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Some Novel Ideas for Your Holiday Giving

Looking to gift a book this year? Look here for our picks. And please share your own.

Tyee Staff 8 Dec

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

(Please interpret as sarcasm or genuine sentiment depending on your own personal mood and perspective.)

Whether you’re celebrating raucously or sticking close to home this year, books always make a great gift for friends and loved ones. They can offer comfort or a challenge; a moment of escape, or an opportunity for reflection about the world and our places in it.

Below, we share some of our favourite reads from the past year and beyond. The mix of non-fiction, fiction and poetry is sure to suit many of the readers on your gift list this year.

And if you’re looking for even more suggestions, you can check out the great books we recommended for our Summer Reads list this year.


For your cousins in the Fraser Valley

Invisible Boy
By Harrison Mooney

One of the most striking aspects of Harrison Mooney’s first book and memoir is its currency. It buzzes with life lived here and now. This is especially arresting because the book dives into Mooney’s upbringing in Abbotsford, B.C., where the people around him speak in tongues, are overtly racist towards him, and offer few havens for friendship or emotional safety, even in the confines of his home where he spends most of his time homeschooled through mail-order DVDs from a Christian educational agency in Florida.

Mooney’s wise, propulsive writing about his early life as the only Black adoptive child in a white conservative Christian family is as much a vehicle for his soaring heart and searing sense of humour as it is a damning indictment of how white supremacy brings us all down. It’s a compelling, beautifully rendered book that’s as edifying as it is entertaining. Perfect for nights at home in that crucial stretch between Christmas and New Year’s Day, when all is calm, all is bright, and some of us are marooned in a churchgoing municipality with a few unwieldy relatives.

For the creative in your life (or anyone fighting off imposter syndrome)

The Plot
By Jean Hanff Korelitz
(Celadon Books)

Jacob Finch Bonner is a washed-up novelist. He’s jealous of his peers and resentful of the students he teaches as part of a third-rate creative writing residency. That is, until one student shares a genius plot for a novel that even Jacob admits is sure to be a best-seller, then passes away before he can write it. Jacob decides to become the imposter he already feared he was and writes the novel himself. It catapults him into renewed fame and the sights of an anonymous pursuer who wants the story to stay buried. Alternating between the plot in question and Jacob's pursuit of its chilling true origin, The Plot is an ambitious and satisfying literary thriller.

For true crime aficionados and local history buffs

Cold Case BC: The Stories Behind the Province’s Most Intriguing Murder and Missing Persons Cases
By Eve Lazarus
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

True crime is a popular genre, but it gets a bad rap when podcast hosts and authors treat it as entertainment rather than a tragedy that has affected real people and their families. Vancouver author Eve Lazarus worked with families of murdered and missing people to produce this sensitive and detailed exploration of cold cases in B.C., from two badly botched investigations of the murders of two young women in the 1940s, to the murders and disappearances of Indigenous women on B.C.’s Highway of Tears, and many other haunting cases.


For the friend who feels like family

Cold Enough for Snow
By Jessica Au
(Giramondo Publishing Co.)

Is there a word for books that feel like the equivalent of movies filmed in one take? Writer, editor and bookseller Jessica Au’s buzzy first novel has made waves in Melbourne, Australia, where she lives. It won Australia’s inaugural Novel Prize and won or was shortlisted for numerous Australian literary awards this year.

I can see why: it’s a novel that pulls you into its world and feels perfect for our times. The slim volume follows a young Chinese woman as she travels with her mother through Japan on a vacation the daughter planned for the two of them. We follow them through art galleries, busy streets and restaurants. Part of the allure is the wonder of travel with them after so many pandemic years largely spent at home. But for all its gorgeous scenery and bustling sidewalk activity, the genius of Au’s writing is in what’s left unsaid. The silences and hesitations between parent and child resonate like a gong.

For bleary-eyed parents of young kids

The Joy of Quitting
By Keiler Roberts
(Drawn & Quarterly)

Chicago-based graphic novelist Keiler Roberts has penned a memoir of eight years of her life in comic form. It’s wry, relatable reading. Many pandemic parents may see themselves reflected in Roberts’ tired nakedness, her ugly thoughts and the redemptive fact of a wondrous young child growing up in a strange world. The book moves through the intensity and exhaustion of early parenthood, the terrible things we think to ourselves and sometimes speak out loud, and the complexity and grief of navigating chronic illness in middle age. The book is a feast for sore eyes, exhausted from late nights and overwork. The focus is Roberts’ life, but it’s likely that you’ll see yourself and your family in these pages, bumps and all.

