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Launchpad: WHY BIRDS SING, by Nina Berkhout

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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, Amy Jones recommends Why Birds Sing, by Nina Berkhout, writing, “A bratty parrot, a group of whistlers, an opera singer who doesn’t sing—it’s impossible not to be charmed by the characters who inhabit Nina Berkhout’s Why Birds Sing. But this novel offers so much more than just a loveable, quirky cast of misfits, and Berkhout writes with an uncommon compassion and an uncanny understanding of what it means to be human. Why Birds Sing is an ode to the families we choose, and the love that chooses us (whether we want it to or not.) This is a beautiful novel full of humour, warmth, sorrow, and above all, music.”

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49th Shelf: What particular something have you ma …

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Launchpad: HOW TO LOSE EVERYTHING, by Christa Couture

Launchpad Logo

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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Kid Sterling: Books on Jazz and Justice

Christine Welldon introduces her debut novel, Kid Sterling, and she marks its release with a list of inspiring books that addresses the problems of racism and the trials of gifted African Americans and Canadians who dared to pursue their dreams in an unjust world.

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Kid Sterling is a Young Adult novel about Sterling Crawford, a young African American kid living in New Orleans in 1906, who works on the streets to help his family. He plays trumpet, and what he’d really like is to learn from his idol, the legendary Buddy Bolden, who is playing a new kind of music that’s turning New Orleans upside down.

Through the pages of this vivid novel, you will discover others whose genius created modern music. The beat and the strains of jazz surged into life even while African-Americans struggled against deep racial divisions of the time: curfews designed to keep black people out of the streets, a loaded justice system, and racial barriers that divided a nation.

For Sterling, life is not easy, but in the end he finds his way in a new and challenging musical world in this richly textured story of a culture that thrives against all odds.

The list below includes African Canadians and African American musicians and others who fought against racism and inspired succeeding genera …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Get Dancing

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

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These picture books can’t teach you how to dance but they can inspire you. In the curriculum on dance, students are required to create and present, reflect, respond, and analyze, as well as explore forms and cultural contexts of dance. The following stories include dance forms from First Nations, China, Japan, as well as ballet and a few dance-inspired texts.

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Secret of the Dance, by Andrea Spalding and Alfred Scow, illustrated by Darlene Gait, is based on a true story from Scow's childhood. Now Elder of the Kwakwa'wakw Nation and a retired judge, Scow was a nine-year-old Watl'kina in 1935 when his family travelled in secrecy to perform a potlatch, a gift-giving ceremony sacred in Indigenous culture that was banned by the Canadian government. Watl’kina and his sisters aren't permitted to attend the ceremony—if caught, the children could be taken away by authorities. But at the sound of drumming, Watl'kina sneaks out of bed and sees masked figures dancing stories by firelight. He recognizes one dancer as his father, which turns out to be the last time he ever sees his father dance. As a grownup, Scow reflects on the repealed law and how strange it is that t …

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Radical Acts: An Interview with Andrea Warner

Andrea Warner follows up her fantastic debut, We Oughta Know: How Four Women Ruled the ’90s and Changed Canadian Music, with Buffy Sainte-Marie: The Authorized Biography, and here she talks to us about the challenges of biography, chronology, and the experience of working with a music legend. 

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49th Shelf: “My God, how does one write a Biography?” wrote Virginia Woolf once, and she’s just one of many writers who’ve struggled with the genre. I imagine it’s a bit easier, however, when you’ve got the person you’re writing about telling stories down the telephone and reading over your manuscript, offering clarity and answering questions. Do you think you could have written this book without Buffy Sainte-Marie being a partner in the project? Would you have wanted to? 

Andrea Warner: I wouldn’t have done this without Buffy’s consent and support. Her voice is essential and so powerful. This is her life story and she doesn’t really need me to do tell it. She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, she’s an amazing storyteller. But what I can do as a writer and as a feminist music critic who has spent years writing about Buffy’s music and the music business is provide a framework for her story and contextualize her journey so far. 

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She’s Buffy Sainte-Marie, …

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Evenings and Weekends in Hamilton's Music Scene: An Excerpt

Andrew Baulcomb's Evenings & Weekends: Five Years in Hamilton Music, 2006–2011 is the first and only book to document the rise of Juno Award winners and nominees Arkells, Junior Boys, Monster Truck, The Dirty Nil, and Caribou, along with many others. Featuring dozens of original interviews, as well as first-person reflections from the author, the book chronicles the explosion of a new cultural movement in Hamilton and the rebirth of the city's downtown core.

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Andrew Baulcomb 1

Max Kerman was all too eager to begin his career as a musician. Together with guitarist Mike DeAngelis, bassist Nick Dika and the band’s original drummer, a fellow student named Everett Rooke, he formed Charlemagne – an upbeat roots rock outfit born in the concrete corridors of the Brandon Hall student residence at McMaster. Still completely green, the four-piece wasted little time booking shows at west-end house parties and on-campus venues such as Quarters and the Phoenix, a popular graduate student pub. The fact that Charlemagne even existed at all was another happy accident. Dika, a …

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The Chat: Trevor Corkum Interviews Madeleine Thien

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Thien, Madeleine cr. Babak Salari

Last month, Canadian Madeleine Thien was among 13 writers shortlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction for her extraordinary new novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing. Shortly after, she won the 2016 Governor General's Award for Fiction and now, she is the 2016 Giller Prize winner. Madeleine is my guest on The Chat.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is impressive in scope, covering key historical moments in recent Chinese history, including the Cultural Revolution and the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square. The Guardian calls the book “a moving and extraordinary evocation of the 20th-century tragedy of China.” The Globe and Mail says the work “will cement Madeleine Thien as one of Canada’s most talented novelists, at once a successor to Rohinton Mistry and a wholly singular stylist.”

