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Stellar Story Collections

Two books from this round-up are up for giveaway on our site right now. Don't miss your chance to win!

*****

No Stars in the Sky, by Martha Bátiz

About the book: The nineteen stories in No Stars in the Sky feature strong but damaged female characters in crisis. Tormented by personal conflicts and oppressive regimes that treat the female body like a trophy of war, the women in No Stars in the Sky face life-altering circumstances that either shatter or make them stronger, albeit at a very high price. True to her Latin American roots, Bátiz shines a light on the crises that concern her most: the plight of migrant children along the Mexico–U.S. border, the tragedy of the disappeared in Mexico and Argentina, and the generalized racial and domestic violence that has turned life into a constant struggle for survival. With an unflinching hand, Bátiz explores the breadth of the human condition to expose silent tragedies too often ignored.

*

God Isn't Here Today, by Francine Cunningham

About the book: For fans of Chuck Palahniuk, Joyce Carol Oates, and Karen …

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The Stories that Shaped Me

Book Cover Beneath the Stairs

"Are you always on the lookout for a rich, mystery-riddled haunted house novel for grown-ups? Me too. Jennifer Fawcett's Beneath the Stairs is that book. A thrilling, thoughtful, character-driven crucible that reveals the ways childhood fear clings to us, shapes us, but can also show the one way out of our adult darkness." —Andrew Pyper, author of The Residence and The Demonologist

*****

As I was preparing this list, I went back to my parent’s house in Eastern Ontario and found myself digging through the old books in my childhood bedroom. The more I thought about what should be on it, the more I found myself returning to old favourites. I’ve always read widely, a habit I understand the value of now that I am also a writer. This list contains short and long fiction, poetry, a play, and several works that defy category. Each of these writers left an imprint on me because they helped expand my understanding of what stories could do.

*

Growing Up Ivy, by Peggy Dymond Leavey

Let me start with Peggy Dymond Leavey, or, as I refer to her, Aunt Peggy. I come …

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Magnificent Short Fiction

Book Cover Chasing Zebras

Award-winning author Wayne Grady writes, “As a geneticist, Margaret Nowaczyk has seen ‘the enduring misery of the human condition.' But as a writer, she has turned that misery into pure art. Chasing Zebras is a brilliant testimony to the healing power of words.”

You can enter to win a copy of Nowaczyk's memoir now!

And, unsurprisingly for someone who's crafted such a compelling narrative from her own life experiences, Margaret Nowaczyk is a reader with an eye for story. In the following fabulous reading list, she recommends some of her favourite short fiction collections.

*****

Ever since Ursula LeGuin’s “Mazes” broke my heart forty years ago, I have admired short story writers. There is nothing more devastating, more poignant than a short story that packs an emotional wallop in four pages. I love how it leaves me wanting more, how it leaves me thinking about it for days, weeks, some for years.

After years of writing and reading innumerable short stories, I am left with seven published stories and twice as many in various stage of undress. No collection to my name. Which is why I especially admire writers who not only write great short stories but who also produce complete and cohesive collections.

Here are a few that stoked my admiration by subject matt …

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Short Stories: Fearless and Tender

I read widely as I was constructing Music from a Strange Planet, many short story collections, but also essays and genre-crossing works. I wanted sentences like music, a voice speaking to me as if it were from a strange planet, lyricism when called for and concision as necessary. A writer with a scalpel, a writer with a microscope. Humour, humanity, intelligence, irreverence. These books, some treasures I revisited, some new, have many of these qualities.

*****

When We Were Birds, by Maria Mutch 

This short story collection wowed me with its originality, in terms of both the subject matter and the author’s writing style. Mutch is a truly captivating storyteller whose intense, dreamlike prose sweeps you into worlds where reality slips seamlessly into the absurd or magical, where a peregrine falcon transforms into a woman or a modern-day Bluebeard exhibits terrifying artistic proclivities. Vivid, sometimes touching and consistently unsettling. Recommended.

*

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Stories that Excavate the Underworld

Some books reveal layers. Dizzying layers about characters, and why they are reckless, why they fall in love, why they wear basketball shorts in the rain, or lay down in the pond with the koi fish. There is a layer of topsoil over a layer of subsoil, over sand, silt and clay all with its own colour and texture. I have an insatiable desire to know about who and why. In my book, The Crooked Thing, I keep going down to the underworld, excavating, trying to scoop up the dark into the light. For my list I have chosen writers and stories that build worlds that reveal character. Who they are and what they want.

*

The Love of a Good Woman, by Alice Munro 

Nobody does it better to my mind than Alice Munro. She makes it look so easy. “The Love of a Good Woman,” would become the title story of her story collection that would go on to win the Giller Prize and National Book Critics Circle Prize. The story is one of Munro’s most famous works, one written about endlessly, because it is so masterful. With her literary lens focused on small towns and seemingly "or …

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Launchpad: Hunger Moon, by Traci Skuce

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, great insight, and short and snappy readings 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 Hunger Moon, by Traci Skuce, of which Julie Paul writes, "Read these stories and be transported back to the age before internet, to tree planting camps and lakeside holidays, to relentless heat and longing in both near and distant corners of the world, as characters wrestle with transitions and loss and come to a deeper understanding of what it is to be human."

*****

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

A collection of 13 short stories th …

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Launchpad: The Swan Suit, by Katherine Fawcett

Logo Launchpad

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 Swan Suit, Katherine Fawcett's follow-up to Little Washer of Sorrows, which was shortlisted for the ReLit Short Fiction Award and for a Sunburst Award for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic.

Lisa Moore declares this latest collection "Wicked and charming by turns...nothing short of magical.”

