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Our Books of the Year

By 49thShelf
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At 49th Shelf, list-making is an all-year-round concern, and a task our staff-members take very seriously. Which means that this Books of the Year list is one of the best you're going to find anywhere, expert-compiled with a mind to critically acclaimed titles that readers have loved, a mishmash of fact and fiction. And as ever, we remind you that a books list is only the beginning. Make sure you explore our site to discover more about other great books that were published this year, and all the years before it.
Circle of Stones
Why it's on the list ...
"In an era when we broadcast only versions of our happiest selves and highest achievements on social media, it’s comforting to read books that go to the depths of complexity, chaos, and crisis and to stumble along with their characters. One of the questions I’m interested in as both a reader and an author is not only the universal how do we live, but also more specifically, how do we live in the jumble and scramble of today’s vast and ever-changing cities."
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Critical Condition

Critical Condition

Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook
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Excerpt

Excerpt from Critical Condition: Replacing Critical Thinking with Creativity by Patrick Finn

From the Preface

An Invitation

This short book is an invitation to participate in a thought experiment. I ask you to join me in considering what would happen if we replaced critical thinking with creative practice at the heart of learning. In pursuing this experiment, we will examine some of the history of critical thinking and look at examples of how critical and creative work might operate in the university.

Given that universities are where we train teachers, doctors, lawyers, dancers, politicians, and so many others who influence the way our world works, it seems to me that how we do our work matters a great deal. For generations, our accepted practice has been to have every course in the university operate in a mode that foregrounds critical thinking. What would happen if we changed that?

We promise students who arrive on campus that we will turn them into critical thinkers and then go to great lengths to explain that this is a good thing. But is it? Is it good for us? Is it good for everyone? Perhaps it is, but it has been a long time since anyone asked whether critical thinking is helping us. (Actually, it may be that no one has ever asked. ) What if it is not? What if it is time we put another way of working at the heart of what we do? And what if that mode is more creative than critical? Why don't we think about this for the next few pages and then have a discussion?

From Chapter 4: We Can't Go On Together (with Suspicious Minds)

Diamonds are funny things. Everyone agrees that they are beautiful to look at. They even have some industrial uses in drill bits and saw blades. But they are not actually very valuable, because they just are not that rare. Those in charge of the world's production, refining, and sale of diamonds have found ways to artificially inflate their value—ways that have succeeded so well that the imposed value of diamonds is high enough that every year, many people lose their lives mining and selling them.

Critical thinking is a bit like the diamond trade. No one doubts that it is brilliant on the surface and that it is very good at cutting into things, but we have falsely inflated its value in order to maintain cultural capital in our educational institutions. In a similar fashion, when you question either the diamond trade or the retail market for critical thinkers you are in for some heated discussions. The problem with cleaning up the diamond trade is that we are deeply attached to the illusion. We have marked those stones as somehow related to our highest expressions of love and have spent billions on them, so no one wants to admit they are only worth a fraction of what we say they are. Perhaps it is the same with critical thinking. It seems to be getting tougher to sell university education these days, and we think that if we give up the notion that we are in possession of advanced mental tactics that can be taught for a price, then maybe we will lose value in the marketplace of ideas.

The emotions that drive the diamond market are not necessarily bad, and the public seems comfortable with the ongoing narrative about the diamond trade, but we should have alli the information before we make up our minds. In the area of critical thinking, people have more options. The growing interest in creative thinking can be seen in every corner of the academy. This interest extends across geographic boundaries and is now as hot a topic in India and China as it is in Canada and the United States.

The market for critical thinking is collapsing, with departments that traditionally linked themselves to its instruction losing numbers while other parts of the university grow. The fastest-growing areas all have programs that connect to words like innovation, entrepreneurship, invention, and creativity. This is quite exciting for those of us who are interested in the world of creative thought; however, it is important that those in the disciplines whose focus is linked directly to creative work be part of the discussion.

Around the world, people continue to ask for diamonds. More and more of them are being mined, and every major city has dozens of retailers offering them. The same cannot be said for critical thinking: no one is asking for more of it. No business is saying, “What we need is more criticism—let's look at this issue critically. ” No government office is saying, “What we need is a more critical approach—who do we have that is a critical thinker?” We do not look to our politicians, our educators, or any of the industries that serve us and ask for more critical people. In fact, it turns out that we would like significantly less of it.

