25 Reasons to be Hopeful

In difficult times, sometimes hope is maligned as something frivolous, a symptom of one's inability to engage with reality and look trouble in the face. But of course, the certainty of hopeless is its own kind of limitation. As Rebecca Solnit writes, "To me, the grounds for hope are simply that we don’t know what will happen next, and that the unlikely and the unimaginable transpire quite regularly.”

The following books are infused with hope—that what we do and who we are really matters, that second chances are possible, and so too is a better world.

*****

This is Not the End of Me, by Dakshana Bascaramurty

About the book: Layton Reid was a globe-trotting, risk-taking, sunshine-addicted bachelor—then came a melanoma diagnosis. Cancer startled him out of his arrested development--he returned home to Halifax to work as a wedding photographer—and remission launched him into a new, passionate life as a husband and father-to-be. When the melanoma returned, now at Stage IV, Layton and his family put all their stock into a punishing alternative therapy, hoping for a cure. This Is Not the End of Me recounts Layton's three-year journey as he tried desperately to stay alive for his young son, Finn, and then found purpose in preparing Finn for a world without him.

With incredible intimacy, grit, and empathy, reporter Dakshana Bascaramurty casts an unsentimental eye on who her good friend was: his effervescence, his twisted wit, his anger, his vulnerability. Interweaving Layton's own reflections--his diaries written for Finn, his letters to his wife, Candace, and his public journal—she paints a keenly observed portrait of Layton's remarkable evolution. In detailing the ugly, surprising, and occasionally funny ways in which Layton and his family faced his mortality, the book offers an unflinching look at how a person dies, and how we might build a legacy in our information-saturated age.

Powerful and unvarnished, This is Not the End of Me is about someone who didn't get a very happy ending, but learned to squeeze as much life as possible from his final days.

*

Why Birds Sing, by Nina Berkhout

About the book: When opera singer Dawn Woodward has an onstage flameout, all she wants is to be left alone. She’s soon faced with other complications the day her husband announces her estranged brother-in-law, Tariq, is undergoing cancer treatment and moving in, his temperamental parrot in tow. To make matters worse, though she can’t whistle herself, she has been tasked with teaching arias to an outspoken group of devoted siffleurs who call themselves the Warblers. Eventually, Tariq and his bird join the class, and Dawn forms unexpected friendships with her new companions. But when her marriage shows signs of trouble and Tariq’s health declines, she begins questioning her foundations, including the career that she has worked so hard to build and the true nature of love and song.

Check out the Why Birds Sing on LAUNCHPAD, featuring a reading by Nina Berkhout.

*

Always Brave, Sometimes Kind, by Katie Bickell

About the book: Set in the cities, reserves, and rural reaches of Alberta, Katie Bickell’s debut novel is told in a series of stories that span the years from 1990 to 2016, through cycles of boom and bust in the oil fields, government budget cuts and workers rights policies, the rising opioid crisis, and the intersecting lives of people whose communities sometimes stretch farther than they know.
We meet a teenage runaway who goes into labour at the West Edmonton Mall, a doctor managing hospital overflow in a time of healthcare cutbacks, a broke dad making extra pay through a phone sex line, a young musician who dreams of fame beyond the reserve, and a dedicated hockey mom grappling with sense of self when she’s no longer needed—or welcome—at the rink.

Always Brave, Sometimes Kind captures a network of friends, caregivers, in-laws, and near misses, with each character’s life coming into greater focus as we learn more about the people around them. Tracing alliances and betrayals from different perspectives over decades, Bickell writes an ode to home and community that is both warm and gritty, well-defined and utterly complicated.

Check out Katie Bickell's Recommended Book List, "Alberta Today"

*

Brighten the Corner Where You Are, by Carol Bruneau

About the book: One glimpse of the tiny painted house that folk art legend Maud Lewis shared with her husband, Everett, in Marshalltown, Nova Scotia, during the mid-twentieth century and the startling contrast between her joyful artwork and her life's deprivations is evident. One glimpse at her photo and you realize, for all her smile's shyness, she must've been one tough cookie. But, beneath her iconic resilience, who was Maud, really? How did she manage, holed up in that one-room house with no running water, married to a miserly man known for his drinking? Was she happy, or was she miserable? Did painting save or make her Everett's meal ticket? And then there are the darker secrets that haunt her story: the loss of her parents, her child, her first love.

