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A look back at the books of 2011

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By now, all the awards have been handed out and the sales figures tabulated.

The best books of 2011 have been chewed over endlessly in recent weeks, and so have the bestsellers.

This year, as a New Year’s Eve retrospective, we asked Free Press reviewers to choose a few favourites — titles they loved that might have been overlooked.

Here are their choices, with excerpts from their reviews, listed alphabetically.

 

 

Non-fiction

 

The Chimps

of Fauna Sanctuary,

by Andrew Westoll

"Westoll is a terrific storyteller and his analysis of resilience in the primate psyche (including ours) is brilliant."

— Dana Medoro

 

 

Cow: A Bovine

Biography,

by Florian Werner

"Werner reminds us that bovines are inextricably linked to humans, and thinking more deeply about our relationship with them can show us a new perspective on our own humanity."

— Julie Kentner

 

 

Empire of the Beetle,

by Andrew Nikiforuk

"Nikiforuk takes readers into the fascinating world of beetles and how one species in particular... is decimating pine forests throughout North America."

— Joseph Hnatiuk

Here Comes Trouble, by Michael Moore

"Funny and moving. It is a great read for Moore fans, even those that may have lost interest after the Bush years."

— Alan MacKenzie

 

 

 

Grammar Matters,

by Jila Ghomeshi

"A careful, intelligent, and impertinent book that teaches the reader a great deal about linguistics and the English language, and humbles the prescriptive grammarian."

— Lawrie Cherniack

 

 

How the Scots

Invented Canada,

by Ken McGoogan

"Although Manitoba got the short hairs of the sporran, with relatively few Scots and Scottish-Canadians connected to the province, there are about 5,000,000 good reasons to read McGoogan’s book."

— Ian Stewart

 

 

Into the Silence,

by Wade Davis

"The story of the doomed quest by George Mallory and Sandy Irvine is much more than a history of mountaineering. It’s the story of a generation shattered by war and the attempt by some members of that generation to find redemption in the thin air of the world’s highest mountain."

— Bob Armstrong

 

 

It’s So Easy,

by Duff McKagan

"The Guns N’ Roses co-founder and former bassist’s memoir is sobering stuff — and it makes for a compelling read."

— David Jón Fuller

 

The Long Way Back,

by Chris Alexander

"A fine historian with some serious Afghanistan cred, Chris Alexander goes beyond myths and conspiracies to what must be done and how to do it."

— George A. MacLean

 

 

Moonwalking With

Einstein, by Joshua Foer

"As pop science writers go, he’s a self-deprecating charmer — not as uproariously funny as Mary Roach, but with a breezy Malcolm Gladwell touch, taking an astonishing amount of information and, aptly, helping the reader remember it."

— Jill Wilson

 

 

The Orchard,

by Theresa Weir

"Fans of Miriam Toews will instantly bond with this new eco-themed memoir."

— Julie Carl

 

 

The Patrol,

by Ryan Flavelle

"While Flavelle’s greatest accomplishment... is to give a voice to the individual soldier, he is also careful to remember who this book is really about."

— Jennifer Ryan

 

 

The Psychopath Test, by Jon Ronson

"A journey through ‘the madness industry,’ using deadpan humour to deflate delusional thinking, psychopathic and otherwise."

— Alison Gillmor

 

 

The Story

of Che Guevara, by

Lucia Alvarez de Toledo

"This is a fascinating look at Guevara through the eyes of someone who shared his background, culture and social milieu."

— Douglas J. Johnston

 

 

The Sun’s Heartbeat, by Bob Berman

"An astronomer’s extended love letter to the sun makes for an enlightening book."

— Duncan McMonagle

 

Through the Glass,

by Shannon Moroney

"An engaging, compassionate story of a woman’s quest for hope in the wake of trauma and violence."

