McGill Reads 2022 – McGill Reporter
Welcome to the 2022 McGill Reads holiday book list. It is hard to believe that this marks our 10th iteration of our winter holiday list, which began back in 2013.
The call for submissions for that original McGill Reads drew contributions from 17 members of the McGill community, four of whom (Kimberley Stephenson, Nigel Roulet, Chris Buddle and Will Straw) are part of the list below.
A decade later, McGill Reads has grown into something much more substantial. Just check out the number of submissions in this year’s edition; the diversity of subject matter and languages (English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese books); and, of course, the insight you have provided for each book. You folks definitely understood the assignment and have delivered.
While McGill Reads lives online only, we are a community. Many people begin their submission with “I love seeing what books people plan to read. It gives me so many ideas for my own list.”
And, for those of us who build the list, the best part is checking in with our regulars and meeting new people. A line or two to introduce ourselves or to quickly catch up. It’s always a good read.
What better way to welcome someone into the McGill community than with a great, big McGill Reads hello!
While Deep Saini won’t be installed as McGill’s 18th Principal and Vice-Chancellor until April 1, 2023, he still wanted to contribute to our reading list.
“This holiday season, I am re-reading Yuval Noah Harari’s modern classic, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I thought that the three months before I start my new position at McGill would be a good time to reflect once again on my/our own place in the universe and where the human condition is headed,” writes Deep. “I will also read Trust: Twenty Ways to Build a Better Country, by The Right Honourable David Johnston, the former Governor General of Canada and a former McGill Principal. This is an important read at a time when trust is in such serious deficit in societies around the world, and yet, is needed more than ever.”
Lois Manton, a McGill retiree, recommends three books by Canadian poet and author, Helen Humphreys. “These books display the remarkable breadth of the author’s talent, each book magical in its own way,” writes Lois.
The first, Field Study: Meditations on a Year at the Herbarium, is “a non-fiction describing the author’s year-long exploration of the Fowler Herbarium at Queen’s University in Kingston (post-Covid reopening at Opinicon Lake in 2023),” says Lois. “Who would imagine that a book about the collecting and ticketing of dried botanical samples could be so riveting? But it is and it introduces us to many steadfast specimen collectors through time. The hard cover is beautifully bound and illustrated.”
The second, The Frozen Thames, “falls somewhere in between, non-fiction with a little speculative interpretation,” says Lois. It begins with these words ‘In its long history, the river Thames has frozen solid forty times. These are the stories of that frozen river.’ Divided into 30 tiny chapters from 1142 to 1895, each frozen year describes a historical event, researched then written with imagination. If you have only time for ten or fifteen minute reading sessions, this book may be just right.”
Finally, Lois recommends Humphries’ short novel, The Lost Garden. “A quiet story about the nature of love and the love of nature, set in rural England during World War II.”
“The Frozen Thames led irresistibly to a secondary adventure, Frostiana: Or a History of the River Thames in a Frozen State, which I will be reading over the year-end holidays,” says Lois. “Originally published in 1814, it is available in a 2018 paperback edition, edited by B.A. Thurber.”
Isabelle Lalonde is ready.
“My holiday read is already on my night table waiting for the spine to be broken,” writes the Administrative Coordinator Scholarships, McCall MacBain Scholarships and Student Aid Centre. “This year will be our own Prof. Alain Farah’s Mille Secrets Mille Dangers. A work of fiction set up at St-Joseph’s Oratory. Can’t wait to discover how it won the Governor General’s Literary Prize for French fiction.”
“Also, I hope to unwrap two cookbooks by Montreal’s own Lesley Chesterman, which I already asked for from Santa: Chez Lesley and Un week-end chez Lesley: Mes idées gourmandes à partager.”
“Looking forward for this year’s edition to find out what my colleagues are reading.”
This year’s McGill MVP Award goes to none other than Kim Stephenson, Trade Book Manager, LE JAMES Bookstore. One of the original 17 contributors to our very first McGill Reads list in 2013, Kim is the only person to have participated in every holiday McGill Reads in the past 10 years.
As a token of of deep appreciation, we are gifting Kim with a free lifetime subscription to the McGill Reporter. Bravo, Kim!
“Here is my list,” writes Kim. “If the past is any prediction, I will read two of these, and something else in place of the third.”
Crooked but Never Common: The Films of Preston Sturges, by Stuart Klawans. “Preston Sturges is my favourite director of the 1940’s, and the director of my favourite film, Sullivan’s Travels. The book examines his ten best comedies, and I’m sure I will also be re-watching some of the films as I read the book,” says Kim.
All That She Carried, by Tiya Miles. “Winner of the Cundill Prize and so many other awards.”
World of Curiosities, by Louise Penny “The latest in the Gamache series.”
“I’ve added Some Hellish, by Nicholas Herring on my Christmas list when I read about his Writers’ Trust Award. I like Canlit and Herring’s journey to publish his first novel intrigued me,” writes Comms lynchpin Cynthia Lee, Associate Director, Media Relations, Communications and External Relations. “Herring, a long-time carpenter and fisher with degrees in literature, is compared to Cormac McCarthy, by one of the Writers’ Trust jurors – McCarthy is an author I also read. The novel centres on Herring, a lobster fisher mired in an unexceptional life – until he decides to cut a hole in his living-room floor, turning that life upside-down. His wife leaves him, his dog dies and he crashes his truck – only to be rescued by a group of Tibetan monks.”
