2002’s Favourites

Bee Season – Myla Goldberg
The Naumann family (ever-so-memorable Eliza, older brother Aaron, mother Miriam, and father Saul) will live on in your memory long after you’ve turned the last page. Spelling bees and Jewish mysticism, kaleidoscopes and stained glass: all this in one great story.

Excellent Women – Barbara Pym
“I always think of you as being so balanced and sensible, such an excellent woman,” says Dora’s brother, William Caldicote, speaking to Mildred Lathbury of his hope that she won’t marry. Pym’s charm and insight always impress me.

Floating in My Mother’s Palm – Ursula Hegi
Charming and poignant linked stories which left me feeling that I must, absolutely must, find everything this writer has penned and particularly what else has been written about the characters in this early work. It’s not surprising to learn that she writes between 50 and 100 drafts of each story; they are so well done.

Four Ways to Forgiveness – Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin’s anthropological stories are thought-provoking and compelling. The links between these stories – also with other Ekumen writings – only add to their richness.

House of the Spirits – Isabel Allende
I’m still kicking myself for having waited so many years to strike out past the first two pages of this novel, but it was definitely worth waiting for; as soon as I finished I wanted to start re-reading.

Pilgrim – Timothy Findley
Having heard so much about this book’s brilliance I was slightly hesitant to venture within but it was just as amazing as I’d hoped – more so, in fact. I immediately re-read and was also inspired to delve into some related works (some Jungian writing, some Thomas Mann, some Henry James, some Oscar Wilde).

Portrait of a Lady – Henry James
Although initially unprepared for its density, I eventually became very involved with Isabel’s story. The ending of the novel leaves one lots of room to wonder/wander and although James knew he would be criticized for his, and his work’s preoccupation with matters of psychology, that’s just what I loved about this story.

Red Plaid Shirt – Diane Schoemperlen
Only the absence of the illustrations (compared to the stories from her Forms of Devotion) marr this collection of this talented writer. And how interesting (at least from a writer’s perspective) to read the stories in chronological order.

Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe – Jane Wagner
This slim text provoked sharp bursts of laughter and yet brought me to tears as well. I share Trudy’s hope that “maybe one day we’ll do something so magnificent everyone in the universe will get goose bumps”.

Slammerkin – Emma Donoghue
Based on a footnote in the history books, the story of Mary Saunders’ life in eighteenth-century Monmouth is both thought-provoking and atmospheric. “Aren’t we all servants, one way or another, Mary?” pleaded her mistress Mrs. Jones.

To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis
Entertaining and brilliantly constructed, a rip-roaring – but thought-provoking – read, plotplotplot alongside memorable characters: this novel has everything you could ever want between two covers. How does she do it!

Wide Sargasso Sea – Jean Rhys
The Penguin edition of this classic has surprisingly good notes and an excellent introduction so that, without studying this stunning novel in a classroom situation, I could still appreciate many of the subtleties and allusions. If you loved Jane Eyre, be sure to make room for this slim volume in your TBR pile.

Windflower – Gabrielle Roy
The story of Elsa, a young Inuit woman who births a blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy, by an American GI stationed in the Arctic (northern Labrador to be specific), torn between the traditional ways of her people and the promise of progress in the newly established town of Fort Chimo with its school, church, and store. For such a short novel, this is a surprisingly gripping story that I’ve since returned to many times in my mind.

2001’s Favourites
Affinity – Sarah Waters
Strong sense of place, terrific suspense, and clever narration: I eagerly await Waters’ next novel.

Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
Enthralling and beautifully told; everybody I have recommended this book to has raved three-fold.

Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
Even after a handful of re-reads, I’m certain I would still enjoy unravelling the layers of storycrafting in this novel, particularly the question of the creative process, girl-growing-up, and the symbolic meanings embedded in the text, its construction and its telling.

Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Wayne Johnston
Fabulous storytelling in the “sweep you away” sense with a strong sense of place and the unforgettable character of Sheilagh Fielding.

Critical Injuries – Joan Barfoot
Stunning novel which considers the curious parallels in experience between 49YO Isla and teenaged Roddy following the drama unleashed by a momentary decision, the ramifications of a single, much-lamented, sliver of time. The author’s sensitivity and insight contribute to a compelling and rewarding read.

Exploded View – Jean McKay
Saturated with her love of language and the rhythm of paragraphs and symphonies, McKay’s sharp sense of humour (tempered with soothing irony and tenderness) makes for an absolutely delightful read.

Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse – Louise Erdrich
Wonderfully complex, layered storytelling that had me scrambling for the rest of Erdrich’s writings.

Member of the Wedding – Carson McCullers
Just re-reading the first sentence makes me want to start again: “It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old.”

Motherlove – Jayne Anne Phillips
Dense, expressive prose filled with beautiful imagery combined with unforgettable characters: a wonderful combination.

Our Lady of the Lost and Found – Diane Schoemperlen
Toying with the line between fact and fiction, a compelling narrative which explores faith, history, philosophy, myth, and storytelling after the Virgin Mary comes to lunch with the narrator.

Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver
Brilliantly crafted and peopled with characters who walk right off the page. I can hear the hum of summer now.

Sula – Toni Morrison
Perhaps the shortest novel of my year, but one of the most thought-provoking and rewarding.

The White Bone – Barbara Gowdy
Poignant and lingering exploration of memory within a group of unforgettable characters.

2000’s Favourites
After Image – Helen Humphreys
The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman (3rd in Dark Materials Series)
Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout
The Awakening – Kate Chopin
The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood
A Door into Ocean – Joan Slonczewski
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Funny Boy – Shyam Selvadurai
Garden of Eden – Sharon Butala
A History of Forgetting – Caroline Adderson
The Hours – Michael Cunningham
If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller – Italo Calvino
Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf
Olympia– Dennis Bock
Rules of Engagement – Catherine Bush
Sugar Land – Joni Rodgers
Ex Libris, Confessions of a Common Reader – Anne Fadiman
Gardening in the Tropics – Olive Senior (poetry)
Songs for Relinquishing the Earth – Jan Zwicky (poetry)
What It’s Like to Live Now – Meredith Maran
White Stone: The Alice Poems – Stephanie Bolster (poetry)
Woman and Nature, The Roaring Inside Her – Susan Griffin