Off the Page

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

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Book Cover Small Courage

Small Courage: Parenting Memoirs

By Jane Byers

A recommended reading list by Jane Byers, whose new queer parenting memoir is out now.

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The Chat with Kimiko Tobimatsu

The Chat with Kimiko Tobimatsu

By Trevor Corkum

Author Kimiko Tobimatsu and illustrator Keet Geniza have teamed up to create Kimiko Does Cancer, a timely graphic memoir …

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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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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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A Shelf of Small Press Books: a list by Theresa Kishkan

Given the economics of contemporary publishing, it strikes me as something of a miracle that so many small presses continue to publish such interesting and beautiful books. Often they are books that would not be picked up by the larger houses yet they find loyal readers and contribute significantly to literary culture. Sometimes it’s hard to find them. Most small presses can’t afford full-page ads in the nation’s newspapers or publicists. But word travels by mouth, by the passing of these volumes from one hand to another. They’re worth the search.

Dragonflies, by Grant Buday: This brief novel is an account of the period during the Trojan War when Agamemnon asks the crafty Odysseus to come up with something ingenious to bring the bloody conflict to a conclusion. The reader is taken into the heat and sweat of the Greek camp outside the gates of Troy, and into the claustrophobic interior of that iconic horse as the warriors wait for their moment. Superbly written and designed.

The Nettle Spinner

The Nettle Spinner, by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer: An elegant weaving of fai …

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"Love Song," by Theresa Kishkan

Book Cover the Summer Book

Theresa Kishkan weaves a gorgeous narrative out of light and time in her beautiful essay, "Love Story," which opens the newly-released non-fiction collection The Summer Book, edited by Mona Fertig. Reviewer Howard Stewart calls the The Summer Book "a masterpiece collection of finely crafted and evocative reminders of why summer is such a special season"; read this essay for a taste of just how right he is. 

*****

On an early summer morning, I wake to the sound of Swainson’s thrushes. Beyond my bedroom window, beyond the house, they sing where the woods begin. And there are robins, vireos, the long whistle of a varied thrush. My curtains are rough white linen, and they filter light, the light at dawn, coming from the east, pink and golden as the sun finds its way over Mount Hallowell. My husband sleeps closest to the window, and he pulls the curtains aside to let in more song. There is honeysuckle blooming, and dog roses, trumpet vines. Hummingbirds bury themselves in the flowers. The pink throats of the tree frogs inflate, a loud vibrato close enough to touch. A face peers in the window through the lattice of vines, and it’s a weasel, as surprised to see me in a bed with pillows and a log-cabin quilt as I am to see a weasel among the dog roses. That’s what I …

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