“I also have Sarah Polley’s memoir, Run Towards the Danger, on my holiday read list as I am a fan of hers,” says Cynthia. “The memoir, is described as ‘Polley’s work as an actor, screenwriter, and director is celebrated for its honesty, complexity, and deep humanity. She brings all of those qualities along with her exquisite storytelling chops to these six essays’.”
Sure, being Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences is a busy job – but not too busy to keep David Eidelman from taking part in another edition of our list. Longtime supporter and McGill Reads contributor, David sends us another eclectic set of titles.
We Are Bellingcat: Global Crime, Online Sleuths and the Bold Future of News, by Elliot Higgins.
“This is the amazing true story of how ordinary people, using open-source tools available to all, have been able to probe major stories right out of the headlines, like identifying the suspects in the Salisbury poisoning and telling the true story of the missiles that downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine,” says David. “The ability of this approach to outpace traditional intelligence agencies is remarkable.”
The Escape Artist: The Man Who Broke Out of Auschwitz to Warn the World, by Jonathan Freedland. “The extraordinary true story of Rudi Vrba, one of only two Jews to escape from Auschwitz, and his attempt to sound the alarm about the Holocaust,” says David. “From his beginnings in Slovakia to his final career at UBC, Vrba manages to escape death on multiple occasions. Although his story has been told before, Friedland uses Vrba’s experience to demonstrate how the difference between truth and lies can be the difference between life and death.”
Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation, by Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson. “By juxtaposing the experience of Indigenous people and Ukrainian immigrants, the authors help us to understand the structural challenges faced by Indigenous people as the Canadian government promoted rapid colonial settlement. Focusing their narrative on two families, one from each community, Sniderman and Sanderson help the reader to understand the systemic racism that underlies the colonial project.”
The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni, by Helene Wecker. “This fantasy novel, set in early 20th century New York City, is the sequel to the wonderful book, The Golem and the Jinni, published in 2013, in which Wecker introduces us to two amazing characters. Chava is a golem, made of clay and brought to life by a disgraced rabbi using dark kabbalistic magic. Ahmed is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, released from an old copper flask in New York. Improbably, these two entities become soul mates with a mystical connection. The first book weaves together fantasy, two very different mystical traditions, with romance and history. The sequel takes the story to the next level in the context of the years around the First World War. Highly original, beautifully written, and very romantic.”
When compiling our annual list, we will reach out to our ‘regulars’ if we haven’t heard from them. We received the following answer from Jane McAslan, Senior Library Clerk, Circulation Humanities and Social Sciences Library.
“I hadn’t really thought about submitting to McGill Reads because my entire holiday reading list is Scottish crime… Nothing highbrow here! But for what it’s worth, I’ll be getting caught up on the new books from Chris Brookmyre (The Cliff House; he’s not as funny as he used to be, but still, generally a good read); and Ian Rankin (A Heart Full of Headstones; he’s a perennial favourite, never less than great) ,and the next in a new series by Doug Johnstone (The Big Chill; he’s a recent discovery, but loving him so far!),” says Jane.
“As well, I have Jo Nesbo’s Macbeth, from the Hogarth Shakespeare project that has contemporary writers retelling Shakespeare. Yeah, Nesbo’s not Scottish, but apparently he’s retold Macbeth as Scottish crime, so, fits the bill. A dark Scottish crime holiday. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to it!”
“Yes, I am Scottish born and mostly bred.”
Not all heroes wear capes. Earlier this year, Daniel McCabe, longtime Editor of the McGill News Alumni Magazine, was named one of McGill’s Unsung Heroes as part of the University’s Bicentennial celebrations. Over at the McGill Reads office, we were a bit surprised by this because Daniel’s been singing his own praises for years now.
Jokes… just jokes, Daniel.
“For my holiday reading, I usually select a non-fiction book, a graphic novel, and a work of fiction. For non-fiction, I’ll be reading Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley,” writes the Great Canadian (Unsung) Hero. “Canadians of a certain age will remember a very young Polley as the star of Road to Avonlea. Making the transition from childhood stardom to a reasonably stable adulthood is notoriously difficult, with no shortage of cautionary tales, and Polley pulled it off. She is one of Canada’s most respected filmmakers and screenwriters. The book focuses on some of the most difficult things she has had to deal with in her life (some of them directly related to her experiences as a child actor). Her films tend to be nuanced and reflective and, in the case of Stories We Tell, intensely personal and revealing. From what I’ve read, her book shares those qualities. It recently won the 2022 Toronto Book Award.”
“My graphic novel pick is Ducks by Kate Beaton,” says Daniel. “I’ve been a big fan of Beaton’s work for years (if you ever need a pick-me-up to brighten an otherwise gloomy day, I would happily prescribe Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops and their unique blend of sharp wit and delightful goofiness – these are the graphic novels that the Marx Brothers would have read). Many years ago, Beaton shared a small sampling of what would become Ducks online – and I have been waiting for this book ever since. It is a major departure from her previous works, much more serious and sombre. It details the two years she spent working at oil sands projects in Fort McMurray, Alberta, and the loneliness, isolation and not-so-occasional sexism that she experienced there.”
“I’m trying not to know too much about my fiction pick. I want to be surprised by it. One of my favourite novels of the 21st century is Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. Her most recent book, The Candy House, is a sort-of sequel with some of the same characters. It also features a provocative Black Mirror-ish concept – what if there was an app that would allow you to upload your memories and share them with others? Like Ducks, The Candy House is appearing on all kinds of year-end best-of lists.”
