If you're going to read one book this summer ... why not read two?
As fascinating as books themselves are the connections between books, the curious ways in which books inform and echo each other, creating strange synergies completely outside of their authors' purview. In celebration of these connections, we've made great pairings of recent Canadian books of note—ideal literary companions.
One book is an illustrated compendium of the amazing women who've been part of comics history for decades, and the other is a novel about a fictional comics creator/heroine. Both are galvanizing, rich stories of feminism and awesomeness. (Check out our Q&A with Hope Nicholson about her book.)
About The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: A woman's place is saving the universe.
Think comic books can’t feature strong female protagonists? Think again! In The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen you’ll meet the most fascinating exemplars of the powerful, compelling, entertaining, and heroic female characters who’ve populated comic books from the very beginning. This spectacular sisterhood includes costumed crimebusters like Miss Fury, super-spies like Tiffany Sinn, sci-fi pioneers like Gale Allen, and even kid troublemakers like Little Lulu. With vintage art, publication details, a decade-by-decade survey of industry trends and women’s roles in comics, and spotlights on iconic favorites like Wonder Woman and Ms. Marvel, The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen proves that not only do strong female protagonists belong in comics, they’ve always been there.
About Sputnik's Children: Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.
Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik Chick is based on Debbie’s own life in an alternate timeline called Atomic Mean Time. As a teenager growing up in Shipman’s Corners—a Rust Belt town voted by Popular Science magazine as “most likely to be nuked”—she was recruited by a self-proclaimed time traveller to collapse Atomic Mean Time before an all-out nuclear war grotesquely altered humanity. In trying to save the world, Debbie risked obliterating everyone she’d ever loved—as well as her own past—in the process.
Or so she believes . . . Present-day Debbie is addicted to lorazepam and dirty, wet martinis, making her an unreliable narrator, at best. A time-bending novel that delves into the origin story of the Girl with No Past, Sputnik’s Children explores what it was like to come of age in the Atomic Age.
The Philosophy of Baseball
Baseball Life Advice: Loving the Game That Saved Me, by Stacey May Fowles, and Fail Better: Why Baseball Matters, by Mark Kingwell
Novelist and essayist Stacey May Fowles' non-fiction debut is this passionate ode to baseball and the story of how she came to be a diehard fan. Kingwell similarly blends memoir and philosophy in his work. Both writers demonstrate that baseball matters for reasons that could fill more volumes than just two.
About Baseball Life Advice: What is it about a man hitting a small white ball with a slim wooden bat out of a park that’s so beautiful? In this entertaining and thoughtful book, Stacey May Fowles gives us a refreshingly candid and personal perspective on subjects ranging from bat flips to bandwagoners, from the romance of spring training to the politics of booing, from the necessity of taking a hard look at players’ injuries and mental health issues to finding solace at the ballpark. Fowles confronts head-on the stereotype that female fans lack real knowledge about the game, and calls out the “boys will be boys” attitude and its implications both on and off the field. She also offers exhilarating snapshots of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2015 and 2016 seasons. With remarkable humanity, intelligence, and an unabashed enthusiasm for the game, Fowles explores how we can use the lens of baseball to examine who we are. A must-read for both diehard and casual fans.
About Fail Better: Taking seriously the idea that baseball is a study in failure—a very successful batter manages a base hit in just three of every ten attempts—Mark Kingwell argues that there is no better tutor of human failure’s enduring significance than this strange, crooked game of base, where geometry becomes poetry.
Weaving elements of memoir, philosophical reflection, sports writing, and humour, Fail Better is an intellectual love letter to baseball by one of North America’s most engaging philosophers. Kingwell illustrates complex concepts like theoretically infinite game-space, “time out of time,” and the rules of civility with accessible examples drawn from the game, its history, and his own halting efforts to hit ‘em where they ain’t. Beyond a “Beckett meets baseball” study in failure, Kingwell crafts a thoughtful appreciation of why sports matter, and how they change our vision of the world.
The Campus Novel
Brutal, all of it—the architecture, the budget-cuts, the anti-intellectualism. In Suzette Mayr's follow-up to the acclaimed Monoceros, she takes her reader on an absurd journey inside academic life, and Sampson's cringeworthy novel marks the awkward spot where the academy meets the rest of the world.
Dr. Edith Vane, scholar of English literature, is contentedly ensconced at the University of Inivea. Her dissertation on pioneer housewife memoirist Beulah Crump-Withers is about to be published, and her job’s finally safe, if she only can fill out her AAO properly. She’s a little anxious, but a new floral blouse and her therapist's repeated assurance that she is the architect of her own life should fix that. All should be well, really. Except for her broken washing machine, her fickle new girlfriend, her missing friend Coral, her backstabbing fellow professors, a cutthroat new dean—and the fact that the sentient and malevolent Crawley Hall has decided it wants them all out, and the hall and its hellish hares will stop at nothing to get rid of them.
