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.
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 Weekend Dad, by Naseem Hrab and illustrated by Frank Viva, about what happens when parents separate, and the new reality of having two homes.
The Elevator Pitch. Tell us about your book in a sentence:
Weekend Dad is a picture book about a little boy who visits his dad’s new apartment for the first time after his parents get divorced; the book isn’t just about a child’s experience of divorce, it is nearly entirely about a father’s love.
Describe your ideal reader:
It’s not j …
I had this idea for a book about a mother and daughter at that moment where they split apart: the emotional separation that must precede the physical one when a child leaves home. I knew the characters right away—17-year-old Maddie, burning to grow up, and her mom, Gwen, devoted yet unknowable—but I needed a world, and a drama, in which to place them. I heard about someone I knew winning a small amount in a lottery, and it shocked me somehow: Why them? What now? I decided that a win like that would be a good place to put my fictional family: a gain to contrast the loss. Stay Where I Can See You became a book about secrets, and the ebb and flow of fortune, and how those fortunes collide and coexist in a city.
I don’t look at books that are too similar to mine when I’m writing but this is a list of kindred stories that I’ve read over the years that circle similar themes, and probably worked their way into my brain and slid onto the page in ways I’ll never fully understand.
What We All Long For, by Dionne Brand
Brand deploys her poet’s pen t …
On Rachel Matlow's memoir Dead Mom Walking, we have the following comment from Carolyn Taylor of the Baroness Von Sketch Show: "How am I laughing at someone's mother's cancer? How? We think we can't laugh about death, about cancer, about our mothers and their suffering . . . and we can't, but we can. And there's so much relief in that. I laughed, I cried, I laughed and laughed and laughed."
Books matter so much. Here, Rachel Matlow recommends five more to keep you going.
Books have the power to calm and uplift us—exactly what we need right now in the midst of the anxiety attack that’s become life. So when you’re done watching Tiger King and taking a break from playing Animal Crossing, here are five queer memoirs to keep you going:
High School, by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin
All-night raves, facial piercings, Smashing Pumpkins—I was transported back to the late ‘90s in this visceral memoir from Tegan and Sara. Written from the perspectives of both sisters, the story chronicles their unglamorous teenage years in Calgary and start in music. Th …
Lesley Crewe is one of Atlantic Canada's best-loved and bestselling writers, author of ten novels including Mary, Mary, Amazing Grace, Chloe Sparrow, Kin , and Relative Happiness, which has been adapted into a feature film. Her latest is Beholden—and here she shares a list of other books about people finding their way.
All of these books are about making your way in the world. The beauty and horror of relationships, expectations, dreams and sorrows. How do any of us walk on, when life pushes you endlessly back and forth like the tide? We don’t want to be alone. Hearing stories about how others cope with their existence is reassuring, like having a lamp in the window.
A Good House, by Bonnie Burnard
About the book: I loved the bits of ordinary small-town life revealed through the story of Bill and Sylvia Chambers. They were exactly like the people I grew up with. Not exciting or extraordinary, but their lives were important, regardless. It made me want to look at small things—the moments that make up our everyday lives, the ones we tend to i …
Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.
How do family and community traditions change over time? This Grade 2 unit on heritage and identity can be addressed using great picture books. The first three are useful for teaching timelines.
My Family Tree and Me, by Dusan Petricic, traces a boy's genealogy through period “photos” (Petricic's beautiful illustrations) of members of his family. "Without my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, I would never have had Pops, my grandfather; who met his match in Nana, my grandmother." The first half of the story traces his father's side and the second half, his mother's, and the book is designed so it can be read in either order. One side of the family has red hair, so it's easier for the reader to figure out the familial connection.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear, by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall, is a superb story-within-a-story presenting the history of iconic literary creation Winnie the Poo …
Every year on January 27, Canadians celebrate Family Literacy Day, an initiative to affirm the importance of reading and engaging in other literacy-related activities as a family. And while the benefits to children of exposure to books and literacy are well-documented, less sung is just how much wisdom an adult reader can garner from children's literature. These books are not just for the kids, and they've affirm to me some of the most important lessons I've learned in my life. We all get a lot out of returning to these stories again and again.