Valeria Lima, Manager Technical Design, Design Services, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services, joins in the fun again this year. “The first three books are my recommendations and the last one is part of my reading list for this winter,” she writes.
Karen Sciortino, Senior Admissions Officer, Enrolment Services, speaks for many of McGill Reads fans when she says “Reading is my happy place! I am one of those people who will often have two or more books going at once.”
Here are Karen’s choices, in the order that hse palns to read them:
“Of course, I will throw in some light reading but I’m not sure what will make my list yet,” says Karen. “I am half-way through A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett and a colleague recommended Daughters of the Deer, by Danielle Daniel.”
Without overstating the obvious, McGill Library is a great resource for book lovers. The Library’s electronic resources are available, 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Articles, e-books, e-journals, newspapers, databases – you name it, they probably have it and, best of all, McGill students, faculty, and staff members have access to it all. Take advantage of the online video and film libguide and the online audio & discographies libguide for some great streaming resources to enjoy over the holiday period.
If you are curious or need some inspiration for work or play, check out McGill Library’s most searched & borrowed titles of 2022.
*Reminder: OverDrive will be retiring their classic app at the beginning of 2023 and moving users over to their Libby app. Existing users of the classic app will be able to continue using it until the start of the new year. The app was removed from the Apple App Store, Google Play and Microsoft Store in February 2022. Access to the McGill OverDrive website will continue without change. McGill Library invites the McGill community to make the change to Libby now and take advantage of its new interface. McGill Library OverDrive collections can already be borrowed and viewed using Libby and multiple libraries (for example, your local public library) can be added.
“Since the summer I’ve read a variation of fiction, pop psychology and Spy thrillers,” writes Michel Rhéaume, Solutions Architect, IT Services.
On the fiction front, Michel, suggets For Honor, by Jeff Rovin. “Jeff took over for Tom Clancy to continue his series,” says Michel, “Not as good as Tom Clancy, but he tries to respect the genre.”
Michel’s pick for spy thriller is Portrait of an Unknown Woman, by Daniel Silva. “Daniel Silva never disappoints and makes you learn about art in detail that you never see in any novels,” he says.
Michel was gifted a set of books by John P. Strelecky that he recommends. “It was a popular series trying to teach some psychological/therapy in a fantasy-like setting (imaginary café),” he says. The titles include Le Why café; Le Retour au Why Café; Reconnexion : La 3e visite au Why Café; and Une nouvelle invitée au Why Café.
Books on Michel’s ‘To Read’ list:
- Surrender, 40 Songs, One Story, by U2 frontman Bono.
“I love the band and I play some of the songs on guitar and bass. So, I would love to learn more about Bono.”
- Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari.
“I’ve never read a story about cavemen! Reviews sound really good.”
- 21 Thoughts for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari.
“Just the summary sounds really interesting.”
- The Spy and the Traitor, by Ben Macintyre
“A great espionage story of the cold war. I bought this copy at the McGill Book Fair.”
- Le Comte de Monte-Cristo, vol. 1, by Alexandre Dumas
“A classic that I’ve always wanted to read.”
- Permanent Record, a biography by Edward Snowden
“I saw the movie and I want to read the story!”
“I recently bought Demon Copperhead, by Barbara Kingsolver, a contemporary retelling of David Copperfield set in the Appalachian Mountains, in a community affected by opioid addition,” says Julie Fortier, Communications Manager, Facilities Management and Ancillary Services. “Since I hadn’t read Dickens’s novel though, I thought I would do that first, so that’s what I’m reading now. Recent faves of mine include The Lincoln Highway, by Amor Towles, Station 11, by Emily St. John Mandel, and An Honest Living, by Dwyer Murphy. The latter is a bit peculiar. It’s a mystery, a tribute to “classic noir,” revolving around rare books and set in NYC in the early 2000s. It’s the author’s first novel – he’s a former lawyer who is now editor of the CrimeReads website.”
“In terms of Quebec titles, I look forward to reading Carl Leblanc’s Rétroviseur (a roman d’apprentissage told in reverse chronology that spans the protagonist’s life, from midlife to childhood), and Les marins ne savent pas nager, by Dominique Scali (set in an imaginary world on a fictional island in the Atlantic),” says Julie. “I really enjoyed McGill prof (and 2022 Governor General’s Award winner) Alain Farah’s Mille secrets mille dangers and recommend it. I also really like the atmosphere created by Roxanne Boucher in her mystery series set in Gaspésie. I’ve read the first two, Nous étions le sel de la mer and La mariée de corail and have the third one on my list, Le murmure des hakapiks.”
A longtime McGill Reads contributor, Crystal Noronha, Graduate Studies Officer, Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, will tackle the following titles during the holidays:
When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi. “I have read this book a few years ago,” says Crystal, “but I have come across so many terminal illness stories recently that I decided to read it again.”
They Called Me Number One: Secrets and Survival at an Indian Residential School, by Bev Sellars. “I have been trying to go through the Indigo list of books about Residential Schools.”
It is always a good day for the keepers of McGill Reads when we receive a joint submission from Sean Goldfarb and his mother Janice. “It’s always a pleasure to contribute,” they say.
“I’m finishing up my pandemic-delayed Master’s degree and have been reading or will read the following books,” writes Sean. “I’ve been on quite a Maugham streak!”
