Our Holiday Reads

Happy Solstice! These are some of the books we're looking forward to reading over the holiday. We'll be back soon!

Happy Holidays from the team at 49thShelf.com. 

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Journey With No Maps: A Life of P.K. Page, by Sandra Dwa

About the book: Journey with No Maps is the first biography of P.K. Page, a brilliant twentieth-century poet and a fine artist. The product of over a decade's research and writing, the book follows Page as she becomes one of Canada's best-loved and most influential writers. "A borderline being," as she called herself, she recognized the new choices offered to women by modern life but followed only those related to her quest for self-discovery. Tracing Page's life through two wars, world travels, the rise of modernist and Canadian cultures, and later Sufi study, biographer Sandra Djwa details the people and events that inspired her work. Page's independent spirit propelled her from Canada to England, from work as a radio actress to a scriptwriter for the National Film Board, from an affair with poet F.R. Scott to an enduring marriage with diplomat Arthur Irwin. Page wrote her story in poems, fiction, diaries, librettos, and her visual art. 

Journey with No Maps reads like a novel, drawing on the poet's voice from interviews, diaries, letters, and writings as well as the voices of her contemporaries. With the vividness of a work of fiction and the thoroughness of scholarly dedication, Djwa illustrates the complexities of Page's private experience while also documenting her public emergence as an internationally known poet. It is both the captivating story of a remarkable woman and a major contribution to the study of Canada's literary and artistic history.

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First Snow, Last Night, by Wayne Johnston

About the book: Ned Vatcher, only 14, ambles home from school in the chill hush that precedes the first storm of the winter of 1936 to find the house locked, the family car missing, and his parents gone without a trace. From that point on, his life is driven by the need to find out what happened to the Vanished Vatchers. His father, Edgar, born to a poor family of fishermen, had risen to become the right-hand man to the colony's prime minister, then suffered an unexpected fall from grace. Were he and his wife murdered? Was it suicide? Had they run away? If so, why had they left their only child behind?

Ned soon finds himself enmeshed in another family, that of his missing father and the poverty from which the man somehow escaped. His grandparents, Nan and Reg, his Uncle Cyril and others, are themselves haunted by the inexplicable disappearance of a third Vatcher, a young man who was lost at sea on a calm and sunny day years earlier. Two other people loom large as Ned becomes Newfoundland's first media mogul, building an empire to insulate him from loss: a Jesuit priest named Father Duggan, and Sheilagh Fielding, a boozy giantess who, while wandering the city streets at night, composes satiric columns that scandalize the rich and powerful. In Ned, Fielding sees a surrogate for her two lost children, the secret that dogs her life, while Ned believes the enigmatic Fielding to be his soulmate. 

The novel builds to a spectacular resolution of the mystery of all the Vanished Vatchers. Only Wayne Johnston could create such larger-than-life, mythic characters embroiled in events that leave us contemplating not only their tragedies and triumphs, but the forces that compel us all to act in ways that surprise and sometimes terrify us.

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Voodoo Hypothesis, by Canisia Lubrin

About the book: Voodoo Hypothesis is a subversion of the imperial construct of "blackness" and a rejection of the contemporary and historical systems that paint black people as inferior, through constant parallel representations of "evil" and "savagery." Pulling from pop culture, science, pseudo-science and contemporary news stories about race, Lubrin asks: What happens if the systems of belief that give science, religion and culture their importance were actually applied to the contemporary "black experience"? With its irreverence toward colonialism, and the related obsession with post-colonialism and anti-colonialism, and her wide-ranging lines, deftly touched with an intermingling of Caribbean Creole, English patois and baroque language, Lubrin has created a book that holds up a torch to the narratives of the ruling class, and shows us the restorative possibilities that exist in language itself.

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All Saints, by KD Miller

About the book: In a linked collection that presents the secret small tragedies of an Anglican congregation struggling to survive, All Saints delves into the life of Simon, the Reverend, and the lives of his parishioners: Miss Alice Vipond, a refined and elderly schoolteacher, incarcerated for a horrendous crime; a woman driven to extreme anxiety by an affair she cannot end; a receptionist, andher act of improbable generosity; a writer making peace with her divorce. Effortlessly written and candidly observed, All Saints is a moving collection of tremendous skill, whose intersecting stories illuminate the tenacity and vulnerability of modern-day believers.

