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I was always going to write essays

Theresa Kishkan's latest book is Blue Portugal and Other Essays.

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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.

Book Cover The Birds of British Columbia Waterfowl

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 …

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Secret Lives of Mothers

Cat and Nat's Mom Secrets, Coffee-Fueled Confessions from the Mom Trenches, by Catherine Belknap & Natalie Telfer

About the book: The bestselling authors of Cat and Nat's Mom Truths go deeper than ever before with outrageous revelations and relatable rants that let every mom know she's not alone.

Remember when you were first expecting, and it seemed like every woman on the planet who had ever given birth felt the need to warn you? Your life is about to change forever!

With seven kids between them, Cat and Nat know a thing or two about the way motherhood turns your life upside down. Fiercely committed to dismantling the pressure to be perfect, they've connected with their audience by sharing their completely real take on the stress, guilt, and joy of being a mom. One might even say they've made a brand of oversharing. 

In their first book, they shared short dispatches and advice from the trenches. Now, Cat and Nat have invited the legion of moms who love them to share their own deepest darkest parenting secrets, and use those to kick off their own stories, going deeper and ranting harder about big topics like guilt, balancing career with motherhood, and body image.

Cat dives into the Bachelor-inspired trend of taking your kids on "one-on-one's" and shakes off the gui …

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Bright Lights, Big City: Kids Books About Urban Life

With nearly three quarters of the world expected to live in urban areas by 2050, it’s about time we see more children’s books about living in the city. Kids in New York and Paris, of course, have had their own beloved icons for years (thank you Harriet, Madeleine and CJ from Last Stop on Market Street), but Canadian readers haven’t seen themselves represented in quite the same way. This absence is part of the reason I’ve been working with Groundwood Books on the ThinkCities series.

My third book in this nonfiction series exploring urban systems and sustainability, City Streets Are for People is coming out this week and it’s a kid-friendly manifesto about reclaiming our streets for people and transit, not cars. The series has also looked at city trees and water systems because decoding our environment will help young people live better and advocate for the health and well-being of their communities. It’s also just really fun to see the places you live in the books you read. In that spirit, here are a few titles—both fiction and nonfiction—that take on the urban jungle and its people in all their busy, complex glory.

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Reading Eclectically

My most recent book of poems, The Last Show on Earth is perhaps not a happy book, but happiness is hard won these days. It is, however, a book full of people, as Rob Taylor says in his blurb: “teems not only with names, but with beings.” So, I thought I’d capture a few of the non-Canadians and then dive into Canadian books and writers that inspired this book or inspire me in multiple ways. I want to just say that a lot of the books I will talk about influenced poems already written, and also influence poems that I’m working on now.

International writers include Denise Riley, Mary Oliver, Lorca, Charles Wright (I have fallen in love with his poetry again recently), Virginia Woolf (she’s always kind of floating around), Ilya Kaminski, Anna Akhmatova, Odysseas Elytis, Sylvia Plath, and Rilke. I am aware that Ilya Kaminsky has become particularly called on as Russia invades Ukraine and he is called on to speak to how poetry can respond to war and I am thankful for him and his voice.

Now, here is my more fulsome list of Canadian books I have read over the past while and return to. I just finished a marvellous kids book with my son called Dragons in a Bag, by Zetta Elliot, who is from Canada but lives in the US. We both loved the story and characters and that i …

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Most Anticipated: Our Spring 2022 Nonfiction Preview

Our Spring Preview continues (Most Anticipated Fiction is out already!) with nonfiction, all the best of memoir, food writing, biography, history, the environment, science, politics, and so much more.

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In Son of Elsewhere (May), Elamin Abdelmahmoud charts his life with wise, funny, and moving reflections on the many threads that weave together into an identity. In the innovative and intimate memoir I Am Because We Are (February), Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr tells the story of her mother, a pan-African hero who faced down misogyny and battled corruption in Nigeria. Animal as Machine (April), by Michel Anctil, explores the life, work, and ideas of scientists who, branding themselves as physiologists, subscribed to mechanistic concepts to explain how animals acquire and process food, breathe, circulate their blood, and sense their environment.

The world is desperate for cobalt. It fuels the digital economy and powers everything from cell phones to clean energy. But this “demon metal,” this “blood mineral,” has a horrific present and troubled histor …

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2021: Books of the Year

These were the books this year that broke our hearts, made us laugh, posed the difficult questions, made us think, showed us how to connect the dots, provided hours of entertainment, and swept us away to all kinds of fascinating times and places—including (and maybe even especially) right now! 

And best of all? Every single title is up for giveaway right now.

Don't miss your chance to win one of these top-shelf reads!

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Dishonour in Camp 33, by Wayne Arthurson

About the book: Sergeant Neumann and the inmates of Camp 133 are back!

Even thousands of miles from the front lines, locked into a Canadian prisoner-of-war camp at the base of the Canadian Rockies, death isn't far away. For August Neumann, head of Camp Civil Security and decorated German war hero, this is the reality. Chef Schlipal has been found dead in Mess #3, a knife in his back.

Now it's up to Neumann to find out what would drive the men of the camp, brothers-in-arms, to turn on each other. He's learned, of course, that beneath the veneer of duty and honour, the camp is anything but civi …

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Fighting For a Hand to Hold: An Anti-Colonial Reading List

The QWF Literary Awards celebrate the best books and plays by English-language writers, playwrights, and translators in Quebec, as well as those translating English works from Quebec into French. Each award comes with a purse of $3,000.