The Razor’s Edge (1944): “A supposedly true story written by Maugham (in which he is a character) about a young man’s search for meaning in life following WWI. A very interesting book! Makes you consider what is the secret to happiness in life and whether there’s some universal commonality to it or if everyone’s answer is different.”
Liza of Lambeth (1897): “Maugham’s first book written while he was still a medical student. It’s about an impoverished woman named Liza, living in, you guessed it, Lambeth: then one of the poorest areas of London. It was based off the things he saw while he was a medical student and obstetric clerk at St Thomas’s Hospital in Lambeth.”
Catalina (1948): “Maugham’s last book. It’s about a woman named Catalina and her experiences during the Spanish Inquisition.”
The Tea Cyclopedia, by Keith Souter. “A entry level book about the (often violent) history and the many varieties and uses of the tea plant,” writes Sean. “Perfect for those who know little about tea or even those who do but might want to learn a thing or two about the second most drunk beverage in the world. Fun fact: did you know that Black tea, White tea, Purple tea, Green tea, Oolong Tea, and Pur’eh tea all come from the same plant (Camellia Sinensis)? It depends on which leaf is used and how it’s processed. Fascinating stuff!”
Janice writes that she is “busy working a hectic schedule and looking forward to the holidays for some quiet time drinking coffee while looking outside the window at the snow and cold and mulling over life’s mysteries. I recently finished an older book, The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, and just started a more-recently written book, The Sound of Gravel, by Ruth Wariner. They share a common theme of resilience.”
“My holiday book project is reading and editing my own book. Specifically, I need to edit the many chapters that colleagues have written on the riveting topic of ‘plant cell walls’ and that are sitting in my to-do pile waiting to be put together to form a cohesive book manuscript,” writes Anja Geitmann, Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.
“When I am not busy doing that, I will try and make some headway in reading a complex and intriguing book by Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony and Cass R. Sunstein: Noise – A Flaw in Human Judgement, writes Anja. “It explores the ways in which human decision making varies, the factors that influence decision making and judgment, and the strategies we can employ to tweak the process of decision making for more consistent and unbiased outcomes. During the COVID pandemic I was a member of the university’s Emergency Operations Committee and the number of decisions that had to be taken daily was mindboggling. With this experience in mind, this particular book is a very interesting read indeed.”
One of the Original 17, Will Straw is a McGill Reads mainstay.
“This holiday season, I’m wanting to relax with biographies and history books,” writes Will, Professor of Urban Media Studies in the Department of Art History and Communications Studies. Next up is Kimi Man Ray: Art, Love, and Rivalry in 1920s Paris, by Mark Braude, which is getting rave reviews and will hopefully my interest in bohemian life.”
“I also want to read (and probably need to, for winter teaching), Histoire de la rue, de l’antiquité à nos jours, a collection edited by Danielle Tartakowsky which his just out and which is about streets and the various ways they are used,” says Will. “And then there’s a book I’d never seen before but picked up on travels this summer, Paris Punkabilly 76-80, by Vincent Ostria, the story of a music scene I know almost nothing about.”
“Friends told me about the book A Place at the Nayarit: How a Mexican Restaurant Nourished a Community, by Natalia Molina, a book which sounds like it intersects with a lot of my interests, so I will read that as well.
A Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Occupational Health and the School of Population and Global Health until a few weeks ago, Giorgia Sulis will be starting her new jobas an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa. Thankfully, she still had time to submit to our humble list.
Giorgia recommends the following titles from books she has recently read:
Out of the Easy, by Ruta Sepetys. “To be honest, I could recommend every single work from this Lithuanian-American author, who mainly writes historical novels set in the recent past (e.g.: Spain under Franco’s fascist regime or Ceausescu’s Romania),” says Giorgia. “Out of the Easy takes place in New Orleans around the 1950s, where a 17-year-old girl lives a hard life and dreams of going to college. Once you start, you won’t stop reading, believe me!”
M: Son of the Century, by Antonio Scurati. “This is the first book of a trilogy on Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Exceptionally written as a novel, historically impeccable and full of lessons that remain valid today.”
Deep Work, by Cal Newport. “Not a novel but quite entertaining,” says Giorgia. “This book contains many tips and strategies to help us stay focused and increase our productivity while keeping a good work/life balance. Very good resource for people across disciplines and positions and especially helpful for academics and students.”
Giorgia has three books on her personal reading list:
Happy trails, Giorgia, and enjoy your new gig in Ottawa!
For Angela Campbell, reading really is a gift.
“My birthday comes a few weeks before the Christmas and I always receive as gifts amazing books that I try to get to before – but mostly save for – the holiday break,” writes the Associate Provost (Equity and Academic Policies). “I am just finishing up the Sweetness of Water, by Nathan Harris gifted to me by my buddy, Chris Buddle, which I highly recommend. I will also be reading a gift from my dear friend Nandini Ramanujam, The Tennis Partner, by Abraham Verghese, who wrote one of my all-time favourite novels, Cutting for Stone.”
“I gifted to all members of the Equity Team McGill Professor Debra Thompson’s 2022 book The Long Road Home,” writes Angela. “Thompson holds a Canada Research Chair in Racial Inequality in Democratic Society; her book is a must-read for all of us. Happy reading and happy holidays, everyone!”
“I’m, as usual, in the process of reading a couple of books at once,” writes regular McGill Reads contributor, Krystle Van Hoof, Managing Director and CEO of Healthy Brains, Healthy Lives. “I like to have a fiction and non-fiction on the go at the same time so that I can switch between them depending on my mood.”
