Arts & Culture

Jasmine Revolution, 1980s New York, David Johnston — Summer reading is underway

It’s almost the start of summer. Here, Hattie Klotz looks at Canadian books that will be must-reads during the season:

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Darling Days by iO Tillett Wright (HarperCollins)

iO Tillett Wright has written a shockingly honest memoir about his childhood growing up amid the chaos of downtown New York in the 1980s and dealing with gender identity, belonging, drugs, art, and poverty. In that last regard, he pulls no punches when it comes to describing poverty and the hair-raising experience of growing up in a girl’s body when you’re gender-queer.

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Escape to Havana: A Foreign Affairs Mystery by Nick Wilkshire (Dundurn Press)

Escape to Havana is the first in a series of whodunits by Ottawa resident and Department of Justice lawyer Nick Wilkshire. An escapade involving the steamier side of life on a tropical island — drugs, murder, love, and plenty of cocktails — is told from the perspective of a naive Canadian diplomat. If you thought diplomacy was all play and no work, this book will confirm those opinions. It’s not the image Foreign Affairs aspires to perpetuate, but it’s plenty of lightweight fun.

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Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh (House of Anansi)

This story of a mother’s and her daughter’s experiences in Tunisia, 25 years apart, offers a revealing look into the Jasmine Revolution of 2010, which is considered the catalyst for the Arab Spring. It also offers a glimpse at revolution through the eyes of two female protagonists. The author fought tirelessly for the release of her husband, Maher Arar, who was illegally deported to Syria in 2002 by U.S. authorities, where he was held for nearly a year. Monia Mazigh’s book is a fictional reflection on how ordinary people can be moved to extraordinary behaviour when they are motivated by solidarity and pushed beyond the limits of fair play. It also offers an authentic taste of life in Tunisia, evocatively capturing its sights, smells, and sounds.

Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds (ECW Press)

This book is a gorgeous meditation on the past, present, and future of books. Kingston writer Merilyn Simonds writes about the process of publishing a book simultaneously using a handset letterpress and in digital format. The challenges and contrasts are striking, but Simonds reconciles them in ways that make claims of the death of books seem entirely premature. She revels in the history of printing, the marvels of technology; she compares and contrasts; she gets to the very heart of the creative process. “I suffer the anxiety of a culture in flux,” she writes. And that’s the truth of it for any book lover. But then, in another flash of revelation, she declares: “Why is it that we assume that each new thing condemns what went before as obsolete? We know that’s not true. We can read a book, stream a Netflix movie, then listen to the radio as we drive to the opera, reading a précis of the narrative on our iPad as we wait for the performance to begin. We can have it all.” Amen.

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Hostage to History by Elie Mikhael Nasrallah (Friesenpress)

This book is the perfect primer for any reader wishing to understand the obstacles that stand in the way of progress in the Arab world. Written by Ottawa resident Elie Mikhael Nasrallah, himself born to Arab parents in Lebanon, Hostage to History criticizes Arab culture and its intersection with religion and the Western world. Nasrallah’s wide-ranging sources paint a bleak picture for any progress — from a traditional Western perspective. This is a simple, clear, and very illuminating read, even if the message of Hostage to History is not terribly hopeful.

Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier and Happier by David Johnston & Tom Jenkins (McClelland & Stewart)

David Johnston, the Governor General, is at it again — writing books, that is. His sesquicentennial offering, co-authored with Tom Jenkins, is his second book within a year. Where does he find the time?

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

Mesmerized from the first page, I loved this magical fairy tale for adults, which follows the lives of two orphans in Montreal during the Great Depression. Montreal writer Heather O’Neill, whose first book, Lullabies for Little Criminals, won Canada Reads and was nominated for a shopping list of literary prizes, confirms her talent for combining whimsy and wit with The Lonely Hearts Hotel. Her characters leave readers at once inspired and desperately sad.

Psychomachia by Sanita Fejzic (Quattro Books)

A Carleton University grad student, Fejzic has published a novella set in Ottawa and environs. It tells a tale of harassment and profound grief and how this emotion can turn a responsible, sane woman into a violent monster.

Three Little Piggy Banks by Pamela George (DC Canada)

This short book, written by a financial adviser, seeks to explain to children and parents the basics of financial responsibility. Illustrated by Ottawa musician Meredith Luce,  the book shows what can be put into action for as little as three dollars a week.