Off the Page

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

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Book Cover Bird Bent Grass

Memoirists' Roundtable

By [Kerry Clare]

Seven authors on the challenges and pleasures of turning real life into story. 

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Book Cover Radiant Shimmering Light

Sarah Selecky: Permission to Write Beyond

By [Kerry Clare]

"...a writer perfectly attuned to the music of the present moment.”

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Book Cover Mary Anning's Curiosity

Notes from a Children's Librarian: Rocks and Minerals

By [Kerry Clare]

Nonfiction, picture books, and novels that support the Grade 4 curriculum. 

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Shelf Talkers: Slap On the Sunscreen and Dive Into a Book

Shelf Talkers: Slap On the Sunscreen and Dive Into a Book

By [Rob Wiersema]

Slather up with sunscreen (don’t miss the back of your neck—if you’re bent over a book, you will burn there, and i …

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Book Cover the Whole Beautiful World

From Here to There: Melissa Kuipers, Sue Bedford, and Shekhar Paleja

By [Kerry Clare]

A conversation about home and travel, genre—and almost getting killed by a stingray. 

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Book Cover Paper Teeth

On Our Radar

By [Kerry Clare]

Books with buzz worth sharing. 

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The Chat With Chelene Knight

The Chat With Chelene Knight

By [Trevor Corkum]

Chelene Knight’s debut memoir Dear Current Occupant (Bookt*ug) takes a closer look at childhood trauma and the uncerta …

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Book Cover The Very Marrow

Christine Higdon: Books That Take You on a Journey

By [Kerry Clare]

The author of The Very Marrow Of Our Bones offers a spectacular list of recommended reads. 

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Book Cover Cut You Down

Crime Novels: Noir by Northwest

By [Kerry Clare]

Sam Wiebe (whose most recent novel is Cut You Down) recommends eight other crime novels set in the Pacific Northwest. 

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Book Cover The Amateurs

Liz Harmer: Books That Ask the Big Questions

By [Kerry Clare]

"A few speculative works, a few dystopias, an interest in the nature of God and of the human, and, especially, most of t …

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Raiders of the Lost Story: Alex Boyd on the Return of Ongoing Narrative.


I read only literature, but often turn to something closer to complete escapism for my film and television: Sci-Fi, mysteries, and lately I’ve discovered film serials. Aimed at children and youth, and told in chapters that preceded a feature film, they ran from the silent era to the 1950s, when TV episodes made them obsolete. 

The acting is very nearly always stilted, the pace frequently a little slow, and the special effects clunky, but it can be fun to watch something that isn’t quite as absurdly polished as modern action films, and they have other, interesting qualities. They’re often ongoing stories, told in 12 or 13 chapters, with cliffhangers (literal ones) at the end of each chapter to keep viewers engaged.

When television replaced serials, it was to spend decades producing interchangeable episodes that would eventually be ready for syndication five days a week in any particular order. Only recently, with people carrying home videos to watch (and presumably always able to see something from the beginning) has television returned to stories with a beginning, middle and end. And let’s face it, it’s much more satisfying. I wonder if it has anything to do with film serials having been produced in a more literate era, before television eroded reading skills, and to a certain extent our interest in evolving characters. If that’s fair to say, it bodes well that many people now seem to really prefer ongoing narratives again. I know The Simpsons is still going after …

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Why Magic? Guest Post by Buffy Cram

Book Cover Radio Belly

“…There must be possible a fiction which, leaving sociology and case histories to the scientists, can arrive at the truth about the human condition, here and now, with all the bright magic of the fairy tale.” -- Ralph Ellison in his 1953 acceptance speech for the National Book Award for Invisible Man.

When it comes to my writing, the one question I get asked more than any other is “Why magic?” The questioner has usually just finished declaring me a magic realist or a fabulist or just plain kooky and they want to know why, in such difficult times, I have chosen to write about a father and daughter transforming the Pacific Garbage Patch into the last continent after Global Warming, or a teenage girl who wakes up with a Russian radio transmitting from her belly, or a woman who watches her boyfriend disappear into thin air.