On the fiction side of the library, Krystle has lined up Shards of the Earth, by Adrian Tchaikovsky.
“This is the first in a science fiction series about a future in which the earth is destroyed by an alien species that barely registers the existence of humans,” she writes. “The story begins just as humans have finally found a way to get the aliens to realize they exist and they leave. The author imagines a worldless and fractured human race managing to survive through a variety of very different strategies. I read this author’s Children of Time series and found him incredibly imaginative so I thought I would try this one. It’s definitely entertaining but, for my taste, not nearly as good or as creative as Children of Time and Children of Ruin (highly recommend those two!)
Krystle’s non-fiction choice is A Path with Heart, by Jack Kornfield.
“I’ve had this one on my shelf for a long time – I’d bought it on the recommendation of a friend and tried to read it several times but always found it a bit too dry,” she says. “This time, I guess the timing was right because I’m really enjoying it. I think the best way to describe this book is with its subtitle: a guide through the promises and perils of spiritual life. Jack Kornfield is an American who studied to become a Buddhist monk in the late 60s, early 70s before returning to the west and becoming a meditation/spiritual teacher. If you’re interested in meditation and spirituality, this book is a modern classic and I recommend it.”
Also included on Krystle’s reading list is Maryanne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home.
“I recently heard an interview with her on the Ezra Klein Show podcast that I really enjoyed,” she says. “The episode was on the general topic of this book, which examines the difference in how we read (/skim) digital content vs the act of ‘deep reading’ and its importance. As someone who does a lot of skimming and not nearly as much ‘deep’ (analog) reading as I would like these days, I’m very interested to read more of her thoughts and research on the topic.”
“One last thing I plan to read over the holidays and into the new year is Harvard Business Review. I have a subscription to the print magazine and I’m a couple of issues behind in my reading,” says Krystle. “I really like the articles in HBR: their articles are full of creative, evidence-based solutions to challenges I face every day at work. It’s been very interesting during the pandemic especially to read about how work has changed for other organizations/companies and what creative adaptations they have come up with. I used to think that HBR wouldn’t be relevant to me because I don’t work in the private sector but I came to realize that most of their articles are relevant to anyone working with humans.”
A hearty McGill Reads welcome aboard to Shirley Cardenas, Media Relations Officer. “For once I have a recommendation this year,” she writes. Shirley recommends Nerve: Lessons on Leadership from Two Women Who Went First, by by Martha Piper and Indira Samarasekera.
“In Nerve: Lessons on Leadership from Two Women Who Went First, Piper and Samarasekera share their personal and professional stories, offering guidance for women leaders of every age and at every stage of their career.”
“My favorite time of year!” enthuses Elena Bennett, Canada Research Chair in Sustainability Science. Elena has divided her picks into three categories.
One that I’m looking forward to reading:
Chesapeake Requiem: A year with the watermen of vanishing Tangier Island, by Earl Swift. “Blurbed as a meticulously researched, beautifully told narrative about a complicated, endangered slice of America, this book is a story of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake, which has shrunk from 2,163 acres in 1950 to 789 acres today,” says Elena. “Swift tells the story of this Island as a harbinger of how America will deal with those places that find themselves directly in the path of climate change impacts. I’m looking forward to it as a meditation on people, place, nature, and change.”
One that I read this year that shook me:
Four Thousand Weeks, by Oliver Burkeman. “Burkeman was a productivity and life advice columnist for the Guardian. The title comes from the notion that if we live to age 80, we will get about 4,000 weeks of being alive,” she writes. “While most productivity advice is about how to optimize your time management skills to pack more in, Oliver suggests that we need to radically alter our relationship with time and work, explaining that our constant running around is sometimes just an excuse to avoid facing our mortality and avoid thinking hard about what we really want to do with our limited number of weeks. Reading it has helped me to (mostly) stop trying to get everything done and start focusing on what truly brings meaning and joy.”
And one that I think everyone should read:
An Immense World, by Ed Yong. “You might have gotten to know Ed’s writing through his COVID-19 articles in the Atlantic, which won him a Pulitzer Prize,” says Elena. “His new book is an absolute tour de force, a joy to read that will open your mind to your own senses, and to the world around you, by exploring ways other types of animals sense their environments. The NY Times calls it a ‘thrilling tour of nonhuman perception.’ That it is, wrapped in gloriously compassionate, funny, and vivid storytelling.”
“I’ve been on a memoir kick,” says Emily Love, Manager, International Student Development and Communications. Emily plans recommends the following books:
Son of Elsewhere, by Elamin Abdelmahmoud. “A blend of migration, race and identity, heavy metal, pro-wrestling, and an ode to the highway 401,” writes Love. “A must read if you’re from Kingston (which I am).”
Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley. “She makes me glad I didn’t become a stage mom. Also, I loved the Adventures of Baron Munchausen once upon a time and it was surreal reading about her experiences.”
A Visible Man, by Edward Enninful. A memoir of a Black, gay immigrant who becomes the first Black editor of British Vogue.
“I am currently reading Solito: Beautifully written by Javier Zamora, a poet, in the lens of his nine-year old self as he migrated without anyone in his family from El Salvador to ‘la USA.’”
“Up next: Spare. Can’t wait. Bring it on Harry.”
Chris Buddle submitted to that very first McGill Reads list back in 2013. Ten years later, the Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Programs) is still at it. In typical fashion, Chris says he has “a long list and big goals for reading over the upcoming holiday break,” both in the non-fiction and fiction category.
