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Launchpad: HOW TO LOSE EVERYTHING, by Christa Couture

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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 we're launching Christa Couture's memoir, How to Lose Everything, which is being championed by... me, Kerry Clare, author and editor at 49thShelf.com. Last spring, I had the opportunity to read this book by Couture, who is an award-winning singer-songwriter, as well as a radio host and writer, and I devoured it in two days. On my phone. And I have a really crummy phone. I have almost never managed to read an entire book on a screen, let alone in two days, so voraciously. But this is a pretty special book. A book you might think would be a bit of a downer, this story that catalogues the monumental losses experienced by Couture throughout her life—she had cancer as a child; she lost her leg in curing that cancer; her first two children died; she got divorced; she got cancer again. And yet. This is a book that sparkles and sings, a memoir as rich with joy as it is with sadness, a story …

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Launchpad: Good Mothers Don't, by Laura Best

Today we're launching Good Mothers Don't, by Laura Best, which Christy Ann Conlin calls, "An unlikely page turner replete with hushed surprises, unexpected crescendos, endless love and boundless vitality."

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

It’s a literary novel set in both 1960 and 1975 Nova Scotia about one woman’s journey through mental illness and the ripple effects of her illness on those around her.

Describe your ideal reader.

Enjoys character driven stories, a glass of wine at the end of the day, walks along the beach and dark chocolate—maybe an occasional Mars bar.

What authors/books is your work in conversation with?

Alistair MacLeod, Kathleen Winter, Syr Ruus, Christy-Ann Conlin, Ami McKay, Donna Morrissey and Carol Bruneau.

What is something interesting you learned about your book/yourself/ your subject during the process of creating and publishing your book?

I was surprised by my ability to feel compassion for a character whose actions totally contradicted my preconceived ideas of what makes a good mother.

What do you hope readers will gain from reading your book?

My hope is that readers will gain a better understanding of people suffering from mental illness, that they will not just see the illness but the person behind that …

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Launchpad: The Heart Beats In Secret, by Katie Munnik

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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 The Heart Beats in Secret, by Katie Munnik, a novel that explores the wilderness of the heart, the secrets concealed with every beat and the many ways it is possible to be a mother.

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

A young woman inherits her grandmother’s house, only to find a wild goose living in the kitchen.

Describe your ideal reader.

My ideal reader loves birds, 1940s foraged gin recipes, layered family histories, Scottish nature writing, migration stor …

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Launchpad: The Outer Wards, by Sadiqa de Meijer

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 The Outer Wards, by Sadiqa de Meijer, whom Michael Crummey calls "A voice of authority and grace."

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

The Outer Wards is a collection that revolves around a speaker who has fallen ill while her child is young; the resulting poems are a concentrated exploration of questions that all parents are aware of at the edges of their experience. 

Describe your ideal reader.
One of the beautiful things about writing is that this isn't pred …

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10 Mind-Bending Canadian Comics You Should Read, and Why

New motherhood is a kaleidoscopic wonderland in Shea Proulx's Alice at Naptime, a dreamy exploration of art and inspiration—and a truly "psychedelic" work of literature, like the other other books that Proulx includes in this recommended reading list.  

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Comedy, erotica and horror have been written off historically for being "low" art-forms, because of the hierarchy human beings place on all things "bodily" in nature, as opposed to acting solely on the "mind." Certain genres act on our bodies when we laugh, are aroused, or experience repulsion or fear. Comics could also could be considered a body-genre. When we look at drawings, we are able to trace the path of a person's action in our mind's eye, using the same sense we utilize to track our own body's movement through space, a sense called "proprioception." 

