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Holiday Gift List: Hidden Gems

We welcome 18 brilliant bygone books and rediscovered classics that got a new lease on life this year / BY Nathalie Atkinson / December 8th, 2021


Any of these previously out-of-print and forgotten books, revived and reprinted with new forewords that highlight their relevance, will make a thoughtful gift for the lit lover on your list.

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 Buy Now button. 

1No Crystal Stairby Mairuth Sarsfield

This autobiographical coming-of-age novel by Canadian author-activist-diplomat Mairuth Sarsfield is set in the historically Black Montreal neighbourhood of Little Burgundy during the Second World War, and returns to print 25 years after its initial publication, with a foreword by Black Canadian historian Dr. Dorothy Williams. Through the story of a Ghanaian-Canadian widow who works several jobs to raise and educate her daughters, it explores themes of passing and Canada’s history of racism.


2Good Behaviourby Molly Keane

Keane’s darkly camp 1981 tragicomedy of manners is about an Anglo-Irish household in decline after the First World War, and double Booker winner Hilary Mantel (Wolf Hall) has championed it so often in roundups over the years that it’s finally had a reprint. “It is a concise, witty and perfectly constructed masterpiece – the product of a lifetime’s experience of people and the writer’s craft,” Mantel enthuses. Francine Prose is also a devotee. 


3Magic Cityby Jewell Parker Rhodes

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, when a mob of white residents  – aided by the National Guard – attacked the residents, homes and businesses of Greenwood, a prosperous Black district. An intimate story of events leading up to their heroic but doomed resistance, this historical novel first published in 1997 was one of the first works of fiction to explore one of the bloodiest and most shameful racial atrocities in American history, and paints a dark portrait about injustice and vigilantism. It comes with a new afterword by the author.


4Weby Yevgeny Zamyatin

Written in 1923, this dystopian Russian classic set in the 26th Century A.D. that influenced Aldous Huxley and George Orwell, is out in a new translation. It features an introduction by Margaret Atwood, Orwell’s review of the novel from 1946 (three years before he published 1984), and Ursula K. Le Guin’s essay, “The Stalin in the Soul,” on Zamyatin’s enduring influence.


5Home Cookingby Laurie Colwin

A regular contributor to the New Yorker and Gourmet magazines before her untimely death in 1992, all 10 of Colwin’s titles got handsome repackaging this year, including this nonfiction essay collection introduced by former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl. Colwin delighted in entertaining and the domestic life, and the author is beloved because both her food writing and her comforting fiction (like the novel, Happy All the Time) explored courtship, modern romance and devoted friendships.


6Hard Drivingby Brian Donovan

Generally, booksellers and readers probably thought of this as a NASCAR book more than an American history book around social and racial justice,” publisher Chip Fleischer told Publishers Weekly about this compelling 2008 biography of Wendell Scott. The book, about a Black stock-car racer who broke NASCARs colour barrier in the 1950s, is written by Donovan, the late, Pulitzer-winning newspaper reporter. It’s republished in Steerforth Press’s new Truth to Power non-fiction imprint to highlight Scott’s overlooked broader cultural significance.


7Last Summer in the Cityby Gianfranco Calligarich, trans. by Howard Curtis

This literary rediscovery about the existential malaise and urban ennui of a narrator rattling around Rome is appearing in English for the first time since its original Italian publication in 1973, with a foreword of biographical and cultural context by Call Me By Your Name writer André Aciman.


8Perilous Passageby Arthur Mayse

Véhicule Press’s Ricochet imprint continues its welcome resurrection of bygone Canadian pulp fiction with journalist Arthur Mayse’s West Coast crime story, which first appeared in 1949 as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post (it’s been out of print in English since 1952). The book about teenage runaways dodging drug smugglers and rumrunners features an introduction by his daughter, and award-winning crime writer, Susan Mayse.


9The Fortnight in Septemberby R.C. Sherriff

“The man on his holidays becomes the man he might have been, the man he could have been, had things worked out a little differently,” the author, a First World War veteran famous for his play Journey’s End, writes in this 1931 novel. This unassuming masterpiece takes us on the much-anticipated annual seaside holiday with a working-class English family. Nothing much happens, but it beautifully captures each stage of a precious vacation as it brings us into the family’s cares and pleasures, and has an elegiac quality that works a strong spell.


