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Happy Holidays!

Photo of two books in a knitted cozy against the backdrop of a minimalist illuminated tree

If you're ever looking for something extra to feel a bit sad about, I recommend searching back through our archives to find the Spring Literary Festival Guide I posted in February with every expectation that 2020 was going to proceed as planned.

And were there ever plans! For these festivals, and for book launches, and book clubs, and bookstore events, and exciting new releases, and all the usual things that make up a literary year. But by now, we all know what happened next...

We know too, however, the way that so many people rose to the occasion, from booksellers working overtime and learning a whole new trade (online sales! delivery!) to get books into the hands of readers, to festivals and events moving to virtual, and authors designing innovative ways to launch their books, and publishers putting out all the stops to keep those 2020 books coming.

And are we ever glad they did, because in a year of such turmoil, books were one thing we could count on.

Personally, it was the opportunity to continue to promote and celebrate books and authors (and their readers!) here at 49th Shelf that gave me such a sustaining sense of purpose back in the spring—and so I have you all to thank for that. I'd also like to thank Kiley Turner and Craig Riggs, Kate Edwards and the ACP …

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2020 Fiction: Books of the Year

If ever there was a year to get away (while staying right where you are) 2020 was the one, and this is why our Books of the Year list puts its focus on fiction.

These are the books that rose to the occasion of this most peculiar moment and helped us to escape for a while and to see the world a little more clearly at once.

Enter to win these amazing titles through our Books of the Year Giveaway Bonanza!


Keepers of the Faith, by Shaukat Ajmeri

About the book: Keepers of the Faith is set within a small Muslim sect of India, ruled by an avaricious priesthood that demands absolute submission while enforcing archaic social customs. When a section of the community rebels, it is summarily excommunicated, shunned by friends and family and denied religious rites. The peaceful community is split into two.

The novel follows the fates of two blissful young lovers, Akbar and Rukhsana, in the historic city of Udaipur. When the communal split occurs, their families are on opposite sides; the lovers' dream of a happy life together is shattered, and they are forced into separate destinies. Akbar, from the rebel group, goes on to become a writer and family man in Mumbai, while Rukhsana gets married to an immigrant engineer from the United States fanatically devoted to the pries …

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The Chat with Steven Heighton

Steven Heighton cr. Mark Raynes Roberts 600 dpi

This week, we’re in conversation with author Steven Heighton. His memoir, Reaching Mithymna: Among the Volunteers and Refugees on Lesvos, (Biblioasis) was a recent finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

The 2020 Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction jury says:

"We know Steven Heighton as an award-winning poet and novelist. With Reaching Mithymna, he emerges as an indelible nonfiction writer. Combining his poetic sensibilities and storytelling skills with a documentarian’s eye, he has created a wrenching narrative from the front lines of the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2015, Heighton travelled to Greece, his mother’s homeland, equipped with a duffel bag, a notebook, and a conscience. Reaching Mithymna is a heart-rending story of humanity and sacrifice by a writer who put his own life on hold in a desperate and often futile attempt to help shipwrecked strangers find a safe and secure future for themselves and their children.”
Steven Heighton’s most recent books are a novel, The Nightingale Won’t Let You Sleep, which has appeared in French and Ukrainian translations and has been optioned for film, and a poetry collection, The Waking Comes Late, which received the 2016 Governor General’s Award for Poetry. His …

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2020 Poetry Delights

Pearl Pirie's new collection, footlights, is available now.


These are compelling reads from Canadian poets. They delight in being imaginative and in distinct dense tellings of their worlds. These books turn and explore, question and listen.


Niagara & Government, by Phil Hall

These poems don't get swept up in themselves, but heckle easy assumptions, resist hero or villain, the lyric impulse for perfect beauty or paper-cut endings. He wants to be more real than that and escape the literary within the literary. "I dare not smear with wit or cheapen with harmony" (p. 79).