Against all odds, Maud Lewis rose above these constraints—and this is where you'll find the Maud of Brighten the Corner Where You Are: speaking her mind from beyond the grave, freed of the stigmas of gender, poverty, and disability that marked her life and shaped her art. Unfettered and feisty as can be, she tells her story her way, illuminating the darkest corners of her life. In possession of a voice all her own, Maud demonstrates the agency that hovers within us all.

*

Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family, by Jane Byers

About the book: Rarely do we know what life will hold. When starting the adoption process, Jane Byers and her wife could not have predicted the illuminating and challenging experience of living for two weeks with the Evangelical Christian foster parents of their soon-to-be adopted twins. Parenthood becomes even more daunting when homophobia threatens their beginnings as a family, seeping in from places both unexpected and familiar. But Jane and Amy are up for the challenge. In this moving and poetic memoir, Byers draws readers into her own tumultuous beginnings: her coming out years, finding love, and the start of her parenting journey. Love imprints itself where loneliness lived, but sometimes love, alone, is not enough to overcome trauma. Little did Byers know that her experiences when coming out was merely training for becoming an adoptive parent of racialized twins. Small Courage: A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family is a thoughtful and heart-warming examination of love, queerness and what it means to be a family.

*

How to Lose Everything, by Christa Couture

About the book: Christa Couture has come to know every corner of grief—its shifting blurry edges, its traps, its pulse of love at the centre and the bittersweet truth that sorrow is a powerful and wise emotion.

From the amputation of her leg as a cure for bone cancer at a young age to her first child’s single day of life, the heart transplant and subsequent death of her second child, the divorce born of grief and then the thyroidectomy that threatened her career as a professional musician, How to Lose Everything delves into the heart of loss. Couture bears witness to the shift in perspective that comes with loss, and how it can deepen compassion for others, expand understanding, inspire a letting go of little things and plant a deeper feeling for what matters. At the same time, Couture's writing evokes the joy and lightness that both precede and eventually follow grief, as well as the hope and resilience that grow from connections with others.

Evoking Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking and Rachel Cusk’s A Life’s Work, Couture explores the emotional and psychological experiences of motherhood, partnership and change. Deftly connecting the dots of sorrow, reprieve and hard-won hope, How to Lose Everything contains the advice Couture is often asked for, as well as the words she wishes she could have heard many years ago. It is also an offering of kinship and understanding for anyone experiencing a loss.

Check out How to Lose Everything on LAUNCHPAD, featuring a reading by Christa Couture

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The Spoon Stealer, by Lesley Crewe

About the book: Born into a basket of clean sheets—ruining a perfectly good load of laundry—Emmeline never quite fit in on her family's rural Nova Scotian farm. After suffering multiple losses in the First World War, her family became so heavy with grief, toxicity, and mental illness that Emmeline felt their weight smothering her. And so, she fled across the Atlantic and built her life in England. Now she is retired and living in a small coastal town with her best friend, Vera, an excellent conversationalist. Vera is also a small white dog, and so Emmeline is making an effort to talk to more humans. When she joins a memoir-writing course at the library, her classmates don't know what to make of her. Funny, loud, and with a riveting memoir, she charms the lot. As her past unfolds for her audience, friendships form, a bonus in a rather lonely life. She even shares with them her third-biggest secret: she has liberated hundreds of spoons over her lifetime—from the local library, Cary Grant, Winston Churchill. She is a compulsive spoon stealer.

When Emmeline unexpectedly inherits the farm she grew up on, she knows she needs to leave her new friends and go see the farm and what remains of her family one last time. She arrives like a tornado in their lives, an off-kilter Mary Poppins bossing everyone around and getting quite a lot wrong. But with her generosity and hard-earned wisdom, she gets an awful lot right too. A pinball ricocheting between people, offending and inspiring in equal measure, Emmeline, in her final years, believes that a spoonful—perhaps several spoonfuls—of kindness can set to rights the family so broken by loss and secrecy.

The Spoon Stealer is a classic Crewe book: full of humour, family secrets, women's friendship, lovable animals, and immense heart.

Check out Lesley Crewe's recommended reading list "Books for Difficult Times and Ordinary Moments"

*

Still Me: A Golf Tragedy in 18 Parts, by Jeffrey John Eyamie

About the book: Golf is the only way I know to control time. It happens in the millisecond of that focused backswing, right before the violence of intention.

