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Quick Hits: Infernos, Outrage, Love, and Anything But

This month's Quick Hits is among our most eclectic compilations yet, and the books in it are SO good.

In Quick Hits, we look through our stacks to bring you books that, when they were published, elicited a lot of reaction and praise. Our selections will include books published this year, last year, or any year. They will be from any genre. The best books are timeless, and they deserve to find readers whenever and wherever.



Pathologies, by Susan Olding

Genre: Personal Essays

Publisher: Freehand Books

What It's About

In 15 personal essays, debut author Susan Olding takes us on an unforgettable journey into the complex heart of being human. Each essay dissects an aspect of Olding's life experience—from her vexed relationship with her father to her tricky dealings with her female peers; from her work as a counsellor and teacher to her persistent desire, despite struggles with infertility, to have children of her own. In a suite of essays forming the emotional climax of the book, Olding bravely recounts the adoption of her daughter, Maia, from an orphanage in China, and tells us the story of Maia's difficult adaptation to the unfamiliar state of being loved.

Written with as much lyricism, detail, and artfulness as the best short stories, the essays in Pathologies provide all the pleasures of fiction combined with the enrichment derived from the careful presentation of fact. Susan Olding is indisputably one of Canada's finest new writers, one who has taken the challenging, much-underused form of the literary essay and made it her own.

What People Say

"Susan Olding's work combines the visceral force of lived experience with the nuance and narrative drive of the best fiction. These essays are much more than essays, tracing the path from our pathologies to our deepest mysteries and fears and our most cherished hopes."—Nino Ricci

"Wise ... filled with ... well-wrought, pithy observation about life, pain, parenting, illness and other essential components of human existence.”—Globe and Mail



Burning Down the House, by Russell Wangersky

Genre: Memoir

Publisher: Dundurn

What It's About

Thousands of boys dream of becoming firefighters. Some get the chance, and for some of those, the dream becomes a nightmare. Burning Down the House is the story of Wangersky’s eight-year career as a volunteer firefighter, an experience that wound up reaching into every facet of his life and changed the way he saw the world forever. Written in vibrant, luminous prose, the book traces his years from rookie to veteran firefighter and the toll it took on his personal life.

Offering a rare glimpse into physical dangers and psychological costs of trying to save strangers’ lives, Wangersky paints a harrowing and sometimes heartbreakingly vivid portrait of the fires, medical calls, and automobile accidents that are the standard fare of the profession.

 Visceral and affecting, Burning Down the House is an insightful insider’s account of the perilous world of firefighting and an unforgettable memoir of how, in finding his passion, Wangersky lost himself.

What People Say

"Burning Down the House may be an act of exorcism for its troubled author, but it is also a compellingly candid, incendiary narrative of emotional and mental decline."—Quill & Quire

"When Wangersky is rushing to the scene of a house in flames or to carnage on a dark county road, he is an all-senses-charged witness with an unerring eye for detail. In this haunting meditation on fate and chance, he literally takes you there."—Globe and Mail



A Really Good Brown Girl, by Marilyn Dumont

Genre: Poetry

Publisher: Brick Books

What It's About

Marilyn Dumont's Métis heritage offers her challenges that few of us welcome. Here she turns them to opportunities: in a voice that is fierce, direct, and true, she explores and transcends the multiple boundaries imposed by society of the self. She mocks, with exasperation and sly humour, the banal exploitation of Indianness ("there it is again, the circle, that goddamned circle, as if we thought in circles, judged things on the merit of their circularity, as if all we ate was bologna and bannock and lived in teepees"); more-Indian-than-thou oneupmanship ("So, I'm having coffee with this treaty guy from up north ... I say I'm Métis like it's an apology and he says, 'mmh,' like he forgives me, like he's got a big heart and mine's pumping diluted blood"); and white condescension and ignorance ("The White Judges"). She celebrates the person, clearly observing, who defines her own life. These are Indian poems; Canadian poems; human poems.

What People Say

"Each poem ... looks us straight in the eyes and confronts us ... mocks attitudes that lie deep within our culture"—Susan Musgrave, Vancouver Sun

"Dumont employs her own discursive strategies to ensure that the irony of the Métis population's survival is communicated ..."—Jennifer Andrews, Canadian Poetry



Up Up Up, by Julie Booker

Genre: Short Stories

Publisher: House of Anansi

What It's About

In this short story collection, Julie Booker grabs the reins from writers like Lydia Millet and Miranda July and takes off at full speed, and in directions all her own.

A pair of plus-sized friends make tracks for a kayaking trip in Alaska. A woman vacations with her parents at a Texas trailer park, wondering why she can’t meet a man. A worldly member of a tour group selects sacrifices from among the most cherished belongings of her fellow travellers. A young man dreams of rescuing an abusive friend’s girlfriend—and of having her for himself...

Through these deceptively simple storylines, Booker reminds us of the power of words to enlighten and move us—but most of all, to delight us. Her writing is a revelation—wildly whimsical and yet razorsharp, highly unusual and yet prompting gasps of recognition on every page.

What People Say

"Up Up Up is a stunning, fresh debut collection from an author who is worth watching."—Walrus Magazine

"Booker infuses her stories with humour, accessible prose, and familiar characters, but a reader should be careful of complacency: theses are challenging stories that demand attention, engagement, and re-reading to be properly appreciate ... Up Up Up doesn't read like a debut: this is a writer who has clearly been honing her craft for quite some time."—Quill & Quire



The Jade Peony, by Wayson Choy

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre

What It's About

Chinatown, Vancouver, in the late 1930s and 1940s provides the setting for this poignant first novel, told through the vivid and intense reminiscences of the three younger children of an immigrant family. They each experience a very different childhood, depending on age and sex, as they encounter the complexities of birth and death, love and hate, kinship and otherness. Mingling with the realities of Canada and the horror of war are the magic, ghosts, paper uncles and family secrets of Poh-Poh, or Grandmother, who is the heart and pillar of the family.

What People Say

"The Jade Peony is one of the finest works of fiction yet to break the silence that surrounds so many of the country's immigrant communities."—Macleans

Read an excerpt in the New York Times!


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