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Reading Eclectically

My most recent book of poems, The Last Show on Earth is perhaps not a happy book, but happiness is hard won these days. It is, however, a book full of people, as Rob Taylor says in his blurb: “teems not only with names, but with beings.” So, I thought I’d capture a few of the non-Canadians and then dive into Canadian books and writers that inspired this book or inspire me in multiple ways. I want to just say that a lot of the books I will talk about influenced poems already written, and also influence poems that I’m working on now.

International writers include Denise Riley, Mary Oliver, Lorca, Charles Wright (I have fallen in love with his poetry again recently), Virginia Woolf (she’s always kind of floating around), Ilya Kaminski, Anna Akhmatova, Odysseas Elytis, Sylvia Plath, and Rilke. I am aware that Ilya Kaminsky has become particularly called on as Russia invades Ukraine and he is called on to speak to how poetry can respond to war and I am thankful for him and his voice.

Now, here is my more fulsome list of Canadian books I have read over the past while and return to. I just finished a marvellous kids book with my son called Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliot, who is from Canada but lives in the US. We both loved the story and characters and that i …

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CanLit Gets Weird

We've got three copies of Genki Ferguson's Satellite Love up for giveaway!

Don't miss your chance to win.

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I always feel compelled to support weird, in whatever form it might appear. Scorpion pizza at the Calgary Stampede? I’ll take it. Punk shows at the public library? I’ve been. And lately, I feel proud to say, I can add writing CanLit to the list.

I’ve read a fair amount about what makes CanLit, CanLit. You could argue that it’s an affinity for the short story, the search for identity, or even a rugged frontier charm. Our Alice Munros and Timothy Findleys can certainly point to that. I’ll posit another marker here, however. CanLit likes to get weird.

When I wrote my first novel, Satellite Love, I very keenly had this in mind. Satellite Love tells the tale of Anna Obata, a lonely girl in Southern Japan who falls in love with a telecommunications satellite. And while not set in the Great North, I took a certain pride at the puzzled looks the synopsis would receive. A bittersweet coming-of-age story, I knew I wanted to add some weird. And the titles below certainly helped on that journey.

So! Without further ado, a list of the greatest–and strangest–Canadian fiction has to offer:

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Becoming CanLit

The problem with lists is that they’re too exclusive. Ten Canadian books? I’m almost sixty, and have been reading Canadians all my life, beginning with The Hardy Boys. My Mom’s friend Lorna gave me The Tower Treasure for Christmas in 1966, when I was five.

But if I can only choose ten books, I’ll have to leave The Hardy Boys off the list.

My new novel The Beautiful Place is an homage to Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House, so that’s where I’ll kick things off.

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Sinclair Ross published As For Me and My House in 1940, just after the great depression, the dustbowl years on the prairies. The first time I read it was in 1981, when I was nineteen. I had recently decided I was going to be a writer and bought the New Canadian Library edition at Safeway in Swift Current while Mom was shopping for groceries. The story, and the stories in his collection The Lamp at Noon, were immediately familiar to me from the stories my father had told me about “the good old days” when he was growing up. My grandfather was a pioneer, and my father grew up i …

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2021 Poetry Preview

Part three of our Fall Preview is poetry, a mixture of impressive debuts and releases by favourites.

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The constraint-based poems in the debut collection, A Future Perfect (August), by Razielle Aigen, are written in the future-perfect tense, used as a way of bending time and playing with non-linearity. (Re)Generation (August) contains selected poetry by Anishinaabe writer Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm that deals with a range of issues, from violence against Indigenous women and lands, to Indigenous erotica and the joyous intimate encounters between bodies. And Make the World New (August) brings together some of the highlights of the work of Lillian Allen, one of the leading creative Black feminist voices in Canada, and is the first book of her poems to be published in over 20 years, edited by Ronald Cummings.