Like an unholy collision of Stoner, The Haunting of Hill House, Charlie Brown, and Alice in Wonderland, this audacious new novel by the Giller Prize–longlisted Suzette Mayr is a satire that takes the hallowed halls of the campus novel in fantastical—and unsettling—directions.
About The Slip: Dr. Philip Sharpe, absent-minded professor extraordinaire, teaches philosophy at the University of Toronto and is one of Canada’s most combative public intellectuals. But when a live TV debate with his fiercest rival goes horribly off the rails, an oblivious Philip says some things to her that he really shouldn’t have.
As a clip of Philip’s “slip” goes viral, it soon reveals all the cracks and fissures in his marriage with his young, stay-at-home wife, Grace. And while the two of them try to get on the same side of the situation, things quickly spiral out of control.
Can Philip make amends and save his marriage? Is there any hope of salvaging his reputation? To do so, he’ll need to take a hard look at his on-air comments, and to conscript a band of misfits in a scheme to set things right.
Slim Reads With Heft
These two collections are deceptive in their slimness, packed with stories that linger after the last page has turned, stories that walk a sharp edge between here and there, now and then, us and them. Balance is crucial, both books suggest, if we want a future to look forward to.
About This Accident of Being Lost: This Accident of Being Lost is the knife-sharp new collection of stories and songs from award-winning Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. These visionary pieces build upon Simpson's powerful use of the fragment as a tool for intervention in her critically acclaimed collection Islands of Decolonial Love. Provocateur and poet, she continually rebirths a decolonized reality, one that circles in and out of time and resists dominant narratives or comfortable categorization. A crow watches over a deer addicted to road salt; Lake Ontario floods Toronto to remake the world while texting "ARE THEY GETTING IT?"; lovers visit the last remaining corner of the boreal forest; three comrades guerrilla-tap maples in an upper middle-class neighbourhood; and Kwe gets her firearms license in rural Ontario. Blending elements of Nishnaabeg storytelling, science fiction, contemporary realism, and the lyric voice, This Accident of Being Lost burns with a quiet intensity, like a campfire in your backyard, challenging you to reconsider the world you thought you knew.
About Bad Endings: Carleigh Baker likes to make light in the dark. Whether plumbing family ties, the end of a marriage, or death itself, she never lets go of the witty, the ironic, and perhaps most notably, the awkward. Despite the title, the resolution in these stories isn't always tragic, but it's often uncomfortable, unexpected, or just plain strange. Character digressions, bad decisions, and misconceptions abound.
While steadfastly local in her choice of setting, Baker's deep appreciation for nature takes a lot of these stories out of Vancouver and into the wild. Salmon and bees play reoccurring roles in these tales, as do rivers. Occasionally, characters blend with their animal counterparts, adding a touch of magic realism. Nature is a place of escape and attempted convalescence for characters suffering from urban burnout. Even if things get weird along the way, as Hunter S. Thompson said, "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
In Bad Endings, Baker takes troubled characters to a moment of realization or self-revelation, but the results aren't always pretty.
Inside the Canadian Prison System
This is Not My Life, by Diane Schoemperlen, and Down Inside: Thirty Years in Canada's Prison Service, by Robert Clark
Schoemperlen has won acclaim and award-nominations for her memoir of her relationship with a prison inmate serving serving time for second-degree murder, which is also a scathing indictment of Canada's prison system. In his new memoir, Clark writes of his 30 years working in Canadian prisons and echoes Schoemperlen's message that "tough on crime" approaches do nothing to make communities safer.
About This is Not My Life: For almost six turbulent years, award-winning writer Diane Schoemperlen was involved with a prison inmate serving a life sentence for second-degree murder. The relationship surprised no one more than her. How do you fall in love with a man with a violent past? How do you date someone who is in prison? This Is Not My Life is the story of the romance between Diane and Shane—how they met and fell in love, how they navigated passes and parole and the obstacles facing a long-term prisoner attempting to return to society, and how, eventually, things fell apart. While no relationship takes place in a vacuum, this is never more true than when that relationship is with a federal inmate. In this candid, often wry, sometimes disturbing memoir, Schoemperlen takes us inside this complex and difficult relationship as she journeys through the prison system with Shane. Not only did this relationship enlarge her capacity for both empathy and compassion, but it also forced her to more deeply examine herself.