When I escape time, I escape memory. In that way, golf is an alchemy. A magick. I am a practicing magician.

When James Khoury discovers that his prized golf memorabilia from some of Canada's best golf courses has been destroyed, he journeys back through memories of being on the fairway, his struggles with gnawing ineptitude, and a troubled relationship with his wife and son.

Slowly, his memory precipitates to reveal something deeper at work, and James finds himself in the midst of a game where the stakes couldn't be higher.

Check out Jeffrey John Eyamie's recommended reading list "Step Outside"

*

Hope in the Balance, by Andrew Furey

About the book: Dr. Andrew Furey, an orthopedic surgeon, was sitting by the fireplace at his home in St John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, watching TV after work, when dreadful images of the aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti burst in on the cosy domestic scene. Human suffering on an epic scale was being documented in real time. Dr. Furey spent a sleepless night, and woke knowing he had to help in some way. In what has been a theme throughout Newfoundland and Labrador's history, he found himself answering the call.

Dr. Furey formed a team of three—himself; his wife and pediatric emergency room physician, Dr. Allison Furey; and orthopedic surgeon Will Moores—and together they travelled from to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where they spent a week volunteering. The challenge seemed overwhelming: a multitude of badly injured victims, horrendous working conditions and overstretched aid agencies. But somehow the trio did not lose hope. Instead, they redoubled their efforts.

After returning from that first mission, Dr. Furey founded Team Broken Earth—an expert, unbureaucratic, fleet-footed volunteer task force of physicians, nurses and physiotherapists committed to providing aid in Haiti. The organization has continued to grow, recruiting volunteers from all over Canada. It has carried out many more missions to Port-au-Prince and has expanded its operations to other countries like Bangladesh, Guatemala, Ethiopia and Nicaragua. And its mission has expanded in other ways, with education and training for local medical professionals now at the heart of its endeavour.

Dr. Andrew Furey tells the story of Team Broken Earth's founding and remarkable work with vivid immediacy and raw honesty. He shares his doubts and failures and moments of near-despair. He explores how his Newfoundland and Labrador upbringing has informed his efforts abroad. And he reaches an optimistic conclusion that will leave readers inspired to bring about positive change in their own lives.

*

Better Luck Next Time, by Kate Hilton

About the book: It isn’t easy being related to a feminist icon, especially when she’s celebrating the greatest moment of her storied career.

Just ask the daughters of Lydia Hennessey, who could have it all if only they’d stop self-destructing. Mariana, the eldest, is on the verge of throwing away a distinguished reputation in journalism, along with her marriage. Nina, the middle daughter, has returned from a medical mission overseas as a changed woman but won’t discuss it with anyone. And Beata, the youngest, has a hostile teenaged son who just discovered the existence of a father who didn’t know about him either. Meanwhile, their cousin Zoe is making divorce look like a death match, while her brother, Zack, is grappling with the fallout from his popular television dramedy, which is based far too closely on Lydia herself.

It might be easier to find their paths if they could step out of Lydia’s shadow—but the biggest women’s march in history is underway, and Lydia and her family are at the centre of it.

Over the course of an eventful year, the Hennessey children contend with the big struggles of midlife: aging parents, raging teens, crumbling marriages and bodies, new loves and the choice between playing it safe or taking life-altering risks. And as they inch toward a new definition of happiness, they might even persuade their parents—and themselves—that they’re all grown up.

*

Commanding Hope, by Thomas Homer-Dixon

About the book: For three decades, the renowned author of The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization, and The Ingenuity Gap: Can We Solve the Problems of the Future?, has examined the threats to our future security—predicting a deteriorating global environment, extreme economic stresses, mass migrations, social instability and wide political violence if humankind continued on its current course. He was called The Doom Meister, but we now see how prescient he was.

Today just about everything we've known and relied on (our natural environment, economy, societies, cultures and institutions) is changing dramatically—too often for the worse. Without radical new approaches, our planet will become unrecognizable as well as poorer, more violent, more authoritarian.

In his fascinating long-awaited new book (dedicated to his young children), he calls on his extraordinary knowledge of complexity science, of how societies work and can evolve, and of our capacity to handle threats, to show that we can shift human civilization onto a decisively new path if we mobilize our minds, spirits, imaginations and collective values.

