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What To Read

Wondering what to read next? Here are our top recent picks.

In Winnipeg tune in to Morning Light on Classic 107 FM (8:30 AM on the first Friday of every month), and in Saskatoon tune in to CFCR 90.5 FMís Green Eggs and Ham with the Reverend (between 8:00-10:00 AM the first Thursday of every month) and catch McNally Robinson co-owner Chris Hall as he shares our next batch of What To Read picks.

You can also keep an eye on the Books section of the Winnipeg Free Press every Saturday to see our highlights, or look for What To Read displays inside our bookstores.


Humanly Possible

- Sarah Bakewell

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The bestselling, prizewinning author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Café explores 700 years of writers, thinkers, scientists and artists, all trying to understand what it means to be truly human.

If you are reading this, it's likely you already have some affinity with humanism, even if you don't think of yourself in those terms. You may be drawn to literature and the humanities. You may prefer to base your moral choices on fellow-feeling and responsibility to others rather than on religious commandments. Or you may simply believe that individual lives are more important than grand political visions or dogmas.

If any of these apply, you are part of a long tradition of humanist thought, and you share that tradition with many extraordinary individuals through history who have put rational enquiry, cultural richness, freedom of thought and a sense of hope at the heart of their lives.

Humanly Possible introduces us to some of these people, as it asks what humanism is and why it has flourished for so long, despite opposition from fanatics, mystics and tyrants. It is a book brimming with ideas, personalities and experiments in living - from the literary enthusiasts of the fourteenth century to the secular campaigners of our own time, from Erasmus to Esperanto, from anatomists to agnostics, from Christine de Pizan to Bertrand Russell, and from Voltaire to Zora Neale Hurston. It takes us on an irresistible journey, and joyfully celebrates open-mindedness, optimism, freedom and the power of the here and now--humanist values which have helped steer us through dark times in the past, and which are just as urgently needed in our world today. 

The bestselling, prizewinning author of How to Live and At the Existentialist Café explores 700 years of writers, thinkers, scientists and artists, all trying to understand what it means to be truly human.

The Book of Rain

- Thomas Wharton

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A groundbreaking, deeply affecting work of environmental literary suspense for fans of Cloud Atlas, The Overstory, and Station Eleven.

The northern mining town of River Meadows is one of three hotspots in the world producing ghost ore, a new source of energy worth twenty-eight times its weight in gold. It's also linked with slippages of time and space that gradually render the area uninhabitable. After the town is evacuated, the whole region is cordoned off, the new no-go zone wryly nicknamed "the Park."

Three intertwined stories flow from the disaster of River Meadows. Alex Hewitt and his sister, Amery, were among the first to be shipped out of the contaminated town. Now an accomplished game designer, Alex has moved on, but his sister has not, making increasingly dangerous break-ins to save animals trapped in the toxic wasteland. When at last she fails to return from a trip inside the fence, Alex flies to River Meadows to search for her, enlisting her friend, Michio Amano, a mathematician who needs to transcend the known laws of physics if he and Alex are to succeed.

Claire Foley ran away from River Meadows as a teenager and now traffics in endangered wildlife. As Alex and Michio search for Amery, Claire arrives in an island nation under threat of environmental catastrophe to retrieve her greatest prize yet, only to find herself facing a life-altering choice.

And, finally, in a future as distant as myth, a flock of birds sets out on a dangerous journey to prevent the extinction of their ancient enemy, humanity. The account they hand down is an Epic of Gilgamesh for our times, illuminating the wisdom of nature and our flawed stewardship of the planet. 

As sweeping in scope as a world of its own, The Book of Rain is a novel of epic reach, beautifully multi-layered, haunting and profound.

Birnam Wood

- Eleanor Catton

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From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton's Birnam Wood is an electrifying eco-thriller grounded in a provocative and sly exploration of some of the most pressing issues of our times. Named one of the most anticipated books of the year by the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Winnipeg Free Press, Maclean's, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Guardian, LitHub, and Oprah Daily.

Birnam Wood is on the move . . . A landslide has closed the Korowai Pass on New Zealand's South Island, cutting off the town of Thorndike and leaving a sizable farm abandoned. The disaster has created an opportunity for Birnam Wood, an unregulated, sometimes-criminal, sometimes-philanthropic guerrilla gardening collective that plants crops wherever no one will notice.

