To prepare for The Agenda in the Summer, I had to do the best kind of homework: read more than 25 books. I had the opportunity to speak with, among others, award-winning authors Barry Callaghan and Marlon James; Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead; and Tim Hague, an Amazing Race Canada winner who wrote a book about being diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s disease at 46.
Reading a book is a personal act, one that requires curiosity, time, and commitment. Books help us see the world from a perspective other than our own, provide us with insight into why we do what we do. Here are seven books that opened my eyes and mind this season:
The Nickel Boys, by Colson Whitehead
Colson Whitehead is a genius, and that’s not just my personal opinion. In 2002, he was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship (often referred to as a “Genius Grant”), and, in 2017, he received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his chilling novel The Underground Railroad. In his new book, he once again draws from history, telling a fictional story about a segregated all-boys reform school in Florida. (His Nickel Academy is based on the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, which closed in 2011.) The Nickel Boys demands that we look racism in the face — and makes for an illuminating and heart-breaking read.
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Just in time for the upcoming federal election, David Moscrop has written a book that examines why we vote the way we do — and how we can do better. He traces the history of democracy and argues that, by being informed voters, we can become empowered citizens. It’s an essential and accessible read that will help you navigate these highly partisan times.
Washington Black, by Esi Edugyan
In her third novel, Washington Black, Esi Edugyan mourns the genius lost to bigotry, exploring what freedom looks like for an enslaved person who not only escapes the physical constraints of slavery but also leaves an indelible mark on history. The Canadian writer won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for the work, becoming only the third author to win one back to back (she won in 2011 for her novel Half-Blood Blues).
If Ann Hui hadn’t set out to write about Chinese restaurants in Canada, she might never have learned of her family’s own connection to them. In Chop Suey Nation, Hui goes on a road trip with her partner, visiting Chinese restaurants across the country and learning about the sacrifices people have made to create better lives for their families — and about the government’s history of discriminatory policies. Along the way, she discovers the challenges her own family faced and the bonds they nurtured through difficult times.
Me, Myself, They: Life Beyond the Binary, by Joshua M. Ferguson
In 2018, Joshua M. Ferguson became the first Ontarian to receive an X non-binary designation on their birth certificate. In Me, Myself, They, Ferguson discusses why they fought for this and what life was like for them growing up in a small community. As a teenager, Ferguson was ostracized and forced to change schools multiple times. They write from a place of strength, dealing with issues of identity and inclusion with insight, conviction, and wit.
Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
Marlon James knows how to make you care about the characters he creates. In what has been described as the African Game of Thrones, James tells a love story that’s steeped in the continent’s mythology, drawing on the history of African communities that have accepted same-sex relationships for hundreds of years. This is the first of a trilogy — and it’s only a matter of time before it hits the big screen. The film rights have already been sold.
The Perfect Predator: A Scientist’s Race to Save Her Husband from a Deadly Superbug, by Steffanie A. Strathdee and Thomas Patterson
How far would you go to save the life of a loved one? In this memoir, Steffanie A. Strathdee describes how a much-anticipated vacation in Egypt for her and her husband ended up becoming a life-and-death struggle against an antibiotic-resistant infection. It’s as much medical thriller as memoir — and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it end up on the big screen.