With echoes of Jacques Brault, Simone Weil, Baudelaire and Petrarch, in Of Love (October), Paul Bélanger continues his poetic quest for the sources of spiritual ecstasy. The Answer to Everything (September) showcases the definitive works of Ken Belfo …

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Reader

**Enter for a chance to win New Girl at Little Cove on our giveaways page, along with other great books!**

When I left Canada in 2000, I had to make hard choices about the books I took with me. It wasn’t only the stories contained within the covers that impacted my choice, but the circumstances surrounding their reading—the memories associated with the books or the emotions they conjured. Two years into my new life in England I was chatting about books with a woman I met at a baby group. She mentioned short stories, I mentioned Alice Munro and the next week I loaned her my three Munro hardbacks. I never saw my books again. I was bereft, as though a piece of me was lost.

The longer I’m gone, the more I cherish Canadian literature, perhaps even more so during this pandemic. I can’t travel back home, but I can revisit my past in the company of a good book. I have many favourite Canadian books; here are just a few pieces of me. And while I absolutely recommend them, I’m no longer sure I would ever lend them…

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Le chandail de hockey, by Roch …

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The Book Auction to Support Prisoners

The Book Auction to Support Prisoners launched online today and runs until Sunday October 4, with more than 70 autographed and special editions including novels, memoirs, graphic novels, poetry collections by some of Canada's best known and most exciting writers, including Esi Edugyen, Heather O'Neill, Tanya Tagaq, Waubgeshig Rice, and more.

Auction proceeds will benefit Book Clubs for Inmates, the COVID 19 Emergency Prisoner Support Fund run by the Toronto Prisoner’s Rights Project, and the Jail Accountability & Information Line (JAIL) run by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project.

The project was organized by novelist Thea Lim.

“We have been bowled over by our donor authors’ generosity," says Lim. "This year has marked a sea change in how we perceive racism and our justice system, and we hope this event will further extend that concern to the lives of people who are incarcerated.”

Visit the website to get bidding!

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"All of us are better when we're loved."

"Last Impressions will make you laugh out loud and cry out loud. What more could be asked of a book?" —Miriam Toews

Joseph Kertes was born in Hungary but escaped with his family to Canada after the revolution of 1956. His first novel, Winter Tulips, won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. His third novel, Gratitude, won a Canadian Jewish Book Award and the US National Jewish Book Award for Fiction, and both it and his fourth, The Afterlife of Stars, garnered extraordinary critical acclaim. Kertes founded Humber College's distinguished creative writing and comedy programs.

We're happy to feature a reading list of some of his favourite Canadian fiction.

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The Innocents, by Michael Crummey 


One of my favourite contemporary Canadian writers is Michael Crummey, and his latest novel, short-listed for the Giller, The GG and the Rogers-Writers’ Trust Fiction Award is The Innocents. The most stunning achievement of this book is that it transports us back to a small isolated cove in 18th century Newfoundland, and not for a second do we doubt that we …

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A Grateful, Pay-it-Forward Diverse Booklist

December 3 is International Day of Disabled Persons, and we're proud to be marking this day with a recommended reading list by one of CanLit's foremost disability activists, Dorothy Ellen Palmer, whose latest book is the memoir Falling For Myself. An underlying message of this powerful, fierce, and often funny book is the importance of solidarity, allyship, and community, which Palmer celebrates properly here in the collection of authors and books that she's assembled.

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One of the things that continually feeds me as a reader is the work of other authors I respect, those who continue to share, collaborate, and produce fabulous, thought-provoking diverse books, often will little thanks. With this list I want to thank and boost the books I loved recently published by those authors who kindly took time from their working days to write a blurb for my memoir, Falling for Myself. They reflect the best of the craft and community of CanLit.

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All Inclusive, by Farzana Doctor

About the book: A story about one all-inclusive resort, the ghost of an unknown fat …

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5 Singular Summer Reads

So, have you read the one about the missing woman with the unreliable narrator where it turns out that things aren't exactly as they seem? Sure you have—five times at least. And while these well-worn tropes can be pretty nice to get lost in, we'd like to suggest some books that will shake up your summer reading a bit. Here are five books that aren't like the others, all of them terrific. 

