25 Great Books from 25 Years of Writers & Company

Writers & Company with Eleanor Wachtel is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. We’ve collected the highlights from the past 25 years here for you – some of the best authors and interviews since the show began!

Click below or here to see the 25 most notable books selected by Eleanor Wachtel and her team.

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer speculates on what the end of the civil war might look like in July’s People. In this speculative future, Gordimer imagines open revolt in the streets that threatens the safety of the Smales family. They are a white family sympathetic to the struggles of black Africans but at risk during the violence. Their former servant, July, helps them escape to the village he grew up in, where they are beholden to his hospitality. With this fascinating power reversal, July’s Peopleis laden with symbolism and political commentary. This is not only a book of adventure but also an insightful look into the racial and political tensions of South Africa during Apartheid.

July’s People won the 1991 Nobel Prize for Literature.

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle

The Woman Who Walked Into Doors follows Paula Spencer, a victim of spousal abuse. The book juxtaposes recollections of Paula’s past–from the days of her childhood, to the happy courtship and her wedding day–with the day to day nightmare of her violent marriage to an abusive husband.

The Peppered Moth

The Peppered Moth by Margaret Drabble

The Peppered Moth artfully combines fiction and biography through the protagonist Bessie Bawtry. The novel began as Margaret Drabble’s project to write her mother’s biography but finding she needed room to create she turned to fictionalized biography.

Human Chain

Human Chain by Seamus Heaney

A collection of poetry by Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Human Chain was his fifteenth and final work. Heaney’s poems engage with the immediacy and physicality of the natural world, as well as the idyll of the domestic sphere with an awareness of the outside world.

Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography

Time To Be In Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography by P.D. James

Esteemed mystery writer P.D. James turned her pen towards her own story in Time to Be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography. Having been hounded by fans and writers to produce a biography, James wrote this tongue-in-cheek part-diary, part-memoir to soothe those fans and document a single year of her life for posterity.

The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

The Golden Notebook is heralded as one of the quintessential feminist books of the 20th century. It follows the story of Anna Wulf through her inner monologue that explores personal and societal breakdown. The novel explores the act of writing of fiction, as well as women’s relationships and the experience of women in that time. Published in 1962, it became a powerful influence in a budding Feminist movement.

Doris Lessing won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of Chemical Boyhood

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of Chemical Boyhood is the memoir of neurologist turned author Oliver Sacks. The title Uncle Tungsten comes from his uncle Dave, a manufacturer of light bulbs with tungsten filaments. It was this influence that kindled Sacks’ childhood interest in chemistry. The memoir goes through Sacks’ childhood growing up in a household filled with discussion of politics, religion, and science. Into his adolescence, his interest in chemistry transforms into a fascination with biology– leading him to his eventual career as a neurologist.

A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

The Whitshank family is gathering, again, to listen to the story of how Abby and Red fell in love, again. But this time, things are different. Abby and Red are older, and the family must decide how to care for them as they age – and what they should do with the family home that has been such an anchor for three generations. A compassionate, warm and humorous look at the nature of families and ordinary lives lived.

My Struggle

A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle is an epic series of novels that comprise Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiography. The books situate Knausgaard as the protagonist against a cast of characters directly drawn from his own family. In particular it deals with the author’s relationship with his father. The writing incrementally builds up a picture of life and a society. He reflects on the themes of art, winter, death, social customs, and innumerable others.

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes

Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes by Tony Kushner

The critically acclaimed and award-winning play Angels in America explores the USA during the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Kushner uses characters that are in some way marginalized: gay men, men with AIDS, Jewish people, a drug addict, Mormons and an African-American drag queen. Through these characters, Kushner raises a dialogue about the American dream and its impossibilities.

Wolf Hall

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel tells the story of Henry VIII through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell through the tumultuous decade of the 1520’s. In this time, Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife to marry Anne Boleyn — at the same time, he was facing opposition from the pope and most of Europe. In this context, Cromwell rises from humble origins as a blacksmith’s son to become Henry VIII’s chief minister, playing a significant role in the shaping of the century.

Home

Home by Toni Morrison

Home follows the return of African-American Army veteran Frank Money from the Korean War to a home troubled by segregation and racism. The key force in this story is Frank’s relationship with his sister Cee, whom Frank needs to find and rescue from an abusive doctor. A surprisingly short novel,Home is intensely packed with fully formed characters, succinct prose, and narrative to keep you hooked.

Runaway

Runaway by Alice Munro

Runaway is a collection of short stories from acclaimed Canadian author, Alice Munro. Each story investigates a character ‘running away’ from some aspect of her life. Whether it’s marriage, career or home, Runaway explores what is gained and lost in the process of running.

The Country Girls

The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien

The Country Girls tells the story of Cait and Baba, two young Irish women. Having freshly graduated from convent school, they set off in pursuit of romantic adventures and life itself. Over the course of the book, the relationship between the two is strained as their goals conflict and passions flare.