For the sibling who shares the weirdest memes

Lesser-Known Monsters of the 21st Century
By Kim Fu
(Coach House Books)

Shortlisted for the Giller Prize this year, Kim Fu’s latest offering is an eccentric, rollicking collection of short stories that blends elements of sci-fi, fantasy and literary fiction. In one story, for example, wealthy people have access to a 3D printer that can resurrect them when they die; in another, an insomniac lusts after the Sandman. In yet another, humanity has lost its ability to taste, and people yearn to recreate the experience of eating particular foods. These tales, the Giller Prize jury said, “stealthily reveal themselves to be structures for unspeakably moving revelations about the most real of human experiences.”


For kids who like to cook and bake

The Kid's Illustrated Cookbook
By Cole LaMarca and Emily LaMarca, illustrated by Tami Boyce

There are a lot of kids’ cookbooks on the market these days, but this one is a particularly great contender for gifting to the children in your life. Written by Cole LaMarca and his mom, Emily LaMarca, it emerged from Cole’s love of cooking, and the need to address his allergies and food intolerances in the kitchen. Before writing the cookbook, Cole and his family adapted recipes by cutting and pasting relevant pictures so that Cole, who has Down syndrome and finds reading challenging, could cook more independently. The result is a highly useable, practical book that meets audiences where they are, allowing for more or less supervision as required by each individual kid.

For that quiet friend

Landscapes of Silence: From Childhood to the Arctic
By Hugh Brody
(Faber and Faber)

British anthropologist and filmmaker Hugh Brody first came to Canada in the early 1970s and began a lifetime love affair with the Canadian Arctic. He also befriended many Inuit and other Indigenous peoples, including in British Columbia. His 1981 book Maps and Dreams is a genuine classic. Now, he has produced a moving memoir that is destined to be a classic in its own right. Landscapes of Silence: From Childhood to the Arctic is an intimate, measured and highly personal meditation on how silence and secrets can affect the landscape of the mind, and how powerfully physical landscapes shape our behaviours, for better and for worse. This is a brave, revealing and important book.

For anyone who would like their future back, please

The Petroleum Papers: Inside the Far-Right Conspiracy to Cover Up Climate Change
By Geoff Dembicki
(Greystone Books)

We at The Tyee are sure proud of Geoff Dembicki, who arrived in our midst as an intern in 2009 and now has published nothing less than one of the top five non-fiction books of the year, as proclaimed by the Washington Post. Not too shabby!

The Petroleum Papers is a gripping expose of the lost years — seven decades — that Canadian and U.S. oil companies have lied about climate change while proof of its reality was stuffed in their secret files. Reading what Dembicki has dislodged will make your blood boil like steam-injected bitumen. But he intends this page-turner to fuel action over despair. The villains are in plain sight, their credibility shredded. Lawsuits mount as demands for climate justice grow. Read all about it and get mad. Then use that rage to fight for the future they tried to steal from us.


For parents and kids thinking about access and space

We Move Together
By Kelly Fritsch and Anne McGuire, illustrated by Eduardo Trejos
(AK Press)

“We move fast. We move slow. We move together.” So opens We Move Together, a book that explores disability justice and activism in a way that’s kid-friendly — everything from replacing steps with ramps so that an entire family can enter the ice cream shop, to what happens when movements encounter disagreement and friction, such as when some groups wish to ban single-use plastic, but single-use plastic straws are key for access for some disabled people. The book is hopeful and grounded, avoiding offering pat answers. Instead, it offers complexity: “Sometimes we disagree about how to be together.”

For all your queer friends who identify best with Ursula

Queer Little Nightmares
Edited by David Ly and Daniel Zomparelli
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

What makes monsters terrifying, Daniel Zomparelli told Michelle Cyca earlier this fall for The Tyee, “is what’s unknown about them, and why they don’t belong in this reality. Which is why they become such complicated and likable queer icons.” Arsenal Pulp Press, located in Vancouver, has a rich history of publishing iconic queer anthologies, and Queer Little Nightmares is no different. Featuring fiction and poetry by Amber Dawn, David Demchuk, Hiromi Goto, jaye simpson, Eddy Boudel Tan, Matthew J. Trafford, Kai Cheng Thom, and more, this book has something for everyone — whether they’re into sad minotaurs, or, as Cyca cites, Jamie Lee Curtis saying “trauma” over and over again when speaking about her movies.