He reflects on past decades, and interpretations, and impacts within the moment's "deep accordion sigh" (p. 55) and realizing "this is Bottom I thought but I was wrong. /I was wearing the hole in Bottom// the bottle still had it over me/I was its tongue" (p. 51). His expression is fresh and deft. It is an ear candy to read, and fittingly absurd to stick candy in the ear. He is irreverent. "happy to muck about allow & accumulate".

He explores being an outsider to those he was born amon …

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Giller Prize 2020 Special: The Chat with Emily St. John Mandel

Mandel_Emily St John

We continue our special 2020 Giller Prize coverage in conversation with Emily St. John Mandel. She’s a 2020 Scotiabank Giller finalist for her novel The Glass Hotel.

Jury citation:

“A boldly lyrical tale echoing the deceit and ruin of the 2008 financial crisis, The Glass Hotel brings together two restless siblings and a multi-billion-dollar investor as they each negotiate ambition, secrets, and loss within the kingdom of money. Bridging the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, the shops and towers of Manhattan, and the netherworld of open waters, the novel commands a broad array of characters and a plot of kaleidoscopic intricacy. Here, in her eagerly anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel turns her gifted attention to the mirages of now, and to the truth that we are haunted, always, by the lives of others.”

Emily St. John Mandel is the author of four novels, most recently Station Eleven, which was a finalist for a National Book Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award; won the 2015 Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Toronto Book Award and the Morning News Tournament of Books; and has been translated into 31 languages. A previous novel, The Singer’s Gun, was the 2014 winner of the Prix Mystère de la Critique in France. Her short fiction and es …

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Giller Prize 2020 Special: The Chat with Souvankham Thammavongsa

STHAMMAVONGSA author photo by Sarah Bodri

We continue our Giller Prize coverage of The Chat in conversation with Souvankham Thammavongsa. She’s on this year’s shortlist for her debut short story collection, How to Pronounce Knife.

Jury citation:

"The Scotiabank Giller Prize introduced me to Souvankham Thammavongsa’s work. I could not be more grateful. How to Pronounce Knife is a stunning collection of stories that portray the immigrant experience in achingly beautiful prose. The emotional expanse chronicled in this collection is truly remarkable. These stories are vessels of hope, of hurt, of rejection, of loss and of finding one’s footing in a new and strange land. Thammavongsa’s fiction cuts to the core of the immigrant reality like a knife—however you pronounce it.”

Souvankham Thammavongsa is the author of four poetry books: Light, winner of the Trillium Book Award for Poetry; Found; Small Arguments, winner of the ReLit Award; and, most recently, Cluster. Her fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Granta, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Best American Non-Required Reading, The Journey Prize Stories, and The O. Henry Prize Stories. How to Pronounce Knife is her debut book of fiction, and the title story was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Born in the Lao refuge …

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Giller Prize 2020 Special: The Chat with Gil Adamson


Next on our special Giller Prize coverage of The Chat, we speak with Gil Adamson. She’s a finalist for her second novel, Ridgerunner.

Jury citation:

“The long-awaited sequel to Gil Adamson’s hit The Outlander moves the action forward a decade, returning the 13-year-old son of the original protagonists to a forested land into which prisoners of the first world war are now hewing roads. The proximity of this new type of outlaw presents an existential threat to young Jack, who takes refuge in his parents’ abandoned shack with a price on his head after escaping the toxic hypocrisies of ‘civilization.’ Drawing richly on both the Western and on gothic fiction, Adamson evokes a mythic landscape to frame the question: how is it possible to live a good life, when obedience to man-made laws is so at odds with love, loyalty and respect for the natural world?”

Gil Adamson is the critically acclaimed author of The Outlander, which won the Dashiell Hammett Prize for Literary Excellence in Crime Writing, the First Novel Award, the ReLit Award, and the Drummer General’s Award. It was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, CBC Canada Reads, and the Prix Femina in France; longlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; and chosen as …

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Giller Prize 2020 Special: The Chat with David Bergen

David Bergen

We’re thrilled to begin this year’s special Scotiabank Giller Prize coverage in conversation with David Bergen. David appears on this year’s shortlist for his short story collection Here the Dark (Biblioasis).

