Books with the Gift of Insight

14 books offering fascinating ideas for our times

In its definition of the word insight (“the ability to see and understand the truth about people or situations”), the Oxford English Dictionary’s first sample phrase is (rather insightfully): “a writer of great insight”.

Insight seems rather a part of the job description. Why else would we bother reading hundreds of pages of their prose? Their skills as storytellers, image evokers, idea provokers, are laden with insight. Thus, their books show us new truths, new ways of understanding issues, individuals, communities, whole societies, the world.

Of course, some books are more intentionally geared toward such things than others. Here, we want to highlight 14 that we think offer unique and fascinating insights about the current state of the world, and human beings’ challenges in it. Indeed, these are books with something to say about our times.

Langosh & Peppi
Veronica Post
Conundrum Press

This graphic novel works with freedom as a theme, specifically freedom of movement across borders, which so many take for granted as so many others only dream of. The issues are heavy, but the work is filled with humour and based on the author’s experiences living in Hungary. 

The Old Man is Me
Bruce Stagg
Boulder Books

Stagg effortlessly captures the spirit of post-Confederation Newfoundland. Life was arduous, but also romantic; families were optimistic, but struggled to put food on the table. These are stories of a childhood spent on the wharf, by the seaside, and in detention. Of larger-than-life personalities in a small but vibrant town. Of deep grudges and lifelong friendships. With rich detail and remarkable characters, The Old Man Is Me is a delightful step back in time.

Dirty Birds
Murray Morgan
Breakwater Books

Our reviewer likened Murray Morgan’s novel to the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter S Thompson, Mark Leyner and Will Self, this gigantic novel won’t shut up. Hilariously ironic and irreverent, Dirty Birds is a quest novel for the 21st century—a coming-of-age, rom-com, crime-farce thriller—where a hero’s greatest foe is his own crippling mediocrity as he seeks purpose in art, money, power, crime and sleeping in all day.

Land-Water-Sky / Ndè-Ti-Yat’a
Katlià
Fernwood Publishing

Set in Canada’s far north, this layered composite novel traverses space and time, from a community being stalked by a dark presence, a group of teenagers out for a dangerous joyride, to an archeological site on a mysterious island that holds a powerful secret. Riveting, subtle and unforgettable, Katlià gives us a unique perspective into what the world might look like today if Indigenous legends walked among us, disguised as humans, and ensures that the spiritual significance and teachings behind the stories of Indigenous legends are respected and honoured.

The Liars
Ida Linehan Young
Flanker Press

When an escaped murderer triggers a series of events that will significantly change the lives of John and Alice MacDonald and jeopardize the life of their daughter, they must take drastic action to protect the welfare of the child. Follow John and Alice as they are forced to leave the wilds of Labrador for an isolated future in Holyrood, Newfoundland, only to have their world turned upside down when they must face the consequences of the lives they lived.

Operation Wormwood: The Reckoning
Helen Escott
Flanker Press

Years of investigating horrific crimes have become too much, and Sgt. Nicholas Myra’s PTSD is intense and out of control. He can’t unsee the images that race through his dreams. Now as he investigates the biggest case of his career, he is in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

An Orange From Portugal
Anne Simpson
Goose Lane Editions

Spanning more than a century of seasonal writing, this collection includes a description of killing a pig aboard the sailing ship Argonauta for Christmas dinner; Hugh MacLennan’s Halifax waif who wants nothing more than for Santa to bring him a real orange, an orange from Portugal; a story by Alden Nowlan and another by Harry Bruce giving very different versions of what the animals in the barn do on Christmas Eve; a story about Jewish children hanging up their stockings; and very new work by young writers Lisa Moore and Michael Crummey. Beautiful poems by Lynn Davies, Milton Acorn and others leaven the collection for readers of all persuasions

Seeing Martin
Su Croll
Pedlar Press

When art student Mira Samhain loses her father, she becomes preoccupied with images of flesh and anguish. Martin Zorn becomes her lover and muse, his body’s every detail she commits to paper. Seeing Martin is Su Croll’s debut novel, a work that investigates the predatory gaze, the tidal pull between artist and model, between the seeker and the sought. About grief, and how grief can be held at bay, at least temporarily, by sex and art.

Boy With A Problem
Chris Benjamin
Pottersfield Press

In sharp, insightful prose, Boy With a Problem taps into the heart of our deeply human fear of failing to truly connect with others. The fissures that erupt between us, how quickly they widen from cracks to chasms—this is the thread running through these wise, raw, and tender short stories.

Twenty-One Ways to Die in Saskatchewan
Ronald Stansfield
Nevermore Press

In this poignant collection of fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry, Nova Scotian author R.E. Stansfield reflects on growing up on the Prairies while exploring, both metaphorically and physically, the many ways we “die.”

Imperilled Ocean
Laura Trethewey
Goose Lane Editions

A deeply reported work of narrative journalism that follows people as they head out to sea. What they discover holds inspiring and dire implications for the life of the ocean — and for all of us back on land. Battles are fought, fortunes made, lives lost, and the ocean approaches an uncertain future. Behind this human drama, the ocean is growing ever more unstable, threatening to upend life on land.

Take Back the Fight
Nora Laredo
Fernwood Publishing

Nora Loreto examines the state of modern feminism in Canada and argues that feminists must organize to take back feminism from politicians, business leaders and journalists who distort and obscure its power. Furthermore, Loreto urges today’s activists to overcome the challenges that sank the movement decades ago, to stop centring whiteness as the quintessential woman’s experience and to find ways to rebuild the communities that have been obliterated by neoliberal economic policies.

How We Go Home
edited by Sara Sinclair
Fernwood Publishing

Hear from Jasilyn Charger, one of the first five people to set up camp at Standing Rock, which kickstarted a movement of Water Protectors that roused the world; Gladys Radek, a survivor of sexual violence whose niece disappeared along Canada’s Highway of Tears, who became a family advocate for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; and Marian Naranjo, herself the subject of a secret radiation test while in high school, who went on to drive Santa Clara Pueblo toward compiling an environmental impact statement on the consequences of living next to Los Alamos National Laboratory. Theirs are stories among many of the ongoing contemporary struggles to preserve Indigenous lands and lives.

The Foresters’ Scribe
Ursula Kelly
ISER Books

During the Newfoundland Forestry Companies’ time overseas, 37 letters were written home by “the Foresters’ scribe,” Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant John A Barrett. Published in Newfoundland newspapers, they provided a detailed and articulate account of the NFC’s service in Scotland. This book compiles Barrett’s letters and examines their historical significance.

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