2017-09-27 06:30:00

18 must-read books for fall 2017

Autumn releases are the ones publishers are hoping can cop some love from the prize juries. Here are the titles to keep an eye on this season

1. BROTHER by David Chariandy (McClelland & Stewart)

Long-listed for the Giller Prize, Chariandy’s novel is propelled by hip-hop beats, unfolding in 1991 Scarborough. Brothers Francis and Michael try to cope now that their father has left and their mother works two jobs. Discrimination at the hands of teachers, police and shopkeepers – who are certain the boys are nothing but trouble – makes it hard. Still, Francis dreams of becoming a hip-hop artist and Michael has already identified the girl of his dreams. Then life gets in the way. On sale now. See feature.


Yaffe has written the essential biography of Joni Mitchell, creating a vivid portrait via interviews with just about everyone she played with and loved, and most importantly, candid conversations with Mitchell herself. He also analyzes her songs and music in very useful ways, making sense of those mysterious open tunings and layered chords. She emerges as an extremely complicated person: bitter, grateful, egotistical, vulnerable. Any other aspiring Mitchell biographer can forget about it. The work is done. On sale October 10. Yaffe reads from Reckless Daughter at Hugh’s Room on October 12. See listing.

3. BELLEVUE SQUARE by Michael Redhill (Penguin/Random House)

It didn’t take long for poet and novelist Redhill to get noticed. His first long fiction, Martin Sloane, was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and his second novel, Consolation, was the 2007 winner of the Toronto Book Award. His latest, long-listed for the Giller Prize is a quasi ghost story, with lots of mystery and a doppelgänger. But what makes Redhill so readable is the way he treats Toronto, his favourite setting. The title refers to the square in Kensington Market. On sale now.


Coates, whose Between The World And Me, was a sensation, is back with a collection of 16 essays – eight previously published, including his iconic Fear Of A Black President, originally published in The Atlantic, and eight new ones – analyzing how two terms of Black presidential power gave way to what he calls the “first white president.” Like BTWAM, his perspective is personal, but the works, especially his trenchant assessment of the 2016 election, has meaning for all. On sale October 3.

5. LOST IN SEPTEMBER by Kathleen Winter­ (Knopf)

This is Winter’s first novel since Annabel, her transgender-themed tale that was shortlisted for all of the Giller, Writers Trust and Governor General’s awards six years ago. Since then she published the exquisite non-fiction Boundless, a political and eco-powerhouse about her journey through the Northwest Passage. In Lost In September, she combines her preoccupation with both history and cutting edge contemporary issues by reimagining General James Wolfe (of the 18th-century Battle of the Plains of Abraham) through the character of a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. On sale now.


As Canada reels from the spate of teen suicides in Indigenous communities, Toronto Star writer Talaga delves into the deaths of seven First Nations high schoolers. The common thread? All of them died in Thunder Bay while they were away from home at school. The book sheds light on their lives and the racism – both institutional and otherwise – that contributed to their personal pain. Seven Fallen feathers has just been shortlisted for this year's Hilary Weston Writers Trust Prize for Nonfiction. On sale September 30. Talaga appears at the Toronto Reference Library on October 26.

7. LOGICAL FAMILY: A MEMOIR by Armistead­ Maupin (HarperCollins)

There’s big buzz for this memoir from the author of Tales Of The City series and one of America’s most important queer writers. Maupin writes openly about the negative influences of having been raised in the south by a deeply racist family, his stint in Vietnam and the major turnaround in his values that occurred once he moved to San Francisco. Not only did he finally come out there, he found his literary voice and wrote the newspaper articles that became the basis for Tales. The prose, as usual, is pristine and the tone warmly welcoming. On sale October 3.

8. IF CLARA by Martha Baillie (Coach House)

Baillie’s latest is about a writer confined to her home who receives a parcel with a manuscript of a novel and is asked to pose as a Syrian author. Add Baillie’s ability to get deep inside the head of her characters and the fact that If Clara is lovingly set in Toronto and you’ve got the recipe for a winner. On sale now. Baillie appears as part of Coach House Fall Launch at Buddies In Bad Times on October 5. See listing.