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At This Juncture, by Rona Altrows

About the book: Alarmed that Canada Post keeps losing money, Ariadne Jensen, a woman in her fifties, pitches the CEO with a scheme to save the corporation: she will get people to start writing and mailing letters again. As an inspiration to others, Ariadne writes bundles of letters for all to see; some are historical fiction, while others are drawn from her own correspondence. Each letter itself tells a story, while together they form a bigger story—about Ariadne, her determination to set wrongs right, her sly humour, and her loyalty to her best friend Leo, a gay man in his early twenties—that leaves the reader of At This Juncture informed, educated and, most importantly, entertained.

Why we're taking notice: This one is a MUST for epistolary fiction fans and anyone who appreciates the joy of reading and writing good old-fashioned letter …

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Great Companions

If you're going to read one book....you might as well read two. Our "Great Companions" feature connects the dots between some of the season's most talked-about books. 

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History Meets the Present Day

My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur, by Phyllis Rudin, and Lost in September, by Kathleen Winter

About My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur: In this coming-of-age story, Benjie Gabai is convinced he’s been the victim of a terrible cosmic hoax. Instead of being born in the 18th century as a French-Canadian voyageur, God has plunked him down in present-day Montreal, into a family that views his fur trade obsession as proof that their Benjie, once so bursting with promise, has well and truly lost it. Benjie serves out his days as caretaker of The Bay’s poky in-store fur trade museum, dusting and polishing the artifacts that fuel his imagination. When he learns his museum is about to be closed down, scattering his precious collection to the four winds, he hatches a plan that risks bringing his voyageur illusions lapping dangerously up against reality.

My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur melds Canadian frontier history with the madcap adventures of a young man who is not ready to meet adulthood head on.

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Most Anticipated: Our Spring 2016 Fiction Preview

Book Cover Tears in the Grass

"Really?" some sad cynic somewhere might be saying as he contemplates just how many books appear on our Most Anticipated lists. "How can anybody possibly be that excited about so many books?" To which we'd reply, "But have you met the people behind 49th Shelf? Have you met our community members, the most avid supporters of Canadian literature?" If you have, you'll know that CanLit enthusiasm, as ever, abounds, and we're so pleased to be part of the movement. So here are some  of the best books you're going to be reading this spring. 

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In Cathy Ace's latest Cait Morgan book, The Corpse With the Garnet Face (April), the foodie sleuth accompanies her husband to Amsterdam to solve a mystery in his family tree. Tears in the Grass (March), by Lynda A. Archer, is set in Saskatchewan and it confronts a history of trauma, racism, love, and cultural survival. There's lots of buzz already for Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl (February), by Mona Awad, which is a novel that hilariously skewers our body-obsessed culture. The latest by Todd Babiak is Son of France (March), the sequel to Come BarbariansThe Pharos Gate: Griffin and Sabine’s Missing Correspondence (March), by Nick Bantock, is the final volume in a love story that’s been celebrated by readers for 25 …

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Literary Introverts: Shy Characters in CanLit

Book Cover Shy

The contributors to Shy: An Anthology, Myrna Kostash writes, leave “the message that shyness may bring its own reward: that there is a creative power and amplitude in the experience of silence, reserve and solitude.” Novelist Ursula Leguin has mused that most writers are probably shy; whether that’s true or not, many writers have certain imbued their characters with a shyness that brings gifts, both to those characters themselves and to those around them. Here, some of Shy’s contributors list their favourite shy characters from Canadian literature.

Book Cover Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery

Character: Matthew Cuthbert

Matthew Cuthbert’s shyness, accompanied by a quiet, very kind-hearted nature, is the perfect complement to Anne’s vibrancy and loquaciousness.  Shy people aren’t necessarily good or interested listeners, but Matthew certainly is, and if not for his generous receptivity, Anne may well never have found a place to thrive, and her voice may never have been truly heard.  His shyness is one of his most endearing traits, and I think, lik …

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