Staff picks 2018

We asked the BookNet staff for their favourite books of the year. Some chose one, others got carried away, but who are we to rein in their love of books? Recommend them all, we say. You can find all of our recommendations in this CataList catalogue.

Zalina, Marketing & Communications Manager

I'm cheating a bit by combining two audiobooks by the same writer that I listened to (almost) back to back through the library's Libby app. Neither of them were new this year, either. But both memoirs were hilarious rays of sunshine in an otherwise bleak and rage-inducing year. If you're not familiar with Samantha Irby, go look at her Instagram (named "bitchesgottaeat" after the blog that made her Internet famous) and if you chuckle even once then these books are for you. Other books of essays/memoirs from funny women like Mindy Kaling, Amy Poehler, and Tina Fey have been fine but Irby's books aren't just something you read because you like her work on TV; her personal essays are the bread and butter of her career of hilarity (so far). Be warned, though: There are some sad stories in there, and gross ones if you're uncomfortable with poop. But there's also a recipe for an easy and delicious frittata, so you really have more to gain than to lose.

Tom, Bibliographic Manager

Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism by Kristen R. Ghodsee

A short, provocative, and readable study of various socialist regimes, collapsed and ongoing, Eastern European and Scandinavian, for what went right and what's worth keeping. The table of contents alone is worth the price; it's focus is on, but not just for, women. A proper book with a recommended reading list, citation notes, and an index, it's for anyone with hope for having a future.

Jackie, Director of Product Development

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje 🇨🇦

This books defies genre. It's a straight-up mystery, a wartime romance novel, a family story, a coming-of-age story, an historical novel, and a literary novel with beautiful poetic language and imagery that makes you wish you could write like that. Depicting wartime London and the near aftermath of the Second World War, Ondaatje writes about the time just after the war ended, about the forgotten history of what immediately followed when spies still roamed Europe and the war was over but hadn't ended. Highly recommend.

Town Is by the Sea written by Joanne Schwartz, 🇨🇦 illustrated by Sydney Smith 🇨🇦

Late to this but discovered it in 2018. Terrific illustrations by Sydney Smith and a poignant story about a boy living in a mining town and reconciling the life lived above and the work down below.

Shimona, Research Associate

The Power by Naomi Alderman 

My enthusiasm for this book hasn’t changed since I read it in January, which I can’t say for most of the 200 books I read in 2018. I loved the “what if” scenario, the plot twists, the characters, the questions, and the endings (including the author interview). It’s the book with the most thought-provoking questions about life, death, and all the choices we make in between. I want everyone to read it and then discuss it with me, book in-hand, for hours. If you want more specifics than “everyone should read it,” then know that it’s a must-read for feminists and sci-fi/dystopian fans. 

Lauren, Conventions & Operations Manager

Hard To Do: The Surprising Feminist History of Breaking Up by Kelli María Korducki 🇨🇦

Driven by Korducki's retelling of her own breakup, this slim little volume is a fascinating overview of women alone and women in relationships and how breaking off a partnership can be a revolutionary act with financial, political, emotional, and societal consequences.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Just when you think you've read everything under the sun, erm, sea, then comes The Pisces, a novel about a woman come undone by her codependency and love addiction. Living off the Venice Beach boardwalk for the summer, dog-sitting her sister's beloved pup and facing a deadline for her long-overdue thesis on the poet Sappho, Lucy attends group therapy by day and meets, and falls for, a swimmer by night. Quickly spiralling into obsession with the mysterious man, Lucy is forced to reconsider her preconceptions about life, love, and her thesis. Hilarious, heady, and sexy, The Pisces is a decidedly tongue-in-cheek send-up of the erotic merman stereotype.

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

Don't judge this book by its decidedly uninventive cover. Carreyrou's reporting on the rise and fall of Elizabeth Holmes' Silicon Valley startup Theranos is riveting and a mind-boggling case study of lies, hubris, and fraud. Read it before the movie starring Jennifer Lawrence is released!

