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The Canada Reads 2020 Longlist
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The Canada Reads 2020 Longlist

By 49thShelf
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There has been a wildly positively response to the longlist for Canada Reads 2020—a fantastic range of interesting and inspiring titles. No matter how the final five ends up, there reading is going to be excellent. (Also on the longlist is The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter.)
NDN Coping Mechanisms

NDN Coping Mechanisms

Notes from the Field
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

In the follow-up to his Griffin Poetry Prize–winning collection, This Wound is a World, Billy-Ray Belcourt writes using the modes of accusation and interrogation. He aims an anthropological eye at the realities of everyday life to show how they house the violence that continues to reverberate from the long twentieth century. In a genre-bending constellation of poetry, photography, redaction, and poetics, Belcourt ultimately argues that if signifiers of Indigenous suffering are everywhere, so t …

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Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

February in Newfoundland is the longest month of the year.

Another blizzard is threatening to tear a strip off downtown St. John’s, while inside The Hazel restaurant a storm system of sex, betrayal, addiction, and hurt is breaking overhead. Iris, a young hostess from around the bay, is forced to pull a double despite resolving to avoid the charming chef and his wealthy restaurateur wife. Just tables over, Damian, a hungover and self-loathing server, is trying to navigate a potential punch-up w …

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Olive waits below the sad mural painted in memory of some long ago drowned boy.

She can see up and down Duckworth Street from her perch though there’s not much to see this early in the morning. A scattered taxi slogs by carrying fiendish-looking passengers who attempt to discreetly smoke from barely cracked windows. Discretion is a skill they have fallen out with but they don’t know that yet. They still fancy themselves stealth, piling four parka-plied humans into a single toilet stall, scarves dangling beneath the door, telling tails on them all.

Volume control is a thing of delusion in the confined spaces they inhabit. It will be years before this is fully realized by those who escape the scene or are thrown into adulthood by overdose or pregnancy. These lucky few will feel overwhelmingly, retroactively embarrassed by their one-time rock star fantasies. Olive can hear them bawling about their supposed betrayals as clouds of tobacco smoke and slurry syllables updraft skyward through the slightly parted window.

But Olive forgives them their make-believe follies.

They are no better or worse than most of the half well-off, half grown-up humans she has met. They are just flawed and vulnerable to the pitch. Olive is no different. She has chased the white dragon into smoky rooms where grad students complained about unkindly thesis feedback while wearing thousand dollar watches. A holiday-tanned winter wrist, a baggie held aloft, another Volvo fob serving key bumps round the ring. Under such circumstances, Olive is for the most part silent. She can pass for one of them until she releases language into the world.

Olive often holds her rural tongue for fear of being found out. She is not a card-carrying member of the townie majority. And rarely are there other fugitive faces for Olive to hide behind on nights when she wants to get on the go. There was a Mexican painter once. A Russian musician. There was the one Pakistani fellow whose name Olive could never recall. She did not think it was unpronounceable, she just could not pronounce it.

There are lots of words still beyond her reach.

Like Olive can think of no words to describe the pain felt where her pants nearly meet her feet. She winces and tucks her chin farther inside her coat. She tries to push her neck back to save from catching skin in the zipper. She sniffs back hard and swallows a slippery lob. Her grandmother would not approve of hoarding mucus in the body but her grandmother would not approve of much of what she does lately. Olive sighs and swells and swallows spit to slide the lob along.

Ollie my dollie, get a tissue.

Her grandmother’s voice is always a program running in the back of her mind. But Olive can’t sacrifice a tissue on mere mucus this morning. Her store of napkins is running low and the last time she tried to hock and spit the wind gust blew snot back onto her sleeve. The line of mucus running from her lips to her elbow turned her weak stomach over. A middle-aged woman in a bright blue Canada Goose coat muttered oh for the love of god as she hurried past the translucent boundary. This made Olive feel gross.

She swallows that gross feeling down again while she waits.

