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What We’re Reading

Zed book club contributors review their latest picks, including a reimagined folktale, a tell-all about ageism and a short story collection by a Pulitzer Prize finalist / BY Zed Staff / April 20th, 2023

Spring has finally sprung and there’s a whole new crop of books to read. From a candid account of a former supermodel navigating life in middle age to the scandalous history behind the world’s greatest source of printed information, and including a few titles that will take your imagination into the realm of the fantastic, each and every one will have you turning pages late into the night.  

Obsessive Book Buyers: Zoomer editors have carefully curated our book coverage to ensure you find the perfect read. We may earn a commission on books you buy by clicking on the cover.

1THE CRANE HUSBAND by Kelly Barnhill

Author’s Home Base: Minneapolis, Minnesota

Author’s Take:I have read the story of ‘The Crane Wife’ (or ‘The Grateful Crane’) more times than I can count, along with many other stories of the Bird Spouse/Animal Spouse category, which pop up all over the place in traditional folklore across several continents. As is the case with fairy tales, these stories have a tendency to take root in the psyche.”  – from Paste Magazine interview

Favourite Lines: “There were appliqued women made from feathers and barbed wire, stitched onto the backing with golden thread. Babies made from buttons. Children cut from the yellowed paper of eviction notices. Men made out of patchwork shoe leather and drenched with tears.”

Review: The Crane Husband packs a punch: succinct, even brutal in places, and impossibly lovely in others. Set in a midwestern U.S. farming community in the near future, where massive farming conglomerates are overseen by drones, the novella tells the story from the point of view of a bright 15-year-old girl, about life with her six-year-old brother Michael and their artistic mother. The mother (no one but Michael is named) weaves complex tapestries for a living, while making local cheese and tending to sheep at their rundown farmhouse, while her daughter looks after everyone. One day, a six-foot-tall crane in a jaunty hat with a “randy, jubilant smirk” shows up, and the mother tells the children to call him “Father” (they won’t). And so, the mystery begins.

Through carefully planted hints and allusions, the story – a new take on an old Japanese folktale – races to its inevitable conclusion. Unnerving clues to the crane’s existence and his curious sway over the mother mount up just like the crane’s feathers do around the house. Alarmingly, blood spots appear too. The mother holes up in her studio, pushed to create a masterpiece, and gets thinner and thinner.

Ultimately, this fabulist tale is a meditation on modern issues, including the role of women, and fraying social fabric. “Mothers fly away like migrating birds. This is why farmers have daughters.” NYT bestselling author Kelly Barnhill has an extraordinary talent for layering threads: feathers, drones and flight – that eventually weave themselves together – like a monstrous tapestry. –Susan Grimbly


Author’s Home Base: London, England

Author’s Take:I began to wonder what a set of unwanted encyclopaedias cheaper than firewood said about the value we place on information and its history, particularly at a time increasingly decried as rootless and unstable.”

Favourite Line: “The contributor specializing in acrobats had to write his entry more than a decade before the one specializing in yaks.”

Review: It’s hard to believe that the stodgy encyclopedia has such a long history, stretching from the Greeks to Wikipedia. Indeed, before the internet clipped the encyclopedia’s wings, there was a wealth of publications gathering “knowledge,” as they defined it (factual truth was not always cherished). Over the centuries, topics ranged from philosophy to mermaids to God to orbiting planets to evolution (some religious groups were not amused). During the Age of Enlightenment, the size, scale and scope of each competitor’s set became exhaustive, with the expanded French edition coming in at 203 volumes and 100 million words. 

New York Times bestselling author Simon Garfield covers all the publications, using the mighty Encyclopaedia Britannica and its 15 official editions as his through line. We meet the opinionated characters involved in its publication, including Colin Macfarquhar, the young Edinburgh bookseller who co-founded the Encyclopedia Britannica with engraver Andrew Bell (whose extraordinary nose gets a few paragraphs), as well as editor and printer, William Smellie.

Through the years, contributors ranged from philosopher kings to backroom boys, to Einstein, Trotsky and even Alfred Hitchcock. Garfield’s subtle, cheeky sense of humour illuminates the ambitious rivalries of publishers, partners and contributors, sometimes resulting in full-on physical dustups. There was a lot of money at stake. Before the end times, when the door-to-door encyclopedia salesman became an object of derision, publishers on both sides of the Atlantic made the equivalent of kajillions and, usually, retired comfortably. – SG


Author’s Home Base: New York City

Author’s Take: “This is my chance to connect to women my age, we invisible women. Probably in my mid-40s, I started noticing this cloak of invisibility and I asked my girlfriends if they ever had the feeling of not quite being seen? And every one of them said, ‘Oh yeah.’ This is a book about getting lost and then finding myself. I have now, at this age, reclaimed me. This is in fact my prime. Maybe I was glossier and prettier 20 years ago, but I wasn’t half as smart. This is me at my best.” – Porizkova speaking to the Today show November 14, 2022 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPSipIITaVA)

Favourite Passage: “Now, as a woman in her fifties with a life well lived and many lessons learned, I’ve come to find out I’m still supposed to look like the girl who doesn’t know what a penis is. The danger isn’t just in setting up that impossible beauty standard. It’s in what that standard represents and demands of women. Which is that we not only look like girls, but act like them, too. If the ideal woman is seventeen, then the ideal woman is naïve, malleable, inexperienced, and undiscerning. The ideal woman is not a woman. She’s a girl.”

