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In Conversation With: Tony Burgess

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A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a patio when a gentleman, back lit by an early-summer sun, approached my table to boast that he recognized me from the back of my head. I shaded my eyes, Tony Burgess coming into view. "I recognize you from the front of your head," I (may have) replied, and he settled in with us for the duration of our stay. I quite liked his company. My only other dealings with Tony have come in late hours in the form of Facebook messages that read like non sequiturs. He's a prolific creator across genre and form, a master at drawing discomfort from the reader and one of the more truly interesting characters you'll have the pleasure to meet.

For my first interview as Host of Canadian Bookshelf, I hope you'll enjoy our get-to-know-you banter. I guess it's true that books really are the social object around which readers converse.

Julie Wilson: A friend recently told me of a dating site in which members are asked, alongside other questions, how they feel about horror films. Seems this is a huge signifier in terms of compatibility between prospective mates. Come to think of it, the first time I saw you from afar you were covered in fake blood at the opening party for The Scream in High Park. What's your relationship to violence and gore? Are you les …

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What is a Canadian Bookshelf?

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Whether a tower of milk-crates, a high-end built-in unit, or a couple of two-by-fours propped up with bricks, the Canadian bookshelf is a various thing. It contains all the CanLit you studied in school, Fifth Business and The Stone Angel. Or else it’s stocked by nonfiction fiends who can’t get enough of Malcolm Gladwell, the Franklin Expedition, or Peter C. Newman political biographies. It holds innovative and challenging works by independent presses like Coach House, Gaspereau or Biblioasis, as well as novels written by women called Margaret, or by Pierre Berton or Farley Mowat.

There is young adult fiction with adult appeal, from Anne of Green Gables to Susan Juby. Or children’s books written by Robert Munsch, Sheree Fitch, Marie-Louise Gay and Marthe Jocelyn. Short story collections by Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Alexander MacLeod, Zsuzsi Gartner and Sarah Selecky. Cookbooks, craft books and books about Canadian wine. It’s got graphic novels by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, or anything by Drawn & Quarterly. Not to mention Margaret Atwood’s Survival and Noah Richler’s This is My Country, What is Yours? Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. Or Joy Fielding and Kelley Armstrong.

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Books to discover: The 2011 Atlantic Book Awards

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Atlantic Canada shone a light on itself in 2010, with a great many acclaimed Canadian books coming from the region. These successes and others were recognized on May 19 at the 2011 Atlantic Book Awards in Dartmouth NS, where Kathleen Winter won the prestigious Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize for her novel Annabel.

Winter’s fellow Giller nominees Alexander MacLeod and Johanna Skibsrud were also recognized, MacLeod receiving the Margaret John Savage First Book Award for Light Lifting and Skibsrud taking the Atlantic Independent Booksellers Choice Award for The Sentimentalists.

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In addition to these well-known works is a whole host of new books for Canadian readers to discover from a wide range of genres including historical writing (Rusty Bittermann for Sailor’s Hope: The Life and Times of William Cooper, Agrarian Radical in an Age of Revolution) and crime fiction (Anne Emery taking the Jim Connors Dartmouth Book Award for Fiction for Children in the Morning). Non-fiction prizes were awarded to Jerry Lockett (writer and sailor!) for Capta …

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Does the great Canadian cottage novel have yet to be written?

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On this Victoria Day long weekend, Canadians will travel to cottage country to mark the unofficial start of summer, although many of us will only make the journey in our minds. We’ll have to be content to imagine a sunset reflected on a still lake, the smoky smell of a bonfire, and the crack of a screen-door slam. And perhaps we could be aided in our journey with the help of a little fiction, but maybe not. Could it really be that, as Globe and Mail reviewer Darryl Whetter has stated, “the great Canadian cottage novel” has yet to be written?

There are certainly candidates for the title. And though it’s not a novel, Sarah Selecky’s story “Throwing Cotton” (from her collection This Cake is for the Party) exactly fits the description of the cottage book that Whetter is calling for: “a work devoted to a friendship- and romance-sundering long weekend away in which two or more couples fight, gossip, shift allegiances and repeatedly contemplate infidelity – if not a boozy orgy”.

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Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing could be loosely termed a cotta …

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Interview with a video wrangler: Jen Knoch, on keeping her city reading

Jen Knoch runs the Keeping it Real Book Club, and Keeps Toronto Reading (in conjunction with the Toronto Public Library’s April campaigns) by curating a series of one-minute video pitches by avid readers for their favourite books. We were interested to discover just how a library patron becomes partner in a literacy campaign, and to find out why Jen can’t get enough of these video book recommendations.

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CB: You've written before about the great relationship you have with the Toronto Public Library. But how did you become their Keep Toronto Reading video wrangler?

JK: I think I just sort of just fell into it. Kismet perhaps? When I came across the Keep Toronto Reading campaign last year I thought it was wonderful, and totally in line with the mandate of my book club-cum-blog, which emphasizes offering passionate recommendations for books you love. I'd just come off doing one-minute video pitches for the CBC for Canada Reads, so I was feeling pretty comfortable with the medium (and with pressuring others into doing using it).

