The Agenda's year in books: 2016 edition

From fiction and memoir to biography, history, and sociology, here are some highlights from the authors and books featured on the show this year
By Carla Lucchetta - Published on December 28, 2016



Throughout the year The Agenda invites authors to discuss their newly released books. Here's a roundup of some of 2016's most thoughtful conversations, covering topics such as technology vs. relationships, black history, an artist's response to a cancer diagnosis, a personal look at life in prison, and what it means to be brown skinned in the world today. 

Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle 


The social sciences professor looks at how the increasing switch from in-person connection to texting or instant messaging affects peoples’ creativity, productivity, and relationships.

In his conversation with her, host Steve Paikin wonders whether technology is actually helping people better stay in touch. Turkle responds by describing the vital cues that are missing from virtual interactions. “[With] face-to-face conversation, or at least voice-to-voice, there’s something very particular about all that you get from seeing the face, the voice, the eyes in real time responding to you.”

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Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation, Laura Kipnis

Laura Kipniss, a prominent American feminist and essayist, previously wrote about women and femininity in The Female Thing. In Men: Notes From an Ongoing Investigation, she looks at male behaviour in the current battle of the sexes, as conventions for both genders continue to shift.

“I do think there's a sense of being fed up with men that you hear articulated a lot more,” Kipnis says. “It may have something to do with more economic independence, but I think it also has something to do with changes in male culture as well, and ways that men have become independent themselves and less likely to sign on for some of the traditional roles that I think a lot of women actually still want them to play, like fiancé or committed husband or breadwinner.”

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Creative Recreations: the RBC Taylor Prize finalists

The RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction celebrates Canadian memoir, biography, and creative non-fiction. Ian Brown’s Sixty ruminates — poignantly and hilariously — on what it’s like to approach senior-citizen status. In This is Happy, Camilla Gibb writes about creating new connections when she was alone and pregnant. David Halton recounts his father Matthew’s life as a foreign correspondent (he was known as Canada’s “voice at war”) in Dispatches From the Front. Wab Kinew’s The Reason You Walk is the story of his reconciliation with his father and the importance of his First Nations heritage. And Rosemary Sullivan — who ultimately won this year's prize — retells the life of the dictator's estranged daughter, Svetlana, in Stalin’s Daughter

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In-Between Days, Teva Harrison

Artist Teva Harrison turned to her creative practice when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 36. The result is In-Between Days, an illustrated memoir discussing some of the more taboo aspects of that diagnosis: the gruelling routine of body scans and treatments, the depression that prevents her from getting out of bed sometimes, a waning libido and painful sex, and what to say when well-meaning people ask how she is.

“On a practical level, it’s given me something to focus on,” she says. “It got me back into drawing on a regular basis. It’s helped me tap into a tremendous caring community … people in Canada and around the world who have shared [this] experience.”

The book was nominated for a 2016 Governor General’s award for non-fiction.

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The Motorcyclist, George Elliott Clarke


Clarke explores one year in the life of a black man in Halifax, N.S., in 1959, in a novel loosely based on his late father’s diary.

Clarke, an award-winning novelist, a playwright, and Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate, spoke to Nam Kiwanuka about his father’s influence on his work. “My father’s story and the story of many other African-Canadians — and many other Canadians for that matter — tells us there is always that possibility for excellence for anyone willing who is interested in moving beyond the stereotypical confines of identity.”

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Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (to Everyone), Kamal Al-Solaylee

Nominated for the 2016 Governor General’s Award for non-fiction, this is in part Al-Solaylee’s own story, but also the result of two years of research travelling to 10 countries to look at the historical, social, political, and economic conditions brown-skinned people around the globe must navigate.

“One of the things I suggest in the book," he says, "is there is such a thing as a brown continuum and it covers people I would define as [from the] Middle East, North Africa, Central and South America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia — in part because they are all defined by labour and the work they do … [as a] source of cheap labour.”


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This is Not My Life, Diane Schoemperlen



Schoemperlen's memoir details her six-year relationship with a federal inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. Alongside the personal story are revelations about prison life, and what the author believes is a closed society Canadians should know more about.

“I wanted to break through some of the stereotypes," Schoemperlen explains, "not only about prison as a physical place, but also about the inmates themselves — and the women who fall in love with them. Like me.”

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Precious Cargo: My Year of Driving Kids on School Bus 3077, Craig Davidson


Davidson chronicles his experiences driving five special-needs kids to school — a job he took during a stagnant time in his writing career. It was during the time he spent with these kids, he tells host Nam Kiwanuka, that learned how to be an adult.

“I couldn’t tell you when it happened, exactly. The moment when all the noticeable differences melted away and they became kids, same as any other kids. Yes, I could see the wheelchair and yes, the facial tics and yes, the florid hand gestures. But in my eyes, those things had ceased to be a definition of selfhood. They never should have defined those kids in the first place. They were just kids — my kids, I thought possessively. The best kids in the whole damn world.” 

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Wenjack, Joseph Boyden

The award-winning author's new novella tells the story of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old boy who attempted to run home from a residential school and died alone and frozen by the side of northern Ontario train tracks. (He is also the subject of Secret Path, an album by Gord Downie and a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire)

Wenjack's voice, Boyden says, "came through so strong. It was as if this kid was saying, 'I don't want to be gone yet — don't forget me.' And so to capture his voice was one of those rare moments as a writer where it just ... it flowed through to me. He told me what he needed to say and I listened carefully.”

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Bill Davis: Nation Builder and Not So Bland After All, Steve Paikin


Ten years in the making, The Agenda's host, Steve Paikin, finally released his profile of Bill Davis in the fall. Paikin explains why the four-time Ontario premier captured his imagination: “This man was the premier of Ontario from 1971 to 1985. Fourteen years, second longest serving premier of all time — started being premier when I was 10, stopped being premier when I was 24. So my most formative years of growing up in this province were coincidentally his most formative years in political life.” 

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