Last spring—as launches, festivals and other events were cancelled across the country—49th Shelf helped Canadian authors launch more than 50 new books with LAUNCHPAD. And now we're back this fall, but with a twist.
LAUNCHPAD 2.0 features new releases selected by great Canadian writers who've chosen books that absolutely deserve to find their way into the hands of readers.
Today we're launching Christa Couture's memoir, How to Lose Everything, which is being championed by... me, Kerry Clare, author and editor at 49thShelf.com. Last spring, I had the opportunity to read this book by Couture, who is an award-winning singer-songwriter, as well as a radio host and writer, and I devoured it in two days. On my phone. And I have a really crummy phone. I have almost never managed to read an entire book on a screen, let alone in two days, so voraciously. But this is a pretty special book. A book you might think would be a bit of a downer, this story that catalogues the monumental losses experienced by Couture throughout her life—she had cancer as a child; she lost her leg in curing that cancer; her first two children died; she got divorced; she got cancer again. And yet. This is a book that sparkles and sings, a memoir as rich with joy as it is with sadness, a story so beautifully crafted, and it's about friendship, and motherhood, and music, and surviving, and it might be the wisest, most delightful sad story that you've ever read in your life.
49th Shelf: What particular something have you managed to achieve with this book that you’re especially proud of?
Christa Couture: When my editor, Barbara Pulling, was going through the manuscript, she noted an error in the part where I liken all my scars to punctuation marks—namely that chronologically, I didn’t have one of the scars yet that I included. But she was so charmed by the description, she left it in. I am proud that I managed to charm a brilliant editor out of fixing a mistake.
49th Shelf: Tell us about your ideal reader, and where you imagine them reading your book.
CC: I have this image of the book: I’m holding my hands out with a collection of stories in them. Some of the stories are very sad, but my invitation is that you don’t have to touch them, you can just look; that, don’t worry, I won’t drop this mess on your lap and run! My ideal reader is not only someone who wants to look closely, with curiosity, with compassion, but who also wants to hold up their own sad stories in their hands in return. I imagine them reading by a window, where they can look up and out.
49th Shelf: What authors and works inspired you on your journey in creating this book?
CC: Oh gosh, so many inspiring works along the way. One author whose words came to mind often is Caitlin Doughty. I saw her speak at a conference a few years ago and she said, “Don’t write a book unless you absolutely have to. It’s too hard otherwise!” And every time I felt like I was hitting a wall or I felt stuck or overwhelmed with writing, I thought of that—it validated the difficulty and helped me gauge my desire to move forward. It was unexpectedly useful.
49th Shelf: What’s something you know now that you didn’t know when you set out to write your book?
CC: I went into writing this book with a checklist of losses. I knew each chapter would focus on one of those losses, and I began my first draft going down the list. I thought I was well familiar with my grief for each experience, until I started researching and writing the divorce chapter. I write in that chapter about revisiting old emails and unearthing (not just remembering) sadness for the end of my marriage. That was happening in real time while writing the book, and it caught me off guard. I didn’t know I still carried that grief.
49th Shelf: Now that it’s written, do you have more plans for the book? What are your next projects?
CC: Earlier this year, someone asked me what my next book will be, and I balked. I’m not ready to write another one! Yet… but I have been working on a short animated film connected to the book, and that film has blossomed into an even larger project with stories of loss. Animation has been the perfect companion for exploring grief, how abstract it can be, how it can shift and move. I went to film school over twenty years ago, so I’m really dusting off some old skills, but I can’t wait to share it.
49th Shelf: What bookstore are you most excited to walk into and see your book displayed on the shelf
CC: Another Story on Roncesvalles in Toronto! Even before I moved to Toronto six years ago, I would visit that bookstore, and now that I live here, it’s become part of my world. While I didn’t get to walk in, exactly, as they’re still not open for in-store shopping, last week I did get to walk up to Another Story and, to my surprise and enormous delight, my book was on display in the window. It was my first bookstore sighting of the book! Unexpected plus at the one store I’ve dreamed of seeing it in, well, I couldn’t have asked for more.
49th Shelf: Who are you most grateful to for support in bringing your book into the world?
CC: This book wouldn't exist if it weren't for my partner, Marsha. I wrote this book in the first two years of my daughter’s life, and that was only made possible by a lot of calendar shuffling and schedule changes and even letting me spend the mornings of our only holiday in 2018 working on it. Her giving me time was this book’s greatest benefactor, plus her boundless cheerleading, and I’m deeply grateful to her.