Drawings not only make clear the path of the body, but also the path of the mind, as text does, but differently from text. The world "psychedelic" is most associated with mind-altering substances, but the word breaks down from the Greek to mean "the mind...made clear." Works of art that show clearly the mental processes involved in thinking through a subject might also be described as psychedelic, especially when the subject is inexpressible in words—a …

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Giller Prize 2018 Special Series: The Chat with Sheila Heti

Heti_authorphoto_credit-to-Mark-Raynes-Roberts

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We kick off our annual Scotiabank Giller Prize edition of The Chat in conversation with Sheila Heti, author of the novel Motherhood.

The Giller jury states:

“A personal story, a feminist debate, a philosophical reflection on time, genealogy and Art – these are just some of the narrative strands that Sheila Heti weaves into Motherhood, a complex and defiant exploration of contemporary womanhood. As her narrator interrogates the spaces between motherhood and childlessness, other paths, other choices, emerge, including the possibilities of fiction itself. In her playful but precise prose, Heti turns interiority into an expansive landscape with life-altering implications for her narrator and anyone with an interest in the paradoxes of choice and the randomness of free will.”

Sheila Heti is the author of seven books, including the novel How Should a Person Be? which was named a New York Times Notable Book; the story collection The Middle Stories; and the novel Ticknor. Her books have been translated into twelve languages, and her writing has been featu …

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Shameless: Marilyn Churley on Finding her Son and Reforming Adoption Disclosure

In the late 1960s, at the age of 19 and living far from home amid the thriving counterculture of Ottawa, Marilyn Churley got pregnant. Like thousands of other women of the time she kept the event a secret. Faced with few options, she gave the baby up for adoption.

Over 20 years later, as the Ontario NDP government's minister responsible for all birth, death, and adoption records, including those of her own child, Churley found herself in a surprising and powerful position—fully engaged in the long and difficult battle to reform adoption disclosure laws and find her son.

Both a personal and political story, her memoir, Shameless, is a powerful book about a mother's struggle with loss, love, secrets, andlies—and an adoption system shrouded in shame.

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49th Shelf: Shameless makes clear that issues around adoption are feminist issues. What has changed since your experiences in the 1960s in terms of stigma around unplanned or unwanted pregnancies? What has stayed the same?

Marilyn Churley: Adoption is a feminist issue for many reasons. As I said in the introduction to Shameless, history shows that women have always been coerced into living their lives as society deems appropriate, and tormented, punished and shamed when they didn’t comply. The double standard aro …

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Lucie Wilk on Love, Art and Science: the Perfect Triad?

Book Cover The Strength of Bone

Lucie Wilk's first novel is The Strength of Bone. She writes: "Once you start looking, there are quite a few of us out there, doctors who seek the quiet contemplations of creative writing—Vincent Lam, Liam Duncan, Daniel Kalla, Siddhartha Mukherjee, and Abraham Verghese come to mind. It sounds like too extreme a dichotomy, or at the very least, that there simply would not be enough time in the day, especially when you throw motherhood into the mix. But if I take a moment to think about it, I become aware that these three facets of my life have informed and improved one another, and despite the fatigue and the coffee habit, I wouldn’t have had it any other way."

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Medical care has become very regimented over the last couple of decades. The relatively recent practice of evidence-based medicine has forced a system of guidelines and protocols. There is less and less room for creativity in the provision of health care. 

It might be the writer in me, but I feel a void in this system. An individual patient is just that—an individual. Each patient comes with a unique story. But it is my job to smooth over the uniqueness of patients and find the similarities in their stories, to determine how they match each other in symptoms or signs. It is pattern recognition. T …

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On Kerry Clare's Mat Leave

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Kerry Clare, our tireless, brilliant, and somehow both sweet and trenchant editor is taking a leave from 49th Shelf next week … FOR THE SUMMER. Just for the summer, thanks to god. She’s having a baby. Baby #2, a sister for Harriet. We are very excited for her, and thought the perfect gesture with which to send her away would be to republish a little something she wrote a few years back about her initial adjustment to motherhood.