Review: ‘Even supermodels married to rock stars sometimes get the blues’ might be a pithier if less charitable subtitle to Porizkova’s non-fiction debut, which is equal parts tear-stained memoir, self-help guide, and manifesto for aging unapologetically. The author, 58 on April 9, was among the planet’s most recognizable faces in 1984 when, at age 19, she met Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, 21 years her senior and already on his second marriage. 

Their seemingly blissful union lasted 30 years. But upon Ocasek’s death from cancer in 2019, Porizkova discovered a devastating secret: she had been cut from his will and accused of abandonment even though the couple, then separated, still shared a household to parent their two sons. That development propelled Porizkova on a rocky journey to reclaim her share of the marital assets. In the process –  while juggling grief, shock, and a sense of betrayal – she discovered her inner compass. And mostly liked the direction it was pointing. 

Through brief, candid, and unfussy essays, the author walks readers through the ups-and-downs with Ocasek, her youth in communist Czechoslovakia and later in Sweden, her perilous years spent modelling before the advent of #MeToo, her battles with anxiety and cosmetic enhancement and, most interestingly, how getting older – a process also chronicled by Porizkova on Instagram – finally gave her the confidence to put her own voice out there beside the mute images that had defined her. Nothing in No Filter is ground-breaking, but Porizkova shares valuable life lessons (love can’t ever fix you, a point always worth repeating) in a voice as convivial as that of a tipsy pal dishing over a long lunch. – Kim Hughes

4MR. BREAKFAST by Jonathan Carroll

Author’s Home Base: Vienna, Austria

Author’s Take: I think, at one point or another, most people wonder, “What would my life have been like if I’d jigged instead of jagged?” Even the successful people I know have been tickled by that question. The simple answer to it is, if you like your life as it is, why look elsewhere to improve or change it? – Los Angeles Review of Books

What Others Are Saying: “A beautiful, brilliant, meditation on art, love, inspiration and what makes life worthwhile. Such a treat.” – Neil Gaiman

Favourite Passage: “When you find what you’re looking for, you stop looking. At least, I do. Far as I’m concerned, it can be something as small as the right kind of pencil or as big as a life.”

Review: Over a career spanning twenty novels and multiple short stories, American-expatriate writer Jonathan Carroll has crafted a body of work which defies simple description. While Carroll’s fiction is roughly lumped into the magic realist or contemporary fantasy genres (he’s won major awards in fantasy and horror), his work doesn’t really fit into either definition. Rather, his stories are fundamentally human, with enough of the fantastic to elevate their humanity, rather than overshadowing it. 

Carroll’s new novel, Mr. Breakfast, serves as a perfect introduction to readers unfamiliar with his work, and marks a welcome return for his dedicated readers. The premise is simple: Graham Patterson’s life is in free-fall. He’s given up on his dreams of being a stand-up comedian, he’s just been dumped by his partner, and he has no idea what to do next. In desperation, he buys a car and a camera and sets out on a road trip to California, hoping the journey will help him find his place in the world.

In a tiny town in North Carolina, Patterson decides, on the spur of the moment, to get a tattoo (his first). The tattoo carries with it a touch of magic: Patterson can now visit, in real time, the three lives which are available to him, the forking destinies present in all of our lives. And, more significantly, he can choose which of the three options he wants to live.

Of course, such decisions are never simple, and despite the isolation we may be feeling, we’re never truly alone when it comes to choosing our paths. Mr. Breakfast is a brilliant, deeply felt examination of the power of our choices in shaping an entire lifetime, an entire world. – Robert Wiersema

5LONE WOMEN by Victor LaValle

Author’s Take: Everything in that book is absolutely based on real history. One of the rules I had for myself was I couldn’t make anything up – except for that one impossible thing at the centre of the story.” – Goodreads

Favourite Line: “History is simple. The past is complicated.”

Review: Lone Women, the stunning new novel from New York writer Victor LaValle, begins in the summer of 1915. Adelaide Henry, who was born and grew up in a Black farming community in California’s Lucerne family, douses her family’s home with gasoline and sets her past – including the savaged bodies of her parents — alight. Dragging an unusually heavy steamer trunk with her, Adelaide makes her way to Montana, where she plans to become one of the “lone women,” taming and homesteading the western wilderness. The trunk always stays locked; when it is opened, bad things happen. Terrible things.

