‘Tis the season for best-of lists and recommended reads. It should come as no surprise that the Vancouver Writers Fest team is full of voracious readers. From our bookshelves to yours, here are our favourite books that we read in 2019.
The Uninhabitable Earth
Written by David Wallace Wells
Recommended by Andrew Forshner, Development Director
Do you wonder why everyone you know under the age of 20 wants to ban all plastics, disrupt your day-to-day normal life and upend the world economy? Read David’s book to learn about the state our world’s in, but also to learn about solutions you can share with the generations who will have to reside in our climate-changed earth.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
Written by Mariko Tamaki and Illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Recommended by Leena Desai, Outreach Coordinator
Teenage love has never been this relatable or this gorgeously illustrated as it is in Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me, written by Mariko Tamaki, with illustrations by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Freddy Riley is hung up over the popular and funny Laura Dean, but Laura keeps treating Freddy as charming pastime rather than a serious partner. This causes Freddy much misery and eventually, with the help of an advice columnist, a local mystic and her friends, Freddy learns to let go of toxic relationships. Besides writing about lovelorn teenagers, Tamaki also writes about superheroes for Marvel and DC Comics, and in Laura Dean, she creates a fully-realized character in Freddy who is as courageous and kind as the superheroes her author writes about.
And the Mountains Echoed
Written by Khaled Hosseini
Recommended by Claire Zhao, Festival Assistant
“People mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.” -Khaled Hossein
Before I picked up And the Mountains Echoed, it had been sitting on my bookshelf for years. I was afraid that this novel about how families nurture, wound, betray, honour and sacrifice for another would be too dense or too cliché. But once started, I found myself powering through it day and night. It’s a beautifully woven story. In 2020, would you let what you’re afraid of to take on the lead?
The Wisdom of Insecurity
Written by Alan Watts
Recommended by Chelsee Damen, Operations Manager
A balm for the anxious. Nearly 70 years after it was published, this book has managed to stay fresh and relevant. If you’ve ever had pain or worry you will likely be buoyed and reassured by Watts’s loving irreverence and hip introspection about what it means to be human and how to embrace relentless uncertainty.
Life After Life
Written by Kate Atkinson
Recommended by Nicole Nozick, Executive Director
I was a late arrival to Kate Atkinson—her appearance at a VWF special event in 2018 spurred me to pick up Life After Life to see what all the fuss was about. I’ve been hooked ever since.
The beauty of Atkinson’s story-telling is bountiful—and once in, absolutely impossible to let go of, even when I’d long done reading the book. I thanked heaven umpteen times for Atkinson’s short chapter writing style which instantly transported me to a world far away and made succumbing to age-related focusing trouble and other household bothers, acceptable. I still remember the time I looked up from the book, tears rolling down my cheeks, to scold my kids with these words: “Can you all just keep quiet already! A young child is just about to drown and I can’t concentrate!”
They haven’t let me live that one down yet.
Written by Brenda Leifso
Recommended by Clea Young, Senior Artistic Associate
Kingston poet Brenda Leifso’s third collection Wild Madder—so titled after the wildflower but one that also beautifully encapsulates Leifso’s themes of the chaos and drudgery of parenthood and the domestic—was one I devoured this past spring and continued to think about and revisit in the following months. You can dip in and read a poem here and there, but I recommend reading this collection in one sitting, cover to cover, immersing yourself completely in the messy, glorious, sometimes heart-breaking, sometimes rage-filled world that Leifso clearly loves so madly.
Written and illustrated by Nancy Vo
Recommended by Leslie Hurtig, Artistic Director
It’s a challenging task to choose just one top pick amongst a variety of genres and spanning an entire year. While many of my favourite titles from 2019 are fiction and memoir, at this time of year I like to offer some ideas for our youngest readers. The very best picture books are those that resonate strongly with the adult sharing the story with the child. My top pick does just that; a series of stories that display stunning artwork alongside themes that are important social reminders for every adult.
Vancouver author and illustrator, Nancy Vo, has given young readers and their adults a remarkable picture book series told with a stereotype defying Western theme.
The first in this Crow Series was The Outlaw, a gracious portrayal of the importance of forgiveness and second-chances. This fall she published the second in this trilogy, The Ranger, about a ranger named, Annie, and the fox that she saves from a brutal trap injury. The fox stays close after this encounter, and soon becomes the one to save Annie when a black bear attacks. The message that friendships can be struck no matter what walk of life one comes from, and that friendship is about supporting one another, not about keeping score, is shown with great gentleness and beauty. This is a series that reminds readers of the fundamental importance of compassion and the great peace to be found in friendship.
Written by Mona Awad
Recommended by Lauren Dembicky, Marketing & Development Coordinator
Bunny is a masterful, magical exploration of female relationships, the power of dark imaginations and the deep desire to belong. Darkly humorous and woven together with sharp prose and rich observations about the intricacies of college life, Bunny takes readers down the proverbial rabbit hole and back again. I recommend it to everyone looking for a reason to stay up until 4am captivated by a book that I can only describe as unputdownable.