For those who doubt civil engineers have made the world a better place

Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Age of Drought and Deluge
By Erica Gies
(University of Chicago Press)

Based on reporting trips on five continents, science writer Erica Gies looks at the “dysfunctional” ways people manage water and the predictably disastrous consequences. With human-built infrastructure already exacerbating droughts and floods, the National Geographic Explorer based in Victoria, B.C., and San Francisco, California, worries about how we’ll cope as the climate crisis makes weather and water flows even less predictable. She points to the need for a “Slow Water movement” that allows natural systems to work properly and paints a future that could look a lot more like Earth’s long past.


For the socially aware football fan

Soccer in Sun and Shadow
By Eduardo Galeano, translated by Mark Fried
(Open Road Media)

With the men’s World Cup underway in Qatar, what better way to savour the moment than returning to this classic? Stick a toe in anywhere, like this section on France’s 1998 win: “They were immigrants or the children of immigrants, nearly all of those wearing blue shirts and singing 'La Marseillaise' before each match.... A poll published during the World Cup found that out of every 10 people in France four harbour racial prejudice. Racism’s double-speak lets you cheer the heroes and curse the rest.”

Or this on the late Diego Maradona who grew up in a poor neighbourhood in Argentina and wanted to be an industrial technician: “Maradona had the habit of sticking out his tongue when he was on the attack. All his goals were scored with his tongue out. By night he slept with his arms around a ball and by day he performed miracles with it.” As one reads, one wonders what Galeano would have said about the 2022 tournament, held as the world emerges from a pandemic and amid protests of the host nation’s human rights record.

For that special person who is damn good and ready to change their life

The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness and Healing in a Toxic Culture
By Gabor Maté and Daniel Maté
(Knopf Canada)

Working together as father and son, the Matés have crafted a true magnum opus with their new book The Myth of Normal. It’s already prompted some pretty interesting conversations within my own family that often start with, “Well, what would Gabor say?” Myth covers a lot of ground, from inherited family patterns to our greater social malaise. On every page, there are so many ideas that one has to scramble to mark passages while taking copious notes on other writers and thinkers to seek out. In addition to meticulous research and thoughtful prose, Myth offers up a new way of being in the world, arguing that it’s not only possible, but in fact inevitable. Words to live by.

For anyone who wants to get good and dirty

Regenesis: Feeding the World Without Devouring the Planet
By George Monbiot
(Penguin Canada)

Everyone’s favourite environmental firebrand George Monbiot goes deep with Regenesis, daylighting the many-splendoured stuff we call dirt. Exhaustively researched, exquisitely crafted and chock-a-block with fascinating facts on everything from the wonders of worms to science fiction food, Regenesis is a pure pleasure to read. But more importantly, it is a deeply hopeful approach to some of the most intractable issues that humans face. Can we dig ourselves out of catastrophe that we have created before it’s too late? Monbiot has more than a few suggestions and delivers them with wit, precision, and some remarkably beautiful prose.


For those who need a reminder of the unbridled glories of reading

By Ann-Marie MacDonald
(Knopf Canada)

There is nothing quite like being completely immersed in a big, rich, rollicking novel. No one does it quite like Canada’s own Ann-Marie MacDonald. Clocking in at 721 pages, Fayne is beautifully embroidered with exquisite detail. It brims with arcana, curios of plot and a certain pulpy deliciousness. A soul could drown in its depths. While the action takes place in the 19th century, the story of young Charlotte Bell’s quest for her place in the wider world has profound implications for the current moment. It’s a novel that reaffirms one’s faith in the alchemy of language to both build and populate imagined worlds with indelible characters, epic drama and a deeply satisfying narrative arc. Pure, unfettered reading joy.