LaValle has carved out a position for himself as one of the most highly regarded literary horror writers currently at work, and this new novel is something of a departure. Geographically removed from his usual New York settings, Lone Women is a pastiche of genres: part survival story, settlement story, revenge narrative and, yes, a Western. Far from confusing the reader, this swirl of genres only makes the novel more realistic, rooting it in a world that doesn’t always — or ever — conform to order and rules. It was a lawless time, in a lawless place, and Lone Women perfectly encapsulates that world.

And, as one would expect from LaValle, this is also a horror novel, but the horror here is a tragic one, a legacy of cruelty coming to a head against a backdrop of violence and insecurity. Lone Women is a transfixing, surprising read – start it early in the day, because you won’t want to put it down. – RW


Author’s Home Base: Northampton, Massachusetts

Author’s Take: “Like many people who love books, fairy tales were my introduction to the fantastic. They’re a genre I come back to, whether reading Angela Carter or anthologies of retold fairy tales. I think what seemed useful to me when I began to think about the kind of stories I wanted to write was that I could use fairy tales in a way that was not a direct retelling but could retain some of the extraordinary qualities of colours, food, or animals.” – Publishers Weekly

Favourite Line: “All men desire to be rich; no man desires to grow old.”

Review: Without making much of a ripple on the bestseller lists or the talk show circuit, Kelly Link has become one of the most highly regarded writers of our time. As a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur Fellow, and recipient of an NEA grant, one might expect Link’s writing to be capital “L” Literary, possibly dry, likely forbidding. None of this could be further from the truth: reading a short story by Kelly Link is a reminder of why we read in the first place.

As in her previous collections, the stories in White Cat, Black Dog – Link’s latest book – are rooted in fairy tales; in fact, each is tagged with the title of the original tale. (The root fairy tales include Snow-White and Rose-Red, Hansel and Gretel, and Tam Lin, among others.) Link’s stories, however, are not simple retellings or updatings. Each story seems to take on the key elements (textual and subtextual) of the original stories and mould those elements into something as fresh, surprising, and mysterious as the original. It’s a difficult feat, and uniquely powerful, and Link makes it look as easy as dreaming.

The collection begins, for example, with ‘The White Cat’s Divorce,’ in which a billionaire dispatches his three sons on a series of quests to determine who should inherit his fortune. That a story which begins with shades of Succession should segue naturally into a relationship between the youngest son and a talking cat (who happens to run a commercial grow-op in Colorado) and then beyond, to a magical sword and the titular divorce (of a sort) is the stuff of wonder. That’s true for every story in the book, and for all of Link’s work: she is one of our greatest purveyors of wonder. – RW



Author’s Home Base: Sydney, Australia

Author’s Take:A book where everyone’s a killer, but there’s only one murderer.”

Favourite Line: “If you’re just here for the gory details, deaths in this book either happen or are reported to have happened on page 14, page 46, page 65, a twofer on page 75, and a hat trick on page 81.”

Review: The Australian comedian’s third thriller has taken the world by storm, with rights sold in 20 countries and, after a bidding war in Hollywood, an HBO TV adaptation in the works. Stevenson was inspired to use a back-to-front structure by a buddy obsessed with reading online movie spoilers. So, in the first pages, our “reliable narrator” Ernest Cunningham admits everyone in his family has killed someone, some of them more than once, and even he himself has killed someone. And, because he’s the author of how-to books on crime writing, he is both the story’s writer and its sleuth.

It also contains a clever meta twist. On the page before the prologue, English crime writer Ronald Knox’s “10 commandments of detective fiction” are listed, which Ernest liberally refers to in the story. The reader is encouraged to refer to them, too, with a “fold here” graphic encouraging them to dog ear the page.

The plot centres on a Cunningham family reunion at a remote ski resort where several people are murdered, and the killer is among them. As Ernest sets out to solve the crimes, Stevenson liberally sprinkles red herrings all over the plot by unfurling each relative’s back story one by one, casting aspersions on Ernest’s brother, who has just been released from jail, and alighting on his wife – who has left him for his convict brother – his sisters-in-law, his mother and his stepfather. It’s a whirlwind romp, full of jokes and one-liners you would expect from a comic, and from a student of the detective genre who is having a really good time playing with its conventions. – Kim Honey


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Five Canadian Writers Make the Long List for the Inaugural Carol Shields Prize for FictionThe US$150,000 English-language literary award for female and nonbinary writers redresses the inequality of women in the publishing world

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The Bill Gates Summer Reading List Includes a Sci-Fi Novel On Gender Inequality Suggested by His DaughterBill Gates' summer reading list includes fiction and non-fiction titles that cover gender equality, political polarization and climate change.