About Down Inside: In his thirty years in the Canadian prison system, Robert Clark rose from student volunteer to deputy warden. He worked with some of Canada's most dangerous and notorious prisoners, including Paul Bernardo and Tyrone Conn. He dealt with escapes, lockdowns, prisoner murders, prisoner suicides, and a riot. But he also arranged ice-hockey games in a maximum-security institution, sat in a darkened gym watching movies with three hundred inmates, took parolees sightseeing, and consoled victims of violent crimes. He has managed cellblocks, been a parole officer, and investigated staff corruption.
Clark takes readers down inside a range of prisons, from the minimum-security Pittsburgh Institution to the Kingston Regional Treatment Centre for mentally ill prisoners and the notorious (and now closed) maximum-security Kingston Penitentiary. In Down Inside, he challenges head-on the popular belief that a "tough-on-crime" approach makes prisons and communities safer, arguing instead for humane treatment and rehabilitation. Wading into the controversy about long-term solitary confinement, Clark draws from his own experience managing solitary-confinement units to continue the discussion begun by the headline-making Ashley Smith case and to join the chorus of voices calling for an end to the abuse of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons.
Complicating Happy Families
Happy marriages, blissful motherhood—what more could a woman want? Well, much more, if she dares to ask for it, as demonstrated by these two illustrations of human complexity and women's lives by two award-winning Canadian writers.
About Hunting Houses: Tessa is a thirty-seven-year-old real estate agent living in Montreal. She adores her husband and three young sons, but she’s deeply unhappy and questioning the set of choices that have led to her present life.
After a surprising run-in with Francis, her ex-boyfriend and first love, Tessa arranges to see him. During the three days before their meeting, she goes about her daily life—there’s swimming lessons, science projects, and dirty dishes. As the day of her meeting with Francis draws closer she has to decide if she is willing to disrupt her stable, loving family life for an uncertain future with him.
With startling clarity and emotional force, Fanny Britt gives us a complex portrait of a woman and a marriage from the inside out.
About The Change Room: Eliza Keenan is the mother of two young sons, the owner of a flower studio that caters to the city's elite, and the loving wife of a deliciously rumpled math professor named Andrew. She's on the move from dawn until her boys are in bed, and after they're asleep she cleans her house. Her one complaint about her life is that the only time she has for herself is her twice-weekly swim in the local community centre pool, where sunlight shines in through a tall window and lights up the water in a way that reminds her of the year she spent as a footloose youth on an island in Greece. Then one morning into this life that is full of satisfactions of all kinds except sexual (because who has the time or the energy once the kids are asleep?) comes a tall, dark and lovely stranger, a young woman Eliza encounters at the pool and nicknames 'the Amazon.' The sight of this woman, naked in the change room, completely undoes Eliza, and soon the two of them are entangled in an affair that breaks all the rules, and threatens to capsize not only Eliza and her happy family, but her lover's world, too. And yet the sex is so all-encompassing, so intimate, so true...how can it be bad?
Be ready to be shaken up, woken up, scandalized and deeply stirred.
New Twists on Nineteenth-Century Classics
How about this: one novel reimagines Jane Austen's Persuasion with "a shadow side" and goes beyond the happy ending. The other is a contemporary story reminiscent of Jane Eyre set in foggy Newfoundland. Now doesn't that sound like a spectacular pair?
About The Widow's Fire: The Widow's Fire explores the shadow side of Jane Austen's final novel Persuasion, disrupting its happy ending and throwing moral certainties off balance. We join the action close to the moment when Austen draws away for the last time and discretely gives an overview of the oncoming marriage between heroine Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. This, it transpires in The Widow's Fire, is merely the beginning of a journey. Soon dark undercurrents disturb the order and symmetry of Austen's world. The gothic flavor of the period, usually satirized by Austen, begins to assert itself. Characters far below the notice of Anne, a baronet's daughter, have agendas of their own. Before long, we enter into the realm of scandal and blackmail. Anne Elliot must come to recognize the subversive power of those who have been hitherto invisible to her—servants, maids and attendants—before she can defend her fiancé from an accusation too dreadful to be named. Captain Wentworth himself must learn the skills of living on land; the code of honour and secrecy which has protected him on deck no longer applies on the streets of Bath.
About The Billionaire's Secrets: When Chloe Winters answers an advertisement seeking a private tutor for a six-year-old girl, little does she know it means relocating from metropolitan Boston to an isolated mansion on a cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland. Nor does she realize the little girl's widower father is Gaelan Byrne, a billionaire alpha-male type whose brooding good looks have brought him as much fame as his wealth. But Chloe, shocked by his coldness toward his daughter, vows to remain unmoved by both his fortune and his charisma.
Gaelan Byrne has been dragged to hell and back by women before and is none too happy to discover the matronly retired teacher he hoped to hire turns out to be the beautiful, caring Chloe. But how can he fire her when the daughter he is incapable of loving adores her?