For music nerds and neophytes alike

Wired for Music: A Search for Health and Joy through the Science of Sound Adriana Barton

Everyone loves music, right? It’s not quite as universal as you might think. Turns out there is a dark side to tuneful stuff. In addition to being used as a torture device, (no one can withstand being bombarded with the Barney theme song), professional musicians often develop a form of PTSD. Wired mixes Barton’s own experiences, detailing the ways that music has impacted her life, with some of the most recent research into how music affects humans from before birth until the end of life. After years of studying the cello, Barton left her instrument behind to become a journalist. Her quest to return to music in all of its different manifestations forms the meat of the story, but there are plenty of fascinating riffs on everything from using music to help dementia patients to the origins of rhythm itself.

For those who turn to poetry in times of trouble

The Punishment
By Joseph Dandurand
(Nightwood Editions)

My mom sat in the front row and smiled,
even though Josephi in this Christ’s birth
was played by a boy with a black eye

The Punishment is the followup to Joseph Dandurand’s The East Side of It All, published in 2020, which was shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize. It is a collection about trauma and drugs and surviving and healing, and about all the ways the past continues to surface in the present. Dandurand, who is Kwantlen, takes an unflinching look at the violence he suffered and caused others to suffer, to his family’s relationship with the church, and trauma at the hands of the residential school system. But The Punishment also plumbs what it means to write about this history, and publish that writing, and receive accolades; to hold all these things on stage and to look once again into the mirror at a changing face that tells many stories, some to share, and some to guard.


Fighter: Defying the NHL Odds
By Aaron Volpatti
(Defiant Publishing House)

From the moment you open this book you’re dropped right into the action — like a puck at centre ice in game seven of the Stanley Cup playoffs — complete with post-game fiery disaster. Chapter one, "Inferno," describes in gruesome fast-moving detail how former Vancouver Canuck Aaron Volpatti is nearly burned to death by a gas-and-fire accident just a few weeks shy of his 20th birthday. The then-youth hockey player is camping with friends in the bush near Vernon, commiserating over their loss in the BC Hockey League finals.

But a trip to let off steam quickly becomes a life-or-death crisis when “Patti” is consumed by fire and 40 per cent of his body is seared by second- and third-degree burns. In shock, he endures an excruciating 30-minute car ride to the nearest ER and is then airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital’s burn unit — his future irrevocably altered and his hockey career over. Several surgeries later, he defies the doctors’ decree, and within four months, is back on the ice. He goes on to play five seasons in the NHL with the Vancouver Canucks and Washington Capitals. With praise from beloved Canucks alumni like the Sedin twins, Volpatti’s debut book is breaking away as one of the most inspiring comeback stories in professional sports.

For those new, and newish, to Canada

By Dimitri Nasrallah
(Véhicule Press)

“We’re still very much in a country that’s not our own.” Canadian winters can seem lonely and unforgiving, especially when you’re a recently arrived Lebanese immigrant in Montreal. Hotline is the story of Muna and her son Omar’s journey to find their place in Canada. Nasrallah explores the immigrant circumstance of working through language barriers and new identities in the book, reminiscent of his own experience from the ’80s. He sifts through the notion of what home really means and asks the reader to decide for themselves: can you really make a home out of a new place without sacrificing your ties to the old one?

For young readers interested in Indigenous knowledge and science

Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
By Robin Wall Kimmerer, adapted by Monique Gray Smith with illustrations
by Nicole Neidhardt
(Zest Books)

“In winter, when the green earth lies resting beneath a blanket of snow, this is the time for storytelling,” reads the start of "Skywoman Falling," a Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe story, as told in this adaptation of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s popular Braiding Sweetgrass. While aimed at young adults, the adaptation by Victoria, B.C. author Monique Gray Smith is appropriate for readers of all ages. Like the original, it brings together science and Indigenous knowledge to show the interrelatedness of all beings and how we can improve our relations with nature. It adds Neidhardt’s beautiful illustrations, including sections in a graphic novel style. It’s the kind of work that’s lovely to dip into on a winter evening, or anytime one needs a little medicine for the heart.


For your pal who hates stuff, and values, made of plastic

Making a Chaputs: The Teachings and Responsibilities of a Canoe Maker
By Joe Martin and Alan Hoover
(Royal BC Museum)

Tuutahkʷiisnupšiƛ Joe Martin and former museum curator Alan Hoover’s rich visual testament to the practical and cultural power of the dugout canoe balances descriptions of meaning and method. Both art form and technological marvel, the chaputs carries Indigenous cultural knowledge passed down through generations, not only of the practical forestry and woodworking that shape every canoe, but also of the role and responsibilities of the canoe maker.

