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Love Stories: A People and Planet Affair

(We've got Arno Kopecky's The Environmentalist's Dilemma—which Publisher's Weekly calls “Timely and relevant... [offering] plenty to think about” —up for giveaway right now. Enter for your chance today!)

This is a short list of Canadian books that capture the drama of humanity’s relationship with Mother Earth.

*****

The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp.

A coming-of-age novel set in the rural aftermath of Canada’s residential school system may seem an odd choice to lead a list of environmental literature. But even if it doesn’t mention climate change, The Lesser Blessed always struck me as essential eco-reading. Hilarious, tragic, and ruthless, the novel thrusts you into the living legacy of colonialism, an intensely human story without which no understanding of ecological destruction (and resilience) is complete. I was blown away by Van Camp’s ability to turn such bleak material into a healing voyage—and a page-turner at that. This is one of very few books in my adult life that I read in a single sitting.

*

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Hope Matters: Turning Toward Solutions and Away From Doom

But there are bats

who catch fish

and slime molds that sing

and ancient Greenland sharks

who don’t even reach sexual maturity

until they are 150 years old.

 

This is what I want to say

to those who believe

the Earth is already doomed:

 

Just look

at the capacity

of this

gloriously complex planet

 

I wrote this book for you—and for the people you love who believe the world is screwed.

I suspect you know who I mean—the ones brave enough to acknowledge the existential angst of living and working through a planetary emergency. We see it in students who appear to have everything going for them yet are so desensitized by environmental despair, they are simply done with feeling; or the ones so saturated with doom-and-gloom messages, they honestly believe no future exists. We hear it in adults grieving for the world their children will live in. We watch it echo around the world through the voices of the million and a half students joining Greta Thunberg in school strikes against climate change.

Whenever I speak about environmental solutions and positive global conservation trends, I encounter people so hungry for hope, they line up to talk to me. They follow up with long, thoughtful emails telling me they honestly believe the state of the planet is past the point of no return. They …

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Launchpad: REVERY, by Jenna Butler

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Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.

Today, Ariel Gordon is championing Revery, by Jenna Butler. Gordon writes, "Books are built on the backs and shoulders of other books. I wouldn’t have written my book Treed: Walking in Canada’s Urban Forests, if I hadn’t read Jenna Butler’s A Profession of Hope: Farming on the Edge of the Grizzly Trail back in 2015. Back then, I loved Jenna’s stories about building an off-grid farm an hour and a half north of Edmonton. But I needed to read about Jenna’s commitment to her land in an era when the effects of climate change were beginning to make themselves felt in Alberta, where she is, and in Manitoba, where I am.

Five years later, Jenna and her husband Thomas are still on the land, but everything has changed. They’ve moved the farm to higher ground after five years of flooding and are having to re-build their market gardens from scratch, both in terms of plants and the soil bene …

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25 Reasons to be Hopeful

In difficult times, sometimes hope is maligned as something frivolous, a symptom of one's inability to engage with reality and look trouble in the face. But of course, the certainty of hopeless is its own kind of limitation. As Rebecca Solnit writes, "To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.”

The following books are infused with hope—that what we do and who we are really matters, that second chances are possible, and so too is a better world.

*****

This is Not the End of Me, by Dakshana Bascaramurty

About the book: Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor—then came a melanoma diagnosis. Cancer startled him out of his arrested development--he returned home to Halifax to work as a wedding photographer—and remission launched him into a new, passionate life as a husband and father-to-be. When the melanoma returned, now at Stage IV, Layton and his family put all their stock into a punishing alternative therapy, hoping for a cure. This Is Not the End of Me recounts Layton's three-year journey as he tried desperately to stay alive for his young son, Finn, and then found purpose in preparing Finn for a world without him.

Wit …

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Launchpad: Devolution, by Kim Goldberg

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This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching Devolution, by Kim Goldberg, who Sonnet L'Abbé calls "a climate-voyant, offering visions of time-warped ecologies and malignantly inverted processes of nature."

*****

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

Devolution is a surreal and often absurd look at a world in collapse through poems and fables about ecopocalypse.

Describe your ideal reader.

A person who doesn’t know where the horse is headed, or whether the horse is even constrained by Newtonian physics, but is w …

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Launchpad: Watershed, by Doreen Vanderstoop

Launchpad Logo

This spring we've made it our mission (even more than usual) to celebrate new releases in the wake of cancelled launch parties, book festivals, and reading series. With 49th Shelf Launchpad, we're holding virtual launch parties here on our platform complete with witty banter and great insight to give you a taste of the books on offer. You can request these books from your local library, get them as e-books or audio books, order them from your local indie bookseller if they're delivering, buy them direct from the publisher or from online retailers.

Today we're launching Watershed, by Doreen Vanderstoop, which Wayne Grady calls "Riveting...[T]he best kind of futuristic fiction, the kind that becomes grass-roots reality as we read."

*****

The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence.

Watershed is a near-future dystopian cli-fi novel in which extreme drought and mysterious hallucinations plague Willa, a struggling goat farmer, and family secrets threaten to destroy her relationship with her son, Daniel.

Describe your ideal reader.

Someone who appr …

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Top Shelf: Recent Favourites

There is so much good stuff on 49th Shelf that we sometimes compile our favourites to keep them close at hand via this series, Top Shelf. If there's not a book for you here—nay, ten!—well, we guess there isn't but it would be very, very strange. Enjoy!

*****

Sometimes cities pulse with energy and optimism. And sometimes they crush. Urban Grit is about the crush, with characters struggling to survive and even thrive in the face of it.

Check out Suzanne Allyssa Andrew's blog post along these lines, as well: Messes and Meltdowns in the City.

*****

Whether or not you believe that "short is the new long" when it comes to fiction, you'd be hard-pressed to turn down a book or two on this list of hot short story collections that came out in Spring 2015. Another hugely popular list among members in this same area is Canadian Short Stories, The New Generation, a crowdsourced list of writers who may be heirs-apparent to Munro and Gallant, and who are most definitely compelling Canadian voices in the twenty-first century.

*****

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Chris Turner: The History of Climate Change

Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Chris Turner is one of Canada's leading writers and speakers on sustainability and the global green economy. His most recent book is How to Breathe Underwater: Field Reports from an Age of Radical Change, a collection of his award-winning essays and feature writing. In 2013, his The War on Science was a co-winner of the Writers' Union of Canada's Freedom to Read Award.

***

There is a standard narrative arc to most environmental stories—a more or less tidy progression from discovery to awareness to resolution—that has endured through most of the history of modern environmental stewardship. A problem is identified, most often some grave side effect of industrial activity. The cause is hypothesized and then proven, an alarm sounded—by scientists working with politicians or by a crusading journalist or through grassroots ac …

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