweetness in the Belly), a professorship at U of T, and a young daughter, Gibb would seem, outwardly at least, to have much to be happy about. Yet undermining the title’s seeming declarativeness is a conspicuous use of lower-case type and lack of punctuation on the cover—it is not This is Happy? or, This! Is! Happy!—which, combined, suggest that Gibb’s happiness, while nominally achieved, is mitigated by something. Read more…

by Sheila Watt-Cloutier

Growing up in the Arctic town of Kuujjuaq, Sheila Watt-Cloutier describes herself as a “a cautious child who didn’t like taking big risks.” That characterization may seem surprising coming from an Inuit woman who has arguably done more than anyone to raise awareness of how environmental pollutants and climate change have affected circumpolar peoples. Read more…

by Lynn Thomson

While the hockey mom has carved out a place in the culture as a tireless, minivan-driving enabler of youthful aspirations, the birding mom remains—to borrow from field parlance—an “accidental.” As a pioneer in the role (and no-brainer subject for a future Portlandia sketch), Lynn Thomson traded up frozen arenas for sodden marshlands, lung-shredding screams of encouragement for hours of monastic silence. Instead of playoffs, her season revolved around migratory patterns; success wasn’t a pennant, but a sighting of the elusive prothonotary warbler. Read more…

A Father and Son’s Adventures with Asperger’s, Trains, Tractors and High Explosives
by John Elder Robison

The maxim “it takes one to know one” doesn’t always apply to those with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism that entered the DSM in 1994 only to be unceremoniously given the boot from the latest edition, due out this year (Asperger’s is to be rolled into Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD). John Elder Robison discovered he had Asperger’s when he was 39, yet failed to recognize the symptoms in his young son Jack, aka “Cubby,” who wouldn’t get diagnosed for another fourteen years. By then, Cubby was 18 and about to go on trial in Massachusetts for serious charges related to the possession of explosives. Read more…

by Jeanette Winterson

In the Guardian recently, novelist Graham Joyce accused Jeanette Winterson of elitism after she criticized the novels on this year’s Booker shortlist for not being difficult enough. It wasn’t the first time Winterson has been charged with intellectual arrogance. Following the success of her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, in 1985, Winterson’s outrageous claims that she was both the greatest living writer and that the only true heir to Virginia Woolf put off readers and writers alike. Read more…

by Rosanne Cash

For my entire life I have been trying to give voice to the rhythms and words that underscore, propel, and inform me. Because my peripheral vision is 200 times more acute than my direct powers of observation, and my love of an A-minor chord is more charged and refined than my understanding of my own psyche, I have often attempted to explain my experiences to myself through songs: by writing them, singing them, listening to them, deconstructing them, and letting them fill me like food and water. Read more…

by Joel Yanofsky

I’m convinced that everyone who has an autistic child – myself included – assumes that he or she will write a book about the experience some day. Writing, of course, offers the promise of catharsis, and autism, or autism spectrum disorders (ASD), means an endless supply of rich anecdotal material running the gamut from high comedy to dark-night-of-the-soul frustration. Read more…

by Zsuzsi Gartner

Swift famously described satire as: “a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.” Zsuzsi Gartner has been touted as a satirical writer, and to the degree that her latest collection of short stories—a follow-up to 1999’s All the Anxious Girls on Earth—heaps scorn on a wide range of targets, the definition fits. Schadenfreude, self-righteousness, wanton materialism, hypocrisy: Gartner’s characters’ vices are many. The problem is that these characters are so extreme, their narratives so consistently and deeply unreliable, that most readers will be hard pressed to see anyone—let alone themselves—in them. Read more…

How My Second Childhood Changed My Life
by Rupinder Gill

Rupinder Gill’s parents left India for a small, “whiter than snow” Ontario city in search of that well-worn cliché: a brighter future for their children. For the first 17 years of Gill’s life, however, most of that brightness came from the television screen in her basement.

The Gills were strict and overprotective of their four daughters, who when they weren’t babysitting their baby brother were expected to be cleaning house. And when it came to personal freedom—whether it was socializing with friends outside of school, sleepovers (which her parents visualized “as Roman orgies where the sleeping bags were filled with fluffy mounds of cocaine”), dating, lessons of any kind, vacations, or going on school trips—Gill’s parents raised the word “no” to the level of a mantra. Read more…

A Memoir
by Annie Proulx

It’s probably safe to say that anyone who ever set out to build their “dream home” found that it was a dream they quickly woke up from. It’s certainly the case for writer Annie Proulx, who in 2003 at the age of 68, attempted to put an end to her peripatetic ways by building on a 640-acre property she’d bought in the Wyoming wetlands. Bird Cloud, titled after the name Proulx gave the property, chronicles her attempt to build the home where she would “end her days.” It’s also a fascinating historical, geological and political look at a part of the world that has inspired dreamers of all kinds. Read more…

by Julian Barnes

“I don’t believe in God but I miss him,” is Julian Barnes’s contradictory and uncharacteristically twee opener in this wide-ranging essay on death, religion, and family. When he asks his brother Jonathan, a professor of ancient philosophy living in France, what he thinks of this statement, his reaction is unequivocal: “Soppy.” Read more…

A Book of Murder and Memory
by Linda Spalding

Linda Spalding’s new book is a genre-bending examination of her relationship with convict Maryann Acker, whose role in two murders rocked Hawaii in the late 1970s. What makes the story remarkable is that Spalding herself – who, along with longtime partner Michael Ondaatje, is an editor of the literary journal Brick and the author of multiple books – served on the jury that ultimately convicted Maryann of murder and sent her to jail, where she has languished from 1982 to the present. Read more…

Growing Up Irish in the Television Age
by John Doyle

Familiar to many Canadians as The Globe and Mail’s television critic, John Doyle has written a book that is partly a memoir of his coming of age in the Ireland of the 1960s and ’70s and partly an analysis of the effect of television on what was by all accounts a repressed, insular society almost completely under the sway of the Catholic Church. It is an intriguing premise, and a refreshing change from the usual cultural critiques that equate television with the demise of literacy and the dumbing down of society. Read more…

Playing House
by Patricia Pearson

Positioning its protagonist somewhere between the worlds of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones and Allison Pearson’s Kate Reddy, Playing House falls effortlessly into the recent boom in narratives that explore the lives of thirtysomething females pursuing sexy careers while keeping paranoid tabs on their biological time clocks. Read more…

Trout Fishing and the Meaning of Life
by Mark Kingwell

Those familiar with University of Toronto philosopher, critic, and media-wunderkind Mark Kingwell’s work may find the subject of his latest book, trout fishing, somewhat unlikely. Or not. Catch & Release is ostensibly a memoir dealing with Kingwell’s reluctant embrace of the joys of fly-fishing following a weekend excursion with his aging father and two brothers. But like his other books, the subject matter proves to be primarily a device for Kingwell to ruminate on a variety of wide-ranging topics. Read more…