New reads for the season

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      Now, by the light of the strange glowing ball in the sky that’s emerged from the clouds, it’s time to have a look at some of the more intriguing titles marking the turn of the season. They’ll change your mind about everything from who counts as family to what our social networks mean.


      The Juggler's Children: A Journey Into Family, Legend And The Genes That Bind Us 

      (By Carolyn Abraham. Random House Canada)
      Abraham’s acclaimed 2001 book, Possessing Genius, tracked the wanderings of Albert Einstein’s brain after it was removed during his autopsy. Her latest, The Juggler’s Children, ranges even farther, on the continent-crossing trail of her very own DNA. With an irreverent sense of humour and the smarts of an experienced medical-science journalist, Abraham describes how questions about her ancestry had gnawed at her since childhood, when she was “a brown girl with a Jewish last name who went to the Catholic school”, raised by parents who’d been born in India but claimed to be English-Portuguese-Irish-Scottish-Dutch-Russian. It was only once she’d established herself as a writer in such rapidly advancing fields as genetics that she began wondering whether DNA research held the key to ending “more than a century of speculation, denial and myth” about her family. And what her genes wind up revealing—about not only her own background but everyone else’s—is richer than any tall family tale.


      This Is Running For Your Life: Essays
      (By Michelle Orange. Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
      Every era needs its scalpel-minded critics, particularly to dissect the ways in which the technology of the day reshapes how we think. But this might be a bigger order than it’s ever been, given how media-soaked our every notion has become. Luckily, Canadian-born essayist Michelle Orange has the ability to stand back and focus sharply enough to see, for example, how the thoroughly digitized reality we’ve built for ourselves has blown out any shared sense of time, or how we “race to consume the hour’s large and small events for each other…to know them first, translate them into bitter capsule form the fastest, and be shocked or stirred or perceived as in any way less than totally savvy about these things the least.” Blended with digressions into personal memoir and journalism about such events as the annual conference of the American Psychiatric Association, Orange’s insights run against the overwhelming current of our times.


      Toms River: A Story Of Science and Salvation
      (By Dan Fagin. Bantam)
      Fagin, a multiple Pulitzer nominee and New York University journalism professor, combines environmental and science reporting with detailed historical research and fast-paced storytelling to recount the appalling effects that 60 years of water and air pollution had on a placid seaside community in New Jersey. Investigations into a wave of childhood cancers in the town of Toms River reveal that for decades chemical companies routinely spewed toxic waste into local waterways, leading outraged and grieving families to confront “corporate avarice and government neglect”, and resulting in a 2001 legal settlement that was the largest ever of its kind. A reminder that what’s out of sight and out of mind in our industrial landscape can return with a vengeance.


      Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls: Essays, Etc.
      (By David Sedaris. Little, Brown)
      Can we really list Sedaris’s work here with the standard nonfiction, considering the troubles he’s sometimes had with passing the fact-check test? Might as well, mainly because his stories are even funnier if treated as reports on the real world, which we all know to be every bit as absurd and foible-plagued as he claims. Sedaris’s hordes of fans will be glad to hear about the imminent arrival of this new collection, replete with tales of a trip to Australia (“It’s Canada in a thong”) and his first colonoscopy. Due out April 23.



      The Woman Upstairs
      (By Claire Messud. Knopf)
      It’s been a long wait—a full seven years—since Messud’s last novel, The Emperor’s Children, a roundly celebrated depiction of New York City privilege in the days just before 9-11. This latest by the one-time Torontonian promises nuanced suspense and what its publisher is calling a vision of female “intensity” to rival the male version found in the work of Dostoyevsky. If that’s at all accurate, given the desperate desires that came to life in the Russian’s own attic rooms, The Woman Upstairs should have intensity to burn as it tells the story of a duty-bound American schoolteacher who is drawn into the glittering circle of the urbane new family in town. Due out April 30.


      Bone and Bread
      (By Saleema Nawaz. House of Anansi)
      This debut novel by the Journey Prize–winning Montreal author of the 2008 collection Mother Superior follows a pair of siblings whose shared life unravels as they take separate routes through tragedy. Beena, now in her 30s and a mother, is forced by the sudden death of her sister, Sadhana, to look back in time, in an unsettling search for the reasons behind their contrasting fates. The answers start as early as their teen years, a time when the death of their parents sent them to live with their Sikh uncle in Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood and Sadhana began a descent into obsession.


      A Beautiful Truth
      (By Colin McAdam. Hamish Hamilton)
      It seems there’s a ton of writing about animal psychology being done right now, from rigorous scientific reports to the fast-growing catalogue of memoirs on “what my dog taught me about love/Buddhahood/finance”. But there are few better ways of seeing the world through radically different eyes than fiction, and esteemed Toronto novelist Colin McAdam has set himself the hugely ambitious task of bridging the divide between species. A Beautiful Truth tells the ’70s-set story of a couple who adopt a chimp named Looee and raise him as their child. The stark differences and eerie similarities between human and ape are revealed in the narration—presented in part from Looee’s own perspective.


      Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales
      (By Yoko Ogawa. Picador)
      You know things are probably not going to go well for the characters in a story that opens with the line “It was a beautiful Sunday.” So begins this short, unnerving cycle of interconnected pieces by the Japanese author of such acclaimed works as The Housekeeper and the Professor and Hotel Iris, who has won plaudits from the likes of Nobel laureate Kenzaburō Ōe. Populated by the lonely, the tragic, and the homicidal, who slip from one story into the next, Revenge stitches together a world that is at bottom a macabre psychological state, etched in spare and sometimes gruesome detail.