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Kerry Clare's Favourite CDN Books of 2020 (SO FAR)
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Kerry Clare's Favourite CDN Books of 2020 (SO FAR)

By kerryclare
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It was the worst of years, but in some ways, it was the best of years!
Disfigured

Disfigured

On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space
edition:Paperback
also available: Audiobook eBook

Fairy tales shape how we see the world, so what happens when you identify more with the Beast than Beauty?

If every disabled character is mocked and mistreated, how does the Beast ever imagine a happily-ever-after? Amanda Leduc looks at fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm to Disney, showing us how they influence our expectations and behaviour and linking the quest for disability rights to new kinds of stories that celebrate difference.

“Leduc persuasively illustrates the power of stories to affe …

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Polar Vortex

Polar Vortex

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Audiobook

Longlisted for the 2020 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Some secrets never die...

Priya and Alexandra have moved from the city to a picturesque countryside town. What Alex doesn't know is that in moving, Priya is running from her past—from a fraught relationship with an old friend, Prakash, who pursued her for many years, both online and off. Time has passed, however, and Priya, confident that her ties to Prakash have been successfully severed, decides it's once more safe to establish an online presence …

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Lean Out

Lean Out

A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life
edition:Paperback

INSTANT NATIONAL BESTSELLER
"Travel to the land of Couldn't Be More Timely."--Margaret Atwood on Lean Out, in the West End Phoenix
"What begins as one woman's critique of our culture of overwork and productivity ultimately becomes an investigation into our most urgent problems: vast inequality, loneliness, economic precarity, and isolation from the natural world. Henley punctures the myths of the meritocracy in a way few writers have. This is an essential book for our time." --Mandy Len Catron, …

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Excerpt

From the Introduction

“What do you do when the work you love tastes like dust?”
I first heard this question in an airy newsroom in Vancouver, during a downpour in February of 2016. TED was in town, and I was watching a YouTube talk on burnout from TV mogul Shonda Rhimes. I had pitched a segment on this phenomenon for our morning radio show the next day, and was busy trying to track down an expert to talk about the global epidemic of overwork.

Watching the video, it dawned on me that Rhimes’s story was actually my own. And that her question couldn’t have come at a better time.

I was forty years old, and had been working at breakneck speed for fifteen years. I had traveled the world, from Soweto to Bangkok and Paris to Brooklyn, interviewing authors and community leaders, rappers and philanthropists, politicians and Hollywood celebrities. I had trekked the jungles of Borneo. Visited Buckingham Palace. Experienced the thrill of sitting down with Beyoncé. And of debating with Kanye West.

But in that moment, none of it seemed to matter. I was hunched over my desk, holding my torso, racked by chest pains that I was trying—and failing—to ignore.

My drive, always my greatest asset, suddenly felt like a dangerous liability.

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How to Pronounce Knife

How to Pronounce Knife

Stories
edition:Paperback

WINNER OF THE 2020 SCOTIABANK GILLER PRIZE
Named one of Time Magazine's Must-Read Books of 2020 and one of the best books of the month by The New York Times, Salon, Vanity Fair, Bustle, The Millions, and Vogue, and featuring stories that have appeared in Harper's, Granta, The Atlantic, and The Paris Review, this revelatory book of fiction from O. Henry Award winner Souvankham Thammavongsa establishes her as an essential new voice in Canadian and world literature. Told with compassion and wry hum …

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Excerpt

How to Pronounce Knife
The note had been typed out, folded over two times, and pinned to the child’s chest. It could not be missed. And as she did with all the other notes that went home with the child, her mother removed the pin and threw it away. If the contents were important, a phone call would be made to the home. And there had been no such call.

The family lived in a small apartment with two rooms. On the wall of the main room was a tiny painting with a brown bend at the centre. That brown bend was supposed to be a bridge, and the blots of red and orange brushed in around it were supposed to be trees. The child's father had painted this, but he didn't paint anymore. When he came home from work, the first thing he always did was kick off his shoes. Then he'd hand over a newspaper to the child, who unfolded sheets on the floor, forming a square, and around that square they sat down to have dinner. 

For dinner, it was cabbage and chitterlings. The butcher either threw the stuff away or had it out on display for cheap, so the child’s mother bought bags and bags from him and put them in the fridge. There were so many ways to cook these: in a broth with ginger and noodles, grilled over charcoal fire, stewed with fresh dill, or the way the child liked them best—baked in the oven with lemongrass and salt. When she took these dishes to school, other children would tease her about the smell. She shot back, “You wouldn’t know a good thing even if five hundred pounds of it came and sat on your face!”

When they all sat down for dinner, the child thought of the notes her mother threw away, and about bringing one to her father. There had been so many last week, maybe it was important. She listened as her father worried about his pay and his friends and how they were all making their living here in this new country. He said his friends, who were educated and had great jobs in Laos, now found themselves picking worms or being managed by pimple-faced teenagers. They’d had to begin all over again, as if the life they led before didn’t count.

