Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Books for a Cold Winter's Night: 45 Books in 45 Minutes at Ben McNally Books

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By Monique Mathew, a budding writer, curator and OCAD graduate. She lives in Toronto.

In the seasonal follow up to their summer reading presentation, Ben McNally Books hosted a Winter Presentation on Thursday, December 3rd. The event was crowded, and guests grabbed a glass of wine and settled in for a speedy presentation by Ben McNally and his partner Lynn Thompson, who presented their choices for the top 45 books of the season in 45 minutes. These seasonal book presentations are definitely worth checking out; they're fast and painless, and you leave with a wonderfully curated list of books from two of Toronto's most tried and true bibliophiles. The winter list contains a few more books that are geared for gifting (in light of the approaching holiday season) than the summer version -- glossy coffee table books and pithy explorations of warplanes for dads and uncles. It remains a wonderful guide to the best fiction and non-fiction of the season.

The Winter List

Non-Fiction

  • Art Deco Architecture in Toronto by Tim Morawetz. A guide to the city's beautiful art deco buildings
  • The Frigate Surprise by Brian Lavery & Geoff Hunt. Patrick O'Brian's ship brought to life.
  • 100 Photos that Changed Canada by Mark Reid. The generic gift book
  • The Case for God by Karen Armstrong: Why religion matters. Written by a nun, McNally described the book as "worth the read, whether you believe or not." 
  • The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Why evolution matters. "This book explains that you can believe in God and still believe in evolution. But we sort of get that in Canada," joked McNally.
  • All of Me by Anne Murray. Canada's sweetheart. Ben shared a story from the International Festival of Authors (IFOA), which Ben McNally Books is the bookseller for. Apparently, Anne Murray refused to sign books for fear of a lack of security.
  • An Irreverent Curiosity by David Farley. A lost relic. McNally gave a quick outline of the story, set in a small village in Italy when the town's famed relic suddenly goes missing. The kicker: the town's relic is the preserved foreskin of Christ. Irreverent indeed!
  • Page Fright by Harry Bruce. The foibles of famous writers. An ideal book for writers about famous writers and their demands and various idiosyncrasies. 
  • Inside the Kingdom by Robert Lacey. Saudi Arabia today. A follow up to an earlier book on Saudi Arabia by Lacey, Inside the Kingdom looks at the modern events in Saudi Arabia that are shaping the news and the Islamic world today.
  • Ayn Rand and the World She Made by Anne C. Heller: The origins of objectivism.
  • Lancaster by Leo McKinstry. World War Two's greatest bomber. For the person in your life who loves fighter planes, this is apparently the best book of its kind.
  • Too Big to Fail by Andrew Ross Sorkin. Looking into the financial abyss. "The story of the companies involved in the teetering on the abyss" before the current economic crisis.
  • The War That Killed Achilles by Caroline Alexander. The story of Homer's Iliad and the Trojan War. A book about the Trojan War and what occurred before The Iliad. "Unusual and very timely."
  • Heidegger and a Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates by Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein. The humorous philosophers continue. McNally described the book as an incredible non-stop book of jokes or "death through joke."
  • Just Watch Me by John English. Trudeau, Volume Two. " A comprehensive and even-handed book." John English wasn't sure that he liked Pierre Trudeau after he finished his first book, and after finishing his second book on Trudeau is quotes as saying he was now sure he didn't. 
  • When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. Get out your chopsticks. A book that forecasts the changes that will take place as China's global influence and power increases.
  • D-Day by Anthony Beevor. The Battle for Normandy. "Accomplished, easy to read."
  • The Bedside Book of Beasts After the birds, the beasts. McNally described the book as "lavishly illustrated-- one of the nicest things out there."
  • Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo. An amazing art scam. A book detailing one of the most intriguing art scams in history and the two people who perpetrated it. 
  • Waste by Tristram Stuart. Uncovering the global food scandal. A book that uncovers the disturbing reality that half of the food produced in the United States goes to waste. 
  • The Music Room by William Fiennes. Luminous autobiography. William Fiennes' biography, recalling his childhood growing up in a castle and his four siblings. McNally called Fiennes one of the "most observant and crystalline writers working today." 
  • Eating Pomegranates by Sarah Gabriel. Mother and daughter cancer memoir. A pick from Lynn Thompson, the book details a woman who discovers she has breast cancer and then tries to reclaim her mother's history, who passed away from cancer when she was younger. Thompson described the book as "very touching, a beautiful story and not terribly depressing!"
  • Stones Into Schools by Greg Mortenson. Three more cups of tea. Story of Mortensen who has built hundreds of schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Fiction

