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New and Notable Memoirs in Fall 2018
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New and Notable Memoirs in Fall 2018

By kileyturner
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From humour to grief, from hockey to publishing, and with survival a recurring theme, 10 memoirs worth checking out this fall.
Nobody Cares

Nobody Cares

Essays
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback Audiobook

“The internet’s best friend.” — Flare

From the author of the popular newsletter That’s What She Said, Nobody Cares is a frank, funny personal essay collection about work, failure, friendship, and the messy business of being alive in your twenties and thirties.

As she shares her hard-won insights from screwing up, growing up, and trying to find her own path, Anne T. Donahue’s debut book offers all the honesty, laughs, and reassurance of a late-night phone call with your best friend. Whe …

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When I first started my weekly newsletter, That’s What She Said, my thirst was palpable. Each instalment included links to my work and not much else, and it existed to prove that I was in demand and busy, and why couldn’t everyone see how important I was? Perhaps understandably, it died very quickly. Partially because nobody gave a shit, but especially because it was very boring to write.

Then in late 2015, I revved it back up again. I wanted to write without worrying about editors’ feedback or about being professional. I wanted to write what I wished someone would say to me when I was in the midst of a misery marathon or taking up residence in the bell jar. I wrote about my fuck-ups, fears, and real, human feelings (gross), and dove into events and experiences that weren’t gold star–worthy. In it, I was vulnerable, angry, and messy AF, but it felt good to write about life as an often-horrifying shitshow instead of what it looked like through an Instagram filter. For the first time since I’d started writing, I stopped trying to show everybody how great I was and focused on the merits of being a person unfinished. I began trying to work out my issues and feelings in real time and chose to learn as I went. Quickly, the newsletter became the place I could be me and sound like me and write like me and share with the world all the very best Leonardo DiCaprio GIFs the internet has to offer. I was finally happy just to be there. And for the first time in years, I didn’t give a shit about being important.

Which is a relief because I’m not. None of us are.

Nobody’s looking at us, nobody cares — everybody’s obsessed with their own Thing. Most of the time we’re all just trying our best. And sometimes we fail and other times we don’t, but we’re sure as shit not better than anybody else before or after the fact. If you can look at your life and feel confident that you’re doing something you love and giving it all you’ve got, I think that’s enough. Especially since not even a tidal wave of third-party congratulations will make you feel better if you don’t already like where you’re at. No amount of RSVPs, no parties, no Cool Guys From Whatever City Is Hip Right Now’s adulations. No book deals. You are always left with yourself.

And it turned out people liked my messy-ass self. Including (and somewhat ironically), two book editors who reached out to my agent. So, I’ve tried to keep toning down my quest to prove how special I am, because I’m not. And to care that much about being famous or world-renowned is exhausting. It’s a waste of time and energy. Yet even while typing that sentence, I know I’m still battling. My tightrope walk between anxiety-fueled work binges and genuine hustle, between thirst and a healthy amount of ambition, is a balance I still navigate— daily. And I’m so used to it at this point, I think I’d miss it if it went.

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All Things Consoled

All Things Consoled

A daughter's memoir
edition:Hardcover

From Elizabeth Hay, one of Canada's most beloved novelists, comes a startling and beautiful memoir about the drama of her parents' end, and the longer drama of being their daughter.

Jean and Gordon Hay were a colourful, formidable pair. Jean, a late-blooming artist with a marvellous sense of humour, was superlatively frugal; nothing got wasted, not even maggoty soup. Gordon was a proud and ambitious schoolteacher with a terrifying temper, a deep streak of melancholy, and a devotion to flowers, ca …

