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Top Shelf: Recent Favourites


Here we go: urban grit, short stories, new voices, First Nations literature, urban planning, rape, climate change, grunge, food, and more.

There is so much good stuff on 49th Shelf that we sometimes compile our favourites to keep them close at hand via this series, Top Shelf. If there's not a book for you here—nay, ten!—well, we guess there isn't but it would be very, very strange. Enjoy!



Sometimes cities pulse with energy and optimism. And sometimes they crush. Urban Grit is about the crush, with characters struggling to survive and even thrive in the face of it.

Check out Suzanne Allyssa Andrew's blog post along these lines, as well: Messes and Meltdowns in the City.



Whether or not you believe that "short is the new long" when it comes to fiction, you'd be hard-pressed to turn down a book or two on this list of hot short story collections that came out in Spring 2015. Another hugely popular list among members in this same area is Canadian Short Stories, The New Generation, a crowdsourced list of writers who may be heirs-apparent to Munro and Gallant, and who are most definitely compelling Canadian voices in the twenty-first century.



More new voices to check out: Kobo has just released its inaugural shortlist for a new literary initiative that celebrates digital works by Canadian authors. The Emerging Writer Prize was created for debut authors in three categories: Literary Fiction, Genre Fiction, Mystery and Non-Fiction. Check out the finalists for each category right here.



We're soon going to compile all the lists we've got on First Nations literature, but this is a great place to start: Books by Canadian First Nations and Inuit Women. Writers include Eden Robinson, Dawn Dumont, Lisa Bird-Wilson, Lee Maracle, and more.



If you want a comprehensive list of books written by LGBTQ authors in Canada, Plenitude Magazine's list is exactly what you're looking for


Talking History—and it's NOT the history you dread

So often the dull, all-encompassing term "history" prompts eyes to glaze over and a rapid stampede to whatever exit is handy. Abandon the stampede! Slow down and check out our fabulous new series, Talking History. Contributions so far include:

Daniel Francis—History or Myth: "There is, in fact, no single 'history' to be knowledgeable about. Instead, there are competing versions of the past. We know that the Métis rose in rebellion in 1885, for instance. But was it a good thing, or a bad thing? A success or a failure? The answers usually depend on who is telling the story."

John Lorinc—The City in Four Dimensions: "We mostly don’t think of the ghosts that fill our cities—demolished buildings, or the long-dead individuals who walked these sidewalks or lived in these apartments before we arrived. But be assured that they’re there, and their collective presence informs the city of today, just as our presence will echo through time, to the city of the future."

Michele LandsbergWhen Did We Start Talking About Rape?: "And now, in the immediate aftermath of the Jian Ghomeshi furor, when two journalists invented the hashtag #beenrapedneverreported, the floodgates opened and 80 million (imagine it) women around the globe tersely tweeted their stories of harm and horror. 'I was 5 and my father said it was because he loved me…' 'He pushed me down and said, You have to; I’m your boyfriend.'"

Chris TurnerThe History of Climate Change: "Or think of it this way: We live in the age of climate change. Every story is a climate change story. Climate change is not an issue, but rather the roiling sea in which all issues now swim. Economic issues—all of them—have a climate change dimension. So do public health issues. And infrastructure. And foreign affairs. The only silo large enough to contain climate change is the size of the planet itself."

Geoff Pevere—Not the Next Nirvana: "[Sloan's Commonwealth album displays] the sturdy imperviousness to precisely the kind of industry expectations, temptations, distractions and general bullshit that has flattened more carcasses of promising young bands than there is roadkill on an Ontario highway in summer."

Ann Douglas—A Short History of Parental Guilt: "Likewise, in the 1961 edition of Up the Years from One to Six, the Canadian government mapped out a recommended daily schedule for young children—one that kicked off with an early-morning call to action (“7:30 am. Toilet. Wash the hands. Dress”) and that wrapped up with an early-evening call to slumber (“7:00 pm. Go to bed. Window open. Lights out.”)

Angela Sterritt—The Legacy of Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada: "Helen Betty Osborne’s story is not just about the murder of an Indigenous woman  surrounded by a code of silence. It is about a national culture in Canada that is marred with racism—including regular segregation, harassment, assault, and yes, murder. This racism is rooted in Canadian relations with Indigenous people that began in the early nation-building years."

Sarah Elton—The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Canadian Farmers' Markets: "And Toronto's Kensington Market, a cluster of independent businesses that for the last century have sold foods of all sorts, was started when the people who lived in the ramshackle homes of the area began to sell the vegetables they’d grown. In her book, Duncan explains that they set up carts and tables out front of their houses."

Stuart Henderson—Why Lessons of 1960s Counterculture Still Matter Today: "Some 45 years down the road, we are Jesse and Karen: a couple of generations worth of restless, disappointed, frustrated, and well-educated North Americans longing for… something. Is it to be found through engagement with the world as it is? Through pushing our way in, facing the 'hard truths,' occupying our opponents’ spaces and throwing ourselves on the gears of the machine? Or is it to be found in enclaves of separatism: communities of difference, alternatives, and refusal?"

Charlotte Gray—On Medicare and the Paradox of Tommy Douglas: "If there is one unique national characteristic that Canadians are proud to claim, it is our healthcare system. Medicare tops opinion polls of what Canadians value. In the words of political columnist Jeffrey Simpson, the system 'is the third rail of Canadian politics.' Touch it, and you die.

Ken McGoogan—Grace O'Malley, Pirate Queen and True Canadian: "But instead of travelling with genealogists, Canadian historians stay at home with geographers. They stop investigating at the Atlantic Ocean. But why? Canada is more than a physical territory, an expanse delimited by co-ordinates on the earth’s surface. It is a multi-dimensional creation: political, social, cultural, legal, economic."

Danielle Metcalfe Chenail—Beyond the Books: Canadian History in the Digital Age: "I was thinking the other day that it was probably authors and historians who freaked out the most when the internet came along. There were likely muffled screams when e-books were touted as the next big thing, and several near-breakdowns when apps and social media looked destined to replace "book learning."

Mona Maynard—Mental Illness and the REAL Talking Cure: "You don’t have to know the details of this legacy of shame to feel its lingering taint. Fear of stigma goes a long way toward explaining why 60 percent of people with a mental illness still do not reach out for help."

Carolyn Harris—Magna Carta: From Medieval England to Canada Today: "Magna Carta has evolved from a thirteenth century truce between an unpopular king and his discontented subjects to a foundation document in the history of democracy, law, and human rights."


See more Top Shelf selections here and here!

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