Off the Page

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

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Book Cover Best Canadian Poetry 2020

A Record of Literary History: Best Canadian Poetry 2020

By Marilyn Dumont

An excerpt from Marilyn Dumont's introduction to BEST CANADIAN POETRY 2020.

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Book Cover Book of Donair

The Donair: Canada's Official Food?

By Lindsay Wickstrom

Excerpt from BOOK OF DONAIR explores how a bitter rivalry between Halifax and Edmonton helped propel the donair to be de …

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Book Cover My Ocean is Blue

Notes From a Children's Librarian: Questions, Questions

By Julie Booker

Great picture books that engage with questions and encourage readers to think about answers.

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Book Cover Gutter Child

Most Anticipated: Our 2021 Spring Fiction Preview

By 49thShelf Staff

Exciting debuts, and new releases by Christy Ann Conlin, Pasha Malla, Eva Stachniak, Jael Richardson, and more.

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Book Cover Better Luck Next Time

Patriarchy Lies: Women Are Funny

By Kate Hilton

A funny woman reading list by the author of new novel Better Luck Next Time.

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 The Chat with Eve Lazarus

The Chat with Eve Lazarus

By Trevor Corkum

Eve Lazarus has drawn back the curtain on some of Vancouver’s secret places. Vancouver Exposed: Searching for the City …

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Canadian Books of the Year: Chosen by Educators and Librarians

Canadian Books of the Year: Chosen by Educators and Librarians

By 49th Teachers

We asked educators and librarians to share their favourite Canadian books of 2020.

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Photo of two books tucked into a  knitted cozy against a backdrop of a minimalist tree bedecked with white lights.

Happy Holidays!

By Kerry Clare

This year, books were the one thing we could count on.

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The Chat with David Bateman

The Chat with David Bateman

By Trevor Corkum

Acclaimed writer David Bateman has just released his fabulous debut novel, DR SAD (University of Calgary Press). It foll …

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Christmas Tree Ornament of a Pile of Books

Have you Entered Our Books of the Year Giveaway Yet?

By Kerry Clare

All the titles on our 2020 Fiction: Books of the Year list are up for giveaway! Don't miss your chance to win.

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There is Life Among the Cubicle Dwellers: Guest Post by Rebecca Rosenblum

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Rebecca Rosenblum is author of Once, which won the Metcalf-Rooke Award and was one of Quill and Quire’s 15 Books That Mattered in 2008. Her second collection, The Big Dream, is forthcoming from Biblioasis in September 2011.

My book, The Big Dream, is about people who work…among other things. I’m interested in putting work in its proper place as a big part of the lives of many of the characters I write about. I have read too many novels and stories where the main character is a freelance something or other, and never does any work at all, or where the narrative cuts from 8:30 am to 6pm as if the characters had just been asleep in a closet during that period.

However, I wasn’t interested in writing a book where all the characters live their lives mainly at the office. There are certainly people whose main emotional life is on the job, and actually I enjoy writing about them. But I also enjoy writing about people who have jobs and parents and children and lovers and ex-lovers and problems and angst and great senses of humour. I think work is very closely woven into the fabric of our lives, and that our lives are generally more complex than genre designations like “office novels,” “domestic fiction,” “romance,” etc. Though my writing is not autobiog …

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Art Critic and Writer David Balzer believes everything needs to be made just a little bit strange.

Contrivances, by David Balzer. (Cover art: Janet Werner)

Art critic David Balzer is the author of Contrivances, a debut short story collection available through ECW's digital imprint Joyland.

The collection features a talk-show host and her talking hand, a women’s activity group that writes to prisoners, and a poncho-making nudist. The stories take inspiration from Old Hollywood, Gothic novels, art-world gossip, and "maybe a Lifetime movie or two."

Read an excerpt here.