From We All Count, by Julie Flett: We All Count: A Book of Cree Numbers is the 2014 board book from Native Northwest featuring the artwork of Cree/Métis artist Julie Flett. In this basic counting book from 1 to 10, this bilingual board book introduces Plains Cree (y-dialect) and Swampy Cree (n-dialect) written in Roman orthography. Artist and author has a simple graphic style using bold and clear text to introduce counting with appropriate cultural images from contemporary Cree society. An excellent introduction to counting to ten in Cree and English using authentic Cree imagery.
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.
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 …
November is Adoption Awareness Month, which puts the spotlight on issues facing families with adopted children. And so this month is also the perfect time for a conversation with Maurice Mierau, author of Detachment: An Adoption Memoir. Detachment tells the story of Mierau and his wife's journey to Ukraine in 2005 to adopt two small boys, and describes the joys and challenges of their early days as a family of four. With humour and honestly, Mierau writes about the process of learning to be a father, and also about how this experience affected his marriage, his relationship with his own father, and that with his son from a previous relationship.
49th Shelf: I love the line that comes early in the memoir, delivered by a psychologist: “So you’re writing a book about people you ignore.” It highlights the contradiction inherent for anyone writing about family life—children can be so inspiring, but they keep you away from the actual work. Detachment is very much about your evolution as a father and a husband, but can you tell me about the evolution of the book itself? What was the book that you set out to write and how did it become this one?
Working in the space "hilarity and humiliation" (Todd Babiak), Roost (Freehand Books), by Ali Bryan is about family tragedy and the moments for which we hadn't planned. Roost plays with the absurd nature of forced transition, resulting in a truly laugh-out-loud debut novel, something The Toronto Star picked up on calling Bryan an "amusing writer who has mastered the voice of the self-deprecating female, amusing without being annoying."
We contacted Bryan for comment, and to ask the question, is domestic humour a many-gendered thing?
Julie Wilson: Let's start with The Toronto Star quote. I read it and had a kind of knee-jerk reaction. Were they commenting on gender? Domestic narratives? Writers who pull from life?
First, how does humour fit into your life?
Ali Bryan: I’m fascinated by how laughter tends to evolve from a simple involuntary reaction—a baby playing peek-a-boo—to a complex coping mechanism. Charlie Chaplin said “laughter is the tonic, the relief the surcease for pain.” I love the notion of laughter as tonic. Something wet and consumable and physical. It’s hot yoga for your mental and emotional junk drawer.
Personally, I use humor as a vice to cope with the everyday. Baby spitting up milk puke on husband’s side of the bed is made funny b …
Drunk Mom is bound to raise a few eyebrows. The memoir, published by Doubleday Canada (2013), recounts the time after the birth of Jowita Bydlowska's son during which she fell off the wagon, at times getting dislocated in harsh snow storms, son in stroller, the empty streets an opportunity to drink away from her family.
What follows is a brutally honest account of that "ugly" period, as well as Bydlowska's path to eventual recovery. Drunk Mom is a wake-up call—hope in a hopeless place. It is also a refreshing response to what has become a commonplace joke: that admitting your addiction is the first step ... as if that first step isn't a doozy.
We talk with Jowita Bydlowska via Skype for this 49th Shelf podcast about what it means to cast yourself as the villain in your own story.
Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Woodstock, Ontario, as a teenager. She eventually learned English well enough to try writing in it. She writes a popular parenting blog, and her work has appeared in an assortment of magazines, newspapers …
Iain Reid has made an early name for himself as a writer who works best when left to the quiet observations of daily life. In One Bird's Choice, Reid's debut, he move backs home for year, onto his family's farm where he learns a thing or two about growing up while conversing with a cranky fowl. In The Truth About Luck, Reid's sophomore title, he finds a more lively conversationalist in his 92-year-old grandmother. We talk to Reid about what he learned that time he took a "staycation" with Grandma.
Enjoy an excerpt from The Truth About Luck (courtesy of House of Anansi Press) after the chat.
Julie Wilson: Your first book, One Bird's Choice (House of Anansi Press, 2010), literally introduced you to readers. From the publisher: "Meet Iain Reid an overeducated, underemployed twenty-something, living in the big city in a bug-filled basement apartment and struggling to make ends meet."
One Bird's Choice was taken under wing by independent booksellers, then became the darling of CBC's as-chosen-by-you-the-reader Bookie Award for Non Fiction (2011), so it makes sense that you would publish again with Anansi. But my first question has to be, how did you get the attention of Anansi as a young as-of-yet unknown writer—with a memoir, no less?
Iain Reid: My agent, Samantha Hay …