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     My mother came home the next day. The residence doctor dropped by in the afternoon, sturdy, energetic, reassuring. We had learned he was from Aberdeen, a fact that only endeared him further to my parents, for the Hays traced their origins back to the same part of Scotland. My mother greeted him cheerfully, and he said, “So you’ve come back.”
     She had. She had come back to us.
     Then once again, around the middle of March, she lost her words and twenty-four hours later showed no signs of recovering them. “I’m thinking—throne—thinking—th.” Starting on a word with an opening sound like “th,” she could not escape it, any more than a month earlier she had been able to escape “window—whether.”
     After I got her lying down, I went into the living room to talk to Dad, who was staring out one of the windows that overlooked the road and the canal beyond. Without turning, he said, “I don’t think she’s suffering, she’s just lost.” He choked up, as he did so very easily, before going on. “We just have to hope, or maybe hope is the wrong word. If she doesn’t make it, maybe it’s for the best.”
     The next day, “It’s snowing snowing snowing snowing,” she said, as we sat on a bench in the glowing sunshine.
     Certain words were no problem for her: yes, okay, right, super, thank you, well, son of a gun, really. Over the telephone, I told Sochi about the automatic responses that still issued loud and clear from her grandmother. Sochi laughed and remarked that they were all affirmatives; someone else’s might have been shit, goddammit and fuck. My mother’s “son of a gun” was as close as she came to an expletive and it was always said with good humour.
     Then the next morning, when I walked out of the late-winter sunshine into their living room, exclaiming what a beautiful day it was, my mother stopped me in my tracks by replying from the chesterfield, “Yes, it is a beautiful day.”
     Lazarus was back from the land of the mute. Open in her lap was the book I had brought to them several days before about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition, and now she said how interesting she thought it was. Sitting beside her, washed over by relief and excitement, I flipped to the page with the photograph of ice flowers, delicate white rosettes blanketing the surface of newly frozen sea water on February 16th, 1915—four years before she and my father were born. I told her about seeing them in patches on the canal last winter and on a pond at the arboretum. And we made conversation. “Your words have come back!” She nodded and smiled and talked, and everything she said made sense.
     But Dad was less excited by her recovery than he was upset with her for having wet the bed. “And who is going to wash the sheets?” he wanted to know. I asked him what happened to the diaper I had helped her into before leaving the night before. Well, in getting her into her nightgown, he had taken it off. Then immediately on the offensive again, he lit into me about her bone-strengthening medication. Had she had it or not?
     “A nurse is supposed to give it to her early Sunday morning,” I said, “which is today.”
     “You haven’t answered my question!” he thundered, only to back off a heartbeat later. “All right,” he admitted. “Somebody came in and gave it to her.” Only to blast me again, “But then she fell asleep! She’s not supposed to fall asleep after she gets it!”
     He took things hard and he made them harder. There would come a day when he declared that the nursing care in this place wasn’t “worth coon shit.”
     I liked “coon shit.” Never in a million years would I have imagined those words coming out of his mouth. We went down for coffee, and then Mom and I went outside into the open air and abundant sunshine while he remained behind in the library reading Maclean’s.
     In the flooding light we walked to the corner. “Did you have wrens nesting in the garden in London last spring?” I asked her.
     “I am forced to confess that I do not remember,” she said, speaking in her old formal way. Her teachers at Renfrew Collegiate had been sticklers for grammar and well-formed sentences, and my mother had been an excellent student.
     “What was it like for you, the last couple of days, when you couldn’t find your words?”
     “It was unsettling. But it’s been unsettling for a while.”
     We walked on. I asked her what she was thinking about.
     “I’m thinking about what the future holds.”
     “Are you worried about that?”
     She said something vague about no one knowing what the future holds, or perhaps I said that.
     I had pulled from the wastebasket in their rooms another of her efforts at a letter, one she had been working on somedays before, wanting it, she said, to be “a reasonable letter from a reasonable person.” She intended to have it do yeoman’s service for all of the friends she hadn’t yet written to.

There must be a way in the English Landwich to say to
your English speaking friends a great deal more emphatic?
I’ve tried many ways but the best I’ve managed is

Thank you so very much from all of us
The Hays

     Around this time, I remember her taking several bananas—the three on the counter and the one from inside their little fridge—and lining them up on the seat of her walker, then pushing her walker into the living room. I didn’t follow for a moment, washing dishes in their kitchenette. Then when I went into the living room, the bananas were nowhere in sight. “Where are they, Mom? Dad, did you see what Mom did with the bananas?”
     “Sure I did.”
     “Where are they?” Looking around.
     “Well, just don’t sit on the chesterfield,” he said.
     I checked under the cushions and there they were: fourbananas lined up in a row.

They reminded me of characters out of Beckett. A pair of solitaries who had always headed out to the studio, in my mother’s case, or downstairs to his study, in my father’s (each to his own lair) were now sharing two rooms. They were like the aged parents trapped in dustbins in Endgame. Like Laurel and Hardy in another fine mess. Or like old Joshua Smallweed in Bleak House throwing cushions at his imbecile wife.
     “Oh the weather,” my mother said to me, “the weather now is the pits of wet roses.” She had been reading in the newspaper, she said, about a woman in her thirties “who came down under the overburden of blankets and probably isn’t going to live.”
     Her turns of phrase rather confirmed my view that poetry issues from the holes in our head, that whatever faculty produces the startling contractions and coinages and leaps in logic that we call poetry is also available on an unconscious and uncontrollable level to someone suffering dementia. One morning on the telephone, ever solicitous about my sleep, she asked, “How did you severe the night?” Blending the words “fare,” “survive” and “persevere” so deftly that a lifetime of labour in the sleep mines got summoned up and summed up. “Dad’s behind a shave,” she added, “but I think he’ll come to the phone.”
     Later, when I went over to see them, “Do you know what I had for breakfast?” she said to me.
     “What?”
     She leaned forward. “Too much.”
     But that was her sense of humour. Like her abundant hair, it was her lasting glory.