She can distract herself for a time from the damp soak settling in her heels by watching the craven-faced respectable people meander to their grown-up jobs after a weekend of pretending to be twenty-five. They are not twenty-five. They are not even thirty-five and feel as such. Most internally promise to stay home with the kids next weekend as they turn their faces to or from the sunshine depending on the quantity of painkillers ingested in the car. This temporary commitment to sobriety is bookended by revolving party systems.

Some relish vitamin D while others resent it.

The division will not last long, though, as the sun already has started to duck back inside the nimbostratus. It will storm again today as surely as the nearly forty will go out again in four days’ time. The babysitter will be called. The cat will be let in. They will flee their houses for a little look around.

Get the stink of house off ya.

They will reliably cloak this smell of domestication in alcohol and nicotine and self-loathing until Monday. Mondays are for quitting everything. Again. Except when it storms on Monday. Then quitting everything is pushed to Tuesday.

Today is such a Tuesday.

The weekend warriors refuse to sell out and so have fully bought in pound for pound.

Olive is just the same. She too had been sold the notion of party drugs as lazy fun and then fast gobbled them hand over fist. Swallow, snort, smoke; ingestion is an irrelevant matter of personal preference and ease. There is no wall to wall them out. Or in. Drug trends are trendingalong regardless of national media reports daily updating all on their progress east and upward. Olive has watched the same scenes play out on repeat in dark corners of the late night since arriving in Sin Jawns.

And they’ve gone and stashed the kits everywhere to protect against the siren call. A first line of defence kept behind wine bars. Under the bathroom sink. In purses. And Olive knows she must address the long list of reasons why self-medicare is needed to comfort her.

Eventually.

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Radicalized

Radicalized

Four Tales of Our Present Moment
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover Paperback
tagged : short stories

FromNew York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow,Radicalized is four urgent SF novellas of America's present and future within one book

Told through one of the most on-pulse genre voices of our generation,Radicalized is a timely collection consisting of four SF novellas connected by social, technological, and economic visions of today and what America could be in the near, near future.

Unauthorized Bread is a tale of immigration, the toxicity of economic and technological stratification, and th …

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Sputnik’s Children

Sputnik’s Children

A Novel
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : literary

A literary, genre-bending novel full of heart

Cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi has been riding the success of her Cold War era–inspired superhero series, Sputnik Chick: Girl with No Past, for more than 25 years. But with the comic book losing fans and Debbie struggling to come up with new plotlines for her badass, mutant-killing heroine, she decides to finally tell Sputnik Chick’s origin story.

Debbie’s never had to make anything up before and she isn’t starting now. Sputnik …

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Amphibian

Amphibian

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary

Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book (Canada and Caribbean region)

 

Nine-year-old Phineas William Walsh has an encyclopedic knowledge of the natural world. He knows that if you wet a dog's food with your saliva and he refuses to eat it then he's top dog, and he knows that dolphins can sleep half a brain at a time. What he doesn't know, though, is why his grandfather died, or why waste-of-flesh Lyle always picks on him. Or whyhis parents can't live together - after a …

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We Have Always Been Here

We Have Always Been Here

A Queer Muslim Memoir
edition:Paperback

A CANADA READS 2020 SELECTION
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
How do you find yourself when the world tells you that you don't exist?

Samra Habib has spent most of her life searching for the safety to be herself. As an Ahmadi Muslim growing up in Pakistan, she faced regular threats from Islamic extremists who believed the small, dynamic sect to be blasphemous. From her parents, she internalized the lesson that revealing her identity could put her in grave danger.

