The literary scene was goosed by an Authors Fest that savvily expanded its palette - and its audience - and a renewed interest in books driven by political urgency. Twins were the big thing this year, inspiring NOW's number-one pick and excellent stories by Diana Evans and Charlotte Gill. Here's a list of the books that moved us most.
1 THE GIRLS by Lori Lansens (Random House) I'm still not sure how Lansens got inside the heads of conjoined twin sisters, but in doing so she shows her genius for empathy. Working in diary form from the point of view of both girls, Lansens creates two distinct voices in a brilliantly constructed evocation of the true meaning of compromise. Beautiful, funny and inexplicably ignored by prize juries.
2 INCENDIARY by Chris Cleave (Bond Street/Doubleday) Talk about timely. Cleave's riproaring pageturner, written as a letter to Osama bin Laden from a woman whose son and husband have been killed in a terrorist attack, left the publishing house the day the firebombs struck the London Tube. But even without that news hook, Incendiary is totally riveting.
3 SATURDAY by Ian McEwan (Knopf) By taking us through the events of a single Saturday - medical operations, a car accident, a squash game, a visit to an Alzheimer's patient - McEwan paints a vivid portrait of a possibly past-his-peak surgeon pondering the big life questions. Politically subtle and emotionally involving.
4 WHAT WE ALL LONG FOR by Dionne Brand (Random House) Occasionally, you get the feeling in this story about a group of artists struggling in T.O. , that Brand, the poet, is compromised by having to create characters. So what? What We All Long For contains some of the best writing about Toronto - reflecting all its diversity - ever.
5 MY LIFE SO FAR by Jane Fonda (Random House) This autobiography by the smart but consistently paradoxical Fonda gives delicious details about her marriages to three fascinating men and insights into the creation of her awesome body of film work. You get group sex, radical politics, personal revelation - and the name-dropping begins on page one. Who can resist?
6 BEASTS OF NO NATION by Uzodinma Iweala (HarperCollins) Iweala takes us into the blood-soaked trenches with a African boy soldier in a brutal story about war and exploitation. By inventing language and avoiding nothing about the pain and terror of the experience, he makes every word of this slim novel count.
7 SMOKE by Elizabeth Ruth (Penguin) Ruth brings her literary skills to the next level in this emotionally intense story of a young man disfigured in a house fire and the doctor who attends to him. The title has multiple resonances, referencing the smell still lingering in the house, the book's setting on a tobacco farm and more. Deeply intelligent.
8 ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT by Christopher Dewdney (HarperCollins) Dewdney covers everything from myth to sex workers to stargazing in this supremely original meditation on nighttime phenomena. Rarely will you see a book blend science and poetry so seamlessly. Lovely.
9 NELCOTT IS MY DARLING by Golda Fried (Coach House) In this poetic novel, sharp young talent Fried tracks the experiences of a naive first-year McGill student as she struggles to become an adult and leave her sheltered Toronto upbringing behind. Beautiful to look at, too, and rightly short-listed for this year's Governor General's Award.
10 THE INFORMANT by Gary May (Yale Unviersity) May tracks what went wrong when the FBI hired an informant to investigate the Ku Klux Klan, only to discover that their man was more vicious than his prey. An urgent cautionary tale, and especially important now that American law enforcement is pushing to use informants in the war on terror.
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ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith (Penguin)
Where does a girl go to shed her status as it girl on the UK literary scene? To the U.S., of course. Too bad the novel that emerged from Smith's stint at Harvard is a not very funny parody of American academia and features a male protagonist who can't keep it in his pants when dishy coeds come along. Yawn.
I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS: A NOVEL by Tom Wolfe (HarperCollins)
What is it about the university setting in the U.S. that turns perfectly good writers into hacks? Here's another loser, this time made painful by Wolfe's apparently pathological ignorance of the way women think and behave.
Okay, I don't expect to love every book on the Giller and Governor General's short lists, but both juries went too far by ignoring the knockout novels by Lori Lansens and Dionne Brand. What did they do wrong - live in Toronto?