So, have you read the one about the missing woman with the unreliable narrator where it turns out that things aren't exactly as they seem? Sure you have—five times at least. And while these well-worn tropes can be pretty nice to get lost in, we'd like to suggest some books that will shake up your summer reading a bit. Here are five books that aren't like the others, all of them terrific.
At This Juncture, by Rona Altrows
About the book: Alarmed that Canada Post keeps losing money, Ariadne Jensen, a woman in her fifties, pitches the CEO with a scheme to save the corporation: she will get people to start writing and mailing letters again. As an inspiration to others, Ariadne writes bundles of letters for all to see; some are historical fiction, while others are drawn from her own correspondence. Each letter itself tells a story, while together they form a bigger story—about Ariadne, her determination to set wrongs right, her sly humour, and her loyalty to her best friend Leo, a gay man in his early twenties—that leaves the reader of At This Juncture informed, educated and, most importantly, entertained.
Why we're taking notice: This one is a MUST for epistolary fiction fans and anyone who appreciates the joy of reading and writing good old-fashioned letters.
Tunirrusiangit, by Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak
About the book: Two generations of Inuit artists challenging the parameters of tradition.
Kenojuak Ashevak shot to fame in 1970 when Canada Post printed The Enchanted Owl, a print of a black-and-red plumed nocturnal bird, on a postage stamp. She later became known as the magic-marker-wielding "grandmother of Inuit art," famous for her fluid graphic storytelling and her stunning depictions of wildlife. She was a defining figure in Inuit art and one of the first Indigenous artists to be embraced as a contemporary Canadian artist.
Ashevak's legacy inspired her nephew, Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak, to take up drawing at the Kinngait Studios. In his relatively short career, he became a popular figure, known for drawing animal figures with a hunter's precision and capturing the technological presence of the South in Nunavut.
Tunirrusiangit, "their gifts" or "what they gave" in Inuktitut, celebrates the achievements of two remarkable artists who challenged the parameters of tradition while consistently articulating a compelling vision of the Inuit world view. Published to coincide with a major exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario, opening on 16 June and continuing until late August, Tunirrusiangit features more than 60 reproductions of paintings, drawings, and documentary photographs. Completing the book are essays by contemporary artists and curators Jocelyn Piirainen, Anna Hudson, Georgiana Uhlyarik, Koomuatuk Curley, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, and Taqralik Partridge that address both the past and future of Inuit identity.
Why we're taking notice: The exhibition is currently on at the Art Gallery of Ontario, and it's amazing. And now, thanks to this book, Canadians across the country can appreciate these artists' extraordinary works. (And we like how Ashevak "shot to fame" via a postal stamp, which hearkens back to Altrows' book.)
150: Canada's History in Poetry, edited by Judy Gaudet
About the book: This new collection of poems tells the story of 150 years as a country, recreating historical events through the vivid, concrete, human element of our poets' responses to them. Judy Gaudet has collected poems that tell our story in a unique way: through the personal passions and concerns of artists who offer a range of encounters and attitudes. The poets represent a wide variety of Canadian experience: Indigenous, immigrant, and people from every part of the country and period of our history providing a solid representation of Canadian diversity. Poems come from many significant Canadian poets, as well as some lesser known and emerging poets and folk writers.
This journey through the works of our greatest poets and thier reflections on their experiences of the events that have shaped Canada, and continue to shape Canada, provide an exciting and lasting addition to our sense of who we are and where we've been, and gives us a basis on which to think about our attitudes and directions for the future.
150: Canada's History in Poems provides Canadians with an alternative history to the one they read about in textbooks. Looking at our history through the eyes of our artists is not only enlightening, but can give insight into the powerful truths of our past.
Why we're taking notice: PEI poet Gaudet has created a genre-defying book that's one of a kind, and perfect for poetry and history lovers coast-to-coast.
Letters: Margaret Laurence and Jack McClelland, edited by Laura K. Davis & Linda M. Morra
About the book: Margaret Laurence and Jack McClelland—one of Canada’s most beloved writers and one of Canada’s most significant publishers—enjoyed an unusual rapport. In this collection of annotated letters, readers gain rare insight into the private side of these literary icons. Their correspondence reveals a professional relationship that evolved into deep friendship over a period of enormous cultural change. Both were committed to the idea of Canadian writing; in a very real sense, their mutual and separate work helped bring “Canadian Literature” into being. With its insider’s view of the book business from the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, Margaret Laurence and Jack McClelland, Letters presents a valuable piece of Canadian literary history curated and annotated by Davis and Morra. This is essential reading for all those interested in Canada’s literary culture.
Why we're taking notice: Some themes in this list, eh? Letter writing AND Canadiana. Just believe us when we tell you that this book is riveting and totally delicious—it's fascinating to see Laurence's career in ascent, to read about her fears and worries as a writer, and see the connection she had with her publisher back in the CanLit heyday.
Listening to the Bees, by Mark Winston and Renée Sarojini Saklikar
About the book: Listening to the Bees is a collaborative exploration by two writers to illuminate the most profound human questions: Who are we? Who do we want to be in the world?
Through the distinct but complementary lenses of science and poetry, Mark Winston and Renée Saklikar reflect on the tension of being an individual living in a society, and about the devastation wrought by overly intensive management of agricultural and urban habitats.
Listening to the Bees takes readers into the laboratory and out to the field, into the worlds of scientists and beekeepers, and to meetings where the research community intersects with government policy and business. The result is an insiders’ view of the way research is conducted—its brilliant potential and its flaws—along with the personal insights and remarkable personalities experienced over a forty-year career that parallels the rise of industrial agriculture.
Why we're taking notice: In its collaborative approach and unique focus on the natural world, Listening to the Bees does tie in with other titles on this list, but it's also one-of-a-kind. Winston (who was awarded the 2015 Governor General’s Literary Award for Bee Time: Lessons from the Hive) and Saklikar (whose Children of Air India won the Canadian Authors Association Poetry Award) have created something special here.
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