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Sibling Connections

When I was first thinking of writing a novel about Anton Chekhov, it was his late-life marriage that drew me. A prodigious breaker-of-hearts, Chekhov finally gave up his “bachelor habits” three years before he died, then, despite his status as a married man, continued to live with his sister and mother, rarely sleeping under the same roof as his wife. But over the course of my research, I grew more curious about that steady presence in his life—Masha—not only his sister, but his amanuensis, housekeeper, secretary, bookkeeper, and confidante. Though Masha never married, she did receive four proposals in her lifetime, offers she refused when Chekhov made clear his disapproval. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that he wanted to keep Masha close so that he could have a “wife” without the emotional complications of one, but given their difficult childhood, I think there was something more complex going on. Ultimately, my interest in those complications subsumed the marriage plot and before I knew it, Masha took over the whole novel that became A Russian Sister.

Stories about romantic love and sexual passion abound (there’s plenty of that A Russian Sister too!), but the particular bond between siblings features more rarely. Here are six books by Canad …

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Great Families in CanLit

Don't you love escaping into a book where brothers, sisters, moms, and dads—not to mention freaky aunties and uncs—are crazier than yours? Where they fight more, philander more, commit more crimes, get sadder, and have their hearts broken even more than than you do? The best families in literature are wonderful because they are somehow utterly familiar—but strange enough—and thus cathartic. Here are a few greats. Of course there are many more (Larry's Party anyone? Fall on Your Knees?) so we want to hear suggestions from you. Tweet us @49thShelf with the hashtag #CanLitFamilies.

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The Flying Troutmans, by Miriam Toews

“Toews’s writing is a unique collision of sadness and humour. . . . The Flying Troutmans is a dark story but it is also a never-ending series of hilarious adventures.”—Ottawa Citizen

Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris—"he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically" —Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the childre …

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The Recommend: September 2016

Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This month we're pleased to present the picks of authors Caroline Adderson (Ellen in Pieces), Kate Taylor (Serial Monogamy), Edeet Ravel (The Saver), Anna Leventhal (Sweet Affliction), and Shari Lapeña (The Couple Next Door).

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Caroline Adderson recommends Kerry Lee Powell’s Willem de Kooning’s Paintbrush

Set in grody strip clubs and greasy spoons, peopled with “tramps and lunatics,” “an assortment of creeps and lowlifes with bad breath,” battered girlfriends, and Soviet-scarred chamber maids, this energetic collection presents a “raw humanity defiantly festive in the face of poverty and despair.” Powell, also a poet, is a painterly prose writer, not just in her many references to visual art, but her gorgeous images. One character lives alone in a sagging house “surrounded by the upturned scarabs of old snowmobiles.” A husband lurking in a dark corner is “filleted by shadows from the Venetian blinds.” But what makes this book so striking i …

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The Recommend: April 2016

Most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.

This week we're pleased to present the picks of authors Andrew Forbes (The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays), Peter Behrens (Carry Me) and Kristi Charish (Owl and the Japanese Circus and soon, The Voodoo Killings); librarian Jamie-Marie Thomas; and me (Kiley Turner).

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Andrew Forbes recommends A Token of My Affliction, by Janette Platana

I want to say that Janette Platana's excellent story collection A Token of My Affliction is a funhouse mirror on domestic life, but that's not quite right. It's not a cracked mirror, either. I'm flipping through all the mirror metaphors here, and none fit. What it is is a magnifying glass that you hold up to an assortment of lives that look a lot like your own, and through that magnifying glass you see all the fascinating and horrible microscopic entities crawling over the surface and within the minuscule cracks of those lives.

“Invisible Friends” begins with a sequence which deploys the language of crime reportage to describe in unsettling fashio …

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Quick Hits: Incredible Debuts and Award Winners

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.

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Easy to Like, by Edward Riche

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: House of Anansi

What It's About

"C"-list screenwriter and wannabe vintner Elliot Johnson's life is growing more ruinous by the day—his writing career is on the rocks, his struggling vineyard is being investigated by the feds, and his son, a former child star, is in prison—Elliot decides to do what any self-respecting wine lover would do: escape to France.

Alas, fate has other things in store. Stranded in Canada by an expired passport, he is strongly encouraged to remain there due to his bit part in a growing Hollywood scandal. Deciding that Toronto may just be the perfectly engineered city in which to lay low, Elliot kills time by bluffing his way to the top of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

What People Say

"Easy to Like lives up to the promise of its title ... Riche [has a] gift for withering turns of phrase."—Globe and Mail

"Hilarious ... laugh-out-loud funny ..."—Maclean's

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Shelf Talkers: October 2014

We’re in the heart of it now—the fall new release season is upon us, new books swirling all around like leaves in a gale. Only the bravest can weather such times, the courageous independent booksellers who stand fast, ardently reading, as the autumn rages around them. Here are a few of their personal recommendations.

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The Bookseller: Sue Saunderson, Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge, ON

The Pick: Mãn, by Kim Thuy

"Beautiful in its simplicity, and yet rich and lush in language ... perfect fulfillment, which is also the very definition of the Vietnamese word ‘mãn.'"
 

The Bookseller: Lindsay Williams from Galiano Island Books, Galiano Island, BC

The Pick: And the River Still Sings by Chris Czajkowski


"Chris Czajkowski has another treat for the BC Interest section of fine bookstores everywhere. Her wit, wonderful storytelling ability, and adventurous spirit reward the reader and make one's feet itchy to don hiking boots and hit the fresh air. And the River Still Sings is the perfect read for an autumn afternoon!"

 

The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words …

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Imperfect People: A Book List by Caroline Adderson

Caroline Adderson's headshot

Caroline Adderson is the author of two internationally published novels (A History of Forgetting, Sitting Practice), two collections of short stories (Bad Imaginings, Pleased To Meet You), and three books for young readers (Very Serious Children, I, Bruno, Bruno For Real).Her work has received numerous prize nominations including the Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist, the Governor General's Literary Award, the Rogers' Trust Fiction Prize, and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. A two-time Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize and three-time CBC Literary Award winner, Caroline was also the recipient of the 2006 Marian Engel Award for mid-career achievement. Her latest novel is The Sky is Falling.

I am partial to imperfect characters, the kind of people we sidestep in real life because they make us uncomfortable, because we are afraid of them, because we are afraid of being them. How much easier to turn and face them when they are between the covers of a book! This embracing of the imperfect exemplifies, I think, what the act of reading (and for that matter writing) actually is -- an act of compassion: com + pati = to suffer with. Through literature we gain privileged access to the private thoughts and feelings of a character and so become them and suffer with them. Oddly, only as …

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