Jury citation:

"A dying woman asks an aging rancher to become her last lover. A fishing boat sputters to a halt off the coast of Honduras, compelling its owner to decide the fate of his repellent client. A young woman in a puritanical religious community glimpses the coloured world outside, and must choose whether to close her eyes, or to run. Sexual loneliness and moral confusion pull at the delicately wrought characters in David Bergen’s latest work, a story collection of masterly skill and tension. His third appearance on the Giller shortlist—including the 2005 winner, The Time in Between—affirms Bergen among Canada’s most powerful writers. His pages light up; all around falls into darkness.”

David Bergen has published eight novels and a collection of short stories. His work has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Impac Dublin Literary Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He won the Giller Prize for his novel The Time in Between. In 2018, he was given the Writers’ Trust Matt Cohen Award: In Celebration of a Writing Lif …

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Most Anticipated: Our 2020 Fall Fiction Preview

New books by old favourites, sparkling debuts, and more than a few timely books about pandemics are among the titles that are going to be some of your favourite reads of 2020.


Caroline Adderson’s A Russian Sister (August) gives a glimpse behind the curtain to reavel the fascinating real-life people who inspired Chekhov’s The Seagull and the tragedy that followed its premiere. Award-winner Edem Awumey's Mina Among the Shadows (October), translated by Phyllis Aronoff and Howard Scott, is a hymn to immutable desire, the power of beauty, and the courage of women. The Night Piece (October) is a career-spanning collection of stories from Andre Alexis, award-winning author of Fifteen DogsEvery Step She Takes is a gripping new thriller by bestselling author K.L. Armstrong. And Ashley Audrain’s much anticipated debut is The Push (January), a tense, page-turning psychological drama about the making and breaking of a family, told through the eyes of a woman whose experience of motherhood is nothing at all what she hoped for—and everything she feared.

Book Cover Neighbourhood Watch

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Summer Reading Starts Here

Summer is not cancelled, and summer reading isn't either. We've got thrillers, epics, drama, historical fiction, and so much more. There is something for every kind of fiction reader on our 2020 Summer List.


Ridgerunner, by Gil Adamson

About the book: November 1917. William Moreland is in mid-flight. After nearly twenty years, the notorious thief, known as the Ridgerunner, has returned. Moving through the Rocky Mountains and across the border to Montana, the solitary drifter, impoverished in means and aged beyond his years, is also a widower and a father. And he is determined to steal enough money to secure his son’s future.

Twelve-year-old Jack Boulton has been left in the care of Sister Beatrice, a formidable nun who keeps him in cloistered seclusion in her grand old house. Though he knows his father is coming for him, the boy longs to return to his family’s cabin, deep in the woods. When Jack finally breaks free, he takes with him something the nun is determined to get back—at any cost.

Set against the backdrop of a distant war raging in Europe and a rapidly changing landscape in the West, Gil Adamson’s follow-up to her award-winning debut, The Outlander, is a vivid historical novel that draws from the epic tradition and a literary Western brimming wi …

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Your 2020 Spring Festival Guide

Save the dates! Across the country, organizers and volunteers extraordinaire are programming epic celebrations of books and the amazing people who write them. Find out what's happening in your literary neighbourhood.


The spring festival season season kicks off with the Growing Room Literary & Arts Festival in Vancouver, BC, running March 11–15, with Aisha Sasha John, Alex Leslie, Alicia Elliott, Amanda Leduc, and Andrea Warner...and these are only a handful of exciting artists at the top of their alphabetized list—just wait til you check out the rest!


Versefest 2020, Ottawa's International Poetry Festival, takes place March 24–29, with Karen Solie, Armand Garnet Ruffo, Ben Ladouceur, Canisia Lubrin, Gwen Benaway, Kaie Kellough, Robin Richardson, Shazia Hafiz Ramji, Sheree Fitch, and many others.


A spectacular list of events take …

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