Book Therapy: Favourites From My Favourites
By Stacey May Fowles
“It was the book I was always meant to read. It spoke directly to me, braiding so many currents of my own life—messy motherhood, literary research, poetry—into a rich river of language and rhythm that carried me effortlessly away, honouring all of it.”
—Pauline Holdstock on A Ghost in the Throat
Admittedly I’ve always been sort of suspect of “books of the year” lists. Subjectivity and the sheer volume of possible choices make it impossible to dictate any sort of official roster, and by what (and whose) parameters anyway? What I do love to hear about is the books that made a genuine impact on people personally, ones that lingered long after the final page was read, stories that they want to shout about from the rooftops to anyone who will listen. Whether these books offered insight, or comfort, or simple entertainment, their value lies in the fact that someone would pick them above all others to enthusiastically recommend. It’s for that reason that I’ve been making an annual tradition of reaching out to the authors of some of my favourite books of the year to find out what reads they loved most during the past twelve months.
Just like last year the “rules” of my email request weren’t all that strict—I told said authors that they were welcome to pick a book from any year, in any genre, by any writer (it’s more fun that way) just as long as they read it in 2022 and it meant something to them.
And so, here’s what the authors of some of my favourite books of 2022 offered up as theirs.
Tanis MacDonald, author of Straggle: Adventures in Walking While Female (Wolsak & Wynn):
Constant Nobody by Michelle Butler Hallett. Two tough-minded people build a precarious alliance that could kill them both. Constant Nobody’s focus on intrepid desperation and unlikely love ruined me for all other novels for months. Hallett’s historical fiction about the Soviet Union in the 1930s is meticulously researched and moving with the flow of the story is like crouching atop a moving train in Siberia in December: cold, nearly impossible, exhilarating. One hell of a bold book, and a cure for complacency in hard times.
Erica McKeen, author of Tear (Invisible Publishing):
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. A good number of books have made me cry during their conclusion, but All My Puny Sorrows made me cry almost every time I picked it up. The book tells the story of two sisters, Elf and Yoli, and is the best depiction of suicidality that I have ever read. It’s equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious; it’s messy and conversational and commonplace and reverent. It poses the question: what really is the best way to care for someone who is suffering?
Gurjinder Basran, author of Help! I'm Alive (ECW Press):
My favourite read for 2022 was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Originally published in 2014, this is a work of speculative fiction exploring the aftermath of a pandemic that has killed 99% of the population. Unlike other apocalyptic novels, this one doesn’t dwell on the horror of last days but rather shifts between life before the pandemic and life some twenty years later. Mandel creates a post pandemic world dotted with communities forged by circumstance and survival and through interwoven narratives and timelines she makes the reader examine what a life is when all the systems and trappings of modernity are gone. This is a novel about the nature of memory, faith and the restorative nature of art; it reminded me that we are what we create and we create what we are.
Premee Mohamed, author of The Annual Migration of Clouds (ECW Press):
My favourite book of 2022 has been John Crowley's novel Ka: Dar Oakley in the Ruin of Ymr, which came out in 2017. An old man rescues a crow, and relays to us the crow's life story–which turns out to be surprisingly complicated, because this is no ordinary bird. Dar Oakley is immortal, and has died and returned to life perhaps hundreds of times. The way he rediscovers love, perfidy, and the power of storytelling again and again in his various lives is both fascinating and heart-wrenching. This book filled in some lonely spots for me this year; it was a beautiful, warm, expansive read when the real world felt cold and small.
Pauline Holdstock, author of Confessions With Keith (Biblioasis):
Motherhood, writing, and a three-centuries-old Irish lament for a murdered husband. I identified so strongly with Doireann Ní Ghríofa’s A Ghost in the Throat that I was stricken with a mysterious urge to keep her book all to myself. Instead, I wrote to thank her. It was the book I was always meant to read. It spoke directly to me, braiding so many currents of my own life—messy motherhood, literary research, poetry—into a rich river of language and rhythm that carried me effortlessly away, honouring all of it. Across space, across time, it’s the heart that connects.
Your CanLit News
Subscribe to Open Book’s newsletter to get local book events, literary content, writing tips, and more in your inbox
Katie Welch, author of Mad Honey (Wolsak & Wynn):
Without question the most gorgeously-written, impactful book I read this year was Ben Rawlence’s The Treeline: The Last Forest and the Future of Life on Earth. The Treeline is an impeccably researched and stunningly executed global examination of the boreal forest. Rawlence makes crucial connections with Indigenous people to bring us a book about climate change freed from the tiresome litany of human consequences. Trees flee and adapt yet for them climate breakdown, imminent and inevitable, is not the end of the world but a new beginning. The Treeline simultaneously gutted me and filled me with hope: the interconnectedness of life on Earth is a glory more enduring than any wrought by humanity.
Chelene Knight, author of Junie (Book*hug):
In 2022 I read a lot of books—and what feels like hundreds of manuscripts! I wanted to pick a book that changed the way I move in the world, a book that in reading it for the 5th time led me to some incredible life decisions. Maya Angelou's Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now is a beautiful reminder that we do, for the most part, have control over our movements in life even when life wants us to believe otherwise. Her book is timeless. Reading this book again opened up something new in me which led to self growth, self love, three new book ideas, and the letting go of projects and people who no longer serve me. I think we all need a book that can move mountains like that!
Book Therapy is a monthly column about how books have the capacity to help, heal, and change our lives for the better.
The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
Stacey May Fowles is an award-winning journalist, novelist, and essayist whose bylines include The Globe and Mail, The National Post, BuzzFeed, Elle, Toronto Life, The Walrus, Vice, Hazlitt, Quill and Quire, and others. She is the author of the bestselling non-fiction collection Baseball Life Advice (McClelland and Stewart), and the co-editor of the recent anthology Whatever Gets You Through (Greystone).