  • City of Words by Sarah Elton. Toronto through her writer's eyes. A book of photographs and writing about Toronto with well-chosen work by accomplished and well-known writers. McNally hoped that its publishers would keep City of Words available for many years to come, feeling it would be an ideal gift for visitors to the city, people living in Toronto, etc. [Click HEREto enter Open Book's City of Words contest.]
  • New York by Edward Rutherford. Panoramic novel of the city of the same name
  • A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks. A harrowing, satiric week in the life of modern-day London. Set in 2007. 
  • Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving. The Literary Lion's newest bestseller.
  • The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman. A Canadian woman defies 19th century social boundaries to become a doctor. McNally explained that this books is a bestseller in Montreal and is based on the first women who went to McGill medical school. 
  • Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro. Canada's sweetheart. "What can I say about Alice Munro that hasn't been said by two hundred people?" mused McNally and went on to describe the unanimously glowing reviews this books has received around the world.
  • The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon. The boyhood and education of Alexander the Great. A "very impressive" book about Aristotle, his time as a tutor to Philip of Macedon and more largely about the fact that good teachers never stop learning.
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories by Leo Tolstoy. A new translation of Tolstoy's masterpiece. McNally described this book as so spectacularly and beautifully produced, he had a hard time setting it down.
  • The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, retold by Peter Ackroyd. A modern retelling of Chaucer's classic stories
  • The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk. The Nobel Prize winner's new novel of life and love in modern Istanbul. McNally shared an anecdote about Pamuk being the most ill-humored writer at the IFOA, who virtually bristled at having to do interviews.
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. 1970s New York City brilliantly told through the experiences of its inhabitants. The recent winner of the National Book Award, the book centres around a tightrope walker who walks between the looming skyscrapers of the city.
  • Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby. Another terrific novel by the master of the modern relationship. McNally described his surprise at how little attention this book was getting, as he was certain it would be a huge hit. He referred to Hornby "the most incisive writer about music that is writing today."
  • Still Midnight by Denise Mina. The popular Scottish author's latest police thriller. "Because everyone needs a mystery!"
  • Stardust by Joseph Kanon. A murder mystery set in seething post-war Hollywood
  • Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon. The reclusive genius tries his hand at hard-boiled mystery. Featuring a "dope-smoking maniac who is a private eye in the 1970s -- a drug fueled take on the noir tradition in Los Angeles."
  • Lustrum by Robert Harris. Cicero Volume Two. "One of the most intelligent and elegant thriller writers out there.”
  • New World Monkeys by Nancy Mauro. Wide-eyed New Yorkers lose (and find) their way in small town America. "The writing is unusual and accomplished in a really unusual way."
  • A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert. Five generations of women explore their social realities. One of McNally's top books that he was most excited to introduce to the audience, "a brilliant book that makes you think differently."
  • Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. Brilliant literary suspense: disparate lives connect, chaos ensues. McNally summed up the novel as being "about who you are and whether you are who you might think you are."
  • The Year of Flood by Margaret Atwood. More terrific speculative fiction from a Canadian icon. Thompson described The Year of the Flood as darker than Oryx and Crake, and the first dystopian novel that made her want to go out and stock up.
  • Her Fearful Symmetry by Angela Niffenegger. Twin sisters encounter the dearly departed in their newly inherited house. From the author of The Time Traveler's Wife, Thompson described Her Fearful Symmetry as "a beautiful book to just sink into."
  • The Disappeared by Kim Echlin. A gorgeous novel of love and loss in Cambodia
  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. A life of Thomas Cromwell, told with intelligence, humour and great historical acumen. Thompson outlined the book, with its 150 characters and fascinating depiction of Henry VIII and why he was able to marry Anne Boleyn. Thompson called Wolf Hall her favourite book of the season.
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