“I’m a big fan of Cormac McCarthy (his Border Trilogy in particular) and his TWO (yes two!) 2022 novels are much anticipated (he is not a prolific author), so these books are top on my list,” says Chris. “The reviews are looking good so far, and the second of the two (Stella Maris) is apparently told entirely in dialogue. Cormac McCarthy has a unique approach to punctuation (e.g., he doesn’t use quotation marks), so I am most intrigued to dig into a novel of his that is all dialogue.”
“I’m also beyond excited that there is another Rebus thriller published by Ian Rankin – and it looks to be a good one! It’s titled A Heart Full of Headstones. Rebus is accused of a crime! How does it connect to his arch-enemy (frenemy?) “Big Ger”? Will Siobhan Clarke and Rebus work in cross-purposes, or together? Oh wow… I can’t wait.”
“A good friend of mine recommended The Dreamers, by Karen Walker. I don’t know much about the book, but apparently Emily St John Mandel (who wrote one of my favourite books, Station Eleven) highly recommends it. So, this goes on my list!!”
“On the non-fiction side, I’ve long been curious about design thinking, and have ordered (um, yup, before the holidays) a booked called the Design Thinking Playbook, dubbed as an “Actionable guide to the future of business” – and while I work in Higher Ed, I find ideas from the business world can be insightful.”
“My wife has just about finished reading the very-popular title The Myth of Normal and she will pass it on to me next. She (and others!) have told me it’s an important book, especially now as our society is in a difficult place, and this read may provide some ideas on navigating tumultuous times and understanding past trauma.”
“During the downtime over the holidays, I also like leafing through books already on my bookshelf and one that I return to often is Jack Kerouac’s Book of Haikus. It’s brilliant. I will also spend time with some illustrated books, such as Sophie Blackall’s Things To Look Forward To. It is so very beautiful.”
Janet Boeckh (DipEd’69, MEd’77) and Lawrence Mysak (Prof. Emeritus, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences) are a package deal.
“We both read a fascinating novel by a popular Ukrainian writer, Andrey Kurkov, written originally in Russian: Grey Bees, they write. “Lawrence loves Moshe Safdie’s memoir of his life in architecture, If Walls Could Speak.(with a great McGill connection!) Janet highly recommends The Sweetness of a Simple Life, by Diana Beresford-Kroeger. ”
“Happy holidays and thanks for this great project!”
Dilson Rassier, Dean of the Faculty of Education has three books lined up for the holidays – in three different languages.
Sacha Young may win this year’s Most Enthusiastic Award. “I think this is one of my favourite moments of the year – sharing the books that I am reading and recommending as reads to others,” writes the Senior Ethics Review Administrator, Institutional Review Board, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. We at the fabulous McGill Reads offices, think Sacha should also consider writing book reviews and previews as a side gig.
“I recently had a book buying binge, and don’t know where to begin,” she writes. “I have been binge reading the books by André Alexis (his quincunx collection), my favourite thus far is Days by Moonlight (although Pastoral is a close competitor). I am thoroughly enjoying Alexis’s style in capturing the environment and psyche of small-town southern Ontario. Although I am originally from Northwestern Ontario, the descriptions and language used in the novels seem to apply equally to those locals north of Lake Superior. Alexis has captured the sometimes bizarre and not quite quaint nature of these uniquely Canadian environments. Days by Moonlight leads the reader on a journey to find an elusive poet named John Skennen. Along the way, the reader will encounter the bizarre, the surreal, and the supernatural. He is just a fabulous writer, and a star of Canadian literature.
“I hope to take a journey in some medieval tales with a reading of the Mabinogion (trans. Sioned Davies). This is a collection of eleven tales (medieval Welsh) that deal with Celtic mythology, a bit of the King Author legends, and British history as seen through medieval Wales,” writes Sacha. “In the style of folklore, I anticipate the archtypes, the magic creatures and enchantments, and common themes associated with folktale – love and betrayal, conflict, etc. I was drawn to this work in part by a recent curiosity about the King Author stories, but also in part by the book’s introduction and explanation of the Mabinogion as branches – understood as branches being stories that emerge out of a larger or main narrative (trunk.) Also, since these tales come from the oral tradition of storytelling, I am curious about the literary devices used in the telling to invoke memory.
“A third option is R. F. Kuang’s, Babel (or if one wishes to partake in a series, The Poppy War). For Babel, fans of linguistics and history might enjoy this fantasy narrative that weaves language and British colonial history into a story of resistance and empire,” writes Sacha. “The Poppy War series, also in the genre of fantasy, draws on the history of the Nanjing massacre and the Second Sino-Japanese War. Kuang, whom I have come to enjoy as an author, is quite a prolific writer while also pursuing a doctorate in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale.”
Liliana Cetola, Administrative Coordinator, Neuroimmunology Unit, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, and McGill Reads regular, recommends The Only Woman in the Room, by Marie Benedict. “This is a fictionalized account of screen siren Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000),” writes Liliana. “It reveals the story of a brilliant woman scientist only remembered for her beauty.”
“Wow – already that time of year again,” writes Sarah Delisle, Senior Advisor, Emergency Management & Preparedness, Campus Public Safety. “Time to look back on the best reads of this past year and also look forward to more enjoyable reads for the holidays and beyond.”
