As I wrote Straggle: Adventures in Walking While Female, I entered a world of books in which others walked faster, farther, and better than me. But I was encouraged by what Rebecca Solnit wrote in Wanderlust, that it is “the most obvious and the most obscure thing in the world, this walking that wanders so readily into religion, philosophy, landscape, urban policy, anatomy, allegory, and heartbreak.” Walking can give us a new perspective on what ails us, and no doubt some things can be solved by walking it out, walking it off or walking away, but it depends on who’s doing the walking, as well as where and how. Straggle is a book that emphasizes the delicate art of walking in a sometimes painful body with a trauma history. Like most people, I’m a package deal; when part of me walks, all of me walks. Many books about walking lean toward adventure or distance hiking, but my recommended books have been written about the importance of knowing where you walk and experiencing who you are as you go.
Walking can give us a new perspective on what ails us, and no doubt some things can be solved by walking it out, walking it off or walking away, but it depends on who’s doing the walking, as well as where and how."
Theresa Kishkan's latest book is Blue Portugal and Other Essays.
I think I was always going to write essays. On the shelves in my childhood home, the books I gravitated to were the field guides my father collected, among them the British Columbia Provincial Museum (later the Royal British Columbia Museum) handbooks, ostensibly identification keys to birds, plants, mushrooms, barnacles, etc. I remember taking them to my bedroom and settling in to read the really wonderful and informative entries on dabbling ducks, fleshy pore fungi, and goose barnacles.
Even as a child, I had my favourite writers of those named on the covers; their voices were distinctive, choosing narrative over terse scientific language. C.J. Guiguet was one; he provided such lively histories of each species he was describing. Later in my life, when I was hoping to be a poet, I remember finding the section on whistling swans in Guiguet’s The Birds of British Columbia: Waterfowl: “Much has been written in folk-lore and poetry of the song of the dying swan and the term 'swan son …
Every September since 1997, the Winnipeg International Writers Festival presents THIN AIR, a celebration of books and ideas. Their curated line-up is a perfect fit for curious readers who are ready to discover strong voices and great storytelling in practically every genre. This year, they're presenting a hybrid festival featuring 60 writers, live events, and a dynamic website.
To watch video content Rowan McCandless has prepared for them, visit the festival website.
While there are many memoirs on the market, the majority adhere to a linear form and narrative. Recently, more genre-bending memoirs have proven successful, and my first book, Persephone’s Children: A Life In Fragments pushes those boundaries even further.
Persephone’s Children, is a hybrid memoir that chronicles my leaving a domestic abuse situation as a black and biracial woman and how writing sustained me during that difficult process. Through a series of essays that are often nonlinear and experimental in form, readers explore themes such as intergenerational trauma, racism, …
Erika Thorkelson's "Me and Bridget Jones (20 Years Later)" is one of the essays in Midlife, which is a giveaway right now! Written and published during COVID quarantine, Midlife features the collected works of former members of the Gateway, the student newspaper at the University of Alberta. This crew of 27 writers and creators from the late 1990s/early 2000s now find themselves navigating midlife, and it turns out adulting isn’t necessarily as straightforward as anyone imagined. Enter for a chance to win!
The first time I saw Bridget Jones’s Diary, I cried. It was a weekday afternoon sometime after the end of my first year of university, and I’d decided to hide for a couple of hours in the comforting darkness of a mall cinema. I’d chosen a movie that would allow me to check out—I hadn’t expected to like it, let alone be moved to tears.
Twenty years later, I’m still trying to make sense of that over-the-top reaction. Other than us both being blondish, shortish white women, I didn’t have much in common with Jones. She was a 32-year-old Brit with a posh accent and an odd but traditional middle-class family. I was in my early 20s, born on the Canadian Prairies, raised by a single mother. In 2001, I was surviving on student loans and a job making burr …
Susan Olding's latest book is the essay collection Big Reader.
If the pandemic has left you feeling too distracted and foggy to concentrate for long, buy or borrow a book of essays.
Short enough to finish in a sitting, inventive enough to spark your weary brain, intimate enough to dispel some Covid loneliness, an essay is the next best thing to an hour with a smart friend.
The bestselling novel of a decade ago will sometimes seem stale or irrelevant today, but that’s rarely true of an essay. Like your smart friend, the essay has staying power.
Here, then, are eleven stellar essay collections published in Canada over the past decade or so. Most are small press books you might have missed on their first release. Revisit them now—for their continuing relevance, for the comfort or provocation they’ll offer, for the laughter they’ll kindle, for the futures they’ll help us imagine as we slog our way through this third and —let’s hope—final wave of the pandemic.
Reverberations, by Marion Agnew
Anyone who has lost a parent to a lingering illness …
My curation style weaves three threads: radical social change, amplifying voices at the edges, and connecting emerging artists and writers with well-seasoned ones. There is a fourth, though it is less a thread and more a penchant: I genuinely gravitate to the subtle stories that entwine the everyday thriving amid the realities of suffering, struggle, and hardship. As well, for this list I thought about work that captures other ways of being in relationship with ourselves, with each other, and with the more-than-human kin, including the land. Stories and works that support us to feel more connected. This spirit of connection was behind the curation of Radiant Voices. Lastly, I always begin with my friends, and then it radiates out to friends of friends.
