Fresh ideas usher in a season of new books

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      For the serious bookworm, the longer days of spring don’t necessarily add up to more time for boring stuff like outdoor activity—just more natural light for the page. Here are 10 new titles offering everything from high-tech prophecies to bizarrely funny visions of apocalypse.


      Nice Recovery
      (By Susan Juby. Viking Canada, 261 pp)

      Juby grew up on the leading edge of a disturbing trend. According to this new memoir, the Vancouver Island–based creator of such witty YA novels as Alice, I Think spent her mid-’80s adolescence toking, snorting, and—with special energy—boozing up a storm. By the end of her teen years she was in recovery, at a time when the average age of people seeking help with addictions was closer to 50. And because this average age has since plummeted into the lower 20s, she’s decided it’s time to tell her deeply personal story, as solace for those going through the same thing. Still, don’t expect the tone to be all teary-eyed and, uh, sober. As the press materials note, Juby had to be talked out of titling the book Drinky Pants: A Quitter’s Tale.

      Marshall McLuhan
      (By Douglas Coupland. Penguin Canada, 251 pp)

      Penguin comes up with yet another intriguing author-subject pairing for its “Extraordinary Canadians” series, commissioning Coupland to create this profile of the man who foresaw the grand implications of the electronic age, and who left us with such now-standard terms as “the global village”. Switching between conventional essay forms and fictionlike vignettes, Coupland takes on Marshall McLuhan’s dense, often arcane theories. He also reminds us just how unlikely a prophet of high tech McLuhan was, a half-century ago: the Toronto-based professor wasn’t some gadget-infatuated futurist, but was rather a cantankerous, devoutly religious academic who began his career in Renaissance studies. As the author observes, McLuhan “hated the modern world and he hated technology, but that never prevented him from being obsessively interested in the world it produced”.

      Nothing But the Truth: Selected Dispatches
      (By Anna Politkovskaya, translated by Arch Tait. Harvill Secker, 468 pp)

      No one has ever been convicted for gunning down Politkovskaya in her Moscow apartment block in October 2006. But that’s not because the assassination came as a bolt from the blue. In the years beforehand, the crusading Russian journalist had become world-famous as both a model of integrity and a human target. The 1999 starting point of this new collection of Politkovskaya’s work coincides not only with her move to Moscow’s Novaya Gazeta newspaper, but also with the outbreak of the Second Chechen War. And it was her steely-nerved focus on the human-rights abuses of this conflict that earned her some of her most powerful enemies, from Vladimir Putin to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. “I am no political infighter,” Politkovskaya wrote in an essay found on her computer after her death. “What am I guilty of? I have merely reported what I witnessed.”

      Dreams in a Time of War
      (By Ngugi Wa Thiong’o. Pantheon, 256 pp)
      Throughout his long career, this revered 72-year-old Kenyan author has returned again and again to the cruelties and distortions of colonialism. Some of his caustic analyses have been parable-like novels, such as 1964’s Weep Not, Child; others have been plays like I Will Marry When I Want, which landed Ngugi in a maximum-security Nairobi prison in the mid ’70s. Dreams in a Time of War is a memoir of Ngugi’s rural childhood, in a period marked by sweeping social changes and the armed Mau Mau uprising against British rule. Many of these upheavals, he writes, “merged into each other, all a little confusing. But, somehow, in time, I began to connect a few threads, and things became clearer as if I was emerging from a mist.”

      Sex, Bombs and Burgers
      (By Peter Knowak. Viking Canada, 364 pp)

      Veteran CBC technology journalist Knowak shows how some of the most commonplace tools we’ve developed since the 1940s—from Tupperware and plastic bags to cellphones, DVDs, and video-streaming—grew from tainted soil: namely, the multibillion-dollar military, porn, and mass-agriculture industries. “Archeological evidence suggests that one of humanity’s first inventions, fire, was used for the purposes of war, sex and food,” Knowak remarks in his introduction. What follows is an attempt to reveal how those old urges drive even the most sophisticated works of turbo-charged consumerism.


      Darwin’s Bastards
      (Selected and edited by Zsuzsi Gartner. Douglas & McIntyre, 464 pp)

      As in Charles Darwin’s famous theory, variation is all. Editor Zsuzsi Gartner asked a major cross-section of Canadian short-fiction writers “for their social satire, fabulist tales, and irreverent dystopian visions of the day after tomorrow”, and received everything from Matthew Trafford’s story about the cloning of Jesus Christ to Pasha Malla’s vision of the apocalypse, in which the sole male survivor is the musician Prince. The contributors to Darwin’s Bastards include William Gibson, Douglas Coupland, and Yann Martel, as well as Annabel Lyon, Sheila Heti, and Lee Henderson. All of the 23 stories here are appearing in book form for the first time, and each hints not at the origin of our species but at its possible end.

      Darwin’s Bastards is due out on Saturday (April 3). A launch and “futuristic costume party” will be held on April 16 at the WISE Hall (1882 Adanac Street), featuring Annabel Lyon, Timothy Taylor, and other authors in the collection.

      What Becomes
      (By A. L. Kennedy. House of Anansi, 221 pp)
      The Glaswegian virtuoso offers 12 short stories that add to her reputation as a writer of such power that she can break the hearts of her characters with lifelike ease and then empathize with even their faintest sufferings. Here, in these expert renderings, we find guilt, isolation, ambivalence, fury, and longing—and, of course, dark humour, floating amid the chilly wreckage like a life raft.

      Dahanu Road
      (By Anosh Irani. Doubleday Canada, 304 pp)

      Alongside the Arts Club premiere of his latest play, My Granny the Goldfish, Vancouver’s Irani serves up his third novel, set on the outskirts of his old hometown, Mumbai. Histories of violence, the confines of ethnicity and class, the unruly powers of love—Dahanu Road offers it all in the story of an aimless young man whose cushy world is upended when romantic feelings for a worker on his family’s estate draw him across age-old social barriers.

      The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
      (By Alan Bradley. Doubleday Canada, 368 pp)

      If the setting of this classically influenced mystery series seems an almost mythical version of rural England in the 1950s—all ramshackle country houses, winding lanes, and bicycles—there’s good reason: before writing the best-selling opener, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, 70-year-old Canadian author Bradley had never set eyes on Dear Old Blighty. That didn’t stop his poison-obsessed child detective, Flavia de Luce, from winning over mystery fans everywhere, including the Brits themselves. Now residing in Malta (some distance from Kelowna, where he was living when the Straight caught up with him this time last year), Bradley presents the second installment in this projected string of six books, in which the bizarre murder of a puppeteer pulls Flavia into an investigation of old, lethal secrets about her tranquil hamlet.

      (By Ian McEwan. Knopf Canada, 288 pp)

      McEwan has been known to bend a plot for the sake of symmetry, or to tackle the big issues with a slightly morbid earnestness (for examples of both, see Enduring Love). But he’s definitely a novelist of uncanny range and vision, with few equals in getting the English language to do exactly what’s necessary. Here, he returns to the satirical form he played with in 1998’s Amsterdam, giving us a portrait of Michael Beard, a jaded, philandering Nobel-laureate physicist whose personal life is drifting into chaos just as he’s saddled with the job of helping save the planet from a climate catastrophe.