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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What's YOUR Canadian bookshelf, Laura Penny?

Laura Penny

"What's YOUR Canadian bookshelf?" turns the spotlight on the shelf-lives of extraordinary ordinary Canadians. The feature begins with Laura Penny, author of Your Call is Important to Us and More Money Than Brains. Laura Penny has a PhD in Comparative Literature, a MA in Theory and Criticism, and a BA in Contemporary Studies and English. She has worked as a bookstore clerk, a student activist, a union organizer, a university instructor, and her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, Saturday Night, and Toronto Life. She lives in Halifax, where she teaches at Mount Saint Vincent University.

I read grossbuckets for both my jobs. My professor gig requires I read and re-read a lot of great stuff and then enjoy heaps of student interpretations thereof. Writing non-fiction requires I plough through piles of research and reports and news, horrible news. Even though my work sometimes makes me go glue-eyed, I still unwind from reading by reading. I dig celebrity junk food books: Keith Richards, Tina Fey and Jay-Z all showed me a good time, in that order. I also love short stuff. Happily, Canada has a number of exceedingly talented writers who are great at packing maximum punch into minimal pages. Since I don't want to be a blog hog—and frankly, lit …

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Intrepid Travellers: Canadian Women in the World

This month at 49thShelf, we're Writing the World, exploring travel guides and memoirs, and books with global issues and international themes. And this week in particular, in the run-up to International Women's Day, we're celebrating women's stories, beginning with this cross-genre list—memoir, fiction, and poetry—of Canadian women's travel tales.

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Book Cover Outside of Ordinary

Outside of Ordinary: Women's Travel Stories, edited by Lynn Cecil and Catherine Bancroft

Thirty-two Canadian women writers—including Alison Pick, Sharon Butala, and Lorna Crozier—tell their travel stories in this anthology of stories in which lives are challenged spiritually, physically, emotionally, and otherwise, as well as deeply enriched. Elaine K. Miller cycles across the Southern United States, Janet Greidanus climbs to Everest Base Camp, and Jane Eaton Hamilton, on vacation in Mexico with her partner, contemplates whether to join the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada. For it seems that travel doesn't just change one's view of the world, but it changes also how one sees one's own self, and also notions of home. 

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Pamela Mordecai: Novels of the Caribbean

Book Cover Red Jacket

The award-winning Pamela Mordecai's new novel is Red Jacket, which is about a girl growing up on the Caribbean island of St. Chris who never feels like she really belongs. Although her large, extended family is black, she is a redibo. Her skin is copper-coloured, her hair is red, and her eyes are grey. A neighbour taunts her, calling her “a little red jacket,” but the reason for the insult is never explained. Only much later does Grace learn the story of her birth mother and decipher the mystery surrounding her true identity. 

In keeping with our theme of "Writing the World" this month, Mordecai shares with us this fantastic list of novels of the Caribbean. 

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I had three criteria for this list of nine books: that the writers be Canadian-Caribbean women; that the setting be entirely or in large part, the Caribbean; and that the books be published in (roughly) the last 15 years. That I claim most of these women as friends is a huge privilege. Give thanks.

At the Full and Change of the Moon, by Dionne Brand

As my daughter says, this is an amazing bo …

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9 Great Memoirs by Women

Tiny Lights for Travellers, by Naomi K. Lewis, is a memoir that travels across the world and into family history to make sense of the here and now. Writer Lauren B. Davis calls the book "an irresistibly wise, poignant, and often funny memoir, a spiral dance through time and space exploring memory, desire, the roots of family, race, and religion; as well as what it means to belong in one’s own skin." 

In this reading list, Lewis recommends others memoirs that have inspired her as a writer and as a reader.  

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Between Gods, by Alison Pick

Between Gods was published to great and deserved acclaim just as I was beginning work on Tiny Lights for Travellers. I was both inspired and intimidated: Pick’s family history and ambivalent Jewish identity were so like and yet entirely unlike my own. Intimidation aside, I was so grateful for Pick’s voice and her story. Her memoir reminded me to strive for honesty in my own when I was tempted to shy away from the undignified truth. And it reminded me, tragically and poignantly, that my own experience of the mult …

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How Does a Woman Become a Writer?

I loved memoirs, autobiographies, and collections of letters as well as fiction I thought autobiographical. While my little boys were choosing the books they’d bring home from the library, I was seeking out what I myself wanted to read. I admired Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, and everything Margaret Drabble wrote.

I read and reread Drabble’s early novels—A Summer Bird-Cage, The Garrick Year, The Millstone—as though every word were not only true, but addressed to me personally. A talented and accomplished woman with a degree from Cambridge, Drabble knew all about the challenges of combining motherhood and a career. With three children to bring up, she had somehow managed to become a celebrated novelist. There was a husband, who was an actor, and I was not surprised when I learned they eventually divorced.

The writers who mattered to me were all older than I was—Margaret Drabble and Margaret Atwood are about ten years my senior—and the ones who mattered most—Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, and Mavis Gallant— were from my mother’s generation. They all had some- thing in common with me, as well, in their familiarity with corners of the world once controlled by the British, and in t …

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