For years, the group has struggled to break even. Then Mira, Birnam Wood's founder,  stumbles on an answer: occupying the farm at Thorndike would mean a shot at solvency at last. But Mira is not the only one interested in Thorndike. The enigmatic American billionaire Robert Lemoine has snatched it up to build his end-times bunker, or so he tells Mira when he catches her on the property. Intrigued by Mira and Birnam Wood, he makes them an offer that would set them up for the long term. But can they trust him? And, as their ideals and ideologies are tested, can they trust one another?

Birnam Wood is Shakespearean in its drama, Austenian in its wit, and, like both influences, fascinated by what makes us who we are. A brilliantly constructed consideration of intentions, actions, and consequences, it is a mesmerizing, unflinching consideration of the human impulse to ensure our own survival.

Saving Time

- Jenny Odell

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER o From the author of How to Do Nothing comes a "paradigm-destroying new book . . . about the various problems that swirl out from dominant conceptions of 'time'" (The New York Times).
 
"Saving Time's real triumph lies in her road map for experiencing time outside the capitalist clock. . . . Expect to feel changed by this radical way of seeing."--Esquire


In her first book, How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell wrote about the importance of disconnecting from the "attention economy" to spend time in quiet contemplation. But what if you don't have time to spend?

In order to answer this seemingly simple question, Odell took a deep dive into the fundamental structure of our society and found that the clock we live by was built for profit, not people. This is why our lives, even in leisure, have come to seem like a series of moments to be bought, sold, and processed ever more efficiently. Odell shows us how our painful relationship to time is inextricably connected not only to persisting social inequities but to the climate crisis, existential dread, and a lethal fatalism.

This dazzling, subversive, and deeply hopeful book offers us different ways to experience time--inspired by pre-industrial cultures, ecological cues, and geological timescales--that can bring within reach a more humane, responsive way of living. As planet-bound animals, we live inside shortening and lengthening days alongside gardens growing, birds migrating, and cliffs eroding; the stretchy quality of waiting and desire; the way the present may suddenly feel marbled with childhood memory; the slow but sure procession of a pregnancy; the time it takes to heal from injuries. Odell urges us to become stewards of these different rhythms of life in which time is not reducible to standardized units and instead forms the very medium of possibility.

Saving Time tugs at the seams of reality as we know it--the way we experience time itself--and rearranges it, imagining a world not centered on work, the office clock, or the profit motive. If we can "save" time by imagining a life, identity, and source of meaning outside these things, time might also save us.

Biography of X

- Catherine Lacey

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Named a Best Book of March by Apple Books and Amazon, and a Most Anticipated Book by The New York Times, Esquire, The Guardian, TIME, Buzzfeed, Electric Literature, Lit Hub and Chicago Review of Books

"A major novel, and a notably audacious one."
--Dwight Garner, The New York Times

"It feels fairly rare for a novel to be hugely intelligent and moving and fun in equal measure, but with Biography of X, Catherine Lacey somehow--magically--makes the nearly impossible look easy." --Lauren Groff

From one of our fiercest stylists, a roaring epic chronicling the life, times, and secrets of a notorious artist.

When X--an iconoclastic artist, writer, and polarizing shape-shifter--falls dead in her office, her widow, wild with grief and refusing everyone's good advice, hurls herself into writing a biography of the woman she deified. Though X was recognized as a crucial creative force of her era, she kept a tight grip on her life story. Not even CM, her wife, knew where X had been born, and in her quest to find out, she opens a Pandora's box of secrets, betrayals, and destruction. All the while, she immerses herself in the history of the Southern Territory, a fascist theocracy that split from the rest of the country after World War II, as it is finally, in the present day, forced into an uneasy reunification.

A masterfully constructed literary adventure complete with original images assembled by X's widow, Biography of X follows a grieving wife seeking to understand the woman who enthralled her. CM traces X's peripatetic trajectory over decades, from Europe to the ruins of America's divided territories, and through her collaborations and feuds with everyone from Bowie and Waits to Sontag and Acker. And when she finally understands the scope of X's defining artistic project, CM realizes her wife's deceptions were far crueler than she imagined.

Pulsing with suspense and intellect while blending nonfiction and fiction, Biography of X is a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art, and love. In her most ambitious novel yet, Catherine Lacey, one of our most acclaimed literary innovators, pushes her craft to its highest level, introducing us to an unforgettable character who, in her tantalizing mystery, shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves.

On the Ravine

- Vincent Lam

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From the bestselling, Giller Prize-winning author of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures comes an exquisitely crafted novel, piercing in its urgency and breathtaking in its intimacy, about the devastating experience of addiction.