Commanding Hope marshals a fascinating, accessible argument for reinvigorating our cognitive strengths and belief systems to affect urgent systemic change, strengthen our economies and cultures, and renew our hope in a positive future for everyone on Earth.

*

The Company We Keep, by Frances Itani

About the book: Hazzley is at loose ends, even three years after the death of her husband. When her longtime friend Cassandra, café owner and occasional dance-class partner, suggests that she start up a conversation group, Hazzley posts a notice on the community board at the local grocery store. Four people turn up for the first meeting: Gwen, a recently widowed retiree in her early sixties, who finds herself pet-sitting a cantankerous parrot; Chiyo, a forty-year-old fitness instructor who cared for her unyielding but gossip-loving mother through the final days of her life; Addie, a woman pre-emptively grieving a close friend who is seriously ill; and Tom, an antiques dealer and amateur poet who, deprived of home baking since becoming a widower, comes to the first meeting hoping cake will be served. Before long, they are joined by Allam, a Syrian refugee with his own story to tell.

These six strangers are learning that beginnings can be possible at any stage of life. But as they tell their stories, they must navigate what is shared and what is withheld. Which version of the truth will be revealed? Who is prepared to step up when help is needed? This moving, funny and deeply empathic new novel from acclaimed author Frances Itani reminds us that life, with all its twists and turns, never loses its capacity to surprise.

*

Hope Matters, by Elin Kelsey

About the book: Fears about climate change are fueling an epidemic of despair across the world: adults worry about their children’s future; thirty-somethings question whether they should have kids or not; and many young people honestly believe they have no future at all. 

In the face of extreme eco-anxiety, scholar and award-winning author Elin Kelsey argues that our hopelessness—while an understandable reaction—is hampering our ability to address the very real problems we face. Kelsey offers a powerful solution: hope itself.

Hope Matters boldly breaks through the narrative of doom and gloom to show why evidence-based hope, not fear, is our most powerful tool for change. Kelsey shares real-life examples of positive climate news that reveal the power of our mindsets to shape reality, the resilience of nature, and the transformative possibilities of individual and collective action. And she demonstrates how we can build on positive trends to work toward a sustainable and just future, before it’s too late.

*

The Sweetness in the Lime, by Stephen Kimber

About the book: Eli Cooper is a resolutely single, fifty-something newspaper copy editor. He spends his nights obsessing over reporters' unnecessary "thats" and his days caring for a demented father he knows should be in twenty-four-hour care. Eli is too busy—and too self-absorbed—to acknowledge what's missing in his life. But then, on a single day in February 2008, Eli loses his job and his father.

Alone and adrift, he begrudgingly accepts his sister's gift: a two-week forget-it-all vacation to Cuba. After a series of misadventures, he meets Mariela—an off-the-books, thirty-something tour guide—and falls in love. But does Mariela fall for Eli, or is he just her ticket to a new life? Eli and Mariela each have secrets they're not ready to share—until they have no choice.

A bittersweet story that takes readers from Havana, to Halifax, to Miami, and back again, The Sweetness in the Lime is a charming, clever novel that peels back the rind to discover there really is sweetness in the lime of life.

*

Indians on Vacation, by Thomas King

About the book: Meet Bird and Mimi in this brilliant new novel from one of Canada’s foremost authors. Inspired by a handful of old postcards sent by Uncle Leroy nearly a hundred years earlier, Bird and Mimi attempt to trace Mimi’s long-lost uncle and the family medicine bundle he took with him to Europe.

 “I’m sweaty and sticky. My ears are still popping from the descent into Vaclav Havel. My sinuses ache. My stomach is upset. My mouth is a sewer. I roll over and bury my face in a pillow. Mimi snuggles down beside me with no regard for my distress.

 ‘My god,’ she whispers, ‘can it get any better?’”

 By turns witty, sly and poignant, this is the unforgettable tale of one couple’s holiday trip to Europe, where their wanderings through its famous capitals reveal a complicated history, both personal and political.

*

The Girl Who Was Convinced Beyond All Reason She Could Fly, by Sybil Lamb

About the book: A visionary young-adult illustrated novel about Eggs, a homeless girl who knows how to fly.
In a rusted unnamed city full of five-dollar hotels and flea markets, a young homeless girl named Eggs is trying to make her way in the world. She's shy and bold at the same time, and wary of strangers, but she is convinced beyond all reason that she can fly.

