While the reading never stops here at 49th Shelf, and our adherence to the calendar year is kind of loose, book-wise (because we do love a good reread, not to mention a good delve into an author's backlist), the final weeks of the annum and the lists that emerge during this time are also an excellent excuse to take stock of some beloved literary moments. It is no exaggeration to state that 2018 was an outstanding year in Canadian books, and we'll be celebrating some of our favourites over the coming weeks, beginning here with fiction and a list of some remarkable books that we featured this year.
The Boat People, by Sharon Bala
"A book about so many interconnecting themes requires a tremendous amount of research. I learned so much about Canada’s history, about the different waves of people who washed up on our shores, about refugee law, the Sri Lankan civil war, the Japanese internment, war-time propaganda, Alzheimer's, and PTSD…even menopause. But after the textbook research was through, once I had watched the documentaries, listened to interviews, and read research papers, then I turned with relief to literature. ”
Read Sharon Bala’s list of titles that her book seemed to be in conversation with.
The Luminous Sea, by Melissa Barbeau
“The Luminous Sea imagines the discovery of a fairy tale creature in a scientific world where unique genetic code is considered treasure. The book asks whether magic and science can exist in the same space, and if there is any space left for wonder in a world that rushes to claim ownership of every new thing.”
Read Melissa Barbeau’s list, “Where Magic Meets Science.”
Hysteria, by Elisabeth De Mariaffi
“Something sinister that Heike cannot quite put her finger on is lingering just beneath the surface of this idyllic life…”
Read De Mariaffi’s list, “NevertheLIST, she persisted: 8 female protagonists who don’t have time for your sh*t.”
French Exit, by Patrick DeWitt
“I’ve been wanting to write about Paris since I first visited there, however many years ago. It took some time to find the right story for the setting, though. It’s an overwritten city. And it’s been written about so beautifully, and I was fearful of marring the legacy, somehow.”
Read DeWitt’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
That Tiny Life, by Erin Frances Fisher
“Writing the stories in That Tiny Life took a lot of research—more research than I was used to—and this process surprised me by being incredibly fun. Some of that research was easier to access: my sister is a falconer and let me tag along when she went rabbit hunting with her hawk, and as a young kid I lived in Inuvik, NWT. Astronauts on the International Space Station livestream videos from space, and I found everything I needed about Civil War amputation via era-enthusiasts’ blogs and articles.”
Read Fisher’s list, “The Pleasure of Details.”
Two Roads Home, by Daniel Griffin
“It interested me to consider how people can go from peaceful protest to violent acts, so for sure that moral grey zone was important. But for me the answer to why and how a group of smart, educated young people turn to violence took more imagination and soul searching than it did research.”
Read Griffin’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
The Amateurs, by Liz Harmer
“The Amateurs is set in a not-too-distant future where most of the human population has disappeared via Ports, doorways to other times and alternate universes from which travellers should theoretically be able to return—except that no one comes back. Are they unwilling to? Are they unable?”
Read Harmer’s list, “Books That Ask the Big Questions.”
The Very Marrow of Our Bones, by Christine Higdon
"I was thinking about my mother when I started writing The Very Marrow of Our Bones. There must have been days, like that one, where she might have liked to not be travelling down that particular life path. I was thinking about other women who were young, poor, overwhelmed. We’re not very sympathetic about women who buckle under the pressures of motherhood. This was something I wanted to explore, with compassion.”
Read Hidgon’s list, “Books That Take You on a Journey.”
Things Are Good Now, by Djamila Ibrahim
“As difficult and heartbreaking as some of these stories of loss are, it’s important to note that behind the pain and despair, there is always hope, however dim, and a will to survive and prevail. Family, community and faith often play a crucial role in providing a space for healing. And people can be victims in one scenario, and an oppressor in another, a hero to some and a villain to others. These complications bring depth and nuance to the stories, and make the difficult passages easier to write.”
Read Ibrahim’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
The Showrunner, by Kim Moritsugu
“Strong, outspoken women rule in the seven novels I've had published to date, including my latest, The Showrunner: it's about two women battling for control of the primetime TV drama they co-created, and a third woman who comes between them and plays both sides against the middle, with deadly results. “
Read Moritsugu’s list, “Women Killing It.”
We All Need to Eat, by Alex Leslie
“It was difficult to write because it is so deeply physical—the emotion of the story for me is held in the descriptions of her changing her body, the pain and ultimately the self-mastery. It's hard to write about internal emotional and psychological transformation without ‘leading’ the reader. The tone took forever to pin down. I revised this story countless times, rearranging components. I juxtaposed the weightlifting passages with social media passages, to modulated pacing.”
