Off the Page

A blog on Canadian writing, reading, and everything in between

Latest Blog Posts
Book Cover In Praise of Retreat

Why We All Need Breathing Space

By Kirsteen MacLeod

"Retreat is an adventure, and it involves uncertainty. Whether we go to the quiet woods to rest or make art, walk a pilg …

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Book Cover What the Kite Saw

What the Kite Saw: Stories of Children and Crisis

By Anne Laurel Carter

"Children have their own unique ways of facing a crisis. Yes, they need protecting, but they are also resilient. They ha …

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Shelf Talkers: Spring 2021

Shelf Talkers: Spring 2021

By Robert J. Wiersema

One of the best pieces of news in an otherwise dark year was the word that, despite the growth of online giants during t …

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Book Cover The Shadow Life

My Drifter Reading List

By Jen Sookfong Lee

A poetry list by the author of new book The Shadow List.

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Book Cover Fuse

Persian-Canadian Writers You've Got to Read

By Hollay Ghadery

So, where were all the Persian Canadian writers? It turns out, here all along, but not as represented as one might hope; …

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Tough Like Mum: An Essential Picture Book for Kids *and* Adults

Tough Like Mum: An Essential Picture Book for Kids *and* Adults

By Geoffrey Ruggero

Picture books are often written with young children as their intended audience. In Tough Like Mum, Lana Button provides …

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Book Cover We Jane

Aimee Wall on The Great Canadian Abortion Novel

By Kerry Clare

"I didn’t want the plot to turn on an abortion or the decision to have one. Any conflict or tension is rooted elsewher …

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Book Cover Because the Sun

Poetry That's Going to Grab You

By 49thShelf Staff

Great books to read before for National Poetry Month is out.

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The Chat with Christopher DiRaddo

The Chat with Christopher DiRaddo

By Trevor Corkum

Christopher DiRaddo’s sophomore novel, The Family Way, is a dynamic and rich exploration of queer family, parenthood, …

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Book Cover No More Plastic

Fighting for the Planet: Inspiring Books for Earth Day

By Kerry Clare

An eclectic list of inspiring books about fighting to protect the planet.

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Places and Novels: Guest Post by Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens

I need to seed a book in a place. In my mind I plant the idea of the book in one very specific patch of ground and hope it will grow from there. Until I know where that patch of ground is, I'm lost and the story, the book, that I'm trying to write does not come into focus. I can’t grasp it. I have no traction on a story until I have a place.

In my novel The Law of Dreams, which is a story of the Irish Famine, I had to wrestle with the book for quite a while before I came across the place where it could be seeded. That was--guess where?--in Ireland, on a damp mountainside, in Co. Clare. A man who knew every inch of that ground as a naturalist, as a historian, and as an Irishman, was my guide that day. I’d been in Ireland many times before. I knew the country pretty well, and I wasn’t naïve about it. Ireland has always interested me as a real place, not a mystic wonderland. I feel connected there because I often see people who look like they could be my relatives; on the other hand being in Ireland always makes me very aware of being very Canadian, not Irish. So. We were tramping up and down that beautiful, quite barren piece of Connacht on a damp morning in November. I was fighting a flu which had nailed me the day after arriving in Dublin, from Los Angeles. …

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Montreal's Mile End Comes of Age

Book Cover The Mystics of Mile End

"Growing up, I often wished I lived in Mile End," writes Sigal Samuel of the iconic Montreal neighbourhood that provides the setting for her first novel, The Mystics of Mile End. But part of coming-of-age is also realizing that the places we mythologize have their own fictions of their own, and that there is no ideal setting in which to live the perfect life—except maybe Brooklyn.

Mythologized places are potent settings for literature, however. In this piece, Samuel writes about her own changing relationship with Mile End, which is itself in flux, and about how the neighbourhood is earning a place in the contemporary literary canon.  

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If you’ve spent time in Montreal (and even if you haven’t), you’ve probably heard about Mile End. This diverse neighborhood is home to hipsters and Hasidic Jews. It’s also a great litmus test for how you feel about different cultures—religious and secular, academic and artsy—at any given moment.

Growing up, I often wished I lived in Mile End. Instead I inhabited Cote-Saint-Luc, a suburb so insularly Jewish that we nicknamed it Cote-Saint-Jew. I wanted to be a Mile Ender because that place, with its cheap rent and charming cafés, had a reputation as an artist hub (Arcade Fire, anyone?). It was a mirror for myself as …

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Irena Karafilly's Displacement and Misplacement List

Irena Karafilly's new novel, The House on Selkirk Avenue, is a mesmerizing trip along the streets of Montreal and across decades of the experience of its protagonist, who has returned to the city of her youth. What happens when the places where we once belonged—and the people we once belonged to—don't belong to us anymore? The books in Karafilly's list for us, as her novel itself does, gesture towards answers to these questions. 

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Every now and then, a stranger asks me where I'm from and I'm never sure how to answer. I was born in the Russian Urals (neither Europe nor Asia), but crossed several borders while learning to walk, talk, read, and write. Most of my life has been spent in Canada, but, unlike many of my colleagues, I have no clear cultural or religious identity; no place I can claim as my spiritual home. It is not surprising, then, that narratives of loss and dislocation have always engaged my deepest sympathies. I am interested in the stories of characters displaced by life-altering events, but also in those who, for one reason or another, seem to have been "misplaced" by the vagaries of fate. Here are nine of my favourite Canadian books, listed in the approximate order in which they were read.

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The Edges of Identity

Fawn Parker—whose most recent publication is the novel Set-Point, which “takes us to the very edge of identity, virtual and lived,” according to poet Kateri Lanthier—recommends eight books dealing with issues of identity, sexuality, and mental health. 

Heroine, by Gail Scott 

A Montreal woman masturbates in her bathtub, musing on her involvement with the '70s leftist movement, a polyamorous romance with a man always just out of reach, and her own personal identity cast against other women, other artists. Gail Scott blends poetic prose, stream of consciousness and “new narrative” (term coined by Soup magazine) to bring the reader right into the room with her protagonist. The line blurs between tense, story, character, and body. 

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Sodom Road Exit, by Amber Dawn

Starla Mia Martin moves back home to what feels like a ghost town (C …

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Filling the Gaps, Minding the Gaps: the Unconventional (Mostly) Small Town Girls of CanLit

My latest poetry collection, Gaptoothed, is about my own bashful, lusty Wife of Bath smile. Yet it is also about gaps in identity, memory, history—flaws, holes, spaces and absences, that when looked at from a certain angle, become powerful instruments of poetic expression. The collection, released by Gaspereau Press this past spring, is also about gender, girlhood, and the unconventional and vulnerable girls who too often fall through the cracks—or gaps—in a system that was never built to help the likes of them. The collection is dedicated to my late grandmother; she was supposed to be one of forgotten, cast-aside girls, but her tremendous wit, her razor-sharp tongue, her vitality made her unforgettable. The book is about the beauty of the one-of-a-kind that tells you off for not noticing sooner.

The books listed below have filled in the gaps for me over the years on a literary landscape that so often seemed full of holes—that still seems to be short so many vibrant and vital stories and poems and voices.

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Monkey Beach, by Eden Robinson

This is …

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