And fly she does, from rooftop to rooftop, from chimneys to phone wires; she scurries up the sides of buildings and sneaks into secret lairs. Eggs is a loner, but she makes two friends: Grack, who sells 100 different kinds of hot dogs from his bicycle cart, and Splendid Wren, a punk rocker whose open window Eggs came crashing through one night. Both Grack and Splendid Wren try their best to protect her, but Eggs meets her match when on a cold night she swoops onto a rooftop and steals a warm jacket belonging to Robin, a neighbourhood baddie with anger management issues. Can Eggs elude his wrathful revenge?

Beguiling and otherworldly, The Girl Who Was Convinced Beyond All Reason That She Could Fly is a fevered dream about a young girl's flights of fancy in order to survive, and to thrive.

*

Petra, by Shaena Lambert

About the book: Inspired by Petra Kelly, the original Green Party leader and political activist who fought for the planet in 1980s Germany, Shaena Lambert brings us a captivating new novel about a woman who changed history and transformed environmental politics—and who, like many history-changing women, has been largely erased. Award-winning novelist Madeleine Thien calls Petra "a masterpiece—a fierce, humane and powerful novel for our times."

January, 1980. At the height of the Cold War, Petra Kelly inspires hundreds of thousands to take to the streets to protest the placement of nuclear missiles on West German soil—including a NATO general named Emil Gerhardt, who shocks the establishment by converting to the cause. Petra and her general not only vault to fame as the stars of the Green Party, but they also fall in love. Then Manfred Schwartz, an ex-lover, urges Petra to draw back the curtain on Emil's war record, and they enter a world both complicated and threatening.

Told by Manfred Schwartz, from his place in a present world even more beset by existential threats, Petra is an exploration of love, jealousy, and the power of social change. A woman capable of founding a new and world-changing politics and taking on two superpowers, Petra still must grapple with her own complex nature and a singular and fatal love.

*

The Crooked Thing, by Mary MacDonald

About the book: The English poet, William Blake said, "joy and woe are woven fine." So it is in The Crooked Thing. A collection of intense and emotional stories, there are traumas and betrayals, loves and losses, missed opportunities and discoveries, and above all, hope. In tales delicate and steely, a troubled young ferryman finds himself with an unexpected passenger, a songbird finds its voice, a mother learns to let go of her son and, after a chance encounter, an aging ballerina dances again. In her debut story collection, Mary MacDonald brings each narrator to face their own existence, taking the reader into darkness, passing through fear and resistance, to seek redemption and freedom. At their core these are love stories; they move us, disturb us, and upend our beliefs, to show us characters not all that different from ourselves.

Check out Mary MacDonald's recommended reading list "Stories That Excavate the Underworld"

*

Solved: How the World's Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis, by David Miller

About the book: Taking cues from progressive cities around the world, including Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Oslo, Shenzhen, and Sydney, this book is a summons to every city to make small but significant changes that can drastically reduce our carbon footprint. We cannot wait for national governments to agree on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and manage the average temperature rise to within 1.5 degrees. In Solved, David Miller argues that cities are taking action on climate change because they can—and because they must. Miller makes a clear-eyed and compelling case that, if replicated at pace and scale, the actions of leading global cities point the way to creating a more sustainable planet.

Solved: How the World’s Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis demonstrates that the initiatives cities have taken to control the climate crisis can make a real difference in reducing global emissions if implemented worldwide. By chronicling the stories of how cities have taken action to meet and exceed emissions targets laid out in the Paris Agreement, Miller empowers readers to fix the climate crisis. As much a "how to" guide for policymakers as a work for concerned citizens, Solved aims to inspire hope through its clear and factual analysis of what can be done—now, today—to mitigate our harmful emissions and pave the way to a 1.5-degree world.

*

Songs for the End of the World, by Saleema Nawaz

About the book: How quickly he'd forgotten a fundamental truth: the closer you got to the heart of a calamity, the more resilience there was to be found.

This is the story of a handful of people who find themselves living through an unfolding catastrophe.