“For this year’s holiday reading list I have one last selection from the 2022 Canada Reads shortlist to read: Omar El Akkad’s What Strange Paradise, the story of two youth – a young Syrian boy who survives the sinking of a boat carrying refugees, and the teenage girl who finds and helps him,” says Sarah. “Canada Reads often introduces me to stories I wouldn’t normally pick up on my own and I adore the sense of discovery.”
“At the top of my Christmas Wishlist is Kate Beaton’s graphic novel Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands, which is an autobiographical account of her experiences working in northern Alberta. I’ve been a long-time fan of the author’s comic series Hark! A Vagrant (see these two hilarious collections Hark! A Vagrant and Step Aside, Pops) so we’ll have to see if Santa delivers,” says Sarah. “I also highly recommend her children’s book The Princess and the Pony – featuring her characteristic quirky drawing style as well as a flatulent pony. My son was in stitches after the first read and consequently this book is now a regular at story time.”
“Lastly, if there is enough time between all the holiday get-togethers and activities, I hope to curl up with some mulled wine and get lost in Jon Mooallem’s This is Chance!: The Shaking of an All-American City, a Voice that Held it Together, the story of Genie Chance and her legendary radio broadcasts in the wake of the catastrophic 1964 Alaskan earthquake.”
“Happy Holidays and Happy Reading!”
A McGill Reads veteran, Jan Bottomer offers both the books she has lined up for the break, as well as titles she recommends.
“This holiday season I’m hoping to get to a few much-anticipated new releases: Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts, and Lessons in Chemistry, by Bonnie Garmus are top of the list,” says the Career Planning Service’s Music and Arts Career Advisor. “I’m also looking forward to curling up in front of the fire with the latest installment of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, A World of Curiosities.
Jan also recommends the following books:
“The one thing about the holiday season: Traditions abound,” says McGill Reads stalwart, Bruna Salhany, Accreditation & Education Quality Improvement Administrator, Postgraduate Medical Education. “Thus has my annual reading of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with the usual great delight, and relishing of the tale and its intrigues. No matter how many times I visit this world, Wickham’s blasé wickedness remains profoundly shocking.”
“Since larger gatherings are permitted this year, my reading will be lighter than previously: only two books are on the nightstand and I am quite excited to read both,” continues Bruna. “Sandra Cisneros’s seminal The House on Mango Street – the story of Mexican-American Esperanza Cordero, told through a series of vignettes, on her pathway of self-understanding as a Latina against the expectations her parents and those of a society which was steeped in representational tokenism. The questions of ‘Who am I? Why am I here? Where is my place?’ lies within the heart of many who are first generation in a New World, and who inhabit a world filled with the reverberations others decisions and actions.”
“Je doute être la seule pour laquelle Mille secrets mille dangers d’Alain Farah est une lecture très attendue dans les semaines à venir. Les raisons sont similaires à celles mentionnées ci-haut mais surtout l’approche sur les thèmes qui nous sont tellement familiers depuis mars 2022 : l’amour, la famille, la souffrance, le deuil. Brève lecture en librairie a rendu difficile l’attente de la pause administrative de l’université ce mois-ci.”
“Happy holiday-reading season to all! Bonne lecture pour les fêtes à tous !”
One thing that makes the McGill Reads team very happy, is when people keep in touch even after they have left the University. Abida Subhan, recently retired from the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, has her sights set on Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, a book which explores “the violent conflict in Northern Ireland and of the IRA.”
“It’s not Christmas time without your email about McGill Reads,” writes Jim Nicell, Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, and a reader of legendary ambition.
“The hard part every year is to choose from the far-too-many books on my shelf that I have not yet read,” writes Jim. “I think I have kept The Word on Milton in business over the years, buying books faster than I can ever possibly read them (The proprietor, Adrian, always invites me to his holiday parties).
“My tastes this year seem to gravitate toward big picture history and geopolitics. I will be starting out this holiday season with The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788-1800, by Jay Winik,” he says.
“Next up, will be 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created, by Charles Mann. I am a big fan of his work and the insights he provides on complicated issues, especially the way in which he gives you the space to come to your own conclusions about what he presents,” says Jim.
“And, finally, I will jump into a new book call Putin, by Philip Short, although I know I’ll be frustrated as I finish it wishing I new where Putin’s biography will end.”
Sometimes life makes it more challenging to get some quality reading time. Just ask Andrea Di Stefano.
“As a father of two young children, I don’t often have time to sit down and enjoy a book so — when it does happen — I try to choose books that will energize, entertain, and elevate my mood,” writes the Manager, Registration, Programs, and Degree Evaluation Enrolment Service.
“The book I’m currently reading was recommended by a colleague here at McGill: A Course in Miracles, by Dr. Helen Schucman. So far, I love it, and I’m looking forward to diving in a bit more over the holidays,” says Andrea.
“I’m also enjoying Awakening the Divine Mind: How a Little Old Lady’s Radical Spirituality Transformed My Life, by Don McEntire during my office commute. It’s a great combination of light-hearted humour and spiritual exploration and has been a highlight of my in-office workdays.”
Nigel Roulet believes in tradition. “Every year we read Jostein Gaarder’s The Christmas Mystery,” says the Distinguished James McGill Professor of Biogeoscience.
“It is by the same author who wrote Sophie’s World, which was an exploration of philosophy,” writes Nigel. “This is a delightful story about a magical advent calendar that takes the reader back through time and space to the birth of Christ. Great read – supposed to read a chapter every day for 25 days.”