In his downtown Toronto condo, Dr. Chen awakens to the sound of streetcars below, but it is not the early morning traffic that keeps him from sleep. News banners run across his phone: Fentanyl Crisis; Toxic Drug Supply; Record Number of Deaths. From behind the headlines, on the same screen, glow the faces of his patients, the faces of the what-ifs: What if he had done more, or less? Or something different? Would they still be alive?

Claire is a violinist; she feels at one with her music, taking flight in its melody, free in its movement. But now she rises and falls with the opioids in her system, becoming increasingly reckless. After two overdoses in twenty-four hours, she sits in the blue light of her computer, searching a notice board for recommendations: my doctor saved my life; my doctor is just another dealer. And then another message catches her attention, about Chen's clinic: be a guinea pig--why not get paid to take it?

When Claire's life intersects with Chen's, the doctor is drawn ever more deeply into the complexities of the doctor-patient relationship, the implication and meaning of his intention to treat. Chen must confront just how far he would go to save a life. 

Combining the depth of his experience as a physician with the brilliance of his literary talent, Vincent Lam creates a world electric in its precision, radiant in its detail. On the Ravine is a gripping novel of profound emotional force, a soaring achievement from a singular voice in Canadian fiction.

Empress of the Nile

- Lynne Olson

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The remarkable story of the intrepid French archaeologist who led the international effort to save ancient Egyptian temples from the floodwaters of the Aswan Dam, by the New York Times bestselling author of Madame Fourcade's Secret War

"Fast-paced, highly entertaining . . . [a] thrilling account of the rescue of the giant statues of Rameses II and the Abu Simbel temples."--The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)


In the 1960s, the world's attention was focused on a nail-biting race against time: Fifty countries contributed nearly a billion dollars to save a dozen ancient Egyptian temples, built during the height of the pharaohs' rule, from drowning in the floodwaters of the massive new Aswan High Dam. But the extensive press coverage at the time overlooked the gutsy French archaeologist who made it all happen. Without the intervention of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the temples would now be at the bottom of a vast reservoir. It was an unimaginably large and complex project that required the fragile sandstone temples to be dismantled, stone by stone, and rebuilt on higher ground.

A willful real-life version of Indiana Jones, Desroches-Noblecourt refused to be cowed by anyone or anything. During World War II she joined the French Resistance and was held by the Nazis; in her fight to save the temples she challenged two of the postwar world's most daunting leaders, Egypt's President Nasser and France's President de Gaulle. As she told a reporter, "You don't get anywhere without a fight, you know."

Yet Desroches-Noblecourt was not the only woman who played an essential role in the historic endeavor. The other was Jacqueline Kennedy, who persuaded her husband to call on Congress to help fund the rescue effort. After years of Western plunder of Egypt's ancient monuments, Desroches-Noblecourt did the opposite. She helped preserve a crucial part of Egypt's cultural heritage, and made sure it remained in its homeland.

Culture

- Martin Puchner

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In Culture, acclaimed author, professor, and public intellectual Martin Puchner takes us on a breakneck tour through pivotal moments in world history, providing a global introduction to the arts and humanities in one engaging volume.
What good are the arts? Why should we care about the past? For millennia, humanity has sought to understand and transmit to future generations not just the "know-how" of life, but the "know-why"--the meaning and purpose of our existence, as expressed in art, architecture, religion, and philosophy. This crucial passing down of knowledge has required the radical integration of insights from the past and from other cultures. In Culture, acclaimed author, professor, and public intellectual Martin Puchner takes us on a breakneck tour through pivotal moments in world history, providing a global introduction to the arts and humanities in one engaging volume. From Nefertiti's lost city to the plays of Wole Soyinka; from the theaters of ancient Greece to Chinese travel journals to Arab and Aztec libraries; from a South Asian statuette found at Pompeii to a time capsule left behind on the Moon, Puchner tells the gripping story of human achievement through our collective losses and rediscoveries, power plays and heroic journeys, innovations, imitations, and appropriations. More than a work of history, Culture is an archive of humanity's most monumental junctures and a guidebook for the future of us humans as a creative species. Witty, erudite, and full of wonder, Puchner argues that the humanities are (and always have been) essential to the transmission of knowledge that drives the efforts of human civilization.