Elliot is a first responder in New York, a man running from past failures and struggling to do the right thing. Emma is a pregnant singer preparing to headline a benefit concert for victims of the outbreak—all while questioning what kind of world her child is coming into. Owen is the author of a bestselling plague novel with eerie similarities to the real-life pandemic. As fact and fiction begin to blur, he must decide whether his lifelong instinct for self-preservation has been worth the cost.

As the novel moves back and forth in time, we discover these characters' ties to one another—and to those whose lives intersect with theirs—in an extraordinary web of connection and community that reveals none of us is ever truly alone. Linking them all is the mystery of the so-called ARAMIS Girl, a woman at the first infection site whose unknown identity and whereabouts cause a furor.

Written and revised between 2013 and 2019, and brilliantly told by an unforgettable chorus of voices, Saleema Nawaz's glittering novel is a moving and hopeful meditation on what we owe to ourselves and to each other. It reminds us that disaster can bring out the best in people—and that coming together may be what saves us in the end.

*

Black Water: Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory, by David A. Robertson

About the book: The son of a Cree father and a non-Indigenous mother, David A. Robertson was raised with virtually no knowledge or understanding of his family’s Indigenous roots. His father, Don, spent his early childhood on a  trapline in the bush northeast of Norway House, Manitoba, where his first teach was the land. When his family was moved permanently to a nearby reserve, Don was not permitted to speak Cree at school unless in secret with his friends and lost the knowledge he had been gifted while living on his trapline. His mother, Beverly, grew up in a small Manitoba town with not a single Indigenous family in it. Then Don arrived, the new United Church minister, and they fell in love.

Structured around a father-son journey to the northern trapline where Robertson and his father will reclaim their connection to the land, Black Water is the story of another journey: a young man seeking to understand his father's story, to come to terms with his lifelong experience with anxiety, and to finally piece together his own blood memory, the parts of his identity that are woven into the fabric of his DNA.

*

The Smallest Lights in the Universe, by Sara Seager

About the book: Canadian MIT astrophysicist Sara Seager interweaves the story of her search for meaning and solace after losing her first husband to cancer, her unflagging search for an Earth-like exoplanet and her unexpected discovery of new love.

Sara Seager has made it her life's work to peer into the spaces around stars—looking for exoplanets outside our solar system, hoping to find the one-in-a-billion world enough like ours to sustain life. But with the unexpected death of her husband, her life became an empty, lightless space. Suddenly, she was the single mother of two young boys, a widow at forty, clinging to three crumpled pages of instructions her husband had written for things like grocery shopping—things he had done while she did pioneering work as a planetary scientist at MIT. She became painfully conscious of her Asperger's, which before losing her husband had felt more like background noise. She felt, for the first time, alone in the universe.

In this probing, invigoratingly honest memoir, Seager tells the story of how, as she stumblingly navigated the world of grief, she also kept looking for other worlds. She continues to develop groundbreaking projects, such as the Starshade, a sunflower-shaped instrument that, when launched into space, unfurls itself so as to block planet-obscuring starlight, and she takes solace in the alien beauty of exoplanets. At the same time, she discovers what feels every bit as wondrous: other people, reaching out across the space of her grief. Among them are the Widows of Concord, a group of women offering consolation and advice, and her beloved sons, Max and Alex. Most unexpected of all, there is another kind of one-in-a-billion match with an amateur astronomer. Equally attuned to the wonders of deep space and human connection, The Smallest Lights in the Universe is its own light in the dark.

*

Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World, by Hana Shafi

About the book: Let's get one thing straight: Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty: Affirmations for the Real World is not a book of advice. You're not going to find a step-by-step guide to meditation here, or even reminders to drink lots of water and get enough sleep. Those things are all good for you, but that's not what Hana Shafi wants to talk about.

Instead, Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty—built around art from Shafi's popular online affirmation series—focuses on our common and never-ending journey of self-discovery. It explores the ways in which the world can all too often wear us down, and reminds us to remember our worth, even when it's hard to do so. Drawing on her experience as a millennial woman of colour, and writing with humour and a healthy dose of irreverence, Shafi delves into body politics and pop culture, racism and feminism, friendship and allyship. Through it all, she remains positive without being saccharine, and hopeful without being naive.

So no, this is not an advice book: it's a call to action, one that asks us to remember that we are valid as we are—flaws and all—and to not let the bastards grind us down.