For more information about the Awards and to see Giller Prize-winning author Sean Michaels announce all the finalists, check out the Gala page on our website.

Fighting for a Hand to Hold won The Mavis Gallant Prize for Non-Fiction and The Concordia University First Book Prize at the 2021 Awards Gala.

Learn more about the book at https://fightingforahandtohold.ca

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Fighting for a Hand to Hold: Confronting Medical Colonialism against Indigenous Children in Canada (foreword by Cindy Blackstock, afterword by Katsi’tsakwas Ellen Gabriel) uses the #aHand2Hold campaign as a case study of contemporary medical colonialism in Quebec, and demonstrates that inequalities in health care follow fault lines of societal injustices.

The campaign confronted Évacuations aéromédicales du Québec (ÉVAQ), the provincially run medical evacuation airlift service, and its long-standing practice of separating Indigenous children from their families in northern Quebec. The book also contextualizes this now-defunct practice by exposing the Canadian medic …

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Love Stories: A People and Planet Affair

(We've got Arno Kopecky's The Environmentalist's Dilemma—which Publisher's Weekly calls “Timely and relevant... [offering] plenty to think about” —up for giveaway right now. Enter for your chance today!)

This is a short list of Canadian books that capture the drama of humanity’s relationship with Mother Earth.

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The Lesser Blessed, by Richard Van Camp.

A coming-of-age novel set in the rural aftermath of Canada’s residential school system may seem an odd choice to lead a list of environmental literature. But even if it doesn’t mention climate change, The Lesser Blessed always struck me as essential eco-reading. Hilarious, tragic, and ruthless, the novel thrusts you into the living legacy of colonialism, an intensely human story without which no understanding of ecological destruction (and resilience) is complete. I was blown away by Van Camp’s ability to turn such bleak material into a healing voyage—and a page-turner at that. This is one of very few books in my adult life that I read in a single sitting.

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Eavesdropping on Other Lives, Real and Imagined

Historical fiction and books of social history featuring the lives of not really “ordinary” people, recommended by Lesley Krueger, author of the new novel Time Squared

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Most of the books I write are set at least partly in the past, so my reading often takes me back—back into social history and into novels and poems written or set historically. It can be research, but since these are also the type of books I love, work becomes a pleasure. (I try not to think about the pleasure being partly work.)

As a writer, I’m preoccupied with why things happen. How did we get where we find ourselves? We all know the answer sometimes lies in the moment. Impulse. But of course we often act out of long-term beliefs, traumas or societal expectations, whether we’re fulfilling them or fighting them. These eight books by Canadian authors have taken me deep into the question of "Why?"

I also love the way they let me eavesdrop on other lives, real and imagined, since eavesdropping is surely part of reading, too.

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They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Tra …

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Islands: Perfect Settings for Stories

Islands offer wonderful settings for stories, real and imagined. They’re enisled, separate, away. They inspire intriguing metaphors. They attract interesting, some might say “quirky,” people. Surrounding waters present lulling beauty and hidden danger. And when things happen on islands, insularity stirs up complex social dynamics and demands local solutions. With islands on three coasts and scattered throughout rivers and lakes, it’s hardly surprising that these compelling literary devices have a powerful presence in Canadian fiction and creative non-fiction.

As a rule of thumb (grounded in observation, rather than any systematic analysis) the size of an island tends to shape the nature of the story. Large islands are settings for tales of distinctive communities, defined at least in part by their distance from urbanity. Lucy Maude Montgomery placed her stories of Anne of Green Gables on Prince Edward Island as it encapsulates a nurturing rural lifestyle preserved in a changing world by its sandy shorelines. As Anne says, “Look at that sea, …

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Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2021 Nonfiction Preview

Our 2021 Fall Preview continues (have you seen our Most Anticipated Fiction yet?) with nonfiction, and exciting new books about everything, including food, beauty, art, travel, singing, healing, grieving, shopping, aging, and so much more.

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In Return (September), Kamal Al-Solaylee interviews dozens of people who have chosen to or long to return to their homelands, from the Basques to the Irish to the Taiwanese, and makes a return of sorts himself, to the Middle East, visiting Israel and the West Bank as well as Egypt to meet up with his sisters. Gone Viking II (November) features a series of remarkable excursions occurring over before, during, and after the voyages recounted in Bill Arnott's previous memoir, Gone Viking: A Travel Saga. The original French-language edition of Made-Up (September) was a cult hit in Quebec. Translated by Alex Manley—like author Daphne B., a Montreal poet and essayist—the book's English-language text crackles with life, retaining the flair and verve of the original, and ensuring that a book on beauty is no less beautiful than its subject matter.

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On the Road Again: Literary Road Trips

Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that my first novel, The List of Last Chances, features a road trip across Canada. My childhood was filled with such travels—some out of necessity, as we moved from province to province—and some for low-cost holidays, exploring the country in a station wagon filled to the brim with tents, sleeping bags, and coolers full of egg-salad sandwiches. We traversed the country more than once with four kids, two adults, sometimes a dog – and had our share of breakdowns, ripped maps, roadside meltdowns and more.

Along the way we saw the beaches of PEI, the long empty prairies which are not really so empty at all, the heights of the Rocky Mountains, and the coastal inlets of BC. As an adult, I’m still fascinated by the possibilities that road trips present (and I take them, either solo or with my own children, as often as I can) and perpetually curious about the unique and diverse personalities of the different regions in Canada.

I’m not the only one: road trips and national identity have always been a popular theme for Canadian writers. Here’s a few titles, both fiction and nonfiction that go exploring: 

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