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From Giller winners to political A-listers, Becky Toyne selects 30 books to kick off a new season of reading
Special to The Globe and Mail

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Saturday, September 15, 2018 – Page P10

Epic adventures, love gone awry and alternate histories pepper a fall crop of new fiction that is funny, unsettling and sad. Here are but a few suggestions from the many fine novels about to arrive in stores: Seven years after her internationally bestselling, Scotiabank Giller Prize-winning Half-Blood Blues, Esi Edugyan is back with Washington Black (Patrick Crean Editions, Aug. 28). This epic coming-of-age tale of a gifted boy born into slavery in Barbados traverses multiple continents and encompasses every type of weather imaginable. A rich novel of science and art, of friendship and brutality, it has already landed on the long list for this year's prestigious Man Booker Prize.

In his first novel since 2010's Super Sad True Love Story (and since being a juror for Canada's Giller Prize), Gary Shteyngart (The Russian Debutante's Handbook, Absurdistan) turns his satirist's eye on modern life - for a very few, very privileged - in America. Lake Success (Random House, Sept. 4) opens with a Wall Street one-per-center fleeing his marriage and autistic child ... on a Greyhound bus. Super sad, super funny, super Shteyngart.

For satire from our own side of the border, try Randy Boyagoda's Original Prin (Biblioasis, Sept. 25). "Eight months before he became a suicide bomber, Prin went to the zoo with his family," the novel begins. Boyagoda unpacks ideas of faith, fanaticism and family duty, while propelling readers to the final page to find out how his prophetic opening line will come to pass. Salman Rushdie thinks you'll like it too: "Richly funny," he says.

Another novel-with-laughs: Searching for Terry Punchout (Invisible Publishing, Oct. 15). A smart, funny story about hockey culture in smalltown Canada, Tyler Hellard's debut is a King Lear for the Maritimes that has already racked up advance praise from Terry Fallis, Will Ferguson and Stacey May Fowles.

One of literature's great mother-son relationships is back as Eden Robinson continues her acclaimed trilogy that began with Son of a Trickster in 2017. In Trickster Drift (Knopf Canada, Oct. 2), protagonist Jared is now in Vancouver, trying to stay on the wagon and keep all forms of magic at bay. Not so easy when you're the son of a Trickster and your mother is a tough, no-nonsense witch.

And after 13 years, Howard Akler is back, too.

The author of The City Man returns to Toronto's past in his long-awaited second novel: a love story built around the highway that famously wasn't. Will the romance end well? The title, Splitsville (Coach House Books, Sept. 1), suggests not. Years later, a family member will try to figure out why.

After five previous volumes, legions of fans and reams of fawning praise in newspapers and magazines around the globe, the epic struggles of Karl Ove Knausgaard are about to reach their quietly brooding, excessively detailed, utterly compelling conclusion. Series obsessives should make space on their nightstands: The simply titled The End (Knopf Canada, Sept. 4) clocks in at close to 1,200 pages of Knausgaardian diurnal detail.

If Nordic epics are your thing, Icelandic literary sensation Sjon's CoDex 1962 (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, Sept. 11) is waiting to step in when Knausgaard bows out. A trilogy nearly 25 years in the making - the three volumes were published in Iceland in 1994, 2001 and 2016 but are being published as a single volume in English - CoDex 1962 was met with rapturous praise in Iceland. "An extravaganza in which Bosch meets Chagall, with touches of Tarantino," the Guardian says.

Catherine Leroux (The Party Wall) draws inspiration from a real-life mystery in Madame Victoria (Biblioasis, Sept. 18). The novel's genrebending conceit of constructing 12 possible histories for an unidentified woman whose skeleton was found in the woods is likely to appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life. This is bonus good news for Atkinson fans, who also have her mystery filled, 1950s-set latest, Transcription (Bond Street Books, Sept. 18), to look forward to on the same day.

Other big-buzz fiction comes courtesy of author/fraudster of A Million Little Pieces infamy James Frey, whose Katerina (Scout Press, Sept.

11) is a sweeping love story alternating between Paris in 1992 and Los Angeles in 2017; celebrated poet Dionne Brand, whose novel Theory (Knopf Canada, Sept. 18) tells the story of an academic whose intellectual pursuits become challenged by affairs of the heart; and rising literary star Waubgeshig Rice, who creates an unsettling new reality in a snowbound northern community in Moon of the Crusted Snow (ECW Press, Oct. 2) - perfect for those who read Iain Reid's Foe this summer and are looking for something in the same vein.