*

Peace by Chocolate: The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada, by Jon Tattrie

About the book: Tareq Hadhad was worried about his father: Isam did not know what to do with his life. Before the war began in Syria, Isam had run a chocolate company for over twenty years. But that life was gone now. The factory was destroyed, and he and his family had spent three years in limbo as refugees before coming to Canada. So, in an unfamiliar kitchen in a small town, Isam began to make chocolate again.

This remarkable book tells the extraordinary story of the Hadhad family—Isam, his wife Shahnaz, and their sons and daughters—and the founding of the chocolatier, Peace by Chocolate. From the devastation of the Syrian civil war, through their life as refugees in Lebanon, to their arrival in a small town in Atlantic Canada, Peace by Chocolate is the story of one family. It is also the story of the people of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and so many towns across Canada, who welcomed strangers and helped them face the challenges of settling in an unfamiliar land.

*

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder: A Memoir, by Julia Zarankin

About the book: When Julia Zarankin saw her first red-winged blackbird at the age of thirty-five, she didn’t expect that it would change her life. Recently divorced and auditioning hobbies during a stressful career transition, she stumbled on birdwatching, initially out of curiosity for the strange breed of humans who wear multi-pocketed vests, carry spotting scopes and discuss the finer points of optics with disturbing fervour. What she never could have predicted was that she would become one of them. Not only would she come to identify proudly as a birder, but birding would ultimately lead her to find love, uncover a new language and lay down her roots.

Field Notes from an Unintentional Birder tells the story of finding meaning in midlife through birds. The book follows the peregrinations of a narrator who learns more from birds than she ever anticipated, as she begins to realize that she herself is a migratory species: born in the former Soviet Union, growing up in Vancouver and Toronto, studying and working in the United States and living in Paris. Coming from a Russian immigrant family of concert pianists who believed that the outdoors were for “other people,” Julia Zarankin recounts the challenges and joys of unexpectedly discovering one’s wild side and finding one’s tribe in the unlikeliest of places.

Zarankin’s thoughtful and witty anecdotes illuminate the joyful experience of a new discovery and the surprising pleasure to be found while standing still on the edge of a lake at six a.m. In addition to confirmed nature enthusiasts, this book will appeal to readers of literary memoir, offering keen insight on what it takes to find one’s place in the world.

*

BONUS PICK:

I Found Hope in a Cherry Tree, by Jean E. Pendziwol and Nathalie Dion

About the book: Jean E. Pendziwol’s newest picture book is a lyrical meditation on nature and hope.

The child in this story observes the sun by playing with her shadow, though sometimes it disappears. She listens to the wind tell stories, even when it howls like wolves. She tastes snowflakes—sometimes sweet and delicate; other times sharp on her cheeks. And finally, she finds hope in the buds on a cherry tree that survive through the winter to blossom in spring.

Jean E. Pendziwol has written a layered, lyrical exploration of the hardships and beauties of nature. Her poem, beautifully illustrated by Nathalie Dion, is a study in contrasts and a message of the hope that carries us through the year and through our lives.

November 19, 2020
Books mentioned in this post
Always Brave, Sometimes Kind

Always Brave, Sometimes Kind

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
Brighten the Corner Where You Are

Brighten the Corner Where You Are

A Novel Inspired by the Life of Maud Lewis
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
More Info
Small Courage

Small Courage

A Queer Memoir of Finding Love and Conceiving Family
edition:Paperback
More Info
Still Me

Still Me

A Golf Tragedy in 18 Parts
edition:Paperback
More Info
Hope in the Balance

Hope in the Balance

A Newfoundland Doctor Meets a World in Crisis
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Commanding Hope

Commanding Hope

The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril
edition:Hardcover
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Hope Matters

Hope Matters

Why Changing the Way We Think Is Critical to Solving the Environmental Crisis
edition:Paperback
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The Girl Who Was Convinced Beyond All Reason That She Could Fly

The Girl Who Was Convinced Beyond All Reason That She Could Fly

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The Crooked Thing

The Crooked Thing

Stories
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Solved

Solved

How the World's Great Cities Are Fixing the Climate Crisis
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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Black Water

Black Water

Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory
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also available: Hardcover
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Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty

Small, Broke, and Kind of Dirty

Affirmations for the Real World
edition:Paperback
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Peace by Chocolate

Peace by Chocolate

The Hadhad Family’s Remarkable Journey from Syria to Canada
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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