Off the Page

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

Latest Blog Posts
Book Cover Salma the Syrian Chef

Notes from a Children’s Librarian: Satisfying Endings

By Julie Booker

How do you create a sense of satisfaction in a story’s finale? The following books pull it off!

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49thShelf Summer Reads

Introducing the 49th Shelf Summer Books List: Part 2

By Kerry Clare

Our summer reads extravaganza continues with PART 2 of our Summer Books List, and once again, each and every title is up …

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Inclusive Learning, Diverse Books: Introducing Top Grade 2021

Inclusive Learning, Diverse Books: Introducing Top Grade 2021

By Spencer Miller

Welcome to the Association for Canadian publisher’s Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video seri …

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Book Cover bread and water

Most Anticipated: Our Fall 2021 Nonfiction Preview

By 49thShelf Staff

New books about everything, including food, beauty, art, travel, singing, healing, grieving, shopping, aging, and so muc …

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Book Cover Unlocking

CanLit Yearning

By Amy LeBlanc

"At the heart of my novella and in each book on this CanLit list is a sense of desire or a yearning (for belonging, iden …

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The Chat with Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo

The Chat with Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo

By Trevor Corkum

This week we’re in conversation with political trailblazer Rev. Dr. Cheri DiNovo, whose memoir, The Queer Evangelist, …

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Book Cover The Prairie Chicken Dance Tour

Most Anticipated: Our 2021 Fall Fiction Preview

By 49th Shelf Staff

With new books by Miriam Toews, Dawn Dumont, Douglas Coupland, Marie-Renee Lavoie, Omar El Akkad, Zoe Whittall, Trudy Mo …

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Book Cover The Quiet is Loud

Speculative Fiction: Vast and Thrilling

By Samantha Garner

"As a reader and a lightly superstitious human, I can’t deny the pull of the unusual, the not-quite-real. I love books …

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Book Cover Travels in Cuba

Writing with Four Hands

By Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel

"That’s what the Travels series is all about: sending a resourceful, observant, unafraid (well, sometimes a little afr …

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The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Anne Carson

The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Anne Carson

By Trevor Corkum

“Norma Jeane Baker of Troy leverages a millennia-old story of beauty and war to animate a history of the male gaze and …

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That Trying Genre: Guest Post by Susan Olding

Susan Olding

Pity the essay—so undervalued that nobody recognizes it. We pass it by without a nod, or imagine we see it in a dozen other faces. “Ah, there you are! I’ve been looking for you! We must catch up,” we say, pumping a hand or slapping a rounded shoulder, all the while checking our watch in anticipation of our next appointment. Nobody wants to read the essay. Nobody wants to buy it. It’s so unpopular that in the 2012 Canada Reads—the first nonfiction edition ever—books of essays are explicitly ruled out.

But why? What makes the form so dismissible? Traditionally, the essay has been considered a minor genre, a species of “belles-lettres.” Pretty, perhaps—but useless. Lightweight. Like a lavender-scented lace handkerchief hidden in a great-aunt’s attic. At the same time, we associate it with those silly five paragraph stumps of thought that we were made to write in school. Not to mention the fact that when we hear its name we tend to imagine a tract or a sermon or a rant—all worthy literary forms in their own right, perhaps, but no more relation to the essay than a terrier is related to a cat.

Maybe that is the real, the deeper problem. Like a cat, the essay wants to go its own way. In an unstable world, we want to know what we’re getting, and …

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11 Essay Collections to Revisit Now

Susan Olding's latest book is the essay collection Big Reader.

If the pandemic has left you feeling too distracted and foggy to concentrate for long, buy or borrow a book of essays.

Short enough to finish in a sitting, inventive enough to spark your weary brain, intimate enough to dispel some Covid loneliness, an essay is the next best thing to an hour with a smart friend.

The bestselling novel of a decade ago will sometimes seem stale or irrelevant today, but that’s rarely true of an essay. Like your smart friend, the essay has staying power.

Here, then, are eleven stellar essay collections published in Canada over the past decade or so. Most are small press books you might have missed on their first release. Revisit them now—for their continuing relevance, for the comfort or provocation they’ll offer, for the laughter they’ll kindle, for the futures they’ll help us imagine as we slog our way through this third and —let’s hope—final wave of the pandemic. 

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Book Cover Reverberations

Reverberations, by Marion Agnew

Anyone who has lost a parent to a lingering illness …

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Quick Hits: Infernos, Outrage, Love, and Anything But

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.

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Pathologies, by Susan Olding

Genre: Personal Essays

Publisher: Freehand Books

What It's About

In 15 personal essays, debut author Susan Olding takes us on an unforgettable journey into the complex heart of being human. Each essay dissects an aspect of Olding's life experience—from her vexed relationship with her father to her tricky dealings with her female peers; from her work as a counsellor and teacher to her persistent desire, despite struggles with infertility, to have children of her own. In a suite of essays forming the emotional climax of the book, Olding bravely recounts the adoption of her daughter, Maia, from an orphanage in China, and tells us the story of Maia's difficult adaptation to the unfamiliar state of being loved.

Written with as much lyricism, detail, and artfulness as the best short stories, the essays in Pathologies provide all the pleasures of fiction combined with the enrichment derived from the careful presentation o …

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