Off the Page

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

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Book Cover the Queer Evangelist

On Telling the Truth in Politics

By Cheri Divnovo

An excerpt from new memoir The Queer Evangelist, Cheri DiNovo's story of her life as a queer minister, politician and st …

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 The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winners The Fan Brothers

The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winners The Fan Brothers

By Trevor Corkum

We continue our special coverage of this year’s Governor General's Literature Award winners in conversation with the a …

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Book Cover Oy Feh So

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books on Jewish Heritage

By Julie Booker

Compelling stories showcasing Jewish Heritage to be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

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The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Madhur Anand

The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Madhur Anand

By Trevor Corkum

Check out our conversation with Madhur Anand, whose brilliant experimental memoir This Red Line Goes Straight to Your He …

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Me and Bridget Jones (20 Years Later)

Me and Bridget Jones (20 Years Later)

By Erika Thorkelson

Erika Thorkelson's "Me and Bridget Jones (20 Years Later)" is one of the essays in Midlife, a new essay collection explo …

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The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Michelle Good

The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Michelle Good

By Trevor Corkum

Today we are pleased to kick off our special coverage of the 2020 Governor General's Award winners (English-language) wi …

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Book Cover Cattail Skyline

The World Up Close

By Joanne Epp

A recommended reading list by author of new book CATTAIL SKYLINE on paying close attention to the small and particular.

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Book Cover What's In It For Me

The Keepers on My Bookshelf

By LS Stone

Depth and humour are themes in this great recommended reading list by the author of the new middle grade novel What's in …

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Book Cover the Girl from Dream City

How Does a Woman Become a Writer?

By Linda Leith

"The writers who interest me most, always, are women who write about themselves in ways that a male writer never could." …

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Book Cover Big Reader

11 Essay Collections to Revisit Now

By Susan Olding

"The bestselling novel of a decade ago will sometimes seem stale or irrelevant today, but that’s rarely true of an ess …

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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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We All Come From Somewhere: On Canadian Immigrant Women's Stories

This month our focus is on books about global experiences, and the new anthology, Wherever I Find Myself: Stories by Canadian Immigrant Women, fits the bill perfectly. Editor Miriam Matejova has put together a diverse collection of stories that form a mosaic of emotions and worldviews that underline the immigrant condition for women. In this excerpt, from the book's introduction, she tells the story of her own coming to Canada, and explains where the impulse to create the anthology came from. 

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As I sit down to write an introduction to this anthology, immigrants from selected countries are being denied entry into the United States. Anti-immigrant attitudes are on the rise in Europe. In the Western world, the far right is clashing with the far left, with immigrants often caught in the middle. Hateful rhetoric and acts of vandalism are aimed at people who are perceived as outsiders, as not belonging, as threatening.

I am an immigrant. I came from Slovakia as an eighteen-year old, wishing to study at a Canadian university. Back then I was an outsider. I did not belong. But far from threatening, I was lonely, clueless and utterly terrified.

At first I lived with my estranged father, a man whom I knew mostly from flashes of childhood memories and stories my grandmoth …

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Elizabeth Renzetti on SHREWED

Shrewed is the book we've all been waiting for, a brilliant collection of essays about the lives of girls and women that is as hilarious and heart-wrenching as it is heart-warming, a book that will make you first want to call your mother, and then go out and organize a feminist parade down the middle of your street. Elizabeth Renzetti is best known for her much-loved columns in the Globe and Mail, and she's also author of the bestselling novel Based on a True Story. Here, she talks to 49th Shelf about humour, swearing, and the pleasures of reading.

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49th Shelf: You write about the genesis of your book, how the idea for an essay collection came about in the aftermath of the 2016 American election. How is the finished product different from your initial vision for the collection? What parts about the process surprised you?

Elizabeth Renzetti: I hope it’s funnier than I thought it would be! Those were dark days at the end of 2016. A poisonously misogynistic man had been elected to the most powerful position in the world, over a woman who had vastly more experience and intellectual ability, but who didn’t smile enough, apparently. Or possibly she smiled too much—I’ve lost track. As I wrote the essays, I realized that making myself laugh also lifted my spiri …

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Emily Anglin: "I like compartments in my writing"

"Reading Emily Anglin's The Third Person is like watching the opening sequence of Hitchcock's Rear Window," writes Johanna Skibsrud. "As a character in one of the stories tells us, everyone has 'public, private and secret lives.' Anglin gives us access to all of these lives—offering a unique perspective that combines both the intimacy of the first person and the sweeping distance of the third."

Here Anglin offers up titles that provided structural inspiration. 

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I like compartments in my writing, whether thematic or formal. For that reason, I love the gothic mode in fiction, with its foregrounding of place and space as a way of telling separate, interconnected stories at the same time, and I also love the essay form, especially when it’s combined with other modes of writing to create layers and compartments of form, meaning, and feeling. 

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Mad Shadows, by Marie-Claire Blais (trans. Lawrence Merloyd) 

The seminal Canadian gothic novel plunges deep below painted surfaces even as its images and voices float like watercolours. The interplay between …

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Anne T. Donahue Doesn't Think of You At All

Nobody Cares is Anne T. Donahue's first book, a collection of essays about growing up, getting it together, and reconciling what it means to be a work in progress. 

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49th Shelf: In your book you espouse some pretty controversial views—you hate cheese AND show a disregard for Muriel's Wedding. Do you worry at all about alienating cheese-loving Toni Collette fans?

Muriel's Wedding Poster

Anne T. Donahue: Absolutely not. First, because I have every line spoken by Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense memorized and aspire to be more like that character on a daily basis, so I recognize her as both a Queen and God. Second, because my hatred of cheese is no secret. I've tweeted about it, mentioned it on podcasts, and ordered cheese-less pizza for years. As a result, the dairy lobby's been after me for years. And while that is an absolute lie, I'm ready for when they finally declare me their enemy.

49th Shelf: At the moment, the market is saturated with self-help books pushing women to be "more" and "better." You take a different approach, and write about owning your failures, and ev …

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