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Joyce Wieland: A Life in Art, by Iris Nowell

About the book: Joyce Wieland triumphed over what she called “obscene poverty” to achieve international celebrity as a painter, collagist, quiltmaker, and filmmaker, celebrated as Canada’s most important woman artist next to Emily Carr. Her art portrays strikingly Canadian themes of environmental issues, historical passages, and aboriginal rights in buoyant, satirical images. To make her distinctive, highly personal art, Wieland uses toys, paper cut-outs, wood, glass, and pieces of her panties and dresses just as boldly and felicitously as she uses oils, watercolors, and pencils. Some of her most famous works are quilts, such as "Reason Over Passion" and "Confedspread." She made underground films long before Andy Warhol did, producing a total of 16. Joyce Wieland achieved acclaim through unstinting courage, vivacity, and her off-the-wall humor. She was known for tucking away her secrets in her work. Author Iris Nowell has uncovered some of these secrets through primary sources, such as Joyce’s friends and family, and through her own perspective of having known Joyce for many years. This intimate, rollicking, poignant biography uncovers Joyce Wieland’s life as she lived it, intimately and fully—through the 1950s “Dark Ages of Art” in Toronto, for much of the 1960s in New York’s grungy artist’s loft community and the underground film scene, and back to Toronto for the most productive, stunning years of her life.

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Stalin's Daughter: The Extraordinary and Tumultuous Life of Svetlana Alliluyeva, by Rosemary Sullivan

About the book: The award-winning author of Villa Air-Bel returns with a painstakingly researched, revelatory biography of Svetlana Stalin, a woman fated to live her life in the shadow of one of history’s most monstrous dictators—her father, Josef Stalin.

Born in the early years of the Soviet Union, Svetlana Stalin spent her youth inside the walls of the Kremlin. Communist Party privilege protected her from the mass starvation and purges that haunted Russia, but she did not escape tragedy—the loss of everyone she loved, including her mother, two brothers, aunts and uncles, and a lover twice her age, deliberately exiled to Siberia by her father.

As she gradually learned about the extent of her father’s brutality after his death, Svetlana could no longer keep quiet and in 1967 shocked the world by defecting to the United States—leaving her two children behind. But although she was never a part of her father’s regime, she could not escape his legacy. Her life in America was fractured; she moved frequently, married disastrously, shunned other Russian exiles, and ultimately died in poverty in Wisconsin.

With access to KGB, CIA, and Soviet government archives, as well as the close cooperation of Svetlana’s daughter, Rosemary Sullivan pieces together Svetlana’s incredible life in a masterful account of unprecedented intimacy. Epic in scope, it’s a revolutionary biography of a woman doomed to be a political prisoner of her father’s name. Sullivan explores a complicated character in her broader context without ever losing sight of her powerfully human story, in the process opening a closed, brutal world that continues to fascinate us.

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We All Love the Beautiful Girls, by Joanne Proulx

About the book: One frigid winter night, the happily prosperous Mia and Michael Slate discover that a close friend and business partner has cheated them out of their life savings. On the same night, their son, Finn, passes out in the snow at a party—a mistake with shattering consequences.

Everyone finds their own ways of coping with the ensuing losses. For Finn, it’s Jess, a former babysitter who sneaks into his bed at night, even as she refuses to leave her boyfriend. Mia and Michael find themselves forgoing tenderness for rougher sex and seeking solace outside their marriage: Mia in a flirtation with a former colleague, whose empty condo becomes a blank canvas for a new life, and Michael at an abandoned baseball diamond, with a rusty pitching machine and a street kid eager to catch balls in Finn’s old glove. As they creep closer to the edge—of betrayal, infidelity, and revenge—the story moves into more savage terrain. 

With honesty, compassion, and a tough emotional precision, award-winning author Joanne Proulx explores the itch of the flesh, sexual aggression, the reach of love and anger, and the question of who ultimately suffers when the privileged stumble.

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Shot-Blue, by Jesse Ruddock

About the book: Rachel is a young single mother living with her son, Tristan, on a lake that borders the unchannelled north—remote, nearly inhospitable. She does what she has to do to keep them alive. But soon, and unexpectedly, Tristan will have to live alone, his youth unprotected and rough. The wild, open place that is all he knows will be overrun by strangers—strangers inhabiting the lodge that has replaced his home, strangers who make him fight, talk, and even love, when he doesn't want to. Ravenous and unrelenting, Shot-Blue is a book of first love and first loss.

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Granta 141: Canada, edited by Madeleine Thien and Catherine Leroux

About the book: This special issue unravels the idea of Canada, a young nation settled on land that carries 14,000 years of Indigenous history. From its global cities to the Arctic Circle, from the ongoing story of Indigenous civil rights movements to the state of languages under pressure, the writers in Granta 141 upend the ways we imagine land, reconciliation, truth and belonging, revealing the histories of a nation's future. One hundred and fifty years after its confederation, Canada, spanning six time zones and a vast geography dramatically impacted by climate change, is embarking on a charged conversation to uncover what has been, and what begins.

December 21, 2017
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