My Father's House

- Joseph O'Connor

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From the acclaimed, bestselling author of Star of the Sea and winner of the 2021 Irish Book Awards Book of the Year for Shadowplay, comes a gripping and atmospheric new novel set in occupied Rome. September 1943: German forces have Rome under their control. Gestapo boss Paul Hauptmann rules over the Eternal City with vicious efficiency. Hunger is widespread. Rumors fester. The war's outcome is far from certain. Diplomats, refugees, Jews, and escaped Allied prisoners flee for protection into Vatican City, the world's smallest state, a neutral, independent country nestled within the city of Rome. A small band of unlikely friends led by a courageous Irish priest is drawn into deadly battle of wits as they attempt to aid those seeking refuge. My Father's House is inspired by the extraordinary true story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, who, together with his accomplices, risked his life to smuggle Jews and escaped Allied prisoners out of Italy right under the nose of his Nazi nemesis. Suspenseful and beautifully written, My Father's House tells an unforgettable story of love, faith, sacrifice, and courage. "Few living writers can take us back in time so assuredly, with such sensual density, through such gorgeous sentences."--Peter Carey

The Story of Us

- Catherine Hernandez

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From the author of Canada Reads finalist Scarborough, a stunning new novel about the unbreakable bond of family and the magic that can happen when we meet in the middle

Like many Overseas Filipino Workers, Mary Grace Concepcion has lived a life of sacrifices. First, she left her husband, Ale, to be a caregiver in Hong Kong. Now, she has travelled even farther, to Canada, in the hopes of one day sponsoring Ale and having children of their own.

But when she arrives in Toronto, she must navigate a series of bewildering and careless employers and unruly children. Mary Grace seeks new employment as a Personal Support Worker and begins caring for Liz, an elderly patient suffering from Alzheimer's disease, whose health is as fragile as her rundown bungalow beside the Rouge River in Scarborough. While Mary Grace's time with her charge challenges her conservative beliefs, she soon becomes Liz's biggest ally, and the friendship that grows between them will turn out to be just as legendary as Liz's past.

Beautifully narrated by the all-seeing eye of Mary Grace's newborn baby, The Story of Us is a novel about sisterhood, about blood and chosen family, and about how belonging can be found where we least expect it.

The Motion Picture Teller

- Colin Cotterill

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An enchanting new standalone novel from CWA Dagger winner Colin Cotterill, set in Bangkok: a mystery without a crime, where the line between fact and fiction blurs, and nothing is as simple as it appears

Thailand, 1996: Supot, a postman with the Royal Thai Mail service, hates his job. The only bright spot in his life is watching classic movies with his best friend, Ali, the owner of a video store. These cinephiles adore the charisma of the old Western stars, particularly the actresses, and bemoan the state of modern Thai cinema--until a mysterious cassette, entitled Bangkok 2010, arrives at Ali's store.

Bangkok 2010 is a dystopian film set in a near-future Thailand--and Supot and Ali, immediately obsessed, agree it's the most brilliant Thai movie they've ever seen. But nobody else has ever heard of the movie, the director, the actors, or any of the crew. Who would make a movie like this and not release it, and why?

Feeling a powerful calling to solve the mystery of Bangkok 2010, Supot journeys deep into the Thai countryside and discovers that powerful people are dead set on keeping the film buried.

The World and All That It Holds

- Aleksandar Hemon

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From literary powerhouse Aleksandar Hemon, author of The Lazarus Project, comes a big, brilliant, sweeping novel of love, memory, and history-in-the-making.

As the Archduke Franz Ferdinand arrives in Sarajevo on a sunny June day in 1914, Rafael Pinto is busy crushing herbs and grinding tablets behind the counter at the pharmacy he inherited from his estimable father. It's not quite the life he had expected during his poetry -filled student days in sophisticated, libertine Vienna--but it's nothing a dash of laudanum from the high shelf, a summer stroll, and idle fantasies about passersby can't help.

And then the world explodes. War devours all that they have known, and the only thing Pinto has to live for are the attentions and affection of Osman, a fellow soldier, a man of action to complement Pinto's introspective, poetic soul; a dapper, charismatic storyteller; Pinto's protector and his lover.

Together, Pinto and Osman will escape the trenches, survive near-certain death and imprisonment, tangle with spies and Bolsheviks. Over mountains and across deserts, from one world to another, it is Pinto's love for Osman--with the occasional opiatic interlude--that keeps him going.

The World and All That It Holds--in all its hilarious, heartbreaking, erotic, whimsical, philosophical glory--showcases Hemon's celebrated talent at its pinnacle and cements him as one of the boldest voices of our time.