Martin is a member of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation and a fierce advocate for the protection of old-growth forests and wild salmon. He has made more than 60 canoes and devotes considerable time to mentoring apprentices and teaching schoolchildren and others about the cultural traditions of the Nuu-chah-nulth peoples.

The text includes a step-by-step explanation of the canoe-making process from tree selection onward (carefully described and dynamically illustrated), along with the personal histories of a number of Joe’s canoes, encompassing their planning, creation, cultural significance and role in the process of reconciliation. This book is a northwest classic.

For the responsible journo in your life

Decolonizing Journalism. A Guide to Reporting in Indigenous Communities
By Duncan McCue
(Oxford University Press)

“Every reporter — Indigenous or non-Indigenous — needs a guide,” writes Duncan McCue. This book by a journalist, for journalists (or anyone interested in delving into the who, what, when, where, why and how of reporting on Indigenous Peoples), certainly serves as such. Filled with practical guidance and infused with wry humour, McCue’s writing (he’s an award-winning author, journalist and journalism professor) makes the tough topics of intergenerational trauma and ongoing systemic racism easier to tackle, while sharply delivering uncomfortable truths.

On Indigenous stereotypes, for example, McCue cites an Elder who once told him the only way an Indian would make it into the news is if they were one of the four Ds: drumming, dancing, drunk or dead. With real-life examples, historical context, hands-on exercises, discussion questions, recommended resources, insightful interviews and ample input from Indigenous sources, Decolonizing Journalism needs to have a prominent place on every working journo’s bookshelf.

For the crafty folk in your life who want to change the world, one yarn-bomb at a time

The Creative Instigator’s Handbook: A DIY Guide to Making Social Change Through Art
By Leanne Prain
(Arsenal Pulp Press)

Leanne Prain’s manifesto for a bigger, brighter and infinitely more fun world is both poetic and practical, filled with case studies of people who had an idea and brought it into being with vision, passion and commitment. A long-time veteran of the cultural and crafty community in Vancouver, Prain journeys across North America, talking to other artists and activists and building a picture of what is possible. No question or concern is too small or too tricky.

Prain offers solutions and advice on everything from dealing with burnout to the complexities of working collectively, and even the importance packing duct tape and other useful sundries on event day. Filled with lovely photos of art, craft and creative people, The Creative Instigator's Handbook is exactly what is needed when despair has leached all joy and colour from the world. Fight back with rainbow-hued yarn-bombs.


For those who like their fiction tinged with history

The Descendants
By Robert Chursinoff
(Nightwood Editions)

Two former lovers, both from Doukhobour families, return back to their community in the mountains of British Columbia after taking some time away. Many things have separated them, and on the surface, the main narrative of the story is about the ways in which they find their paths back to each other. Dig a bit deeper, and as the title suggests, it is in part the history of their families that contributes to the split; the novel intersperses their story with snippets of history offering pieces of relevant backstory about the history of the Doukhobours, including the splinter group, the Freedomites, who, contra the traditions of the faith, are not above using violence in service of reaching their political aims. The result is an immersive tale that is both touching and informative.

For curious backyard gardeners looking to expand their horizons

Changing the Climate with the Seeds We Sow
By Dan Jason
(Watershed Sentinel Books)

Many backyard gardeners tend tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, onions — but, as Dan Jason, owner of Salt Spring Seeds and author of several books contends, small-scale growers need to turn their attention to beans and grains if we are to make a dent in agriculture-based emissions. With beautiful illustrations by Lyn Alice, Changing the Climate with the Seeds We Sow recommends plants that are “easy to grow” and “have very long histories of providing sustenance” — but that are not as well-known to home growers in North America as they are in other places, even if you might be able to find them at the health food store, or in the organic section of the grocery store.

With contributions from David Beers, andrea bennett, Paula Carlson, Ian Gill, Andrew MacLeod, Akhila Menon, Jen St. Denis, Jackie Wong, Dorothy Woodend and Moira Wyton.

Those are our suggestions for great book gifts this holiday season. Please share your own in the comments thread.  [Tyee]

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