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2015: Our Books of the Year

At 49th Shelf, list-making is an all-year-round concern, and a task we take very seriously. Which means that this Books of the Year list is one of the best you're going to find anywhere, expert-compiled with a mind to critically acclaimed titles that readers have loved.

We have added annotations springing from chats and posts we've enjoyed featuring the authors of these 13 books over the past year—please follow the links to learn more.

As ever, we remind you that a books list is only the beginning. Make sure to explore the whole site to discover more great books from this year, and all the years before it. 

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Undermajordomo Minor, by Patrick de Witt

Utterly original, hilarious, and beautiful, Undermajordomo Minor is both a black comedy of manners and an otherworldly love story. It's deWitt's follow-up to his hugely successful The Sisters Brothers, and it does not disappoint. We completely agree with this caution from The Independent: "The challenge for the reader is to resist the temptation to devour a novel which should be savoured."

Read more about Undermajordomo Minor and other weird and wonderful books in our Oddballs List

**

Captive, by Claudine Dumont, translated by David Scott Hamilton

Captive has been compared to Emma Donoghue's Room, and for good reason: the protagonist wakes to find herself confined to a small grey room and she has no idea why she’s there. The National Post calls it "short and intense ... a book well worth picking up."

See more amazing Books in Translation to Read This Fall

**

Fifteen Dogs, by André Alexis

"No one has asked me 'what is the connection between happiness and power?' The question is at the heart of the novel but it’s slightly hidden, as the heart always is."

From Trevor Corkum's interview with Giller Prize-winning André Alexis

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Book Cover Circle of STones

Circle of Stones, by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew

"In an era when we broadcast only versions of our happiest selves and highest achievements on social media, it’s comforting to read books that go to the depths of complexity, chaos, and crisis and to stumble along with their characters. One of the questions I’m interested in as both a reader and an author is not only the universal how do we live, but also more specifically, how do we live in the jumble and scramble of today’s vast and ever-changing cities."

From Suzanne Alyssa Andrew's intro to her "Messes and Meltdowns in the City" post and booklist 

**

Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking With Creativity, by Patrick Finn

"In Canada we actually call these people 'the foreign affairs critic,' or the 'environment critic.' Do we ever hear these people offer creative contributions that could improve the lives of the citizens they represent? Of course not—no matter what the government says, the critic disagrees. So bad is this sort of gridlock that governments in the United States seem unable to pass any kind of legislation. They would rather the population suffered than cede the point on any issue."

From Patrick Finn's Critical Condition—(excerpt here)

**

Life Among the Qallunaat, by Mini Aodla Freeman, edited by Julie Rak and Keavy Martin, with Norma Dunning

"I think they were afraid that I might talk badly about residential schools. And remember: at that time, Northern Affairs kept denying, denying about residential schools. When an Indian person came up and talked about it really badly, they would shut them up. And then, I think they thought I wrote something bad about residential schools, which I should have, but I didn’t [laughing]. I think that was the worry, and when they discovered there wasn’t something about residential schools, they decided to put it out."

From Freeman's conversation with Dunning and Martin—(excerpt from the book is also here)

**

Debris, by Kevin Hardcastle

"In recently discussing the stories in my book, Debris, the idea of what the characters in the stories were fighting and struggling for kept coming up. In the end, I figured the fight itself, and enduring the hard things that happen in their lives, is what drives the stories. The characters endure and sometimes that is enough."

From Hardcastle's intro to his "On Endurance" booklist 

**

Sir John's Table: The Culinary Life and Times of Canada's First Prime Minister, by Lindy Mechefske

"Food is, after all, at the most basic level, about life and our very survival as a species. Food tells the story of the past and present. From the origin of mankind, to the cave dwellers to the Roman Empire; from the First Nations people who roamed this continent 20,000 years ago, to the European colonialists, to contemporary locavores at trendy urban restaurants; from the Garden of Eden to Goldilocks—food is at the heart of everything that matters."

From Mechefske's post on the importance of food history

** 

Red Jacket, by Pamela Mordecai

"So I owe this book to a few people here, as I’ve said. I am deeply grateful! Set on another fictive Caribbean island, St Chris is one of several locales in Red Jacket. A friend suggested that I ought to set aside the pretense and admit that St Chris is Jamaica, since being coy does not become me, but I am clearly not the only coy one. And ever since I described 'the Mona moon' as rising 'out of the sea' in a poem (it doesn’t, but I wanted the rhyme), and my friend, Kamau, tackled me about it, I have grasped the virtue of fictive places. Lack of accountability!"

From Pamela Mordecai's intro to her list of Canadian novels of the Caribbean

**

Born to Walk, by Dan Rubinstein

"I wanted to write about a string of characters on a range of different types of journeys, some of which were rather commonplace, but an essential part of our daily lives, not an extreme adventure in a far-off land. Which is how I view walking overall: something that needs to be part of our daily rhythms, not something that we go out our way to do. So instead of drawing structural inspiration from other non-fiction books, I approached Born to Walk as a series of interrelated magazine features. Each chapter kind of reads like a magazine story with its own narrative arc and a blend of my personal experiences, third-person reporting, and a deep dive into the scientific literature around the theme at the core of that chapter."

From our Q&A with Dan Rubinstein

**

Book Cover Twenty One Cardinals

Twenty-One Cardinals, by Jocelyn Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins

"Ominous is a good word for [the book]. I remember when I first read it getting to a certain point and thinking 'uh-oh.' Again, Jocelyne is a very good storyteller and in each of her books she manages to create a world that you can immerse yourself in. Of course I spent an awful lot of time with a book I’m translating, so I end up feeling like I can move around in space inside the story, but I think anyone who reads one of her books, in English or in French, ends up inhabiting the world she creates for the time they spend there. It’s a special talent she has."

