Each year on Jan. 1, Decafnation presents its annual collective book report. Thanks to everyone who took the time to share micro-reviews of books they enjoyed in last year. You can read previous year’s recommendations here.

Kathy Gilland Duperron — Women Who Dig: Farming, Feminism and the Fight to Feed the World by Trina Moiyles of Alberta. — Ms Moyles travelled to six different countries and interviewed women who dig (garden, farm) in order to feed their families. We meet brave, hard-working women around the world. Canada, the US, Uganda, Cuba and more. Women outside North America get the most they can in order to feed their families and if they sell some products their children may be able to go to school. This is a book filled with hope, the opposite of what we are generally hearing and reading in the news.

Anne Baker — The Boat People by Sharon Bala — “When a rusty cargo ship carrying Mahindan and 500 fellow refugees from Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war reaches Vancouver’s shores, the young father thinks he and his six-year-old son can finally start a new life. Instead, the group is thrown into a detention processing center, with government officials and news headlines speculating that among the “boat people” are members of a separatist militant organization responsible for countless suicide attacks—and that these terrorists now pose a threat to Canada’s national security” — review excerpt taken from Goodreads.

Brad Morgan — The Library Book by Susan Orlean — This is every bookworm’s dream read, said a reviewer and it’s true. If you love books, you’ll love this book. It’s actually a tribute to libraries via an arson investigation and filled with real-life characters and stories so unexpected, they feel like they’ve been misshelved from the fantasy section. It’s starts out about the 1986 fire that destroyed 400,000 books at the Los Angeles Central Library, and that becomes Orlean’s excuse to introduce the eccentric who’d been the city’s first librarian, a successor who walked from Ohio to L.A. to claim the post.

Robert Moore — Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders — An initially baffling, wild, creative and surprising book. Second choice, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Hamid — Evocative and interesting voice.

Charles Shelan — Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and the Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish.

Sarah Seitz — A Little Life by Hanya Yanaguhara — I loved this tale of four young men navigating friendship and trauma. It is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Also enjoyed Educated by Tara Westover — a memoir about her life growing up with survivalists in rural Idaho.

Meredith Wright Hutchins — Circling the Sun by Paula McLain — This book is One of my favorites. It’s an biographical fiction and I was into the book before I realized Beryl Markham was an actual person. I was equally surprised to learn that one of her friends, Karen Blixen, was the character played by Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. The book is set in British East Africa in the early 1900’s. Beryl was, among other things, a race horse trainer and pilot at a time when those were not vocations for women.

Helena Spears — The Winters: a reboot of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca — It has great characters, and plot twists. If you enjoyed the original, you will enjoy this one too. A quick, fun read.

Jim Lewis — Washington Black by Esi Edugyan — This third novel by a Vancouver Island writer offers a unique spin on the traditional slave narrative. Its protagonist, known as Wash, is an 18-year-old freeman looking back on a childhood spent in bondage and on the unlikely events that allowed him to escape a Barbados sugar plantation in a hot-air balloon and travel from Virginia to the Arctic to Europe while blossoming into an accomplished artist and scientist.

Ramon Martinez — Riding the Continent by Hamilton Mack Laing, with an introduction by Richard Mackie, edited by Trevor Marc Hughes — Hamilton Mack Laing was an illustrious early British Columbia writer and naturalist. But few know him as how he described himself in his mid-thirties: a motorcycle-naturalist. For several years beginning in 1914, Laing used the motorcycle to access the natural world, believing it gave him a distinct advantage over other forms of transportation. During this period in his life he would take on a transcontinental journey, riding across the United States from Brooklyn to Oakland in 1915. His previously unpublished manuscript of this journey has been hidden away for nearly a century.

Peter Jacobson — The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood — A World War II–era family drama turns into a story within a story, within a story — as well as a mystery, a thriller, and a tract on the politics of love, passion, and betrayal. It’s brilliantly written, sharp as a blade, and completely engrossing.

Ken Adney — The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough — I love everything else I’ve read by him. Also, McLuhan for Beginners (one of the For Beginners series).
Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw (just because people keep talking about him). Jacobs’ Dimensions of Moral Theory (more meta arguments than how to). Anne Fadiman’s The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down (loved her essays). William Gass The World Within The Word(few writers write so well about writing)

Dan Vie — I generally read no fiction except for an occasional folktale. However, I re-read the Lord of the Rings after several decades, just because the narrative feels topical in this political climate. It is a gorgeous and engrossing read. Tolkien was masterful at crafting a sense of physical environment – the journey takes them through so many uniquely illustrated spaces, and it’s vivid.

Read more at Decafnation.

George Le Masurier