— Bev Sandell Greenberg

 

 

 

 

Triumph at Kapyong,

by Dan Bjarnason

"Most war memorials crumble and are forgotten. This slim tribute to our own Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry is one for the ages."

— Ron Robinson

 

 

Walking Home,

by Ken Greenberg

"An eloquent, personal and persuasive argument for making our cities places of diversity and adaptability."

— Michael Dudley

 

 

"When the

Gods Changed,

by Peter C. Newman

"The master of insider politics intended this brisk, breezy and entertaining book to document how Michael Ignatieff became prime minister of Canada, but it turned out to be a eulogy for the Liberal party."

— John G. Collins

 

 

A Widow’s Story,

by Joyce Carol Oates

"The prolific American author tries to understand and deal with her new role as widow in this candid and heartfelt memoir that is as gripping as the best of her novels."

— Dave Williamson

 

 

Willpower,

by Roy F. Baumeister

and John Tierney

"This well-written and thoroughly researched book is not a fast read, but it’s an important one, well-worth the time it takes to absorb the many lessons it provides."

— Brenlee Carrington

 

Fiction

 

Bright’s Passage,

by Josh Ritter

"It has the feeling of a fable; it can be read as magical realism, or interpreted as a religious allegory."

— Jill Wilson

 

 

 

The Emperor of Lies, by Steve Sem-Sandberg

"The celebrated Swedish novelist has given us a harrowing fiction founded upon painstaking research."

— Neil Besner

 

 

Look Down,

by Hal Niedzviecki

"A dizzying mix of tales that demonstrate how we are turning less humane in an increasingly nihilistic and media-soaked world."

— Rory Runnells

 

 

Man and Other

Natural Disasters,

by Nerys Parry

"A unique and unpredictable story about a lonely man’s attempt to face up to his own past."

— Kathryne Cardwell

 

 

The Quiet Twin,

by Dan Vyleta

"The foreigner, the longer, the imperfect — all are suspects in this gripping murder thriller, set in Vienna just after the German juggernaut has begun to roll across Europe."

— Harriet Zaidman

 

State of Wonder

by Ann Patchett

"It’s a ripping jungle yarn, filled with poisonous snakes and rumours of cannibalism."

— Bob Armstrong

 

 

 

Touch,

by Alexi Zentner

"This is a novel about coming home, but it is also a novel about so much more — the love of the land, fathers and sons, the force of nature, a man and his dog, and even the birth of Canada."

— Sharon Chisvin

Twenty Thirty,

by Albert Brooks

"A strong first effort, a frightening, funny and smart read."

— Alan MacKenzie

 

 

 

The Virgin Cure,

by Ami McKay

"Character, setting, mood and plot are melded naturally to create a Dickensian world of deprivation and determination, albeit with a young girl crafting her own fate, as opposed to the typical male explorer."

— Elizabeth Hopkins

 

When God

Was a Rabbit,

by Sarah Winman

"Where another writer’s crowning climax may be preceded by an obvious building of momentum, and then presented with much fanfare, Winman drops bombs casually, effortlessly, nonchalantly."

— Jennifer Ryan

 

Wingfield’s World,

by Dan Needles

"Canada’s answer to TV’s Green Acres and the BBC series The Good Life is back with his latest ruminations from where the plough hits the power line."

— Ron Robinson

 

What is Left

the Daughter,

by Howard Norman

"A poignant, bittersweet tale about the impact of a love triangle and a violent act in 1940s Nova Scotia."

— Bev Sandell Greenberg

 

Poetry

 

Nobody Move,

by Susan Stenson

The Victoria poet/publisher’s latest book is full of well-worn husbands, of sex and childhood and shaggy dogs.

— Ariel Gordon

 

L’il Bastard,

by David McGimpsey

"McGimpsey takes a fun approach to a timeworn poetic form, with hilarious ‘chubby sonnets’ of 16 lines exploring a life filled to bursting with wit, wordplay, and tacos."

— Jonathan Ball

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2011 A1

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