The piece is called “Love is a Let-Down,” published in the Fall 2010 issue of The New Quarterly, and Kerry has declined to let us post it here. “49th Shelf is not about me or my writing!” she said. To which we said, “Fine. Be like that, all upstanding and decent and non-whorish.”

But. I can write a little about my recollection of reading “Love is a Let-Down.” Ha!

When I first came across “Love is a Let-Down,” I was having one of those days as a mother (at the time, of just one thrilling but challenging toddler) when I could not do one thing right. I was feeling fuzzy-minded about work and feeble according to every checklist I had yet consulted about what constitutes good parenting. Thank goodness time, experience, and candid conversation with other parents has given me more confidence (and humour), but then … I felt …

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Unbreakable: Dede Crane on Motherhood

"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new." —Rajneesh

Once you are a mother, you are a mother for the rest of your life.  A perpetual contract, there is no such thing as time off. Your heart has been peeled back, your instinct turned on. Motherhood was the first time I knew without doubt that I would lay down my life for someone else. Pregnant with that first child, I asked a spiritual leader at my church how he liked being a parent. He was the father of an eight-year-old. Constant heartbreak, he said, with such honest feeling that I’ve never forgotten his words, though I’ve since forgotten his name and face.

Four children and innumerable heartbreaks later, big and small, joyful and otherwise, I stand on the cusp of no longer being vital or even necessary to my children. Our youngest, now fourteen, has begun the by now familiar parental exorcism. Pulling away from or perhaps pulling ahead of us, she’s clearly feeling the same way my thirteen-year-old self once felt towards my parents: as much as I loved them, I couldn’t help but hate them. For no reason that I can now think of, and without wanting to do so, …

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How Far Is Too Far? Theresa Shea on Motherhood and Reproductive Technology

Book Cover The Unfinished Child

From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Becoming a mother was not on my list of things to do, so I find it amusing now that I would have three children before I would publish a book. That’s amazing to me not just because the time has sped by (this is my 15th year of celebrating Mother’s Day) but also because for many years I had assumed I would remain childless. When that assumption changed, I found myself, like many women today, beginning a family in my mid thirties.

Despite being well educated and politically engaged, I had paid little attention to how the medical terrain surrounding pregnancy had changed. I had no clue, for instance, that there was a label for women like me. According to the medical profession, I was in the category of “advanced maternal age.” Suddenly, before I’d even had an examination, I had a big red RISK stamped onto my file. I felt as if I’d failed pregnancy 101 before I’d even shown up for the class.

Without a doubt, reproductive technologies have changed our ideas and practices about creating new human life. Google the words Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and read about the various procedures now available, and you might well wonder if you’re in Victor Frankenstein’s “workshop of filthy creation …

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Karleen Pendleton Jiménez on Butch Identity and Trying to Get Pregnant

As a dyke I am well-versed in sexual secrets. I've seen every kind of closet, and the hurt and shame that often fill them. I'm suspicious of silence, and have always been hell-bent on busting it open. The doctors may or may not be able to help us get pregnant these days, but at least, if even only through the written/web page, we can be there for each other.

This is from Karleen Pendleton Jiménez's essay "The Fertility Closet," posted on 49th Shelf earlier this year. Read the full piece here.

How to Get a Girl Pregnant book cover

I'd heard about Karleen's memoir, How To Get a Girl Pregnant (Tightrope Books)—all raves—each delivered by a woman even more different than the last, of interest because Karleen's memoir is about her singular experience as a butch-identified queer woman trying to get pregnant. Yet, as she states above, the struggle for women trying to get pregnant is hardly uncommon.

About the book: How to Get a Girl Pregnant is a frank and funny memoir about a dyke trying to get pregnant. Karleen Pendleton Jiménez has known that she was gay since she was three-years-old and wanted to have a baby for almost as long. But how is a butch Chicana lesbian supposed to get sperm? Picking up men at nightclubs and restaurants? Asking queer male friends for a donation? Using sperm banks dominated b …

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