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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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Slow Down, We Move Too Fast

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That Shakespearian Rag’s Steven W. Beattie wrote a nice post Jan 4th, A TSR reading challenge for 2011, that identified and challenged a certain part of the literary zeitgeist we’ve been noticing as well: literati counting and publicizing how many books they’ve read over the year. Whatever the intention, the effects of this trend can be to make other readers cast doubts about their own dedication to books and/or to provoke a competitive spirit and sense that more reading = better reader. Neither is particularly positive, and both feel like unfortunate symptoms of the pressure-cooker, media-gobbling culture we work and live in today.

Reading used to be an escape from the daily grind, not an additional to-do, and Beattie proposes a lovely challenge to readers in 2011 that aligns the habit again with this rightful function:

“Instead of pledging to read more this year, why don’t we all try to read better: to be more sensitive, expansive readers, to enter more deeply into the text, to actively engage with books on an intellectual, aesthetic, and linguistic level. Let’s try to focus less on the quantity of our reading and more on the quality. Who knows? By slowing down a bit, you might even find you’re enjoying yourself more.”

One commenter to the post, B …

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The BC Award and Rocking Subtitles

tagged: books

We haven’t yet read any of the ten books on BC’s National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction longlist, but four books are already winners in the category of subtitles:

  • Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training (Tom Jokinen)
  • The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delaney Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 (Molly Peacock)
  • The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival (John Vaillant)
  • The Wave: In the Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks, and Giants of the Ocean (Susan Casey)

#1? Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training. The wry contrast between “adventures” and “undertaker,” not to mention the intrigue of “in-training,” seal the deal.

The great subtitles challenge the dry, even humourless reputation non-fiction as a genre tends to have vs. fiction (just think of how the media reacts to non-fiction awards compared to more fiction-heavy counterparts). All four of the BC Award's subtitles suggest inspired writing, and make cemeteries, later-life creativity, man-eating tigers, and big-ass waves seem like pressing things to know about.

For other musings on subtitles, check out the Guardian’s faves (love their background on Twelfth Night’s “What You Will”) and a blog called Exploring Our Matrix’s collection (one commenter offered Your Ass and a Hole in the Ground: A Comparative Study). For great titles, period, Goodreads has a fun bunch including:

  • The Hollow Bunnies of the Apocalypse (Robert Rankin)
  • Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea (Chelsea Handler)
  • An …

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