Maame

- Jessica George

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AN INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! o A Today Show #ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick

"
Sparkling." --The New York Times

"An utterly charming and deeply moving portrait of the joys
--and the guilt--of trying to find your own way in life." --Celeste Ng, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Our Missing Hearts

"Lively, funny, poignant . . . Prepare to fall in love with Maddie. I did!" --Bonnie Garmus, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Lessons in Chemistry

Maame (ma-meh) has many meanings in Twi but in my case, it means woman.

It's fair to say that Maddie's life in London is far from rewarding. With a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana (yet still somehow manages to be overbearing), Maddie is the primary caretaker for her father, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson's. At work, her boss is a nightmare and Maddie is tired of always being the only Black person in every meeting.

When her mum returns from her latest trip to Ghana, Maddie leaps at the chance to get out of the family home and finally start living. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she's ready to experience some important "firsts": She finds a flat share, says yes to after-work drinks, pushes for more recognition in her career, and throws herself into the bewildering world of internet dating. But it's not long before tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to face the true nature of her unconventional family, and the perils--and rewards--of putting her heart on the line.

Smart, funny, and deeply affecting, Jessica George's Maame deals with the themes of our time with humor and poignancy: from familial duty and racism, to female pleasure, the complexity of love, and the life-saving power of friendship. Most important, it explores what it feels like to be torn between two homes and culturesâEURoand it celebrates finally being able to find where you belong.

"Meeting Maame feels like falling in love for the first time: warm, awkward, joyous, a little bit heartbreaking and, most of all, unforgettable." --Xochitl Gonzalez, New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming

Tomb of Sand

- Geetanjali Shree, Daisy Rockwell

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WINNER OF THE 2022 INTERNATIONAL BOOKER PRIZE

A playful, feminist, and utterly original epic set in contemporary northern India, about a family and the inimitable octogenarian matriarch at its heart.

"A tale tells itself. It can be complete, but also incomplete, the way all tales are. This particular tale has a border and women who come and go as they please. Once you've got women and a border, a story can write itself . . ."

Eighty-year-old Ma slips into a deep depression after the death of her husband. Despite her family's cajoling, she refuses to leave her bed. Her responsible eldest son, Bade, and dutiful, Reebok-sporting daughter-in-law, Bahu, attend to Ma's every need, while her favorite grandson, the cheerful and gregarious Sid, tries to lift her spirits with his guitar. But it is only after Sid's younger brother--Serious Son, a young man pathologically incapable of laughing--brings his grandmother a sparkling golden cane covered with butterflies that things begin to change.

With a new lease on life thanks to the cane's seemingly magical powers, Ma gets out of bed and embarks on a series of adventures that baffle even her unconventional feminist daughter, Beti. She ditches her cumbersome saris, develops a close friendship with a hijra, and sets off on a fateful journey that will turn the family's understanding of themselves upside down.

Rich with fantastical elements, folklore, and exuberant wordplay, Geetanjali Shree's magnificent novel explores timely and timeless topics, including Buddhism, global warming, feminism, Partition, gender binary, transcending borders, and the profound joys of life. Elegant, heartbreaking, and funny, it is a literary masterpiece that marks the American debut of an extraordinary writer.

Translated from the Hindi by Daisy Rockwell

Author's name pronounced: Ghee-TAHN-juh-lee Shree

Bad Cree

- Jessica Johns

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A haunting debut novel where dreams, family and spirits collide 

Mackenzie, a Cree millennial, wakes up in her one-bedroom Vancouver apartment clutching a pine bough she had been holding in her dream just moments earlier. When she blinks, it disappears. But she can still smell the sharp pine scent in the air, the nearest pine tree a thousand kilometres away in the far reaches of Treaty 8. 

Mackenzie continues to accidentally bring back items from her dreams, dreams that are eerily similar to real memories of her older sister and Kokum before their untimely deaths. As Mackenzie's life spirals into a living nightmare--crows are following her around and she's getting texts from her dead sister on the other side--it becomes clear that these dreams have terrifying, real-life consequences. Desperate for help, Mackenzie returns to her mother, sister, cousin, and aunties in her small Alberta hometown. Together, they try to uncover what is haunting Mackenzie before something irrevocable happens to anyone else around her. 

Haunting, fierce, an ode to female relations and the strength found in kinship, Bad Cree is a gripping, arresting debut by an unforgettable voice.