Samir Shaheen-Hussain, Pediatric Emergency Physician; Assistant Professor (Department of Pediatrics); and Associate Member (School of Population and Global Health);Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, has been on both sides of McGill Reads. His award-winning book Fighting for A Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada, has been recommended by numerous McGill Reads contributors. This year, he is also making some recommendations of his own.
“When I wrote Fighting for a Hand to Hold, one of my goals was to debunk the prevailing assumption that Western medicine is inherently benevolent by exposing how ‘the medical establishment has been an integral part of the colonial project since its inception” and that ‘it has played a significant and active role in shaping nation-states and colonial agendas,’” writes Samir. “While the book may have achieved this goal, it did so by primarily focusing on the Canadian context.”
“In their groundbreaking book, Inflamed: Deep Medicine and the Anatomy of Injustice, Rupa Marya and Raj Patel provide a sweeping global and historical perspective in which they assert that ‘the history of modern medicine is the history of colonialism.” Marya and Patel draw on different non-colonial cosmologies to instead propose a truly holistic approach that addresses the root causes of disease/illness and avoidable suffering. A must-read book for all healthcare providers interested in care and healing work,” he says.
Works by authors Robyn Maynard and Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (a recent McGill Mellon Indigenous Writer-in-Residence) made Samir’s Anti-Colonial Reading List for the 49th Shelf in 2021.
“This past summer, Maynard and Simpson released their highly anticipated collaborative epistolary work, Rehearsals for Living, which was short-listed for the Governor General’s Literary Award for nonfiction,” writes Samir. “Drawing inspiration for the title of their book from Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s basic principle that ‘abolition is life in rehearsal because freedom is a place,’ this brilliant, beautiful and powerful exchange of Black and Indigenous perspectives via letters shared between Maynard and Simpson during the pandemic is a social justice “movement book” that astutely identifies the many crises stemming from slavery and colonization while illuminating the paths towards collective liberation rooted in solidarity and kinship.”
“Partly informed by my appointment as an Associate Member at McGill’s School of Population and Global Health this summer, the top four books on my reading list for the winter holidays are:
“I have to admit that I am sometimes a bit self-conscious that I rarely read academic books, but I guess I can provide an alternative viewpoint,” says Stephanie Wereley, Communications Officer, University Advancement.
“I plan to read Irina Lazareanu’s autobiography, Runway Bird. Born in Romania and raised in Montreal, she went on to a high-profile career in fashion, serving as muse to designer Karl Lagerfeld and BFF to supermodel Kate Moss,” says Stephanie. “As a bonus, the Montreal Library has stocked her book in French, so I can practice over the holidays.”
Thank you for your submission, Stephanie. Just adding to the eclecticism of our little list!
Robert Leckey, Dean of the Faculty of Law, offers five titles – including three with McGill connections.
One of the happy byproducts of a decade of McGill Reads is the annual check-ins we have with our regular contributors.
“Happy to contribute again, it’s been a good year for reading,” says one such regular, Gwyneth Anne MacMillan, a Postdoctoral Researcher, Dept. of Natural Resource Sciences.
“A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, is a perfect holiday read,” writes Gwyneth. “As a judger of book covers, this one sat on my shelf for a while because I didn’t like the title. So glad to have picked it up this weekend, this is a beautiful story about a Russian aristocrat who is ordered by the Bolshevists to spend his life under house arrest in a luxury hotel in Moscow, where he lives by the maxim ‘if a man does not master his circumstances then he is bound to be mastered by them.’”
“I also flew through two book series this fall, the Queen’s Thief books by Megan Whalen Turner, a YA fantasy series that is just awesome, and Donna Leon’s Comissario Brunetti books, police novels set in Venice which are satisfying because they don’t have typical satisfying endings,” she says. “There are also 31 of these crime novels (I’m at #14) if you have plenty of holiday reading time!”
“Last year I read The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow, once quickly and then again in pieces more slowly, and I am now working my way through David Graeber’s other books, including Bullshit Jobs (excellent) and Debt: The First 5,000 Years (on my beside table). Just love how this guy thinks and writes,” says Gwyneth. “My New Year’s resolution is to read in French more, and my first one will be Tout est ori, by Paul Serge Forest, a Quebec novelist, which comes highly and unanimously recommended by a group of friends.”
A McGill Reads list without Bud Martin is like egg without the nog. While he prefers to toil in the shadows (no, the real shadows, Daniel McCabe), Bud is referred to as the Great Communicator by his legion of followers.
As per tradition, we give the last word(s) to Bud.
“I just got wind of The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber & David Wengrow, and Mick Herron’s Slough House spy novels (the source material for the Slow Horses TV series – also unknown to me). Of course, none of this is news to the McGill Reads hive mind: All that stuff was on last year’s list. I wonder what other wisdom from the McGill Reads braintrust I’ve spaced on?”
“So, to choose a third book for the holiday nightstand, I crunched nine years of data to find the uber-book that McGillians recommended the most often. (I fretted getting stuck with War and Peace, but thankfully that only showed up twice.) And the winner is… a tie? Do I go with Barkskins by E. Annie Proulx (six recommendations over five years), or Being Mortal by Dr. Atul Gawande (also six in five)? Fiction or non-fiction? A sweeping multi-generational novel about ecological collapse or a personal reflection on shifting health care from survival mode to ensuring well-being? The deforestation of the New World or a new way to think about end-of-life? (Or, gulp, maybe, in a way, they’re both about end of life?) I haven’t been this torn since that mall Santa made me choose between a Snuggie and a Slanket.”