9. BOOKSHOPS: A READER’S HISTORY by Jorge Carrion, translated by Peter Bush (Biblioasis)

At a time when bookstores are under deep threat, Carrion heads to Latin America, Europe and the United States to visit surviving shops and to uncover the stories of others that are long gone. His mission is to give the history and context for each, with an accent on the impact of these cultural entities on revolution and on literature itself. It’s a nod to the past and a warning of what will be missed if bookstores are lost forever. On sale October 17.

10. SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS GONE by Gurjinder­ Basran (Viking)

In this family saga, Simra digs deep into the past to find out what had always haunted the mother she’s grieving. But she has her own problems, as she struggles with a foundering relationships with her sister and daughter. Spanning generations – and a series of life-changing migrations – Basran writes vividly about loss and how desperately families want to forget. On sale now.

11. THE GOOD TIMES ARE KILLING ME by Lynda Barry (Drawn & Quarterly)

This is a welcome re-release of cartoon visionary Barry’s account of her experience as a white kid growing conscious of anti-Black racism in late 60s urban Seattle. The white population is rapidly fleeing to the suburbs as Blacks move in, and Edna’s new friendship with her Black friend Bonna is being constantly tested – especially when they head into middle school. On sale October 10.

12. STRANGERS WITH THE SAME DREAM by Alison Pick (Knopf)

Pick’s Jewish-themed novel Far To Go was a tour de force, a story about a Czech Jewish family unable to face the fact that the Nazis are on the rise. This time, she goes deep into the tale of Jews hoping to find a new life in Palestine in 1921. Soon, their idealistic dreams collide with their own weaknesses and the political realities of the place where they hope to be pioneers. On sale now.


Forkert mines her expertise in the area of the hazards of toxic waste – and her own long-time activism – to give an account of how a ragtag group of protesters, including farmers, Indigenous people and other residents, fought the world’s largest waste disposal company. Waste Management wanted to expand their site in the area near Napanee and the activists struggled for decades to stop them. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight. On sale now.

14. THE GOLDEN HOUSE by Salman ­Rushdie (Knopf)

Rushdie is at the peak of his powers in this story of a corruptible filmmaker fascinated by the secretive – and very wealthy family – that’s just moved in to his exclusive enclave. Riffing on pop culture and capitalism while commenting on transgender issues and New York’s art scene along the way, Rushdie proves himself a skilled satirist. POTUS is an ongoing target. On sale now. See review.


Maracle, never one to hold back, is an unblinking observer of First Nations experience and seizes the moment – specifically the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday – to release this collection of essays. Each one is inspired by a specific question she’s been asked about Indigenous life and other issues: labour discrimination, being a woman and her attitude towards her Canadian citizenship. A unique voice worth heeding. On sale October 1.

16. PASSAGE by Khary Lazarre-White (Seven Stories)

Mysticism and madness combine in this story from writer and activist Lazarre-White. Set in Harlem and Brooklyn in 1993, it follows a young Black man named Warrior through his encounters with institutional discrimination and racism in the streets. Never mind its 90s setting – this meditation on rage, death and love is powerfully relevant. On sale September 26.

17. THE GHOST ORCHARD by Helen Humphreys (HarperCollins)

Here’s a book all about the humble apple. Doesn’t sound like the world’s most scintillating literary prospect, but Humphreys can create magic out of just about anything. Here, inspired by the discovery near her home of what’s called the best tasting apple in the world, she sets out to give the history of what was once called forbidden fruit. She discovers everything from the importance of the apple to the poet Robert Frost to the theft of Indigenous orchards in a meditation on human relationships, settlement and agriculture.


McKeon, the former editor of This Magazine, is properly mystified by the current hostility to feminism. She deals with the vitriol from all the usual suspects – men’s rights groups, anti-abortion activists – as well as what’s behind the attitudes of those women promoting anti-feminist orgs, and she also explores the debates within feminism about inclusiveness, intersectionality and transgender rights. It’s an ambitious agenda – and space prevents McKeon from giving some of the issues the attention they deserve – but she’s definitely launching an important conversation. On sale now.

susanc@nowtoronto.com | @susangcole

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