The child got up, found the note in the garbage, and brought it to her father.

He waved the note away. "Later." He said this in Lao. Then, as if remembering something important, he added, "Don't speak Lao and don't tell anyone you are Lao. It's no good to tell people where you're from." The child looked at the centre of her father's chest, where, on his T-shirt, four letters stood side by side: LAOS.

A few days after that, there was some commotion in the classroom. All the girls showed up wearing different variations of pink, and the boys had on dark suits and little knotted ties. Miss Choi, the grade one teacher, was wearing a purple dress dotted with a print of tiny white flowers and shoes with little heels. The child looked down at her green jogging suit. The green was dark, like the green of broccoli, and the fabric at the knees was a few shades lighter and kept their shape even when she was standing straight up. In this scene of pink and sparkles and matching purses and black bow ties and pressed collars, she saw she was not like the others.

Miss Choi, always scanning the room for something out of place, noticed the green that the child was wearing and her eyes widened. She came running over and said, "Joy. Did you get your parents to read the note we sent home with you?" 

"No," she lied, looking at the floor where her blue shoes fitted themselves inside the space of a small square tile. She didn't want to lie, but there was no point in embarrasing her parents. The day went as planned. And in the class photo, the child was seated a little off to the side, with the grade and year sign placed in front of her. The sign was always right in the middle of these photos, but the photographer had to do something to hide the dirt on the child's shoes. Above that sign, she smiled. 

When her mother came to get her after school, she asked why all the children were dressed up this way, but the child didn't tell her. She lied, saying in Lao, "I don't know. Look at them, all fancy. It's just an ordinary day."

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The Union of Smokers

The Union of Smokers

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : coming of age

Huckleberry Finn meets The Catcher in the Rye meets Ferris Bueller's Day Off in this outlandish debut novel.

Kaspar Pine begins his day with a simple task: replace a pet canary. By day's end, as Kaspar is being loaded into an ambulance, he delivers one hell of a "theme essay," covering such subjects as his ability to source and catalogue the cigarette butts he harvests;information on maintaining the social order of chickens, along with general and historic farming details that run from Saskatchew …

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Misconduct of the Heart

Misconduct of the Heart

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

 

Toronto Book Award Winner Cordelia Strube is back with another caustic, subversive, and darkly humorous book

Stevie, a recovering alcoholic and kitchen manager of Chappy’s, a small chain restaurant, is frantically trying to prevent the people around her from going supernova: her PTSD-suffering veteran son, her uproariously demented parents, the polyglot eccentrics who work in her kitchen, the blind geriatric dog she inherits, and a damaged five-year-old who landed on her doorstep and might jus …

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Excerpt

 

“Do you remember Stan?” I ask.

 

“Of course.”

 

“He pulled me from the dishpit.  Taught me everything I know.”

 

“You were teacher's pet.  He called the rest of us dipshits and ne'er do wells.”

 

“I went to see him in hospital.  It was weird because there was nothing to say really, outside Chappy's.  I said I'd visit him again but he told me not to come back.”

 

I visited him a bunch of times.”

 

“When?”

 

“Before he died.”

 

“He let you?”

 

“I didn't give him a choice.  He had nobody.”

 

“But, I mean, you just showed up at the hospital even though he told you not to?”

 

“I brought him thermal socks.  His feet were cold.”

 

That I didn't have the courage to do this, to show my devotion despite Stan's objections, reactivates a seething inner loss.  I grab a rubber band and stretch it between my fingers. 

 

“He talked about you,” Conquer says, “was worried you wouldn't be able to handle the take-over.  All the corporate shit.”

 

“How wrong he was.  I am one corporate animal.”  The rubber band snaps.

 

“What did Bob say?”

 

“Bob is taking an online course called Discovering Inner Pathways to Success.  He is learning about the importance of empathy and understands that he needs to be more empathic, only he keeps saying 'emphatic' because, as you know, he's dyslexic.”

 

“Tell me about it.  Last week he saw a truck in the parking lot with Geek Squad on it and wanted to know what a Greek Salad truck was doing outside Chappy's.” 

 

“Conquer, it's time you learned to appreciate the upside of Bob.  Imagine if we had a real general manager giving real orders—a corporate manager we couldn't ignore.”

 

In a Viking quandary, he savours blueberry water.  I need a shower to get Bartholomew off me, to become fully sober, to manage my regrets about deserting Stan all yellow and bloated with cold feet; Stan who didn't call me a dipshit or a ne'er do well.  Who told me I did whizzbang jobs.  Why couldn't I interpret that “don't come back” meant come back and bring me thermal socks?  Why do I cave so easily?

