Off the Page

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

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COVID–19 Teacher Diary: An Achievable, Accessible #ActivityOfTheDay

COVID–19 Teacher Diary: An Achievable, Accessible #ActivityOfTheDay

By Jennifer Byrne

The times we find ourselves in right now are uncertain and unprecedented.  But what always sticks with me is this saying …

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Book Cover Junebat

Launchpad: Junebat, by John Elizabeth Stinzi

By Kerry Clare

"To the poetics of the queer everyday Stintzi adds their ‘Junebat,’ a multitudinous concept of such explanatory powe …

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Book Cover Stay Where I can See You

Stay Where I Can See You: The List

By Katrina Onstad

"I had this idea for a book about a mother and daughter at that moment where they split apart..."

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Introducing the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Crisis Teacher Diary

Introducing the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Crisis Teacher Diary

By Allison Hall

Welcome to the 49th Teachers COVID–19 Teacher Diary, a new blog series that takes a look at how teachers are coping wi …

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Book Cover A Forest in the City

Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

By Andrea Curtis

When self isolation and physical distancing has got your family cooped up, the next best thing might just be reading pic …

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The Chat with Amanda Leduc

The Chat with Amanda Leduc

By Trevor Corkum

Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space (Coach House) is a brilliant and startling book of essays by Am …

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Book Cover Dead mom Walking

Five Queer Memoirs to Keep You Going

By Rachel Matlow

When you’re done watching Tiger King and taking a break from playing Animal Crossing, here are five queer memoirs to k …

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Earth Hour: Books & Activities to Spark Discussion and Environmental Action

Earth Hour: Books & Activities to Spark Discussion and Environmental Action

By Allison Hall

On Saturday March 28th millions of people around the globe will turn off their lights and spend an hour without the use …

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Book Cover Sputnik's Children

The Books I Want to Read Again

By Kerry Clare

Rereading is comfort, and indulgence. It's a voyage back to the familiar, but one that's still rich with discovery, and …

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Neon BOOKS sign

How Do We Read When Words Fail Us?

By Kerry Clare

On the value of books and reading in a dangerous time.

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Sneak Peek: Brian Francis Reads from Natural Order (Doubleday Canada)

Brian Francis (Photo credit: Paula Wilson)

June 9, 2010, four intrepid writers took to the stage at The Gladstone Hotel to participate in Literary Death Match, an international touring event created by Todd Zuniga. It's good fun and not nearly as cutthroat as it sounds, just four writers reading from new or published works, then judged onstage by a panel of peers, the winner decided by a random task such as a cupcake toss or dance-off. (And, somehow, it's one of the more literary gatherings you'll hope to attend.) I had the pleasure of judging last winter's Toronto event and produced and co-hosted June's. (Look for us again this November with a special Giller des Refuses edition!)

That night, a fresh-faced, pleasantly-groomed fellow approached me to ask if it was going to fly with the audience if he read a sad passage from his upcoming novel. It was Brian Francis and this is what you need to know. The same guy who will make you cry this fall when Natural Order publishes with Doubleday Canada is the same guy who wrote the hilarious 2009 Canada Reads contender, Fruit about a boy with talking nipples and the same guy who maintains one of the most earnest blogs I've encountered in a good, long time, Caker Cooking—"from casseroles to canned corn, this is the best of the worst of mangiacake cuisine."

But, reme …

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Books with Old Folks (by Brian Francis)

Brian Francis (Photo credit: Paula Wilson)

"I’ve never met a senior citizen I didn’t like. Cranky, kind, loud-mouthed, timid, I don’t really care. They’re always fascinating to me. In my new book, Natural Order, I’ve indulged my love of seniors with a host of elderly characters. Here are some other CanLit novels that also feature old folks."

BRIAN FRANCIS' first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist. He has worked as a freelance writer for a variety of magazines and newspapers. In 2000, Francis received the Writers' Union of Canada's Emerging Author Award. He lives in Toronto.

Exit Lines by Joan Barfoot

"Honest to God, we’re just old, we’re not morons.”

Barfoot’s 2008 novel was many things: funny, sad, honest and pointed. Set in a retirement lodge, Exit Lines centres around four residents who find an ability to bond with one another in surroundings that would challenge the best of us. In spite of that (or because of it), they discover the preciousness of their own lives.

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Unpacking "Quirky": A CanLit Round Table

Throughout March we've been celebrating the weird and wonderful side of CanLit, the one-of-a-kinders, the eccentrics and oddballs. And when you start thinking about these ideas, the word "quirky" comes up a lot, a word much enamoured by marketers and critics alike. But what does quirky really mean? What are its politics? Who gets to be quirky? What is quirky's hidden edge? 

With the aim of addressing this questions, we enlisted four Canadian writers whose work we love—and whose books have also been called quirky. And together, they go about unpacking the term. 

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49th Shelf: What does “quirky” mean to you? When critics or readers refer to a book as “quirky,” what are they trying to say?

Dawn Dumont: Quirky means a slender girl with short hair who wears distinctive eyeglasses and owns an umbrella that cost more than most people’s bikes. She also works at Starbucks and writes poetry about leaving said umbrella on trains. Basically Emma Stone.

In the writer world, quirky strikes me as a dismissive term like “cute” or “rabid.”  Still I’d rather read a book that was characterized as “quirky” rather than as a “definitive tome.”

Lenore Rowntree: To me "quirky" means something slightly offbeat, a little whimsical, sort of fun. A friend of mine …

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Great Characters in CanLit

Chances are, when you think about a book you loved, it's not the sublime descriptions of architecture that come to mind. More likely, it's the characters—fictional, but in terms of impact, not. Characters happen to us, we care about them, love them, cringe at their foibles, laugh at their antics, and cry at their defeats. We want things for them, and we often flip pages faster and faster as our investment in them deepens.

Today some avid readers—Steph VanderMeulen, Léonicka Valcius, Dee Hopkins, Jaclyn Qua-Hiansen, Vicki Ziegler, and me (Kiley Turner)—talk about the CanLit characters that have most affected us and stayed with us. We all wanted to name at least twenty more, and on Twitter over the next week we'll be asking you to name some of your favourites (please use #bestcharacters). We'll then create a nice big list, with your picks included.

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Steph VanderMuelen picks Patrick deWitt's barman and Trevor Cole's Jean Horemarsh

"Patrick deWitt’s Ablutions is chock-full of well-imagined, strange, and funny people, but the whiskey-loving barm …

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Quick Hits: Books of the Year and Books for Right Now

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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Sweet Jesus, by Christine Pountney

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart

What It's About

Set mainly on Vancouver Island, in Toronto, and in the American Midwest, Sweet Jesus tells the story of three siblings who, in the week before the 2012 US Presidential election, reunite and set off on a journey that will transform their lives.

Connie Foster, a mother of three young children, learns that her husband’s attempt to maintain their lifestyle has led them to financial ruin. Her sister, Hannah Crowe, a writer, desperately wants to have a child but the man she loves is determined not to. Zeus Ortega, their much younger adopted brother, who left the family home when he was only fifteen, is living in Chicago with his boyfriend and working as a therapeutic clown in a children’s hospital. Prompted by a heartbreaking loss, he quits his job and decides to search for his birth parents in New Mexico. Together, the three siblings head south and, …

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