There is an undertone to the question that suggests magic is frivolous, that reality is more serious and therefore more useful to people—after all, nobody ever asks the realist writers “Why reality?” But there is another shade to the question that I’ve only recently been able to detect and only because I’ve spent the last decade living and writing in other corners of the world. There seems to be a belief, both here and abroad, that …

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Christopher Heard on the magic of luxury hotels and the stories told behind closed doors.

Christopher Heard, author of The Suite Life (Dundurn Press).

Christopher Heard, author of The Suite Life (Dundurn Press).

Christopher Heard has published biographies of Kiefer Sutherland, Britney Spears, and Johnny Depp, among others, during more than a dozen years as a TV interviewer and film reviewer for the shows Gilmour on the Arts and Reel to Real. Heard currently co-hosts the radio travel show Planes, Trains and Automobiles and contributes weekly pop culture commentary to Bynon's Toronto Weekend. He lives in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter at @AuthorCHeard.

I studied film and television in university, then production in college, before returning again to college to complete a post graduate certificate in Creative Book Publishing. I like stories, more so the storied people who tell them. So it was a personal thrill to interview Christopher Heard — biographer, reviewer, interviewer — about his latest book The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living (Dundurn Press), which is chock full of  personal and celebrity anecdotes about the endearing appeal of hotel life.

Julie Wilson: "With each new hotel experience I lived and each new hotel story I was told, another fibre was added to the fabric of my desire and dream to live in a hotel." 

You've con …

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Excerpts from Billeh Nickerson's Impact: The Titanic Poems

Excerpts for 49th Shelf from Impact: The Titanic Poems by Billeh Nickerson.  Published by Arsenal Pulp Press (2012).




One passenger believed it was her husband,

the ship’s jolt just another expression of their love.

Others thought it was an earthquake

or a mishap in the galley—

a runaway trolley, a stack of fallen dishes.

The baker wasn’t sure what happened

though he hoped his loaves would not fall.


While airtight after airtight compartment filled,

a second-class passenger ordered his drink

with chunks from the berg.

A small child sucked pieces of ice

as if they were candies,

and her brothers scraped up snowballs,

their mother worried only

they could lose an eye.




Unlike his musician compatriots

whose instruments could be carried on deck


the ship’s piano player could only watch

as his band mates played on.


At first he just swayed to the music

then tapped his feet and hummed


but he couldn’t withstand

the ache to play along


even without a sound

his hands slipping from gloves,


his cold fingers

tickling the air, ghost-style.




By chance the Carpathia’s wireless operator

kept his headphones on

while undressing before bed


and in what should have been the last moments

of his long shift, he overheard messages

destined for the great ship.


Come at once.

We have struck an ice berg.

It’s C.Q.D., Old Man.


When her Captain learned of the disaster,

he ordered heating and hot water turned off

to conserve as much steam as possible,


so that her passengers,

scheduled for sunny G …

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6 New Canadian books about the Titanic

While images of Leonardo di Caprio decorating its bow have at times threatened to overwhelm the story of the Titanic, that unsinkable ship that sank remains an object of fascination. In the century since the disaster, its story has been told countless times in books and films and even campfire songs, and now we can add to that a whole slew of new Canadian books that have just been published to mark the Titanic’s centenary this week.


Impact: The Titanic Poems by Billeh Nickerson: Perhaps poetry is what the Titanic required for the legend to be rid of its cinematic grandiosity. Nickerson has written his poems with an eye for detail, the ship itself already a ghost from the book’s start to its finish, but every single one of its rivets (and the men who built them) are rendered in remarkable specificity. So too are the passengers, crew and other details Nickerson brings back to life—the piano player who could only watch as his band played on, the woman whose last sign of her husband is the bruise he left on her arm as he pushed her into the lifeboat without him, somebody’s lucky penny drifting in the sea. Read an excerpt here.

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