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Notes for the Everlost

Notes for the Everlost

A Field Guide to Grief
edition:Paperback

Part memoir, part handbook for the heartbroken, this powerful, unsparing account of losing a premature baby will speak to all who have been bereaved and are grieving, and offers inspiration on moving forward, gently integrating the loss into life.

Inglis’s story is a springboard that can help other bereaved parents—and anyone who has experienced wrenching loss—reflect on emotional survival in the first year; dealing with family, friends, and bystanders post-loss; the unique survivors’ gui …

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Home Ice

Home Ice

Reflections of a Reluctant Hockey Mom
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

The author of the Canada Reads–nominated The Bone Cage tackles the ups and downs of amateur hockey, from a mother’s point of view

Over 570,000 people are registered in Hockey Canada and over 600,000 in Hockey USA. It’s a national obsession. But what does that really mean when your child wants to play on a team? As a former varsity athlete and university instructor teaching sport literature, novelist Angie Abdou is no stranger to sport obsession, but she finds herself conflicted when faced w …

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Prologue

 

“Have Fun! Try Hard!” — Reflections of a Hockey Mom

 

“Have fun! Try hard!” That was the coach’s rallying cry for every pre-Novice hockey game during my son’s first year in the sport. “Have fun! Try hard!” I love it. The slogan applies to so much in life — work, writing, marriage. If you have fun and try hard, the rest often sorts itself out.

I wrote the slogan in red crayon on a torn piece of paper and taped it to the laptop where I spend my days either teaching creative writing students online or pounding out my own stories. The slogan stands as a reminder that, sure, okay, I will likely never make the writer’s equivalent of the NHL and, yes, I know, I cannot expect a pot of gold at the end of the novelist’s rainbow. I can, though, enjoy the process. I can take pride in my work. I can always push myself to do better. I can find meaning in the challenge. And those things — in and of themselves — can be enough. They have to be.

If hockey began and ended with that “Have fun! Try hard!” philosophy, I would have no reservations about my son’s participation in the sport.

At nine years old, Oliver has already played hockey through two years of pre-Novice, one year of Novice, and his first year of Atom. Counting a previous year of skating lessons, five of his winters have been spent at the rink. Each year, the Have fun! Try hard! slogan feels less relevant to our experience of the game. I have arenas full of reservations.

I don’t have to spell out what’s wrong with hockey. There’s the violence. The threat of spinal and head injuries. The parents. Especially the parents. A league on Vancouver Island has actually banned parents from attending games. The kids play before empty stands, a stroke of brilliance as far as I’m concerned. This winter in Marysville, British Columbia, at the coldest rink in North America, I saw two adults — two fathers — get in a fist fight in the stands at an Atom hockey game. Atoms are nine and ten years old. I watched these men hammer each other in the head, spitting obscenities, as mothers with babies on their hips fled to the closest change rooms to hide, and I thought, What on earth am I doing here?

~

But my reservations about hockey might run even deeper than these typical complaints about hockey violence and crazed, delusional hockey parents. I was raised in 1980s Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Home of the WHL Warriors.

Alarm bells are already ringing for Canadian readers. Even before I mention names like Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury. Even before I mention Graham James.

Theo Fleury played for coach Graham James from the age of thirteen, first on the Junior team, the Winnipeg Warriors. When the WHL moved the team to Moose Jaw, Fleury and James moved too. “Graham was on me once or twice a week for the next two years,” Fleury writes of his coach’s assaults. “An absolute nightmare every day of my life.” Graham James even required Fleury to sleep at his house two nights a week rather than at the family home where he’d been billeted. Nobody questioned this arrangement. Nobody tried to put a stop to it. In 2009, more than twenty years later, Fleury published Playing with Fire and filed a criminal complaint against Graham James, who subsequently pled guilty to charges of sexual assault. I don’t remember anyone in Moose Jaw expressing surprise.

Theo Fleury and I are nearly the same age, so his nightmare with Graham James happened while I too was a teenager in Moose Jaw. You could often find me and my gravity-defying hair at the local rink. Before games, my friends and I would shimmy into our tightest acid-wash jeans. To get them on, we’d lie flat on our backs and hook the tip of a hanger into the zipper tag, suck in our stomachs, hold our breaths, and yank. That’s how we made sure our jeans fit just right. Hockey players were a big deal. It was important to look our best.