When her family came to Canada as refugees, Sa …

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Sonia and I were the same age and instantly liked each other. She had a mischievous way about her that pulled me in. She always smelled of oranges, her fingers sticky from sucking on slices of the fruit as the juices dripped down her chin and hands. She left a trail of orange peels everywhere she went. I was in awe of her pin-straight hair that could do anything she wanted it to but mostly rested on her shoulders, two vertical lines framing her gamine face. Mine was curly and unruly, and my mother insisted on having it fashioned into an unflattering bowl cut. Since I was no longer allowed to go outside or visit friends without my parents chaperoning, much of our playing happened at our house. Sonia never asked why—I just let her believe it was because my parents were extremely religious. When we weren’t building blanket forts, we spent afternoons on the veranda flashing everyone who walked by, spreading our legs wide open and exposing our vaginas, breaking out into peals of laughter with each look of horror we received.
 
Some days, Sonia wanted to play doctor. She’d pull down her pants and ask me to give her an injection, and I’d pretend to inject her warm skin with a piece of chalk, its tip pointy and startlingly cold. The chalky imprint of my hand would remain on her bum as she pulled up her pants, laughing. We’d often play in the musty, abandoned room on the second floor above our unit that was full of discarded furniture and yards of fabric my mother had purchased to bring to Sonia’s mother. One day, when I suggested we tell each other stories instead of playing doctor, she began to tell me a dirty tale of two lovers, Idris and Sahar, who undressed in front of each other—but she abruptly ended the story just when my heart started racing with anticipation. I needed to know what happened next.
 
“I have to go,” she blurted. “Next time!” She patted my mop of curls and grabbed her backpack, flashing me an impish smile on her way out the door.
 
For days, I waited for her to come back and finish the story. A week went by. Unable to bear the suspense any longer, I told my parents I was going to visit Sonia, knowing full well I wasn’t allowed to venture out unaccompanied. When they prodded, I recounted the whole sordid story. As expected, my parents told Sonia’s parents that she wasn’t allowed to visit our house ever again.
 
It was nearing four o’clock and my mother still had to pick up a cake before the guests arrived and my dad came home from work. She asked Pinky to keep an eye on my sisters and me so that she could run some errands and swing by the bakery. She knew how much I loved the dense, spongy cake soaked in rosewater and layered with thick cream and ripe fruit. As she opened the door, the smell of burning tires infiltrated the hallway. Without giving it much thought, she headed out the door, the smell lingering in the air. After all, the birthday would be incomplete without the cake.
 
The bakery was only ten minutes away, so we were worried when an hour went by and neither my mother nor my father had come home. When my mother finally showed up, she had with her Osman and his mother, along with five other Shia families from the street. Sunni and Shia conflicts had erupted throughout Lahore, and my mother had gathered this band of strangers together and offered temporary refuge from the rioting in the streets. As Ahmadis, we were the only family in the neighbourhood to be spared the wrath of Sunni extremists. For once, the target wasn’t us.
 
The cause of the conflict goes back some fourteen hundred years. Immediately following the death of Prophet Muhammad, the two sects clashed over who his successor should be. Shias believe that Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, was the rightful successor, whereas Sunnis argue that it was Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s trusted advisor. Centuries of bloodshed have followed. Shias claim that Sunnis have received preferential treatment from the Pakistani government since 1948, soon after Pakistan was founded, and that their freedom of speech is consistently threatened. Around the time of my birthday, things had gotten particularly violent after the assassination of Arif Hussain Hussaini, founding leader of Tehrik-e-Jafaria, a religious organization that represented the Shias.
 
Amid all the mayhem, I marvelled at how my mother had managed to find a cake when all the shops were either closed or vandalized. I was even more shocked that she had made it home safe, unaffected by the tear gas or the rioters who were setting fire to everything in sight, the thick fumes permeating our house through the roofless courtyard where everyone had gathered. To a seven-year-old, it seemed the world was coming to an end. If my mother was panicked that my father was still not home, she certainly didn’t let it show.
 
I looked at Osman, who had taken refuge under his mother’s arm and was pressing his nose against it. There were other children, too—some my age or younger, some old enough to require a burka to hide the curves of their bodies. I couldn’t help feeling relieved that this time it wasn’t us. But the fear I witnessed was intensely familiar. Who belonged if none of us did? I had never felt as close to Shias as I did that day.
 