Are you Somebody?: The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman

Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain

For years, Nuala O’Faolain hosted a books program on BBC TV. It, unfortunately, was not popular. But the shows preceding it were. Thus watchers of the BBC would often catch a glimpse of O’Faolain’s face before turning off the television. What resulted was a ‘twilight celebrity’ that led to countless interactions in pubs where women, who had recognized her to a small degree, would approach her uncertainly and ask… Are You Somebody? Are You Somebody? is a memoir of Nuala O’Faolain. It is brimming with humour and wisdom–an altogether delightful read.

In America

In America by Susan Sontag

In a fictional past, a group of Polish immigrants travel to California, led by the eminent actress Maryna Zalezowska. She inspires them to found a utopian commune in the USA, however, this plan is doomed to fail. Once it has failed Maryna remains in California, learns English, and takes up her career as a stage actress. Esteemed essayist and novelist, Susan Sontag draws parallels between the contemporary world and this fictional past as a commentary for today’s society.

Our Kind of Traitor

Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré

Our Kind of Traitor follows the story of Russian money launderer Dima Krakov who is trying to defect to the UK. He fears for his life after the crime syndicate he works for undergoes a leadership change. In desperation, he reaches out to British university lecturer Perry Makepiece for help. Perry helps him broker a deal for him and his family, but is it enough to save them? A thriller from the master of espionage, John le Carré, Our Kind of Traitor draws on the author’s own experience working for British intelligence, and on contemporary economic issues.

Portnoy's Complaint

Portnoy’s Complaint

Portnoy’s Complaint is a humorous monologue by the main character, a young Jewish man. In his monologues, he confesses intimate and shameful details of his thoughts to his psychiatrist. The book turned its author, Philip Roth, into a major celebrity. It drew controversy for its candid and explicit portrayal of sexuality.

The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses

The Satanic Verses follows two actors, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha. The story begins with the pair trapped on a hijacked plane from India to Britain. Over the English Channel, the plane explodes devastatingly, but Farishta and Chamcha are miraculously saved. They each undergo a magical transition, becoming an incarnation of a deity.

Unless

Unless by Carol Shields

Most people want to be happy. But how many have what it takes to be good? Can self-realization and morality share the same space in our lives? Or can we only have one and not the other? These are the questions that underlie Carol Shields’s 2002 profoundly moving novel Unless, which explores the “problem of goodness” and how it squares with the very human desire for happiness. The narrator is Reta Winters, a middle-aged writer whose comfortable life is thrown into turmoil when one of her daughters disappears, and subsequently turns up as a panhandler on a Toronto streetcorner.

Unless was published in 2002, and was a finalist for the Giller Prize the same year. It was a contender for Canada Reads 2011, when it was defended by Lorne Cardinal.

Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run

Rabbit, Run is a vignette of the life of Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, a former basketball star who finds his middle-class family life unsatisfying. Over the course of the three months that the book chronicles, Rabbit seeks out his old basketball coach, leaves behind his pregnant wife and child, and takes a mistress. In his pursuit of satisfaction, Rabbit causes irreparable damage to the people in his life.

Anil's Ghost

Anil’s Ghost

Anil’s Ghost transports us to Sri Lanka; a country steeped in centuries of tradition, now forced into the late twentieth century by the ravages of civil war. Into this maelstrom steps Anil Tissera, a young woman born in Sri Lanka, educated in England and America, who returns to her homeland as a forensic anthropologist sent by an international human rights group. She is meant to discover the source of the organized campaigns of murder engulfing the island, but after a mysterious skeleton is found, Anil’s task becomes far more complicated. What follows is a story about love, about family, about identity, about the unknown enemy, about the quest to unlock the hidden past-a story propelled by a riveting mystery.

Michael Ondaatje was awarded the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2000 for Anil’s Ghost.

My Name Is Red

My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk

When a miniaturist and book illuminator ends up dead, Black must figure out the circumstances of his death. A murder mystery set in 16th century Turkey, My Name Is Red intimately explores a cast of characters, as well as the philosophy of the East. The mystery unfolds as each new chapter has a new narrator to give fresh details and insights.

Sea Of Poppies

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Sea of Poppies weaves together the stories of the The Ibis’ motley crew. She’s a ship making the journey across the Indian Ocean in the early 19th century, just before the Opium War. The crew is an unlikely cast of characters featuring a bankrupt rajah, a widow, an American of mixed heritage, and an opium trader, but Ghosh seamlessly writes them together. As the ship moves further from land and family, those aboard The Ibis form bonds closer together.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Poverty, small size and a learning disability can all be secret weapons rather than disadvantages, according to Malcolm Gladwell. The New Yorker writer and bestselling author turns the concept of the underdog upside down in this thought-provoking book. Using the framework of the David and Goliath story, Gladwell analyses a number of real-life cases to show that assumptions about relative power can be mistaken, and having obstacles to overcome can actually be an advantage.

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