My little brother — two years younger than Theo — also played hockey. My brother, Justin, was a strong and athletic kid, physically mature for his age. Now kids can be drafted at fourteen, but back then there was no Bantam draft. Instead, each team had a protected players list of fifty, which included players of all ages. As soon as my brother turned twelve, the Warriors put him on their protected players list. He was the only Moose Jaw kid listed. The way I remember it is that when my brother turned fourteen, Graham James asked him to practice with the Warriors and play exhibition Junior games as an underage. In Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, deals do not get bigger than this. An invitation to play Junior is a hefty step in the exact direction of the NHL. Every hockey player’s dream.

The way I’ve always told the story, my brother said no. Even today, I can hear Justin’s fourteen-year-old voice, “That Graham James guy creeps me out. No way. Keep me away from him.”

I won’t say everyone knew. I won’t say that even in 1985 — nearly twenty-five years before the criminal charges — everyone knew. I won’t say hockey culture protected Graham James, a pedophile and sex offender who used his power to prey on vulnerable boys. I won’t say hockey culture victimized Theo Fleury. On those matters, I will leave readers to draw their own conclusions.

But I will say that even though I was very much on the periphery of these events — up in the stands with my impossibly big hair and my impossibly tight jeans — these events affected me more deeply than I knew.

~

I’d been away from the rink for decades and returning with my son felt like a kind of homecoming, though, thankfully, I’d returned wearing more comfortable pants.

My husband and I disagreed about whether to allow Ollie to play hockey. “Why would we?” my husband argued. “We live here.”

Here is Fernie, British Columbia. Home to a world-class ski resort with lift access just ten minutes from our house. With stunning snow-capped peaks in every direction, Fernie is a recreational dream: downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow biking. Who would choose to get on a treacherous winter highway to spend the weekend drinking bad coffee inside a rink?

My husband had a point. My point, though, was that it is not up to us to choose. Our children’s sports are like our children’s marriages: we, the parents, do not get to decide. Ollie picked hockey himself. At four when he first asked to play, we put him in the figure skating club’s learn-to-skate program. I got away with that for two winters. Two afternoons per week he skated for an hour. We spent our weekends at the ski hill, as a family. A few months before he turned six, he told us again, “I want to play hockey.” When I took him to the rink for the same learn-to-skate program, he turned his serious eyes on me. “No, Mom. I mean real hockey.”

He begged us to let him play. I thought of my own childhood love for swimming, of everything that sport taught me about passion and goal setting and discipline. Any meaning I have found in life has come from those three things. Passion doesn’t come from a parent saying, “We live ten minutes from a ski hill: you’ll ski.” Passion comes from inside. We get to have kids, but we do not get to tell them what they like.

I’m not sure I won that argument. Ollie does play hockey but I am the one braving the highways every weekend. I am the one sitting at the rink, drinking bad coffee. “As long as you love it,” I tell my son. “If you love it, I’ll do this. As soon as you only kind of like it, we’re done. We’re going skiing.”

In conversation with Christian Bök, a childless poet friend, I tried to explain my devotion to my son’s passion. Christian could not understand why I would sacrifice my winter (my Fernie winter) to a sport so at odds with our lifestyle. I said, “I’m sure my parents didn’t want to drive me to the pool every day at five a.m.”

“Oh . . .” Understanding shimmered on Christian’s features. “So you’re paying it forward?”

“No,” I said. “I’m parenting.”

~

As much as I play the martyr with my husband, Marty (“Oh, don’t you worry about Ollie’s hockey, I’ll just do everything.”), I do enjoy certain aspects of this return to the rink. The smell of shaved ice. Warming my hands against a cup of coffee. The magic turns of the Zamboni. And when Ollie scores a goal? His eyes find me in the stands, and he blows me a kiss.

“Did he just blow you a kiss?” the other mothers ask.

“Yes, yes, he did.”

And I don’t know if anything fills my heart more than the sight of my Oliver in the change room, red-cheeked and sweaty-haired, smiling ear-to-ear because he’s scored a hat trick.

That’s happy.

That’s hockey.

Perhaps I’ve repressed my less sentimental memories of hockey culture.

At six, Ollie had an altercation with his coach. Ollie flips out sometimes. He can be what we like to call “challenging.” I’ll get to that later. For now, just imagine tears, uncontrolled rage, resolute disobedience. The coach, who’d recently been to a seminar on the importance of strict discipline, got a bit “in Ollie’s face,” as we say in Moose Jaw. He got a bit loud. Ollie can do loud too. It wasn’t a shiny Tim Hortons hockey moment. Once we all got home, my husband sat Ollie down to explain to him the athletic code of conduct. “What the coach tells you to do, Ollie, you do it. Whatever it is, your only answer is ‘Yes, coach! Yes, sir!’”