My mother, perhaps opting for a distraction, removed the wrapping from the cake and placed it on the dining table. Pinky heated a pot of goat’s milk for chai and poured it into eight terracotta cups. The smell of cardamom temporarily replaced the pungent odour of burning cars.
 
When the phone rang, my mother almost dropped the tray of pakoras and ran toward it. “Kee haal hai?”—How are you?—she asked ironically, knowing my father was probably plotting how to get home safely while police had blocked off access to our street. She spoke in Punjabi, the language my parents used when they didn’t want us to know what they were talking about, not realizing we’d picked it up over the years.
 
We were startled by a flurry of loud knocks on the front door and the voices on the other side demanding that we open it. We all knew that the men outside were after the Shias hiding in our house. My mother hung up the phone and, with the help of the other women, pushed a heavy cupboard full of china and ceramics in front of the door. As the thumping persisted, she silently lit the candles on the cake, one for each of my seven years. Taking our cue from her calm demeanour, we all gathered around the table as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After a loud chorus of “Happy Birthday” drowned out the noise in the background, I blew out the candles. My mother carefully plated each dish with an equal slice of cake, pakoras, and chaat and handed them to everyone in our house.
 
Soon it was time for Maghrib prayer. Pinky and the other women lined the concrete floor with bedsheets, and we Ahmadis prayed with our Shia neighbours for the first time, our bodies so close there was barely space between us. My eyes wandered to the different placement of hands on the chests of our Shia guests, placed higher than I was accustomed to. It struck me that despite our differences, we were all terrified of the same people.
 
The knocks eventually stopped and we wondered if the riots had too. Then we heard a heavy thud on the roof. We all lifted our heads in panic, and mothers tightly clutched their children. Then my dad emerged from the top floor, climbing down the stairs to the courtyard. Eager to unite with us, he had scaled the wall of a house at the end of our street and jumped between the rooftops until he reached ours. I had never in my life been happier to see him.

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Love Lives Here

Love Lives Here

A Story of Thriving in a Transgender Family
edition:Paperback

NATIONAL BESTSELLER
An inspirational story of accepting and embracing two trans people in a family--a family who shows what's possible when you "lead with love."

All Amanda Jetté Knox ever wanted was to enjoy a stable life. She never knew her biological father, and while her mother and stepfather were loving parents, the situation was sometimes chaotic. At school, she was bullied mercilessly, and at the age of fourteen, she entered a counselling program for alcohol addiction and was successful. …

