BookNet Canada staff picks: Our favourite books of 2017

Is it even possible to get through December without creating a "best of" list? Not for us. Here are the books the BookNet Canada staff read and loved in 2017. You can also find them all in this handy CataList catalogue.

Lauren, Conventions & Operations Manager

Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez 🇨🇦

Scarborough is an endlessly heart-wrenching story of a community struggling with the oppressive weight of poverty. This is not the Scarborough of mansions glimmering from the lakeside bluffs; Hernandez's Scarborough depicts the hidden majority all too unfamiliar in a large city, struggling to find secure housing, dealing with racialized aggression from law enforcement, and striving to feed their children every day. Essential reading that shines a light on the ties that bind: people, social services, and love.

Tom, Bibliographic Manager

A Legacy of Spies by John le Carré and I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters 🇨🇦

I had largely given up on the spy novel genre but le Carré's latest novel A Legacy of Spies is a great antidote to my malaise. It ties the classic cold war spy novel full of the manipulation of bad-but-all-too-human choices into mercifully short vignettes of present day corporate-bland-as-dictated-by-circumstance. All joyous and implausibly possible.

I also happily took a Giller bet on I Am a Truck by Michelle Winters and, while I haven't read any of the other contenders, I can say it's worthy of its nomination. Funny and with a cast of well-formed but humanly weird characters whose lives can only be described as outwardly mundane while innerly motivated by good and not great rationales. If Chevy and Ford don't co-sponsor a film version they will miss great product placement.

Zalina, Marketing & Communications Manager

Hunger by Roxane Gay

If anyone was going to write a frank, touching, and nuanced story about living in an unruly body, it was going to be Roxane Gay. For such a personal story, so much of what she discusses about struggling with desire and frailty, particularly as a woman of colour, struck a chord with me. While I still prefer her fiction — still waiting on that second novel — I was thrilled when I heard that Gay, with her insight and expert handling of complexity and contradictions, had decided to publish a memoir on such a difficult and (somehow, still) taboo subject. Highly recommended for anyone who can relate, and doubly so for anyone who can't.

Mickey, Financial Administrator

American Gods and Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I've been reading my way through Neil Gaiman's work, so I'd recommend two. First, American Gods (haven't seen the TV show, don't want to) — an amazing blend of various genre fictions and Norse mythologies, quite a technical feat really, probably for adults only. And the one I just finished by him, Stardust, is an incredibly lovely "faerie tale." Definitely recommended for young adult, teenagers, or adults; it's a very perceptive coming of age story wrapped up in traditional fairy tale clothes. Stunning illustrations.

Jackie, Director of Product Development

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman and Ragnarok: The End of the Gods by A.S. Byatt

Anyone interested in storytelling, myths, and legends should run, not walk, to your nearest source for great books and start Icelandic-style with this pairing for your own Jolabokaflod celebrations: Gaiman's Norse Mythology collection maintains all your favourite elements of these classic tales and makes anew his selection from the Prose Edda, still full of hubris, wrath, revenge, tragedy, lust, and spite, and featuring Odin, Loki, and Thor. 

Ragnarok is a short, dense work of art from a few years ago. Byatt tells the story of a child with no name, evacuated from London to the countryside during WW2 who reads the Norse myths of Midgard and reflects on the beauty of the countryside and the destruction of the world. Through these retellings and reflections, Byatt comments on the tragic losses in our own ecosystem in the 21st century. 

Children's book choice: The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith 🇨🇦

I'm late to this one — it was published in 2016 — but I've been an enthusiast throughout 2017. This time, we travel to Ireland to enjoy the tale of a cat who befriends a monk who's working on an illuminated manuscript. Monks, cats, books — all beautifully illustrated in comic-book style with multiple panels inter-leaved with full-page and two-page spreads. Based on an old Irish poem called "Pangur Bán."

Noah, President & CEO

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough features some of my favourite things: bread (especially sourdough), software engineers, and secret markets. Follow Lois as she nurtures her sourdough, from her job at General Dynamics to the secret market that fuses technology and food (geeky-fusion?). Funny, thoughtful, and well written, Sourdough is an excellent follow-up to Sloan's first novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Tim, Project Manager & Retail Liaison

Dunbar by Edward St. Aubyn

Maybe not my favourite read of the year but definitely the only one I shared with others. Dunbar is part of the Hogarth Shakespeare series in which contemporary authors reimagine the plays of Shakespeare. Dunbar is a retelling of King Lear — one of my favs of the bard's by far. While not many contemporary readers are likely to care about the whims of royalty, a media mogul's downfall will strike closer to the bone. St. Aubyn is a master at telling stories about the hubris of elites. Father, daughters, and fools are all deliciously coloured through the brush of contemporary times. In other words, it's really just about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.

Carol, Project Manager

Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear 🇨🇦

With one foot in the city and one still planted firmly in the country, I'm always interested to know what triggers urban dwellers to suddenly discover a passion for a particular area of the natural world. Maclear's short, lovingly crafted vignettes take the reader through 12 months and relate her own discovery of birds in the city as she deals with the impending loss of her father and her struggles to reignite her creative fire. Her story is a tribute to the art of observation — of both birds and humans. 

Pam, Director of Customer Relations

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde and Small Claims by Andrew Kaufman 🇨🇦

The History of Bees was marketed as a book "in the spirit of Station Eleven" and it doesn't disappoint. Following three generations of beekeepers, it's a fictional tale involving the history of bees and their importance to our environment. Added bonus is that it's also a Loan Stars pick!

Small Claims: I found this book both funny and heartbreaking. Not as quirky as some of Kaufman's other works but I don't think he can do any wrong. 

Monique, Project Manager

A Daughter's Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi 🇨🇦

It's no secret that I'm a big true crime fan, and I loved reading A Daughter's Deadly Deception by Jeremy Grimaldi, which followed the twists and turns that developed after the shocking events in Markham in the fall of 2010. This would be a great pick for anyone captivated by recent true crime sensations like The Keepers and Making a Murderer on Netflix, or podcasts like Serial, Dirty John, S-Town, and My Favourite Murder. Fans of Dirty John might also want to pick up The Charming Predator by Lee Mackenzie, which follows a con man's decades-long transcontinental grift. 

Alex, Research Intern

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai 🇨🇦  and Next Year, For Sure by Zoey Leigh Peterson 🇨🇦

I've been torn between Elan Mastai's All Our Wrong Todays and Zoey Leigh Peterson's Next Year, For Sure as my book of the year. Mastai's novel about a hapless time traveler who catastrophically mucks up his (and our) futuristic utopia is captivating in the way the plot charges ahead like a runaway bullet train. It's a fantastically entertaining blend of romance, science fiction, and psychological drama. On the other hand, Peterson's Giller-longlisted title tackles an emotionally complicated subject with wit, grace, humour, and tenderness. It's a novel that's rife with potential clichés and stereotypes but manages to avoid the all-too-familiar pitfalls. The characters are complete, complex individuals, and the book shines because of it. 

All these reasons have made it very difficult to pick a favourite between these two starkly different books. Thankfully I'm a perennial fence-sitter, so why not have both? Both it is.

Ainsley, Marketing Associate

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I might be a little late to this book — it was published in 2015, after all — and it was shortlisted for almost every big prize that year, but it's definitely the book I read this year that has stayed with me. An epic story (720 pages of story, to be precise) of friendship, love, ambition, art, trauma, and the ties that bind. It's the perfect book to settle down with if you have some solid reading time from Boxing Day to New Year's Day. But have some tissues at the ready. You'll need them.