10The Tangled Miracleby Bertram Brooker

Booker (1888-1955) was a pioneering Canadian abstract painter who was also a Governor General’s Award-winning novelist whose book, Think of the Earth, was the first-ever fiction winner in 1936. That same year, under the name Huxley Herne, he also wrote this top-notch thriller about detective Mortimer Hood, the latest from Invisible Publishing’s splendid Throwback Books editions.


11Dopefiendby Donald Goines

The godfather of urban and street lit, Goines regularly gets name-checked by Jay-Z, Nas, and 50 Cent. As Tupac Shakur put it: “Machiavelli was my tutor, Donald Goines my father figure.” Accordingly, the 50th anniversary of what’s considered his best work – an unflinching novel about Detroit’s underground drug world – gets reissued this year, along with three more books from his backlist (White Mans Justice, Black Mans Grief, Crime Partners, and Whoreson), all with 70s-inspired art covers.


12Norwoodby Charles Portis

As part of their 50th anniversary, Overlook Press is repackaging the books of Charles Portis, the U.S. writer Esquire calls, “perhaps the most original, indescribable sui generis talent overlooked by literary culture in America.” Look beyond his modern classic True Grit to this entertaining road trip novel first published in 1966.


13The Listening Houseby Mabel Seeley

For decades, even secondhand copies of the obscure mystery writer’s 1938 novel have been extremely scarce. This nail-biter stands out as a well-plotted story about an amateur detective living in a boarding house, but the other re-issues – like The Chuckling Fingers, her Depression-era thriller about the dark and deadly secrets at a wealthy family’s remote estate on Lake Superior – are also worthwhile.


14The Women of Brewster Place: A Novel in Seven Storiesby Gloria Naylor

Forty years ago Naylor’s novel won the National Book Award’s debut category and became a contemporary classic (and a 1989 mini-series starring Oprah Winfrey, Jackee Harry and Cicely Tyson). The gripping story about the friendships and challenges facing a group of strong-willed women in an inner-city housing development was a watershed in Black storytelling and is newly re-issued with an appreciation by writer Tayari Jones as part of the Penguin Vitae series, which highlights seminal past works by diverse storytellers.


15Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremontby Elizabeth Taylor

Putting a second New York Review Books Classic on this list feels a bit like cheating, but this Booker-shortlisted, 1971 novel about a recent, aging widow in the 1960s – who moves into to a geriatric London hotel in her sunset years and has a fall, and then a sort-of romance – just got a nice reissue. Legendary stage actress Joan Plowright starred in the 2005 adaptation, but it pales compared to this “exquisitely drawn character study of eccentricity in old age” that the Guardian newspaper named to its Best 100 Novels in English list.


16My First Thirty Yearsby Gertrude Beasley

Pulitzer-winning Lonesome Dove writer Larry McMurtry was an ardent admirer of this hard-to-find feminist literary memoir about life in small-town Abilene, Texas, that was suppressed in 1925. Banned as obscene for discussing domestic rape, birth control and social welfare, it was deemed “the first genuinely realistic picture of the Southern poor white trash” before its author was committed to an institution for the rest of her life.


17The Cat Saw Murderby Dolores Hitchens

Granted, I have a thing for elderly amateur sleuths (as this recent Big Read for Zed Books can attest). Hitchens’s better-known thriller Fool’s Gold  formed the basis of Jean-Luc Godard’s French new wave classic film Bande à part, but, under the pen name D.B. Olsen, she also wrote more than a dozen “cat” cozies. Introduced by Joyce Carol Oates, Otto Penzlers mystery imprint republishes the first in the series, about a great aunt who goes to California with her cat Samantha in tow.


18Peel Me A Lotusby Charmian Clift

Australian Clift’s celebrated but long out-of-print 1959 memoir of life on Hydra helped inspire Polly Samson’s stunning historical novel A Theatre for Dreamers about Leonard Cohen’s bohemian circle there in the early 1960s, which was a highlight of the summer.  (Read our feature interview with Samson here.) Here she writes an appreciative introduction to this beautiful new edition.


THE SCROLL

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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