In John Boyne's A Ladder to the Sky (Doubleday Canada, Nov. 13), a would-be writer sets off in search of the stories of others, stopping at nothing to find them; while in Devin Krukoff's Hummingbird (Freehand Books, Sept. 11), the protagonist, experiencing gaps in time, flashbacks and glimpses of the future, finds he is losing his grip on the story that should be his own.

Master of the unusual and unexplained Haruki Murakami pays homage to The Great Gatsby in Killing Commendatore (Bond Street Books, Oct.

9), a novel of war, art, love and loneliness involving (predictably in a Murakami novel, but that's part of the joy of reading Murakami) a thirtysomething man and many unexplainable goings on. And fellow genre-blender Jonathan Lethem presents The Feral Detective (Ecco, Nov. 6), his first detective novel since 1999's Motherless Brooklyn.

For genre-blending that transcends the novel form, Polaris-winning Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq combines poetry and prose, memory fragments and fiction to tell a fierce and tender story of growing up in Nunavut in the 1970s. Her first book, Split Tooth (Viking, Sept. 25), straddles the line between fiction and fact, and makes a nice segue into this season's notable non-fiction offerings.

P ersonal stories and coming-of-age tales feature heavily in this season's must-read non-fiction, running the gamut of music, fashion, publishing and politics in terms of subject.

Cathal Kelly's reporting (for this newspaper) about sports is so entertaining that even if (like this reader) you don't much care about sports, you may regularly read him anyway. His debut memoir, Boy Wonders (Doubleday Canada, Sept.

25), about growing up in the 1970s and 80s, promises to be emotional, funny and packed full with nerdy obsessions and ill-advised fashion choices.

Also sports.

No poor fashion choices in this next book. "If you don't take money they can't tell you what to do kid," New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham said. Is that why he never sought a publisher for his meticulously typed memoir? Discovered by Cunningham's family after his death and sold at auction, Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs (Penguin Press, Sept. 4) is the untold story of the streetphotography legend - a true original in fashion, photography and life.

Novelist, non-fiction writer and publishing legend Anna Porter has won accolades for writing books about other people. Now, with In Other Words: How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time (Simon & Schuster Canada, Sept.

25) she writes about herself. Porter - a Hungarian girl who grew up to become instrumental in bringing Canadian stories to Canadian readers - recounts her life and work at the centre of book publishing in post-Expo Canada.

Scenes from the life of a Canadian cultural icon unfold in music critic Andrea Warner's Buffy Sainte-Marie (Greystone Books, Sept. 25), the only authorized biography of the legendary activist, artist and singer-songwriter to date. Bonus material: Fellow icon Joni Mitchell contributed the introduction. Meanwhile, Darrel J. McLeod remembers an Alberta childhood and a formidable matriarch in his heartbreaking memoir of resilience and family devotion, Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age (Douglas & McIntyre, Sept. 15).

In Always Another Country (World Editions, Sept. 14), social justice activist Sisonke Msimang recounts her childhood in exile in Zambia, Kenya, Canada and beyond; her political awakening in the United States and Africa; and her disillusionment upon returning to South Africa. In her TED Talk, which has amassed more than 1.3 million views, Msimang urges: "If a story moves you, act on it," words that fellow fall authors Vivek Shraya and Tanya Talaga will hope their readers take to heart.

In I'm Afraid of Men (Penguin Canada, Aug.

28), Canadian artist Shraya explores how masculinity was imposed upon her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl. Shraya - a queer, trans woman of colour - suggests how we might rethink gender in the 21st century.

Talaga, whose Seven Fallen Feathers - about the deaths of seven Indigenous teens in Thunder Bay - was one of the most award-winning books of 2017, will present this year's Massey Lectures. All Our Relations: Finding the Path Forward (House of Anansi Press, Oct. 16), examines the suicide epidemic in Indigenous communities in Canada and beyond.

Books from three high-profile political figures will appeal to readers of different political stripes.

In Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption (Signal, Oct. 9), Stephen Harper (a.k.a. Canada's 22nd prime minister) sets out a vision for leaders in politics and business to adapt and thrive in an age of disruption, while in My Stories, My Times Jean Chrétien (a.k.a. Canada's 20th Prime Minister) shares candid essays from his time in office (Random House Canada, Oct 23). In Becoming (Crown, Nov. 13), former first lady Michelle Obama shares her story. The Obamas received a reported joint advance of US$65-million for their books. Expect to be hearing about this one a lot.

Prefer not to talk about politics? How about every Canadian's favourite topic, the weather? In 18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and its Weather (ECW Press, Oct. 23), celebrated nonfiction author and poet Christopher Dewdney explores "the invisible rivers in the sky" that influence our climate. A brilliant and witty journey into our national obsession.

Becky Toyne is the "Should I Read It?" columnist for Day 6 on CBC Radio and a regular contributor to Globe Books.

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