 

“I wish my son didn't hate me,” I say.

 

Conquer shrugs.  “Kids hate their parents.”

 

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A Match Made for Murder

A Match Made for Murder

A Lane Winslow Mystery
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

“An intriguing mix of character, plot, time, and place. Highly recommended.” —Ian Hamilton, author of the bestselling Ava Lee novels

Lane and Darling's Arizona honeymoon is interrupted by gunshots in the newest instalment in a series Kirkus Reviews calls "relentlessly exciting."

It’s November, and Lane and Darling have escaped the chilly autumn in the Kootenays for a honeymoon at the posh and romantic Santa Cruz Inn in sunny Tucson, Arizona. But despite her very best intentions to relax, …

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Last Goldfish, The

Last Goldfish, The

A True Tale of Friendship
edition:Paperback

Twenty-five years ago and counting, Louisa, my true, essential, always-there-for-everything friend, died. We were 22.

When Anita Lahey opens her binder in grade nine French and gasps over an unsigned form, the girl with the burst of red hair in front of her whispers, Forge it! Thus begins an intense, joyful friendship, one of those powerful bonds forged in youth that shapes a person’s identity and changes the course of a life.

Anita and Louisa navigate the wilds of 1980s suburban adolescence ag …

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Excerpt

Prologue:

A fish story In early Grade 9, I teamed up with a girl named Meredith for a science project. She was quiet and skittish, like a shy rabbit. We went to the pet store together and purchased six goldfish, six bowls, then divvied them up: three to her house, three to mine. Our plan was to place the fish in different environments—a busy kitchen, a dark closet, a bright windowsill—and try to gauge their contentment level by their behaviour. Which fish were more active, more hungry? The question, mine, had been whether a fish would prefer a darker home because it mimics the experience of a more natural habitat such as a lake.

But right away I found myself troubled by the idea of keeping fish captive. Watching my three fish swim circles in their bowls, taking notes, trying to describe their activity levels, I felt like a fraud. I had no idea how to assess the happiness of a fish, nor what kind of research to undertake to better inform our experiment. I hadn’t the first clue how to penetrate the mysteries of the universe. Nor could I explain any of this to Meredith. I’d roped her into this, so I put up a brave front when we sat down to compare notes.

“How are your fish doing?” I asked.

She answered so softly I could barely hear. “One of them died.” I stared. She was wringing her hands. “Do you think it was sick when we bought it?”

“It seemed like the other ones, didn’t it?”

“I think so.”

We sat in silence.

Suppose Meredith’s fish had come home with me, instead. Say the guy at the store had pulled a different specimen from the tank. The fish’s bowl had been placed in a prime location, on the windowsill in Meredith’s bedroom, south-facing. Maybe fish, like African violets, shrivelled in direct sunlight? I was overwhelmed by potential variables; I was so not ready for science. I was sure that none of our classmates had a dead creature on their hands. But I also doubted any of them had taken this assignment so keenly to heart.

I’d picked Meredith for a partner because she didn’t make me nervous. Maybe it made sense, now that I was out of the little elementary school with a graduating class of 28, to start aligning myself with more kids like me, who were into such things as books. But I was relieved when our experiment was finished, our results handed in. In the drawings for our report, Meredith had attempted to depict the dead fish, floating in its bowl. It looked like a tiny piece of driftwood.

In French class, which came right after science, I sat behind Louisa. People called her Lou for short. She had red hair, brightly inquisitive eyes and hands that gestured energetically when she talked. She’d adopted the habit of tipping back her chair and tossing questions at me, so that I gradually came to trust she really did want to talk to me: “Are you reading the Merchant of Venice for English too? I love Shakespeare. It’s so dramatic.” “What did you do on the weekend? My mom’s friend took us to the art gallery. It was amazing!”

Louisa was impressed by the goldfish experiment Meredith and I had embarked on. She called it “ambitious.”

“We don’t have a clue what we’re doing,” I assured her. “It’s ridiculous.”

One morning, gravely, but hurriedly, so as to get the details out before the fierce Mademoiselle Vachon began conducting class, I told her what had happened to Meredith’s fish.

She laughed. “What a story!”

I was startled. Then I laughed too. Sure, it was tragic for the fish, but the creatures weren’t exactly known for their longevity. Hadn’t we all flushed one or two down the toilet, or seen a sitcom goldfish funeral, its tongue-in-cheek solemnity? I stopped noticing Meredith, stopped looking for her telltale slouch when I slipped into science class or walked, heart clenched, into the cafeteria that teemed with students I didn’t know. It seems cruel, in retrospect, you might even say foolhardy: the things I might have learned, the fastidious scientist I might have become, pushing onward with that studious girl. But I didn’t want Meredith anymore. I’d found a better prospect, off I went.

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