My blood turned cold. I could feel my throat closing. “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” At first my voice came out strangled, but I picked up volume quick enough. I’m sure the rising note of frantic alarm seemed vastly out of proportion to my husband and my son. “You do not say, yes, sir! You do not say yes to anything you do not want to do. Not ever.” My husband looked at me funny just in time to see me press my hand into my chest, trying to slow my galloping heart. “You do not.”

I hadn’t thought about the Moose Jaw Warriors in decades, but suddenly Theo was there. Graham James was there. My brother — with his, “No way. That guy creeps me out. I’m not playing.” — was there.

“Coaches are not always good,” I added, clearly shaken. “And . . . and I don’t like this game anymore. I don’t . . .”

“Um, Ang, are you okay?”

“No. No, I am not.”

So there’s that little bit of ugly, festering hockey history.

But is that really what my resistance to hockey is about? We can’t raise our kids under a bell jar. Bad people live everywhere. Theo Fleury had nobody looking out for him. My true reservations about hockey are perhaps a little subtler than the one panic implies.

~

Let me tell you about Ollie. He’s “different.” That’s what his teachers tell me — his teachers who work in a system that is hell-bent on making kids the same. Ollie shakes his hands and chews his shirt. Dr. Google tells me both can be symptoms of autism and/or stress-anxiety disorder. Ollie has an inflexible and inflammatory sense of justice. He wants things to be right and fair. He’s especially big on fairness. He wants people to be good. And fair. When he inevitably runs up against not good and not fair, he gets emotional. To this day, he has not forgiven our neighbor Crissy-C who, at two years old, right in front of Ollie in our driveway, killed a grasshopper. That happened when Ollie was four. Now he’s nine, and the incident still brings him to tears. That dead bug and the murderous Crissy-C keep him awake at night. “That grasshopper was my friend. It might have had a family. Why would she do that?”

I once told my dad that reading to children increases their empathy. He responded, “I can see that, and you’re creating an Ollie in a world of no more Ollies.”

So, maybe it’s my fault that Ollie is too sensitive for a hockey locker room.

At the start of last season (Atom Year One), the boys were charging around the dressing room in their underwear, roaring and hitting each other with their sticks (in Atom, moms are still allowed in the change rooms, since the boys can’t tie their own skates). One of those boys is Quinn. I make a habit of being friendly with these boys and learning their names just to be sure they realize that I am watching them and I know who they are and they had better be nice to my boy. (Yes, I know, cue psycho-thriller background music, zoom in on the crazed mother.)

So, Quinn stomped on a spider. The boys all hollered over the impressive display of blood and guts and gore. I tried to position myself between Ollie and the scene. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. I tried to put the words in my expression as I met his eyes and held my hands lightly to his cheeks. Please, Ollie. Please don’t cry.

It’s not that I believe boys can’t cry. It’s not that I’m trying to enforce a hypermasculine code of conduct. It’s not that I don’t understand how harmful gender stereotypes can be. It’s simply that I don’t want the boys to make fun of him.

“Mom,” Ollie said, his eyes already brimming, his mouth twisting the way it does just before he loses the battle with his gargantuan emotions. “WHY?” He wrung his hands. “WHY would they do that?”

“It’s okay, Ollie. Let’s just get your skates on.” The boys were already looking our way, still in their underwear, sticks frozen overhead.

“But the spider is dead,” Ollie said, holding himself together, though the quiver in his voice and the tears on his cheeks hinted that his composure might not last. “There’s no reason to kill a living thing,” he continued, “unless maybe if . . . like . . . you’re going to make a steak or something . . .”

That’s Ollie.

Being a human is hard. Ollie understands ethical conflict. He lives it, every day.

~

I fought the attempts to have Ollie diagnosed until late in grade three. I didn’t want a label. He’s Ollie. He has Ollie-ness. He suffers from Ollie-itis. This year, though, I decided maybe a label would help, maybe a label would come with coping strategies. We saw a counselor. I braced myself for the words she would attach to him.

“Ollie,” she told me, “is what we call a highly sensitive child.”

Okay.

The counselor read the symptoms: overdeveloped sense of empathy; tendency to process all the details in a room; tendency to immerse oneself in the struggle and challenges of others; tendency to get overwhelmed; extremely emotional; tendency to process situations at a very deep and complex level; inclination to escape into imagination when bored.

Oh no!” I said. “He’s a writer.”

I remembered the first time Ollie — at three — recited one of his own stories to me so we could make his first book. “Don’t you think it ends a little abruptly,” I said, jotting down his last line. “Do you maybe want more of a gradual, full finish?”

“Mom,” he said, practically rolling his three-year-old eyes, “that is the dénouement!”

Right. So I’ve got a writer. I worry about my little artist, how he will cope at the hockey rink. Will he be safe? Can he be happy there?

