Off the Page

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

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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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Book Cover Lost in the Backyard

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Catchy Beginnings

By Julie Booker

Great books with great starts.

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Books to Keep Young People Learning During Covid-19

Books to Keep Young People Learning During Covid-19

By Kiley Turner

There's never been a better time to highlight some great posts from our resident children's librarian, Julie Booker.

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Book Cover The Birth Yard

A Sense of Place: THE BIRTH YARD Book List

By Mallory Tater

"The Birth Yard embodies a sense of place that I, as a woman, have always felt inside."

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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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A Shoe in the Wall: Guest Post by Tristan Hughes

Tristan Hughes Sticks in Lake

Up here in northern Ontario the hunting season has arrived. The evidence is unmistakable: a sudden proliferation of bright orange clothing, and, in the streets and roads, people talking excitedly about ‘sign’. Stripped of its ‘s’ and turned into a collective noun, sign stands for any evidence of an animal’s presence--scat, footprints, rubbed bark, a snapped twig--and in scrutinizing it, the hunter attempts to apprehend a narrative in the landscape: a story that will tell him what an animal has been doing and so, of course, where it might be. Like any decent novelist, the hunter is trying his best to engineer encounters, to reveal something otherwise hidden, to bring disparate lives into a brief--and sometimes fatal--moment of convergence.

It all reminds me of that literary hunter and tracker par excellence: James Fenimore Cooper’s Natty Bumppo. In one of the novels in which he features--The Pioneers, I think--Natty comes upon a clearing in the forest, and surveying a nearby valley finds mingled there “scenes of nature, signs of men”. It’s a resonant and memorable phrase (one of my professors at university used it as the title for an excellent book) in which the ‘sign’ on show provides proof of human settlement and occupation, and hence the ba …

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Lana Pesch: Where in the World?

Book Cover Moving Parts

If recent recommended reading lists are any indication (see: Suzanne Alyssa Andrew on Messes and Meltdowns in the City; Danila Botha's Too Much on the Inside list), Canadian writers and readers have a real fascination for setting and place.

In this guest post, Lana Pesch, whose debut is the story collection, Moving Parts, explores that fascination and why places in fiction seem to matter as much as they do. 

*****

“Science tells us that we are creatures of accident clinging to a ball of mud hurtling aimlessly through space. This is not a notion to warm heart or rouse multitudes.” – Paul Ehrlich, in Human Natures

Yet here we are. Clinging and hurtling, telling our stories.

In grade school we were taught to write stories that had a beginning, middle, and end. We were given the basic elements of fiction: plot, character, theme, point of view, setting. Think about the last book you read. Where did it take place? Did it matter? Could the story have happened somewhere else? Would another setting have made it a different story? How did the setting shape the narrative?

Admittedly, the stories in my debut collection, Moving Parts, are character driven, but those characters exist somewhere. They are plunked in a situation (and a place) that requires action. And those plac …

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A Sense of Place: THE BIRTH YARD Book List

The Birth Yard embodies a sense of place that I, as a woman, have always felt inside. I tried to recreate that sense—the internal anxious pang of walking home alone at night with keys between my knuckles, or that feeling of fearfulness when I turned on the news and was told my body was not mine by white right-wing politicians, etc.—into an external reality, "the Den," a cult that controls women’s bodies, fertility, their social and intellectual lives.

In the book, The Den is a dark place, under the guise of pleasantries—isolation from the hustle and bustle of the mainstream world. Sable knows it like the back of her hand. During the writing process, I even drew out a map of her home and of Ceres, her designated Birth Yard, to envision how I could interact with a setting that doesn’t actually exist.

Each of the selected books on my reading list similarly captures a sense of place, and these are places that have touched me as a reader, from childhood to present time. I tried to list them in the order I remember reading them.

*

Anne of Green Gable …

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