Watch for Leslie’s conversation with Trevor Corkum, coming soon!
Dear Evelyn, by Kathy Page
“Kathy Page has written a story of a marriage that spans the time period between the WWI and WWII and after, a lifetime of this couple, Evelyn and Harry, whose characters are so well drawn that you feel you are inside of their story. Their relationship just barely gets started when Harry, after enlisting, is sent off to fight in Tunisia. And we follow Harry there through his letters home to Evelyn. This is not a perfect marriage, but this is a perfect telling of it!”
Read Lee Trentadue’s recommendation in the November edition of Shelf Talkers.
Sister of Mine, by Laurie Petrou
“I am a sister, but don’t have one. I have a brother, to whom I am very close, and a best friend, who is like a sister to me, and whom I’ve known since the age of three. There is something about knowing someone your whole life, who has ridden through childhood with you to the other side, into adulthood, that is unlike any other relationship.”
Read Laurie Petrou’s list, “For Your Brother, Your Sister, or Your Sister from Another Mister.”
The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner, by Jennifer Quist
“This is Edmonton writing, and it exists even when there is no traveling cosmopolitan poet standing over our beds. It’s set in streetscapes, not farm-scapes. The weather is part of Edmonton writing but it’s outside the hotel glass, opposite stories set in warm rooms of people who “have been where you’re hanging [and] think [we] can see where you’re “
Read Quist’s list of books set in Edmonton.
Moon of the Crusted Snow, by Waubgeshig Rice
“While the story explores post-apocalyptic and dystopian themes by modern North American standards, it’s also looks at upheaval as a chance for rebirth and renewal for the Indigenous people at the centre. As modern infrastructure disintegrates, the Anishinaabeg in Moon of the Crusted Snow turn to the land, culture, and traditional knowledge for survival. Family and community are at the heart of their existence and their ability to persevere in the midst of this chaos. It’s also an allegory for colonialism, and considers important historical context as it relates to modern-day Canada.”
Read Rice’s list of books that inspired and influenced him as he wrote his own.
Radiant Shimmering Light, by Sarah Selecky
“This novel is about women: entrepreneurs, artists, and visionaries. The two protagonists are 40 years old, unmarried, and they do not live or work with men. The book isn’t experimental in form, and yet it felt risky. Was it okay to write this? A story about women who aren’t wives or mothers, a story without an important male character? There was a voice in my head telling me it wasn’t allowed.”
Read Selecky’s Recommended Reading List, “Permission to Write Beyond.”
In Search of the Perfect Singing Flamingo, by Claire Tacon
“I was thinking a lot about how siblings can experience the same parents in very different ways. A relative who I am close with is disabled and she was raised with a typical sibling. They grew up in the 1950s, and their parents tended to overestimate the typical sibling and underestimate the disabled one. It wasn’t a healthy dynamic for either of them and, more than sixty years later, that experience still shapes their lives and sibling interaction.”
Read Tacon’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
Liminal, by Jordan Tannahill
“For a lot of queer men, our mothers are the first prisms through which our gender-identification and sexuality are refracted. This can forge a profound and intimate bond, but also one that is very loaded and fraught. I would say the relationship depicted in the novel is certainly both.”
Read Tannahill’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
Things Not to Do, by Jessica Westhead
“Like most other writers, I do a lot of observing and eavesdropping. I get excited when I luck out and witness a particularly awkward exchange between people, and I thrive on moments that bristle with unacknowledged tension. I mean, those moments make me really uncomfortable, but I LOVE them. I’m fascinated by how we so rarely come out and say what’s really on our minds, even when those thoughts are so close to the surface—or at least I imagine they are.”
Read Weshead’s conversation with Trevor Corkum.
A Sorrowful Sanctuary, by Iona Whishaw
“My own books mirror the life of someone who has moved several times, someone who has not quite succeeded in putting down roots—mainly from a lack of practice. The trauma of war bifurcates the lives of many into branches of what existed before and what remains after; so too can the past feel like an alternate plane of existence, leaving survivors feeling fragmented as they are grafted into the circumstances of their new lives. Many of my characters have come from various sorts of wars, both personal and geopolitical, as do those in the books I have chosen.”
Read Iona Whishaw’s list, “Out of Place.”
Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead
“When I excised the 'beach' poems, as I call them, from full-metal indigiqueer, Jonny returned pining for me to write him into the world—well, more like demanded of me to write him. He began as a short story, then a novella, and then finally, in full NDN glitter princess fashion he finally said, ‘Ah, for hell sakes just write a damn novel about me already.”’
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