There’s no formula for choosing the books of the year. Some break ground, some tackle familiar themes with new energy. Some represent the best work from established authors, some introduce us to important new voices. And some are simply in-house favourites we feel deserve a little more attention. Here are the non-fiction books that made the most impact in 2010.
The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada
Marci McDonald (Random House Canada)
Canadians like to pretend that fiery pastors, righteous televangelists, and born-again politicians are solely an American phenomenon. In The Armageddon Factor, Marci McDonald insists otherwise. A former Washington bureau chief for Maclean’s, McDonald has seen first-hand how the culture wars have shaped U.S. politics over the past three decades. She was shocked to discover that the seeds of a parallel social conservative movement have also taken root in Canada, and that once obscure evangelicals with hard line social policies are making inroads directly into the Prime Minister’s Office. A sobering reality check for Canadians confident in this country’s secular foundation, this eye-opening book is a work of first-rate political reportage.
Mordecai: The Life & Times
Charles Foran (Knopf Canada)
This meticulously researched life and times of the bard of St. Urbain Street is the fourth biography of Mordecai Richler to appear since the Montreal author’s death in 2001. However, this volume not only overshadows its predecessors, it’s also the standard against which future biographers will have to measure their efforts. Novelist and essayist Charles Foran’s authoritative (though not technically authorized) Mordecai is the first book to attempt to capture the full breadth of Richler’s long life and career. It is also the first to be as broad in scope, as sympathetic in approach, and as full of characters as one of Richler’s own novels.
Kenk: A Graphic Portrait
Richard Poplak; Nick Marinkovich, illus. (Pop Sandbox)
Graphic novels are, by definition, a hybrid form, but the first book from Toronto upstart Pop Sandbox is sui generis. Composed almost entirely of repurposed, deliberately distressed video footage, Kenk presents a fly-on-the-wall portrait of internationally notorious bike thief Igor Kenk in the weeks leading up to his arrest. The book’s gritty, foot-in-the-gutter aesthetic is perfectly suited to its subject, a crank philosopher with a skewed moral sense who is alternately fascinating and infuriating. This graphic portrait walks a fine line, humanizing Kenk while never excusing his misdeeds. As reviewer Alex Good wrote in July/August’s Q&Q, it is a well-conceived and brilliantly executed book that draws an insightful, realistic portrait not just of a man, but of a specific time and place.