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

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The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Lazer Lederhendler

The Chat with GG's Literature Award Winner Lazer Lederhendler

By Trevor Corkum

Next up in our special 2020 GG Awards coverage is our conversation with Lazer Lederhendler, who won his third Governor G …

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Book Cover Memoria

Books for Portuguese History & Heritage Month

By Fernanda Viveiros

A recommended reading list by editor of the new anthology Memória: An Anthology of Portuguese Canadian Writers.

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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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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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Mary Lawson: A Sense of Place

When my first book, Crow Lake, came out, one reviewer commented that the landscape was so central to the story that it was to all intents and purposes another character. That’s how it felt while I was writing it too. All of my novels—including my latest, A Town Called Solace—are set in Northern Ontario, and the landscape is absolutely fundamental to them.

I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing, or if people the world over are similarly drawn to the landscape they know well, but it seems to me that the wilder and more inhospitable the terrain, the more it gets its hooks into you. Similarly, when it comes to towns and cities, the more remote and restricting the place, the greater the effect it seems to have—at least, if you’re a writer.  

The books I have chosen below all have a powerful sense of place, either in terms of the landscape or of the community where they are set. In addition to that, they are all terrific reads!

 

I don’t know if it’s a Canadian thing, or if people the world over are similarly drawn to the landscape they know well, but it seems to me that the wilder and more inhospitable the terrain, the more it gets its hooks into you.

Mary Lawson

*****

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