But here is the thing about sport. For all our Have fun! Try hard!, you know what makes kids happy in sports? Winning. Scoring goals. Being good. That’s the thing I’m not supposed to worry about as an enlightened parent: is he any good?

Having fun and trying hard — that’s our focus. But here’s the catch: nothing is more fun than scoring goals.

Ollie’s birthday is December 17th. Anyone who has heard of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers knows that a December birthday for a hockey player sucks. Very early on, resources are directed toward the best kids. When kids are little, a few months can make a significant difference in development. A child who just turned five will generally not be as good as a child who is almost six, even though they are in the same age group. More resources, therefore, go to the January and February babies, and as a result those early-in-the-year children do become the best players. With a December birthday, Ollie is the youngest player on the ice every second year. In the words of my brother, it’s not fair that a kid should have to pay for the poor planning of his parents. “You and Marty could’ve waited a month,” says Justin, a January baby.

Ollie’s first year of Atom was pretty brutal. He’d only played one year Novice (for players under nine) and hoped to stay there for a second year with his friends and grade three classmates. But he’s big for his age, and the Fernie Minor Hockey Association decided it was time to go by the book and move him into Atom (for players under eleven), even if he would be only eight for nearly half the season. He didn’t score a goal all year. Not one. I know because he tells me often. I thought this might be the year that killed it for him — the love — but in April we were playing in the waves in Mexico, and I said, “You love this! Maybe surfing is your favorite sport!”

Without hesitation, he said “Surfing is second. Hockey is my favorite sport.”

So a year of no goals was hard, a year of being the youngest (and sometimes the worst) player on the ice was hard, but that tough season wasn’t enough to kill Ollie’s love for hockey or to dull its allure that I don’t understand and can’t control.

My brother, who played triple A hockey in Moose Jaw, was also an Olympic wrestler. After high school, he chose to go to Simon Fraser University, which competes against American schools, and he won four national championships in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics. In fact, during his university career, he never lost a single match to an NAIA opponent. He competed for Canada in the 2000 Olympic Games. I’ve watched him closely. He was good. He won almost always. He had the success that sport parents dream of for their children.

In my 2007 novel, The Bone Cage, I explored my worries about sport as they manifest in my brother. I know how tied up one’s identity can get with success in sport. I know how all-consuming that focus on gold can be. I worry about the transition to post-sport life.

Theo Fleury wanted to be good. People told him he would never make the NHL. He was too poor. His parents had checked out. He was way too small. Being devoted and loyal and obedient to his coach — that was Theo’s chance for greatness through sport. He believed that.

Obsession over sporting success can destroy lives.

Yet.

There is also something inherently hypocritical and superficial about the enlightened parents’ insistence that winning doesn’t matter. What does that mean exactly? Why, then, are we keeping score? Why are we even playing games in which the objective is for our team to get goals while stopping the other team from getting goals?

~

I have mentioned sacrificing my weekends. I have mentioned venturing out on deadly mountain highways in the worst of winter. I haven’t yet mentioned the cost. In 2011, a Royal Bank survey of parents across Canada found families spend an average of $1,500 a year on hockey. Many spend much more. A 2013 American article on ESPN puts the cost higher, adding up a lifetime total of necessary purchases parents might forget to tally in the year-to-year bustle: $2,645 for skates, $1,250 for helmets, $150 for elbow pads, $180 for shin guards, $400 for gloves, $15 for Febreze spray and drier sheets, $40 for special hockey detergent, $1,750 for sticks. The article goes on to include dues and camps and travel and eventually adds up to a grand total of $48,850 U.S. for one child’s experience in youth hockey. “I’m just like an ostrich in the sand,” one mother wrote. “I’m sure it’s $10,000 to $15,000 a season for one AAA novice son.”

Do I really want to pay $15,000 a year for the privilege of driving three hours to Creston and watching my son’s team get trounced 17–3? Do I want to pay that kind of money for a son who is sometimes the weakest player on the ice? For a son who is always sad because he hasn’t scored a single goal all season?

In the last tournament of Ollie’s first Atom season, his underdog team shockingly fought their way into the final and, oh my god, were they stoked. They were up against a big-city team — a team with bigger kids, a team with more second-year kids, a team with better kids. But you should’ve seen our boys play. They did not give up. The two teams were back and forth for the full three periods. We were up two goals. We were down one. Back up. Then down. We parents cheered until we were hoarse. My butt did not touch my seat once. My cheeks hurt from smiling. And Ollie! I wish you could’ve seen my Ollie! The kid was on a mission, a blur of speed and energy. The other parents noticed too: “What has gotten into him? Look at him go!” And god can he skate. I haven’t mentioned how he skates, have I? Long, strong strides. When he makes up his mind to go, nobody can beat him. Ollie on ice: it’s a thing of beauty.