*****

Book Cover The Swan Suit

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

The Swan Suit is a collection of twisted, layered tales that examine what it's like to inhabit a body that betrays …

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The Short Story Has No Limits

The books on this list serve to demonstrate that the short story has no limits, that it can take its readers anywhere and everywhere, and that reducing the form to any single definition is as foolish as it is futile. With short fiction, there's a story (or a book of them!) for every kind of reader, and you're sure to find something that hooks you right here. 

*****

Use Your Imagination!, by Kris Bertin

About the book: A woman becomes obsessed with a story about her family from 1890—when a naked, mute girl stumbled onto their property—and whether or not it really happened. A self-help guru and his chief strategist take their most affluent and unstable clients on a harrowing nature hike that destroys their company. A young convict in a prison creative writing class chronicles the rise and fall of his cellblock's resident peacemaker. A rural neighbourhood becomes obsessed by the coming of a strange and powerful new homeowner who is in the middle of reinventing herself.

The stories of Use Your Imagination! are about stories, about the way we define and give shape to ourselves through all kinds of narratives, true or not. In seven long stories, Kris Bertin examines the complex labyrinth of lies, delusions, compromise, and fabrication that makes up our personal history …

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Jess Taylor on CanLit Names (or "Not a Comprehensive List of CanLit Pauls")

Book Cover Pauls

Everybody knows a Paul, or has been a Paul, and maybe even loved a Paul or two. In Jess Taylor's short fiction collection, Pauls, Paul, who is not always the same Paul, but could very well be a similar Paul, another Paul in a long line of Pauls, runs through forests, drinks in student housing, flirts with girls, at times is a girl, loves men, makes friends, jumps from buildings, hurts people, gets hurt, climbs up towards the sky, waits for a sunrise, and all those human things.

Heather O'Neill calls the collection "a magical and penetrating collection of strange, mundane, traumatized and ecstatic people who are all named Paul. Its simple sentences are little atoms of wonder."

And in this guest post, Taylor riffs on what's in a CanLit name. 

*****

Originally while writing this list, I set out to write a Comprehensive List of CanLit Pauls. This should have been simple and I thought it would be until I realized that I’m someone with a mind where names slip in and out never to be recalled again. My method of research was to hit my bookshelf and comb through my favourite Canadian books, looking for Pauls. Instead I found several naming trends, which I’ve defined here.  Of course there are more (don’t get me started on all the Daniels both as writers and as characte …

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Canadian Short Stories: The New Generation

A few years ago, we made a legendary list called "The New Generation of Canadian Poets" celebrating poets who'd published their first collection since 2000. This month, which is our Short Story Month, we're doing the same thing for short fiction, bringing together writers who are heirs-apparent to Munro and Gallant, but doing the whole thing 21st-century-style. 

What you'll find below is just a start. We want your suggestions: what are your favourite collections by writers known primarily for their short fiction who've published their first books this century? Tweet us your answers at @49thShelf or leave them in the comments below. The full list will be tabulated with your suggestions here

*****

Mad Hope, by Heather Birrell

If there is such thing as a CanLit cult classic, Birrell's Mad Hope is it, a book with a fervent following, and a reference point for readers in the know: "Mad Hope." "Oh, yeah."

The stuff of this book is the stuff of the world, the whole world, from Ceaușescu's Romania to online pregnancy forums. Birrell deftly makes connections to illuminate the ordinary as extraordinary—and the disturbing as present among us all. It's an absolutely stunning collection.

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10 Short Story Collections You Should Be Reading This Spring

We're celebrating short stories this month at 49th Shelf, but the celebrations are going to stretch on through the spring with the release of these much-anticipated collections by both emerging and established writers. 

*****

Swing In the House and Other Stories, by Anita Anand (April)

About the book: Swing in the House and Other Stories paints an utterly contemporary portrait of Canadian families in their most private moments. Anand pulls back the curtains to reveal the unspoken complexities within the modern home, from sibling rivalries to fracturing marriages, casual racisms to damaged egos, hidden homosexuality to mental illness. Each of these stories offers a deftly-constructed morality play. In the novella-length title story, a young mother timidly explores the possibilities of an affair to alleviate the suffocations of a loveless marriage, to detrimental effect. In "Indelible Markers," a girl vacationing in Greece learns that growing up with a schizophrenic father has affected her relationship with men. In "Something Steady," a lonely, mentally challenged teen vents his anger on a co-worker's boyfriend. Throughout, Anand's incisive intelligence, sharp prose, and sly wit breathe dark undercurrents into these seventeen cautionary tales.

Why we're taking notice:

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Art Critic and Writer David Balzer believes everything needs to be made just a little bit strange.

Contrivances, by David Balzer. (Cover art: Janet Werner)

Art critic David Balzer is the author of Contrivances, a debut short story collection available through ECW's digital imprint Joyland.

The collection features a talk-show host and her talking hand, a women’s activity group that writes to prisoners, and a poncho-making nudist. The stories take inspiration from Old Hollywood, Gothic novels, art-world gossip, and "maybe a Lifetime movie or two."

Read an excerpt here.

I met last week with Balzer (@davidkbalzer) in the basement of Type Books to record a podcast I truly hope you enjoy. Balzer is an informed and eloquent speaker with a strong opinion on the nature and function of prose. He's also quite forthcoming about where he sees his place within contemporary fiction, as well as how and why he chose to write the entire collection from the perspective of women.

In this podcast (duration: 20:15), we discuss :

  • how Balzer's career as an art critic informs his prose—"You're hoping for something to be good and looking for why it means something and how it works."
  • how our culture reads acts of analysis as "acts of destruction and dissection rather than acts of curiosity and often enthusiasm and optimism."
  • the distinction between camp and melodrama—"Everything needs to be made just a little bit strange."
  • how writing …

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