Noah, President & CEO

Borderless by Eliot Peper

A romp, and a timely one. What could possibly go wrong if bad actors were to get control of the internet and all the associated data it has or interacts with? In a near future, someone is trying to gain control of The Feed — the network that links the world together — and the only one who can stop them is ex-CIA operative, Diana. A quick and enjoyable read begging for a movie treatment. This is the second book in Eliot Peper's Analog series. The first book, Bandwidth, introduces the main characters and The Feed, and also came out this year. Get 'em both.  

We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed

This brings my love of biking, and more specifically the Tour de France, off of the TV and onto the page. Ostensibly about a cycling domestique, Sol, who's helping his team win the Tour de France, it's also about what a person, or people, are willing to do to reach their goals. An excellent exploration of human character that just happens to be set during a bike race, or THE bike race. 

Elizabeth, Project Coordinator

A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam by Neil Sheehan

There's a reason this one won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction back in 1989. Masquerading as a biography, this epic read revolves around "the one irreplaceable American in Vietnam," but is in fact a cautionary tale featuring unfathomable mistakes, inconceivable arrogance, and really, just a whole lot of iniquitousness. If you like disillusionment and uncanny parallels to modern times, this incomprehensibly engaging book (clocking in at nearly a thousand pages) should be added to your to-read list! 

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is a generational saga focusing on two branches of a tragically split family tree, one remaining on the Gold Coast of Ghana, the other sent to the Americas in the early 18th century. The scope of this novel is remarkable, phenomenal even, if you take into consideration that it's a debut. Episodic in design, each chapter alternates between two very different worlds through a cascade of distinct and well-rounded characters, yet overall, it contributes to a flawless evolution that builds on universal themes of race, identity, and shared history that builds to a — well, I won't give it away but it's a book that should be considered required reading.

Monique, Project Manager

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

Perhaps you, like me, didn't realize the exact book you needed was a book about a flock of deeply thoughtful and existential sheep solving the murder of their shepherd. My deep love of mystery novels and my appreciation for the bizarre had a perfect marriage in Three Bags Full, a book I somehow missed when it first came out a few years ago. If you think this might be your bag, don't miss it!

I'm Afraid Of Men by Vivek Shraya 🇨🇦

This book is little and fierce! Small enough to fit in your pocket but big enough to take up space in your mind for months to come. Shraya's writing is at turns challenging, beautiful, and intimate. I'm Afraid of Men feels like a conversation with a friend you wish you could have, if you could only be vulnerable enough. Read it with your friends and start some conversations that interrogate biases and reveal fears. 

Carol, Project Manager

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

With one of my daughters reading and loving The Iliad for a Classical Civilizations class this year, I picked up The Silence of the Girls to put under the Christmas tree for her (shh, that’s a secret!) to give her a bit more understanding of the human side of the epic story. Given the topic — the stories of the silent women, the spoils of war — I planned to just peruse a bit of the writing to gauge whether some key scenes might take a graphic turn. From the first pages I was swept up in Briseis’ narrative and couldn’t put it down. Beautifully and engagingly written, and yes, suitable for older teens.

Andy, UI/Web Developer

Not Quite Narwhal written and illustrated by Jessie Sima

My current favourite book is also my four-year-old's favourite, too. A young Unicorn doesn’t quite feel like he belongs growing up with Narwhals until one day he meets other Unicorns like him. He eventually accepts that he’s really a Unicorn and the other Narwhals accept him for what he truly feels like he is, a Unicorn. It's a cute story with great illustrations.

Ainsley, Marketing Associate

My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

There's a reason this book is making best-of lists for 2018: It's a dark, powerful satire. Korede has always looked out for her younger sister, Ayoola, so when Ayoola kills her third man (the number required to categorize you as a serial killer), Korede is there to help remove all evidence. It manages to be substantial in a small package. I wish it had gone on longer. I'll be thinking about this one for a while to come. Can't wait to see what else Braithwaite will write.

Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga 🇨🇦

It's hard to describe this one. Words like heartbreaking and necessary make it sound like it's going to be work to read it. And while the subject matter of Seven Fallen Feathers is heartbreaking, it is compellingly well-written. It's a book we shouldn't shy away from. Canadians have a tendency to be smug when we look south at the race-relations in the United States, so it's high time we turn our focus within our country's (imaginary, stolen) borders and take on the hard work we have ahead of us in addressing our own racism and racist systems.