He didn’t get a goal that game, but he stopped the other team from getting three. In front of the net, he was a brick wall. Every time he went into a skirmish on the boards, he came out with the puck. Every time he stepped on the ice, he got credited with assists.

In the end, his team lost by one goal. Most of the kids didn’t care. They were ecstatic with their silver medals. But two kids cared. One was Remy, the team’s top goal-scorer. The other? Ollie. Ollie and Remy were inconsolable. From the stands, I saw the tears and the mucus, the shaking and the red face, the pounding of the stick on the ice, the accusatory glare at the refs. Of course, the accusatory glares at the refs. By the time the other team started throwing their gloves and sticks in the air, I was down to ice level, face to the glass. Please. Please, Ollie. Hold it together. Please.

Ollie does not like when a team over-celebrates. It’s not nice. It is not fair.

The two teams lined up for the Player of the Game awards. We don’t pay much attention to this part. In all of his years in hockey, Ollie had never been awarded Player of the Game. But he hunkered in line, his scowling face covered in snot, his shoulders heaving with sobs. I patted the glass to get his attention. It’s okay, I mouthed. It’s just a game. He refused to look my way. His scowl deepened.

“. . . and for the Fernie Ghostriders,” the coach said. “The player with the most heart, the player who tries his hardest every time he steps on the ice, the player who always busts his butt for his team. Nobody loves hockey the way this boy loves hockey. Player of the Game: number eleven Ollie Abdou!”

As Ollie skated back into line with his award, he found my eyes and lifted his trophy in a toast, an almost reluctant smile spreading across his snot-covered face.

The player with the most heart? Ollie is nothing but heart. And it looks like he and his big heart will be back for Atom Year Two. I will have to learn to parent an athlete in a sport that I’m not even sure I like. Together, we will try this hockey thing for another season, I’ve promised, as long as he loves it.

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Falling for London

Falling for London

A Cautionary Tale
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

When Sean Mallen finally landed his dream job, it fell on him like a ton of bricks.Not unlike the plaster in his crappy, overpriced London flat.

The veteran journalist was ecstatic when he unexpectedly got the chance he’d always craved: to be a London-based foreign correspondent. It meant living in a great city and covering great events, starting with the Royal Wedding of William and Kate. Except: his tearful wife and six-year-old daughter hated the idea of uprooting their lives and moving to …

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Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

“This … is London.”
— Edward R. Murrow

Murrow was the prototype for a foreign correspondent. From a distance, his heyday during the war seems hopelessly romantic. Under fire with the rest of London, living intensely, drinking, smoking, working all hours. He drank with Churchill and romanced the PM’s daughter-in-law. His resonant voice and powerful words evoked all the life-and-death drama of a struggle for existence. His brow seemed permanently furrowed in passionate commitment to his calling.

What young broadcast reporter would not want to be Murrow?

Many apply, but few are called.

After more than twenty years of local and national TV reporting in Canada, I had thought my time had passed. Overlooked several times for foreign postings, I was resigned to a comfortable and largely satisfying job covering the Ontario legislature, complete with my own modest, no-budget, political affairs talk show, which had won a few awards.

As I approached my midfifties, it seemed that my next move would be into public relations — perhaps making a bit more money than my journalism career had ever offered.

I would think sometimes that maybe it was time to grow up and get a real job before some new boss young enough to be my kid called me into his office to advise that he did not like my face on TV anymore and was calling security to escort me to the door.

Then the lightning bolt struck.

In early 2011 our London correspondent departed in favour of an anchor job back home. Do I apply one more time, I wondered?

“Go ahead,” said Isabella. “Don’t let me stop you.”

For as long as we had been together she had known I wanted to live and report from abroad, with London my top choice. She had never liked it, never wanted it, but equally did not wish to be my obstacle.

When I announced that I was going to Kosovo for a week in 1999 to report on the aftermath of the war, she wept fearful tears when I left for the airport.

When it seemed I was headed to Pakistan in the weeks after 9/11, she was inconsolable. As it turned out I never went anyway.

That was all before we had Julia. She was now in Grade 1, attached to her friends and her nanny. We had a circle of close friends and relatives. Isabella had a job she loved, producing and directing an online design show. We had just committed to a major kitchen renovation, adding enormously to our debt, but finally finishing off our house.

Life was pretty good.

I sat at my desk at Queen’s Park, staring off through the window. My stomach contracted.

Should I do this? If I get it, how will we do it? Am I just too old for this? Time to grow up and get a real job? Fuck it. Not going to get it anyway. Give it one more chance and then give it up.

I applied, pouring my heart into the email to the show’s producers, just as I had for so many other jobs before where I came close but missed.