When we look behind the scenes, we find that today the world of critical thinking is a bursting bubble. There will always be value in it, but it currently holds an artificially high value that needs to be adjusted down. Meanwhile, creative thinking is enjoying increasing demand and is poised to replace its more linear cousin as the mode of thought of greatest benefit to most of us. To engage most fully with our talents as individuals and as citizens of a global community, we need to engage with open, contributory modes of thinking and working. I call this loving thinking, and it involves working from a position that begins in hope rather than in suspicion.

 

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Why it's on the list ...
"In Canada we actually call these people 'the foreign affairs critic,' or the 'environment critic.' Do we ever hear these people offer creative contributions that could improve the lives of the citizens they represent? Of course not—no matter what the government says, the critic disagrees. So bad is this sort of gridlock that governments in the United States seem unable to pass any kind of legislation. They would rather the population suffered than cede the point on any issue."
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Life Among the Qallunaat
Why it's on the list ...
"I think they were afraid that I might talk badly about residential schools. And remember: at that time, Northern Affairs kept denying, denying about residential schools. When an Indian person came up and talked about it really badly, they would shut them up. And then, I think they thought I wrote something bad about residential schools, which I should have, but I didn’t [laughing]. I think that was the worry, and when they discovered there wasn’t something about residential schools, they decided to put it out."
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Debris
Why it's on the list ...
"In recently discussing the stories in my book, Debris, the idea of what the characters in the stories were fighting and struggling for kept coming up. In the end, I figured the fight itself, and enduring the hard things that happen in their lives, is what drives the stories. The characters endure and sometimes that is enough."
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Sir John's Table

Sir John's Table

The Culinary Life and Times of Canada's First Prime Minister
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
"Food is, after all, at the most basic level, about life and our very survival as a species. Food tells the story of the past and present. From the origin of mankind, to the cave dwellers to the Roman Empire; from the First Nations people who roamed this continent 20,000 years ago, to the European colonialists, to contemporary locavores at trendy urban restaurants; from the Garden of Eden to Goldilocks—food is at the heart of everything that matters."
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Red Jacket

Red Jacket

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Why it's on the list ...
"So I owe this book to a few people here, as I’ve said. I am deeply grateful! Set on another fictive Caribbean island, St Chris is one of several locales in Red Jacket. A friend suggested that I ought to set aside the pretense and admit that St Chris is Jamaica, since being coy does not become me, but I am clearly not the only coy one. And ever since I described 'the Mona moon' as rising 'out of the sea' in a poem (it doesn’t, but I wanted the rhyme), and my friend, Kamau, tackled me about it, I have grasped the virtue of fictive places. Lack of accountability!"
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Born to Walk

Born to Walk

The Transformative Power of a Pedestrian Act
edition:eBook
also available: Audiobook Paperback Hardcover
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Why it's on the list ...
"I wanted to write about a string of characters on a range of different types of journeys, some of which were rather commonplace, but an essential part of our daily lives, not an extreme adventure in a far-off land. Which is how I view walking overall: something that needs to be part of our daily rhythms, not something that we go out our way to do. So instead of drawing structural inspiration from other non-fiction books, I approached Born to Walk as a series of interrelated magazine features. Each chapter kind of reads like a magazine story with its own narrative arc and a blend of my personal experiences, third-person reporting, and a deep dive into the scientific literature around the theme at the core of that chapter."
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Twenty-One Cardinals

Twenty-One Cardinals

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
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Why it's on the list ...
"Ominous is a good word for [the book]. I remember when I first read it getting to a certain point and thinking 'uh-oh.' Again, Jocelyne is a very good storyteller and in each of her books she manages to create a world that you can immerse yourself in. Of course I spent an awful lot of time with a book I’m translating, so I end up feeling like I can move around in space inside the story, but I think anyone who reads one of her books, in English or in French, ends up inhabiting the world she creates for the time they spend there. It’s a special talent she has."
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