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Excerpt

She told me in the car.
   Or rather, she didn’t tell me. Because it’s what wasn’t said that gave it all away—the space between our words leaving a silence where you could almost hear our hearts break.
   It’s funny how much we remember about important moments. That night, a warm summer rain was tapping lightly against the car windows and I could smell the air conditioner as it worked overtime to push out the mugginess of early July. I could hear the splash of puddles as we made our way down the road toward our suburban neighbourhood. I remember how a bright-green grocery store sign lit up the car’s interior as I turned and asked that one pivotal question, and how our ten-minute ride home ended up taking well over an hour.
   Whenever I think about the night my life changed forever, I’m thrust backwards into sensory overload. The sights, the smells, the sounds are forever a part of the memory. It’s only one piece of a much larger story, but I recall it as clearly as I do my chil­dren’s first breaths or my grandmother’s last.
   I suppose this makes sense, since that night was both the start of a new life and the end of an old one.
   By any measure, it had been a terrible date night. Unbelievably so, even for us. And hey, we knew terrible. Back then, I had a mopey, moody partner. This made everything—including date nights—a lot less fun. How do you have a good time when some­one is lugging around misery like a millstone? The person I married barely smiled, even at the best of times. But after more than two decades together, I had come to accept this as our reality. Some people are just not the smiley types, you know?
   Oh, you know. We all know people like this: the ones you can’t coax a grin out of no matter how hard you try. For years, I figured that if I led by example—if I just smiled more, modelled joy or exuded gratitude—the moodiness would disappear. The cloud would lift.
   After trying those techniques for so long, and failing spec­tacularly to get the result I was hoping for, I probably should have known better. Sadly, I’m a killer optimist. I always see a way to let the light in. I’m Charlie Brown running for the football Lucy is holding for me with a mischievous glint in her eye. Damn it, I was going to get the person I’d married to love life, even if it took another two decades. Just watch me.
   That’s why I’d suggested we go for coffee and cinnamon buns. What kind of person can eat a cinnamon bun without cracking a smile? I was sure I had a foolproof plan as we made our way to Quitters, a quaint hipster establishment owned by the famed musician Kathleen Edwards. In 2014, she had pur­posefully stepped away from the spotlight to return to Ottawa and open a coffee shop. Her decision garnered much local atten­tion. Who walks away from a career full of accolades to make espressos in the suburbs? People like Kathleen, that’s who. Those who seem able to shift from one life to another with much grace and little fear. In hindsight, it seems only fitting that a place that symbolizes so much change would serve as the back­drop to our own seismic shift.
   That night, we sat along the back wall in mismatched chairs, a candle dancing on the table between us. I was probably smiling too much and drinking my coffee too fast, which I always do when I’m nervous and fidgety. I know for certain I was asking what was wrong. Because that’s what you do on a date night, right? One of you mopes, and the other tries to prod out the cause. They make movies about people like us and release them on Valentine’s Day.
   “I wish you would just tell me what’s going on with you,” I said. We sang this little song on a regular basis; we both knew the words.
   The person I loved stared out the window. It was nearly dark out; the dim candlelight between us was casting shadows on both our faces. Neither of us was smiling now.
   “It’s nothing. It’s not important.” This was the reply that always followed my prodding.
   “It is important, and I don’t buy that it’s nothing,” I coun­tered, just as I always did. “If it were nothing, you wouldn’t be this unhappy all the time.”
   Unhappy. So unhappy. I was tired of it. Twenty-two years later, it was time to figure out what the hell was going on.
   After years spent emotionally propping up our family—like Atlas with an impressive muffin top—I had reached my limit. All that emotional lifting was exhausting and left little room for compassion. Dealing with a spouse in an Eeyore-like state—anger or melancholy oozing out of every pore—and feeling like I had to crank up my own happiness to shield the kids from it all, my magical well of giving a damn had run dry. And there, at the bottom, sat the bitter little troll I’d become. Because once I had used up all my overcompensating smiles and excessive happiness, once I had tried to make things better yet again, I would land with a thunk on the cold, hard floor of failure. With that, my patience would unravel and the troll would start shouting angrily from the bottom of the well.
   “We have a great life!” I often said when I’d reached my breaking point, my voice filled with frustration. “Three amaz­ing kids, a nice home and full bellies. What more could you ask for? Some people would kill for this life! I just don’t get you.” It was a script I’d memorized.
   But not this time. For some reason, I went rogue. For some reason, on this night—in this place of coffee and big changes—I held it together. Somewhere deep down, I must have had a spe­cial reserve of patience for this occasion—vintage, stored in fancy bottles with dust on them. I pulled some of that patience out of the cellar and stayed surprisingly calm.
   That was a good thing. Because as it turns out, it’s hard to open up to someone if that someone is frustrated. This is espe­cially true if you are holding back on sharing a life-altering secret out of fear of your entire world falling apart.
   I’m glad I drew from my reserve that night. By not getting angry, I changed the pattern. I likely saved us another twenty-two years of dysfunctional dancing. Unfortunately, I took what nor­mally would have been a bad evening and turned it into a truly terrifying one. Because what would be revealed in the car on the ride home would shatter the life I thought we had. In just a few minutes, I would be staring at the rubble beneath my feet and wondering what the hell I had just done.
   But hey, at least I had good intentions.