Photo credit: Babak Salari

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THE CHAT WITH MA …

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The Chat: Trevor Corkum Interviews Brett Josef Grubisic

Grubisic (49th Shelf)(1)

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This week on The Chat, we’re in conversation with Brett Josef Grubisic. His novel From Up River and For One Night Only follows the lives of four dreamy, music-loving teenagers living in the fictional community of River Bend City in BC’s Fraser Valley in the early 1980s.

Writing in Quill & Quire, Becky Robertson says “rich in language and metaphor, From Up River and for One Night Only tells a very specific coming-of-age story, highlighting how the characters’ small-town adolescence is representative of human life and dreams.”

Brett Josef Grubisic is a lecturer of English literature residing in Vancouver. He is the author of the novels The Age of Cities and This Location of Unknown Possibilities. Previous publications include Understanding Beryl Bainbridge, Contra/diction, Carnal Nation (co-edited with Carellin Brooks), American Hunks (co-authored with David L. Chapman), National Plots (co-edited with Andrea Cabajsky), and Blast, Corrupt, Dismantle, Erase (co-edited with Giséle M. Baxter and Tara Lee).
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THE CHAT WITH BRETT JOSEF GRUBISIC

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Nisha Coleman and Busker: Stories from the Streets of Paris

Book Cover Busker Nisha Coleman

There are two reasons why right now is perfect time to be telling you about Nisha Coleman's Busker: Stories from the Streets of Paris. One is that we're focusing on oddballs and misfits this month here at 49th Shelf, in this misfit month with its 29 days, and Coleman encounters so many of these characters during her time busking in Paris living on the city's cultural fringes. And the second is that Valentines Day is on the horizon, and Coleman's memoir shows the City of Love like you've never seen it before. Busker is also very much a love story in its own right—just not the kind you're probably used to.  

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Kerry Clare: There are so many compelling bits of your memoir, and one of them for me is the way you write about loneliness of your life in Paris in the beginning, about your longing for just an ordinary friend. You meet so many characters in your daily life—the man with the moustache, the guy with the sex songs, Michel the kisser. Was there really such a dearth of ordinary folks? Are they just not approachable? Is normal too boring to write about? Is there such a thing as normal at all? 

Nisha Coleman: I don't believe in normal! I longed for an ordinary friend, but not a normal one. What I lacked in Paris was the kind of closeness that lets you relax i …

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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!

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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.

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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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Sean Kelly on Metal Music and a Quest for Freedom

Metal on Ice, by Sean Kelly (Dundurn Press).

In Metal On Ice: Tales from Canada's Hard Rock and Heavy Metal Heroes (Dundurn Press), musician Sean Kelly (Crash Kelly) interviews Helix, Anvil, Coney Hatch, Killer Dwarfs, Harem Scarem, Honeymoon Suite, and a host of VJS and industry insiders about the exciting rise, then lull, of the Canadian metal scene into the 1990s, and its resurgence in recent years.

"The road to Canadian musical glory is not lined with the palm trees and top-down convertibles of the Sunset Strip. It is a road slick with black ice, obscured by blizzards, and littered with moose and deer that could cause peril for a cube van thundering down a Canadian highway."

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Julie Wilson: Why do you think metal and hard rock resonate so particularly with young fans who become fans for life?

Sean Kelly: They can provide a sense of power and belonging to those who don’t necessarily feel very empowered or included in other areas of their lives, especially young people. Many fans I've spoken with have mentioned that it was through this genre of music that they experienced their first real moments of social bonding outside of their immediate families. There's also an escapist quality to the music that appeals. While they weren’t Canadian, the band Saxon said it best: "Denim and Leather brought us ALL t …

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Portrait of a Young DJ: Guest Post by Sophie B. Watson

Book Cover Cadillac Couches

As soon as I got my first Sony Walkman as a late teenager I was hooked. I was a Sony WalkWoman. Headphones for every walk, no matter how small (even around the living room). Music just made the whole living thing fifty thousand times more romantic. With sunglasses on, like blinkers on a horse, I could ignore my actual world and be transported into a different dimension altogether, a much sexier one. Music was proof of another life-form in the universe…people somewhere who spoke my language.

When I was younger and weirder I loved some songs so achingly much I contemplated tying my friends up, duct taping their mouths shut and blindfolding them so they would be forced to really hear the music and love it like I did. Oddly, nobody volunteered for this. But, sometimes, I could convince a fellow listener to lie on the ground, be very still and close their eyes. I wanted my people to listen and I mean listen carefully to each sound coming out of the speakers. Or I’d drag friends to a gig and watch them like a hawk to make sure they didn’t get distracted and start talking or scoping hotties. God forbid they should order a drink during a song and miss some guttural noise that could mean oh so very much. They had to hear what I heard: every nuance, croak, rasp, moan, …

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