Birdsong, by Julie Flett
Birdsong, by the incomparable Cree-Metis writer and artist Julie Flett, is pure magic. The connecting and thoughtful poetry alongside the stunning illustrations take you on a subtle but profound journey of witnessing a special relationship between an elder, Agnes, and a kid, Kat …
Nobody Cares is Anne T. Donahue's first book, a collection of essays about growing up, getting it together, and reconciling what it means to be a work in progress.
49th Shelf: In your book you espouse some pretty controversial views—you hate cheese AND show a disregard for Muriel's Wedding. Do you worry at all about alienating cheese-loving Toni Collette fans?
Anne T. Donahue: Absolutely not. First, because I have every line spoken by Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense memorized and aspire to be more like that character on a daily basis, so I recognize her as both a Queen and God. Second, because my hatred of cheese is no secret. I've tweeted about it, mentioned it on podcasts, and ordered cheese-less pizza for years. As a result, the dairy lobby's been after me for years. And while that is an absolute lie, I'm ready for when they finally declare me their enemy.
49th Shelf: At the moment, the market is saturated with self-help books pushing women to be "more" and "better." You take a different approach, and write about owning your failures, and ev …
"Reading Emily Anglin's The Third Person is like watching the opening sequence of Hitchcock's Rear Window," writes Johanna Skibsrud. "As a character in one of the stories tells us, everyone has 'public, private and secret lives.' Anglin gives us access to all of these lives—offering a unique perspective that combines both the intimacy of the first person and the sweeping distance of the third."
Here Anglin offers up titles that provided structural inspiration.
I like compartments in my writing, whether thematic or formal. For that reason, I love the gothic mode in fiction, with its foregrounding of place and space as a way of telling separate, interconnected stories at the same time, and I also love the essay form, especially when it’s combined with other modes of writing to create layers and compartments of form, meaning, and feeling.
Mad Shadows, by Marie-Claire Blais (trans. Lawrence Merloyd)
The seminal Canadian gothic novel plunges deep below painted surfaces even as its images and voices float like watercolours. The interplay between …
Shrewed is the book we've all been waiting for, a brilliant collection of essays about the lives of girls and women that is as hilarious and heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, a book that will make you first want to call your mother, and then go out and organize a feminist parade down the middle of your street. Elizabeth Renzetti is best known for her much-loved columns in the Globe and Mail, and she's also author of the bestselling novel Based on a True Story. Here, she talks to 49th Shelf about humour, swearing, and the pleasures of reading.
49th Shelf: You write about the genesis of your book, how the idea for an essay collection came about in the aftermath of the 2016 American election. How is the finished product different from your initial vision for the collection? What parts about the process surprised you?
Elizabeth Renzetti: I hope it’s funnier than I thought it would be! Those were dark days at the end of 2016. A poisonously misogynistic man had been elected to the most powerful position in the world, over a woman who had vastly more experience and intellectual ability, but who didn’t smile enough, apparently. Or possibly she smiled too much—I’ve lost track. As I wrote the essays, I realized that making myself laugh also lifted my spiri …
This month our focus is on books about global experiences, and the new anthology, Wherever I Find Myself: Stories by Canadian Immigrant Women, fits the bill perfectly. Editor Miriam Matejova has put together a diverse collection of stories that form a mosaic of emotions and worldviews that underline the immigrant condition for women. In this excerpt, from the book's introduction, she tells the story of her own coming to Canada, and explains where the impulse to create the anthology came from.
As I sit down to write an introduction to this anthology, immigrants from selected countries are being denied entry into the United States. Anti-immigrant attitudes are on the rise in Europe. In the Western world, the far right is clashing with the far left, with immigrants often caught in the middle. Hateful rhetoric and acts of vandalism are aimed at people who are perceived as outsiders, as not belonging, as threatening.
I am an immigrant. I came from Slovakia as an eighteen-year old, wishing to study at a Canadian university. Back then I was an outsider. I did not belong. But far from threatening, I was lonely, clueless and utterly terrified.
At first I lived with my estranged father, a man whom I knew mostly from flashes of childhood memories and stories my grandmoth …
Pity the essay—so undervalued that nobody recognizes it. We pass it by without a nod, or imagine we see it in a dozen other faces. “Ah, there you are! I’ve been looking for you! We must catch up,” we say, pumping a hand or slapping a rounded shoulder, all the while checking our watch in anticipation of our next appointment. Nobody wants to read the essay. Nobody wants to buy it. It’s so unpopular that in the 2012 Canada Reads—the first nonfiction edition ever—books of essays are explicitly ruled out.
But why? What makes the form so dismissible? Traditionally, the essay has been considered a minor genre, a species of “belles-lettres.” Pretty, perhaps—but useless. Lightweight. Like a lavender-scented lace handkerchief hidden in a great-aunt’s attic. At the same time, we associate it with those silly five paragraph stumps of thought that we were made to write in school. Not to mention the fact that when we hear its name we tend to imagine a tract or a sermon or a rant—all worthy literary forms in their own right, perhaps, but no more relation to the essay than a terrier is related to a cat.
Maybe that is the real, the deeper problem. Like a cat, the essay wants to go its own way. In an unstable world, we want to know what we’re getting, and …