This was the year of the young writer. They dominate NOW's top-10 list, with Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith leading the pack thanks to their powerful and original writing. Of course, you can never keep the likes of Martin Amis and this year's Booker winner, Margaret Atwood, down. All of which made the new millenium worth all the hype. This was the year of the young writer. They dominate NOW's top-10 list, with Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith leading the pack thanks to their powerful and original writing. Of course, you can never keep the likes of Martin Amis and this year's Booker winner, Margaret Atwood, down. All of which made the new millenium worth all the hype.
1 a heartbreaking work of staggering genius by Dave Eggers (Distican)McSweeney's editor Eggers's amazing personal account puts all the current ego-piggy memoirists to shame. His parents die of cancer within months of each other and at the age of 21 -- when you're supposed to be busting loose -- Eggers, a graphic designer with ambitions in alt-media, becomes his seven-year-old brother's sole source of support. Genius? No. Heartbreaking? Yes. Staggering? Absolutely.
2 white teeth by Zadie Smith (Penguin)Just 24 years old, Smith exploded on the scene with this first novel tracking culture clashes in the new Britain. Two families, one originally from Bangladesh, the other the product of a mixed marriage, deal with issues of immigration and assimilation. Never predictable or narrow, Smith always sees the big picture. The most important emerging writer on the planet.
3 slammerkin by Emma Donoghue (Virago ) This crafty tale of class conflict and desire in 18th-century England is written with jaw-dropping assurance. Mary Saunders is born poor and ambitious in intensely stratified London. A chance sexual encounter leads her into prostitution and then danger, forcing her to flee to a small town where she takes up residency with a dressmaker. Saunders has a bit of Nat Turner in her and some Becky Sharp, too. Fascinating.
4 distant relations: how my ancestors colonized north america by Victoria Freeman (McClelland & Stewart)This is an under-appreciated and original history tracing one family's impact on Canada. Among the intriguing characters: a Puritan fur trader who in the 1630s participated in the genocide against the Pequot; the nine-year-old Elisha Searle, who was held captive by natives in New France; and the author's compassionate grandfather, who was involved with one of the residential schools in Kenora. Very smart.
5 the blind assassin by Margaret Atwood (McClelland & Stewart)Sorry -- I'm not jumping on the post-Booker Atwood-bashing bandwagon. Atwood's story of old Iris, who looks back with clear eyes on her life with a creepy capitalist, gets under your skin. No one writes observational zingers like Atwood. And it's surprisingly sexy.
6 dragons cry by Tessa McWatt (Riverbank)McWatt's second novel shows a deepening of her insight and her ability to weave characters into a story. Two brothers immigrate from Barbados to Toronto. Here they meet the frustrated cellist Faye, who could save either of them if she could only get her shit together. Issues of creativity and infertility figure prominently. One of the best small-press books of the year.7 ORWELL: WINTRY CONSCIENCE OF A GENERATION by Jeffrey Meyers (Norton)Meyers creates a portrait of the essayist and novelist as a pack of contradictions -- Eton-educated class antagonist, anti-authoritarian with a past as a cop -- with the help of newly released personal correspondence. Bet you didn't know 1984 is as much about the BBC as it is about the Soviet Union. Essential.8 midnight robber by Nalo Hopkinson (Warner/HB Fenn) Hopkinson's interplanetary escapade's got everything you'd want from speculative fiction -- a good story, lots of playful language and an omnipotent and mysterious force watching over the proceedings. Plus it's Caribbean-tinged and has queer subtexts. A writer to watch. 9 scar culture BY TONI DAVIDSON (RANDOM HOUSE)Into your shrink? Here's a book guaranteed to make you think twice about going back for your next appointment. Two young victims of childhood abuse fall into the hands of manipulative therapist Curtis Sad. The ending fizzles -- the kids should have burned the bin to the ground. But Davidson is hugely insightful and the first two chapters which trace the traumas that sent the kids into silence are bang on.10 EXPERIENCE: a memoir by Martin Amis (Knopf)This memoir from one of Britain's liveliest minds is loosely structured around the grisly death of his first cousin, but it also pushes all the buttons you'd want Amis to push -- life with dad Kingsley, his own mid-life crisis and the perils of celebrity.
I can live with bad books. It's the disappointing ones that bug me. Here are a few that should have been better.TRANS-SISTER RADIOby Chris Bohjalian (Crown)Bohjalian's take on the transgender experience did not live up to the expectations he created with his previous books, especially Midwives. Empathy isn't enough when it leads to speechifying. ANGRY YOUNG SPACEMANby Jim Munroe (No Media Kings) This story about an earthling who gets recruited to teach English on another planet in the 30th century is a sci-fi novel without the science. And what good's a love interest with eight arms if you never get her into bed?THE POWERBOOKby Jeanette Winterson (Knopf)
This book about a professional e-mail writer who invites her clients to take serious risks rides the wired wave -- and shouldn't. SGC *
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