I met last week with Balzer (@davidkbalzer) in the basement of Type Books to record a podcast I truly hope you enjoy. Balzer is an informed and eloquent speaker with a strong opinion on the nature and function of prose. He's also quite forthcoming about where he sees his place within contemporary fiction, as well as how and why he chose to write the entire collection from the perspective of women.

In this podcast (duration: 20:15), we discuss :

  • how Balzer's career as an art critic informs his prose—"You're hoping for something to be good and looking for why it means something and how it works."
  • how our culture reads acts of analysis as "acts of destruction and dissection rather than acts of curiosity and often enthusiasm and optimism."
  • the distinction between camp and melodrama—"Everything needs to be made just a little bit strange."
  • how writing …
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10 Short Story Collections You Should Be Reading This Spring

We're celebrating short stories this month at 49th Shelf, but the celebrations are going to stretch on through the spring with the release of these much-anticipated collections by both emerging and established writers. 

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Swing In the House and Other Stories, by Anita Anand (April)

About the book: Swing in the House and Other Stories paints an utterly contemporary portrait of Canadian families in their most private moments. Anand pulls back the curtains to reveal the unspoken complexities within the modern home, from sibling rivalries to fracturing marriages, casual racisms to damaged egos, hidden homosexuality to mental illness. Each of these stories offers a deftly-constructed morality play. In the novella-length title story, a young mother timidly explores the possibilities of an affair to alleviate the suffocations of a loveless marriage, to detrimental effect. In "Indelible Markers," a girl vacationing in Greece learns that growing up with a schizophrenic father has affected her relationship with men. In "Something Steady," a lonely, mentally challenged teen vents his anger on a co-worker's boyfriend. Throughout, Anand's incisive intelligence, sharp prose, and sly wit breathe dark undercurrents into these seventeen cautionary tales.

Why we're taking notice:

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Canadian Short Stories: The New Generation

A few years ago, we made a legendary list called "The New Generation of Canadian Poets" celebrating poets who'd published their first collection since 2000. This month, which is our Short Story Month, we're doing the same thing for short fiction, bringing together writers who are heirs-apparent to Munro and Gallant, but doing the whole thing 21st-century-style. 

What you'll find below is just a start. We want your suggestions: what are your favourite collections by writers known primarily for their short fiction who've published their first books this century? Tweet us your answers at @49thShelf or leave them in the comments below. The full list will be tabulated with your suggestions here

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Mad Hope, by Heather Birrell

If there is such thing as a CanLit cult classic, Birrell's Mad Hope is it, a book with a fervent following, and a reference point for readers in the know: "Mad Hope." "Oh, yeah."

The stuff of this book is the stuff of the world, the whole world, from Ceaușescu's Romania to online pregnancy forums. Birrell deftly makes connections to illuminate the ordinary as extraordinary—and the disturbing as present among us all. It's an absolutely stunning collection.

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Jess Taylor on CanLit Names (or "Not a Comprehensive List of CanLit Pauls")

Book Cover Pauls

Everybody knows a Paul, or has been a Paul, and maybe even loved a Paul or two. In Jess Taylor's short fiction collection, Pauls, Paul, who is not always the same Paul, but could very well be a similar Paul, another Paul in a long line of Pauls, runs through forests, drinks in student housing, flirts with girls, at times is a girl, loves men, makes friends, jumps from buildings, hurts people, gets hurt, climbs up towards the sky, waits for a sunrise, and all those human things.

Heather O'Neill calls the collection "a magical and penetrating collection of strange, mundane, traumatized and ecstatic people who are all named Paul. Its simple sentences are little atoms of wonder."

And in this guest post, Taylor riffs on what's in a CanLit name. 

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Originally while writing this list, I set out to write a Comprehensive List of CanLit Pauls. This should have been simple and I thought it would be until I realized that I’m someone with a mind where names slip in and out never to be recalled again. My method of research was to hit my bookshelf and comb through my favourite Canadian books, looking for Pauls. Instead I found several naming trends, which I’ve defined here.  Of course there are more (don’t get me started on all the Daniels both as writers and as characte …

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