The job interview was by phone, with me sitting in a deserted hallway of the legislature on a quiet day when most of the politicians were away. They asked me how I would get into Libya to cover the civil war.

“Well, I would just go to the border and start asking people for advice,” I said confidently.

I had absolutely no bloody idea how I would ever get into Libya if the time ever came. And Isabella would certainly hit the roof if I ever tried.

The producers were kind and genial. I respected and liked them both. But this felt different from all the job interviews I had had before — all those times when I knew I came close but was not the choice.

They clearly wanted someone younger, more ready to go into war zones. Someone more conversant with Twitter (I would tweet once a week to a tiny list of followers to advise them of the subject of my talk show). That’s it, game over, I thought. In a way, it was a relief. At least I tried.

***

A federal election was looming and I was angling to turn my provincial program into a national talk show during the campaign. But I was about to be banished to an early morning Sunday time slot that would make it impractical.

The producer who did the London job interview was among the executives I was lobbying to win a Saturday evening time. He sent an email asking me to give him a call. It was mid-March 2011.

“Hi. So, do you think we can find a time for this show?” I asked when he picked up.

“Well, we’re going to take it off your hands because I want to send you to London.”

A beat. I was the speechless broadcaster.

“Well … uh … good thing I’m sitting down,” I finally mumbled.

“I feel really good about this decision,” he said. “I’ve advised the vice-president and your boss that I’m making the offer and frankly they were both surprised, but also happy for you.”

Naturally they were surprised. I’m the one who never got these jobs.

My head was spinning. I looked out the window that overlooked the front lawn of the legislature from our fourth-floor perch. The red-tailed hawk that nested in the tree at our level was ripping apart a small animal that had made the mistake of straying into its territory.

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Mamaskatch

Mamaskatch

A Cree Coming of Age
edition:Hardcover

Growing up in the tiny village of Smith, Alberta, Darrel J. McLeod was surrounded by his Cree family’s history. In shifting and unpredictable stories, his mother, Bertha, shared narratives of their culture, their family and the cruelty that she and her sisters endured in residential school. McLeod was comforted by her presence and that of his many siblings and cousins, the smells of moose stew and wild peppermint tea, and his deep love of the landscape. Bertha taught him to be fiercely proud o …

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In Other Words

In Other Words

How I Fell in Love with Canada One Book at a Time
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover

In Other Words is a lively, charming, gossipy memoir of life in the publishing trenches and how one restlessly curious young woman sparked a creative awakening in a new country she chose to call home.

“We need our own dreams.” —Anna Porter

When Anna Porter arrived in Canada in early 1968 with one battered suitcase, little money and a head full of dreams, she had no idea that this country would become her home for the rest of her life, or that she would play a major role in defining what …

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I'm Afraid of Men

I'm Afraid of Men

edition:Hardcover

"Cultural rocket fuel." --Vanity Fair
"Emotional and painful but also layered with humour, I'm Afraid of Men will widen your lens on gender and challenge you to do better. This challenge is a necessary one--one we must all take up. It is a gift to dive into Vivek's heart and mind." --Rupi Kaur, bestselling author of The Sun and Her Flowers and Milk and Honey
A trans artist explores how masculinity was imposed on her as a boy and continues to haunt her as a girl--and how we might reimagine gender …

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Excerpt

I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me fear.

I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the word girl by turning it into a weapon they used to hurt me. I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me to hate and eventually destroy my femininity. I’m afraid of men because it was men who taught me to fear the extraordinary parts of myself.

My fear was so acute that it took almost two decades to undo the damage of rejecting my femininity, to salvage and reclaim my girlhood. Even now, after coming out as a trans girl, I am more afraid than ever. This fear governs many of the choices I make, from the beginning of my day to the end.

In the morning, as I get ready for work, I avoid choosing clothes or accessories that will highlight my femininity and draw unwanted attention. On the hierarchy of harassment, staring is the least violent consequence for my gender nonconformity that I could hope for. And yet the experience of repeatedly being stared at has slowly mutated me into an alien.

If I decide to wear tight pants, I walk quickly to my bus stop to avoid being seen by the construction workers outside my building, who might shout at me as they have on other mornings.

When I’m on a packed bus or streetcar, I avoid making eye contact with men, so that no man will think I might be attracted to him and won’t be able to resist the urge to act upon this attraction. I squeeze my shoulders inward if a man sits next to me, so that I don’t accidentally touch him.

If I open Twitter or Facebook on the way to work, I brace myself for news reports of violence against women and gender-nonconforming people, whether it’s a story about another trans woman of colour who has been murdered, or the missing and murdered Indigenous women, or sexual assault. As important as it is to make these incidents visible by reporting them, sensationalizing and digesting these stories is also a form of social control, a reminder that I need to be afraid and to try to be as invisible as possible.

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