American novelist Joshua Cohen wins the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for “The Netanyahus”The 2022 Pulitzer prizes include this satirical look at identity politics, focused on the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a crucial time in the Jewish state’s history

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Queen Elizabeth II’s Aide Reveals Details of Life in Royal Pandemic Lockdown in New Addition to BookAngela Kelly, who's worked for the Queen for 20 years, discusses everything from cutting the Queen's hair to "the light and laughter that was shared ... even in the darkest moments."

New Leonard Cohen Story Collection, ‘A Ballet of Lepers,’ Set for October ReleaseThe collection features a novel, short stories and a radio play written between 1956 and 1961.

Archived Letters Reveal How Toni Morrison Helped MacKenzie Scott Meet Future Husband Jeff BezosBezos hired Scott at the hedge fund where he worked after receiving a recommendation from Morrison. Shortly thereafter, the pair married and Scott helped Bezos launch Amazon.

Prince Harry’s Memoir is Set to Rock the MonarchyFriends say the California-based royal got a million-pound book deal to write "an intimate take on his feeling about the family."

European Jewish Congress Asks Publisher to Pull Anne Frank BookThe Congress says 'The Betrayal of Anne Frank' has "deeply hurt the memory of Anne Frank, as well as the dignity of the survivors and the victims of the Holocaust."

Canadian Author Details Anne Frank Cold-Case Investigation That Named Surprise Suspect in Her Family’s Betrayal in New BookAhead of the 75th anniversary of the publication of Frank's 'The Diary of a Young Girl' in June, a team that included a retired FBI agent and around 20 historians, criminologists and data specialists identified a relatively unknown figure as a leading suspect in revealing her family's hideout.

Man Who Tricked Authors Into Handing Over Unpublished Manuscripts Arrested by FBI in New YorkFilippo Bernardini, an employee of a well known publication house, has been arrested for stealing hundreds of unpublished manuscripts.

Hollywood Legend Betty White Has a Last Laugh in New Biographic Comic BookThe creators of the biographical comic book have released similar books about Hollywood legends like Carrie Fisher, Lucille Ball, David Bowie and Elizabeth Taylor.

Barack Obama Reveals His List of Books That Left “A Lasting Impression” in 2021Obama's favourite 2021 reads include two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author Colson Whitehead's 'Harlem Shuffle' and 'Klara and the Sun,' by Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro

“Interview With the Vampire” Author Anne Rice Dies at 80 — Tributes Pour in From Stuart Townsend and OthersThe author, who was best known for her work in gothic fiction, died on Saturday evening as a result of complications from a stroke.

Norma Dunning wins $25,000 Governor General’s English fiction prize for ‘Tainna’The Edmonton-based Inuk writer explores themes of displacement, loneliness and spirituality in six short stories

Omar El Akkad wins $100,000 Giller prize for “What Strange Paradise”The former Globe and Mail reporter, who published "American War" to acclaim in 2017, tackles the global migrant refugee crisis in his second novel

South African Author Damon Galgut Wins the Booker Prize For ‘The Promise’Galgut received nominations for his 2003 and 2010 works before finally taking home the prize this year. 

Hollywood Legend Paul Newman Discusses Life, Acting and Aging Gracefully in Newly Discovered MemoirPublishers of the newly discovered memoir say the Hollywood legend wrote the book in the 1980s in response to the relentless media attention he received during that time.

Here’s What You Need to Know About the Toronto International Festival of AuthorsDirector Roland Gulliver lands in Toronto to open his second, much-expanded virtual festival with more than 200 events

Tanzanian Novelist Gurnah Wins 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature for Depicting the Impact of Colonialism and Refugee StoriesGurnah, 72, is only the second writer from sub-Saharan Africa to win one of the world's most prestigious literary awards

Miriam Toews Garners Third Giller Prize Nomination for “Fight Night” after Shortlist AnnouncedSophomore efforts from novelists Omar El Akkad and Jordan Tannahill join debut books from Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia and Angélique Lalonde

Tina Brown’s New Book, ‘The Palace Papers’, Covers the Royal Family’s Reinvention After Diana’s Tragic DeathTina Brown's sequel to her 2007 release 'The Diana Chronicles' is set to hit shelves April 12, 2022. 

Audible.ca Releases Andrew Pyper’s Exclusive Audiobook “Oracle” For New Plus Catalogue LaunchThe thriller about a psychic FBI detective is one of 12,000 titles now available for free to members

Barack Obama and Bruce Springsteen to Release Book Based On Their “Renegades” PodcastThe new book will feature a collection of candid, intimate and entertaining conversations

Prince Harry Will Publish a Memoir in Late 2022Harry says he's writing the book "not as the prince I was born but as the man I have become."


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