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Dishwasher, The

Dishwasher, The

edition:Paperback

A NEW YORK TIMES NEW & NOTEWORTHY BOOK

A NOW MAGAZINE BEST BOOK TO READ FOR SUMMER 2019

It’s October in Montreal, 2002, and winter is coming on fast. Past due on his first freelance gig and ensnared in lies to his family and friends, a graphic design student with a gambling addiction goes after the first job that promises a paycheck: dishwasher at the sophisticated La Trattoria. Though he feels out of place in the posh dining room, warned by the manager not to enter through the front and coolly …

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Excerpt

AN EXCERPT FROM THE DISHWASHER

THE SNOWPLOW’S ROTATOR BEACONS light up the buildings’ white-coated façades as it slogs up Hochelaga pushing snow. We finally manage to pass it and turn onto a small, dimly lit street. Low-hanging cottony clouds fill the dark sky. The comfortable warmth of the car interior is almost enough to put me to sleep. You can just hear the dispatcher’s voice on the CB. Mohammed turns down his music the moment I get into his black Sonata. He keeps his car immaculately clean. No crumpled up newspaper floor mats, no old coffee cups or leftover food in the compartment under the radio. Just a small Koran with an illuminated cover and a receipt book. The leather seats are good as new. A fresh, minty aroma suffuses the car.

We pull onto Rue Ontario. Tall snowbanks line either side of the street.

Mohammed ignores a call on his cell. He never answers when he’s with a customer. In the extra rear-view mirrors he has mounted on each side of the windshield, I can see his serene face and wrinkled, baggy eyes under bushy eyebrows. We keep driving to Sicard, then turn right. I don’t have to give him directions. Mohammed knows the route by heart, has for some time. Mohammed, Car 287, is senior driver at the cab stand on the corner of Beaubien and des Érables. Mohammed is the cabbie who nightly takes home half the bar and restaurant workers who ply their trade in Rosemont. Mohammed is a fifty-four-year-old Algerian. He’s owed favours by every taxi driver working the area between Saint-Laurent and l’Assomption from west to east, Jean-Talon and Sherbrooke north to south. Even the old guard, the holdouts still driving for Taxi Coop, respect him to a man. Every second time I catch a taxi at the stand, I don’t have to say where I’m going; every third time I don’t even give my address. It doesn’t matter who’s driving. They know me because I’m a customer of #287. Mohammed is as generous as they come. The kind of guy who’d pull over to help two people moving, stuck under a fridge on their outdoor staircase.

I remember one time two or three years ago. We were driving down D’Iberville, getting close to my house, must have been 1:30 in the morning. The moment we turned onto Hochelaga I had a nagging doubt. This was back when I was closing by myself. At the end of a busy night I’d be so spent I’d sometimes forget some of the closing jobs, like making sure the heat lamps were turned off, or that the cooks hadn’t left the convection oven on. That night I just couldn’t remember if I’d locked the back door of the restaurant after taking out the dining room garbage. Mohammed stopped in front of my place. He looked at me in one of his mirrors. I still wasn’t certain, but I convinced myself I must have done it automatically. I got out of the cab. I stood there next to the car, hesitating, with my hand on the open door. Mohammed turned around and said:

“Get back in, my friend. We’re going back.”

He didn’t turn the meter back on. It turned out I hadn’t locked the back door, and the meat order hadn’t been put away in the cooler. When we got back to Aird and La Fontaine, where we’d started, I held out sixty dollars.

“No no, my friend. The usual fare.”

He wouldn’t take more than twenty.

“It was my pleasure. You’ll sleep better tonight.”

Sometimes, deep in the night, you come across people like Mohammed. After years of night shifts, years of going to bed at four in the morning, I’ve gotten to know all kinds of characters, from young kids so jacked up on coke they chatter uncontrollably to hard cases content to ride their downward spiral all the way to rock bottom. The night sadly doesn’t belong to the Mohammeds of this world. But they’re out there, making it a more hospitable place for its denizens.

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