From Trevor Corkum's chat with Mullins

**

Book Cover Martin John

Martin John, by Anakana Schofield

"I wanted to find and trap that same hopelessness in the syntax and language of that passage. The escalator that never brings you anywhere you would want to be. The terminal you can never get out of. There was a time when you simply would not have been believed but I hope and pray and do feel that time has passed. We are listening now in a way it was not possible to be heard before."

From Trevor Corkum's chat with Schofield

**

Hope Makes Love, by Trevor Cole

From the Globe and Mail: " ... A novel of vivid emotional truths, grounded in characters so skilfully drawn they emerge as human beings captured on the page, rather than created. Zep and Hope are the unforgettable foundation for a novel that is gracious and graceful, powerful and clear-eyed, thoughtful, and full of life.”

Read more about Hope Makes Love and other books that captured the spirit of 2015 in our Zeitgeist post

November 23, 2015

Books mentioned in this post

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Fifteen Dogs

narrator Andre Alexis
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: literary, fairy tales, folk tales, legends & mythology, magical realism

An utterly convincing and moving look at the beauty and perils of consciousness.

WINNER OF CANADA READS 2017

WINNER OF THE 2015 GILLER PRIZE

WINNER OF THE 2015 ROGERS WRITERS' TRUST FICTION PRIZE

FINALIST FOR THE 2015 TORONTO BOOK AWARDS

— I wonder, said Hermes, what it would be like if animals had human intelligence.

—I'll wager a year's servitude, …

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Circle of Stones

by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, contemporary

Nik is an eccentric art student obsessed with painting his dancer girlfriend, Jennifer. When one day she inexplicably disappears, Nik’s world is shattered. Determined to find her, he embarks on a cross-country journey following a scant trail of clues. He doesn’t anticipate how far he’ll have to travel, what he’ll do when he runs out of mone …

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Critical Condition

Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity

by Patrick Finn
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
tagged: experimental methods, aims & objectives

Should we stop teaching critical thinking? Meant as a prompt to further discussion, Critical Condition questions the assumption that every student should be turned into a “critical thinker.”

The book starts with the pre-Socratics and the impact that Socrates’ death had on his student Plato and traces the increasingly violent use of critical …

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Life Among the Qallunaat

by Mini Aodla Freeman, edited by Keavy Martin & Julie Rak
edition: Paperback
also available: Hardcover Audiobook eBook
tagged: native americans, polar regions, indigenous studies

Life Among the Qallunaat is the story of Mini Aodla Freeman’s experiences growing up in the Inuit communities of James Bay and her journey in the 1950s from her home to the strange land and stranger customs of the Qallunaat, those living south of the Arctic. Her extraordinary story, sometimes humourous and sometimes heartbreaking, illustrates an …

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Debris

by Kevin Hardcastle
edition: Paperback
tagged: short stories (single author)
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Sir John's Table

The Culinary Life and Times of Canada's First Prime Minister

by Lindy Mechefske
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: history, social history, presidents & heads of state, canadian

Winner, Taste Canada Gold Medal for Culinary Narrative

Commemorating the two-hundredth anniversary of Sir John A. Macdonald's birth, Sir John's Table is a refreshing look at Canada's first prime minister.

Sir John's Table traverses the colourful life of Macdonald, from his passage as a young Scottish boy in the steerage compartment aboard the Earl of …

Pamela Mordecai: Novels of the Caribbean

Pamela Mordecai was born in Jamaica. She has published five collections of poetry and an anthology of short fiction. She has also written many textbooks and edited or co-edited groundbreaking anthologies of Caribbean writing. Her poetry for children is widely anthologized. Her poems have been shortlisted for the Canada Writes CBC Poetry Prize and the Bridport Prize (U.K.). She is the recipient of the Institute of Jamaica’s Centenary and Bronze Musgrave Medals, the Vic Reid Award for Children’s Writing, and the Burla Award. Pamela lives in Kitchener. Pamela Mordecai writes: I had three criteria for this list of nine books: that the writers be Canadian-Caribbean women; that the setting be entirely or in large part, the Caribbean; and that the books be published in (roughly) the last 15 years. That I claim most of these women as friends is a huge privilege. Give thanks. **Also included on the list: The Spirit of Haiti, by Myriam Chancy, and The New Moon’s Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson
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Born to Walk

The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act

by Dan Rubinstein
edition: eBook
also available: Audiobook Paperback Hardcover
tagged: healthy living, disease & health issues, exercise

 

The case for getting back on our feet

The humble act of putting one foot in front of the other transcends age, geography, culture, and class, and is one of the most economical and environmentally responsible modes of transit. Yet with our modern fixation on speed, this healthy pedestrian activity has been largely left behind.

At a personal and profe …

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Twenty-One Cardinals

by Jocelyne Saucier, translated by Rhonda Mullins
edition: Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged: literary, family life

From the author and translator of And the Birds Rained Down, a 2015 CBC Canada Reads selection

Winner of the 2015 Governor General's Literary Award for French-to-English Translation

An abandoned mine. A large family driven by honour. And a source of pain, buried deep in the ground.

We’re nothing like other families. We are self-made. We are an essen …

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Martin John

by Anakana Schofield
edition: Paperback
tagged: literary

Martin John's mam says that she is glad he is done with it. But is Martin John done with it? He says he wants it to stop, his mother wants it to stop, we all want it to stop. But is it really what Martin John wants? He had it in his mind to do it and he did it. Harm was done when he did it. Harm would continue to be done. Who will stop Martin John? …

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