Chloe and Gaelan edge toward one another, and the attraction they feel soon engulfs them with all the intensity of a spring storm. But the secrets Gaelan keeps makes any chance for happiness seem as remote as the windswept cliffs of Newfoundland.
Those Prohibition Days
Two new books by beloved Canadian authors take on the 1920s and crime during the Prohibition Era, one with fiction and the other with fact, but both are compelling stories vividly told.
About Men Walking on Water: Men Walking on Water opens on a bitter winter's night in 1927, with a motley gang of small-time smugglers huddled on the banks of the Detroit River, peering towards Canada on the opposite side. A catastrophe has just occurred: while driving across the frozen water by moonlight, a decrepit Model T loaded with whisky has broken the ice and gone under—and with it, driver Alfred Moss and a bundle of money. From that defining moment, the novel weaves its startling, enthralling story, with the missing man at its centre, a man who affects all the characters in different ways. In Detroit, a young mother becomes a criminal to pay down the debt her husband, assumed dead, has left behind; a Pentecostal preacher brazenly uses his church to fund his own bootlegging operation even as he lectures against the perils of drink; and across the river, a French-Canadian woman runs her booming brothel business with the permission of the powerful Detroit gangsters who are her patrons.
The looming background to this extraordinary story, as compelling as any character, is the city of Detroit—a place of grand dreams and brutal realities in 1927 as it is today, fuelled by capitalist expansion and by the collapse that follows, sitting on the border between countries, its citizens walking precariously across the river between pleasure and abstinence. This is an absolutely stunning, mature, and compulsively readable novel from one of our most talented and unique writers.
About The Whisky King: At the cusp of the twentieth century, two Italian men, among many others, arrived in Canada during waves of immigration. One, Rocco Perri, from southern Italy, rose from the life of a petty criminal on the streets of Toronto to run the most prominent bootlegging operation of the Prohibition Era in central Canada, taking over Hamilton and leading one of the region’s most influential crime families. Perri was feared by his enemies and loved by the press, who featured him regularly in splashy front-page headlines in the Toronto Star. So great was his celebrity, following the murder of his first wife and business partner, Bessie Starkman, a crowd of 30,000 thronged in the streets of Hamilton to watch her funeral.
Perri’s businesses—which included alcohol, drugs, gambling and prostitution—kept him under constant police surveillance. He caught the interest of one man in particular, the other arrival from Italy, Frank Zaneth. Zaneth, from the Italian north, joined the RCMP and became its first undercover operative. His work took him across the country, but he was dogged in his pursuit of Rocco Perri and worked for his arrest until the day Perri was last seen, in 1944, when he disappeared without a trace.
The Whisky King is the story of the fascinating rise to power of a notorious 1920s Canadian crime figure twinned with the life of the man who pursued him.
Exploring Our (Way Back) Past
A scholarly text and a novel both (re)imagine the neanderthal and what our notions of these creatures tell us about who we used to be...and who were are.
About Inventing the Cave Man: Fred Flintstone lived in a sunny Stone Age American suburb, but his ancestors were respectable, middle-class Victorians. They were very amused to think that prehistory was an archaic version of their own world because it suggested that British ideals were eternal. In the 1850s, our prehistoric ancestors were portrayed in satirical cartoons, songs, sketches and plays as ape-like, reflecting the threat posed by evolutionary ideas. By the end of the century, recognizably human cave men inhabited a Stone Age version of late-imperial Britain, sending-up its ideals and institutions. Cave men appeared constantly in parades, civic pageants, costume parties and fetes from Manchester to Melbourne. American cartoonists and early Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton adopted and reimagined this very British character in the early 1900s, cementing it in global popular culture.
Extensive, groundbreaking research is presented in plain, engaging language with many illustrations. Cave men are an appealing way to explore and understand Victorian and Edwardian Britain.
About The Last Neanderthal: 40,000 years in the past, the last family of Neanderthals roams the earth. After a crushingly hard winter, their numbers are low, but Girl, the oldest daughter, is just coming of age and her family is determined to travel to the annual meeting place and find her a mate.
But the unforgiving landscape takes its toll, and Girl is left alone to care for Runt, a foundling of unknown origin. As Girl and Runt face the coming winter storms, Girl realizes she has one final chance to save her people, even if it means sacrificing part of herself.
In the modern day, archaeologist Rosamund Gale works well into her pregnancy, racing to excavate newly found Neanderthal artifacts before her baby comes. Linked across the ages by the shared experience of early motherhood, both stories examine the often taboo corners of women's lives.
Haunting, suspenseful, and profoundly moving, The Last Neanderthal asks us to reconsider all we think we know about what it means to be human.
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