So I decided to try and get enough people to make video recommendations that I could release one a day for all of April. Not long after I declared my intentions, Ab from the TPL got in touch and said they'd like to feature the videos …

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Power and Politics (List by Jonathan Bennett)

It's not all crooked cops and murder in Jonathan Bennett's novel Entitlement, which is also a gripping examination of power and politics in Canada. On the occasion

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of the upcoming federal election, Jonathan has provided us with a few more books to round out our literary education in power and politics. And it's not all crooked cops and murder here either-- check out the range, from poetry to comic fiction, and non-fiction with intentions noble and/or scandalous. Truly, there is something for everyone.

Jonathan Bennett is the author of five books including, most recently, Entitlement and a book of poems Civil and Civic.

 

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1) Power Politics: poems, Margaret Atwood

This seminal volume was first published in 1971. Happy 40th birthday. Yes, it’s been that long. Wondering what’s changed? Best to re-read it…

you fit into me/ like a hook into an eye

a fish hook/ an open eye

 

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Brick Books' Poetry Podcast Channel: A Fantastic Point of Discovery

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A poem on a page has its own power, but the poem comes alive in an entirely different and more accessible way when read aloud by the person who's written it. This kind of aural experience is the whole point of Brick Books' Poetry Podcast Channel, launched in celebration of Brick Books' 35 years publishing poetry. The channel is an obvious treasure trove for hardcore poetry fans, but also represents a fantastic point of discovery for booklovers who are not yet well-versed in verse (but would like to be!).

Already boasting works read by poets Karen Connelly, A.F. Moritz, Janice Kulyk Keefer, Dennis Lee, and John Reibetanz, the site promises recordings to come by Karen Solie, David Seymour, Helen Humphreys, Margaret Avison and more. The project is being produced and publicized by Julie Wilson of Book Madam & Associates, who explains, "Podcasting naturally lends itself to the performed voice, so why wouldn't a poetry publisher take advantage of 35 years' worth of poetic voices? This channel has the potential to be an extremely powerful archive of some of this country's greatest poets. That can't be underestimated, and it's worthy of great celebration."

The project releases poetry from the confines of the page and puts it out into the world on the internet, where users …

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Someone Who Writes

This week's guest post is from Angie Abdou, finalist in Canada Reads for The Bone Cage (published by NeWest Press) and author of the just released The Canterbury Trail (published by Brindle and Glass). In this post Angie speaks frankly and humourously about what happened when she discovered that the glamourous handle of "Writer" is elusive. She finds real meaning and substance in a humbler concept: she is someone who writes.

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I remember longing for the day I could call myself a Writer. I wasn’t exactly sure when that would happen, couldn’t be positive what transformative accomplishment would allow me to look in the mirror and say, “Ah, good morning Important Famous Writer Person.”

At first, I figured it would be as simple as publishing any piece of creative work. However, the momentous occasion of my first publication came and went without me feeling in the least bit transformed. Though I’d published a piece of fiction in a noteworthy and respected journal, I didn’t notice people treating me with a newfound awe, reverence, or even respect. My mom, it’s true, was quite impressed, but everyone else seemed unfazed (even as I waved said journal in their faces), and I felt more or less, well, exactly the same: self-conscious, insecure, and eager for approva …

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Reading Lists on Canadian Bookshelf (Featuring Stacey May Fowles!)

In these days of overstimulation, distraction, and time constraints, finding ways to downsize and simplify feels pretty good. Maybe that’s why we love lists so much.

Lists of things to do or check out are oases in the midst of information chaos—especially when they’re made by people we admire and trust. When they include ten or so items, they are soothingly finite and doable—easy to bookmark, act upon, and feel excited about investigating. Just think of playlists from industry insiders (e.g., Kate Carraway’s mixtape, CHICKS, for the new Burner Magazine), awards shortlists, or numbered magazine cover lines.

Lists can provide a helpful and meaningful filter for search activities, which is why we’re making Recommended Reading Lists a prominent feature on Canadian Bookshelf. There will be lists by Canadian Bookshelf editors, lists readers create, and lists contributed by writers and subject experts. For example, here’s a list we’ve just received from one of Canada’s hottest new authors, Stacey May Fowles (author of Fear of Fighting and Be Good):

Unconventional Heroines, Lives, and Loves
A Reading List by Stacey May Fowles

Bottle Rocket Hearts, Zoe Whittall

A refreshing take on the typical coming-of-age narrative, Whittall submerges us in the frantic, …

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Kidsbooks' Owner Phyllis Simon on Matching Children Up With the Right Books

Visiting a good children’s bookstore, especially but not only when you have kids of your own, is an instant mood booster and occasion for awe. A combination of impressive stock, ingenious store layout including play/explore areas for kids, and friendly, knowledgeable staff can make such a bookstore a favourite family destination for years—a local and cultural institution.

Vancouver is lucky enough to have Kidsbooks, which former librarian Phyllis Simon opened in 1983 in Kitsilano, and which now includes three locations, an online storefront, and a co-partner, Kelly McKinnon.

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Kidsbooks' lounge area (Kitsilano location)

Kidsbooks is famous for its incredible, elaborate window displays (people still talk about their “Hogwarts” storefront façade that celebrated the release of the fourth HP book) and insightful staff experts who specialize in tracking down exactly the right book for a particular child. This discovery and selection service is an amazingly important service when you consider how one book—or a suite of books—can turn a child onto reading forever, and conversely, how not finding the right reading materials can convince them that they’d rather sleep in an outhouse than curl up with a book.

Canadian Bookshelf asked Kidsbooks’ Phyllis Simon a li …

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