New Books and Featured Reading Lists

Each week on the 49th Shelf homepage, we highlight new releases. We also make theme-based lists and showcase lists from guest contributors and 49th Shelf members. This page archives these selections so they are always available to our members.

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New Children's for the week of September 23rd : New Picture Books
Small in the City

Small in the City

illustrated by Sydney Smith
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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A Likkle Miss Lou

A Likkle Miss Lou

How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice
edition:Hardcover
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This week's recommended reading lists
New Non-Fiction for the week of September 16th : Lives of Girls and Women
In My Own Moccasins

In My Own Moccasins

A Memoir of Resilience
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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I Hope We Choose Love

I Hope We Choose Love

A Trans Girl's Notes from the End of the World
edition:Paperback
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Toronto Trailblazers

Toronto Trailblazers

Women in Canadian Publishing
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover Paperback
tagged : canadian
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Girls Need Not Apply

Girls Need Not Apply

Field Notes From the Forces
edition:Paperback
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Feminist Acts

Feminist Acts

Branching Out Magazine and the Making of Canadian Feminism
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Florence of America

Florence of America

A Feminist in the Age of McCarthyism
contributions by Jean Freeman
introduction by Sean Prpick
by Florence James
edition:Hardcover
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My Body My Choice

My Body My Choice

The Fight for Abortion Rights
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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This week's recommended reading lists
New Fiction for the week of September 9th : Hot New Fiction
Watching You Without Me
Excerpt

These days, when I tell this story to friends, it’s always the moment Trevor lets himself in with his key the next day — a Sunday — that makes them kind of whoop in their seats. Or flop backward in a gesture of full-bodied incredulity. Or just stare at me like I’m an idiot. But, I explain, Trevor had a key, and that was what he was used to doing. Apparently my mother had given it to him for both of their convenience. The key was sanctioned. She hadn’t given it to any of the other care workers, but that was because, I assumed, they were on a rotation — you never knew who would be coming to bathe Kelli from week to week. Trevor, however, only covered walks, and he turned up like clockwork every Tuesday and Friday morning at ten on the dot.

But this was Sunday, some of my friends argue, and he wasn’t working, he was visiting. Yes, I say, but why would he deviate from habit? This was a house he had a key for, and whenever he came over, he would open the door and come in. That was his routine. So it’s understandable he’d do the same thing on Sunday he would’ve done on a Tuesday or Friday. Isn’t it?

At the time, I thought nothing of it. Trevor said he’d come at ten on Sunday, just as he did on Tuesdays and Fridays, and it was ten on the dot when he inserted his key in the door. Kelli and I had our jackets on, ready to go.

I have to admit, everything about that day was off. It started with Trevor’s insistence we all cram into the cab of his pickup truck when there was a perfectly comfortable two-door sedan parked in the driveway.

“No,” said Trevor. “I’m more comfortable driving the truck.” As if the question of who would drive had already been discussed and dispensed with.

So Kelli got in the middle, which she was not too happy about, especially when I had to root around beneath her thighs and buttocks to find the middle safety belt, which it turned out had been used so rarely it had been all but consumed by the tuck of the seat. Then I stuffed myself in beside her, which I was not happy about because being crammed against my sister was a lot like cuddling up against a lavishly padded space heater. And then, of course, there was Trevor, squeezing in behind the wheel, calling, “Suck in your guts, girls!” before he closed the door.

“Knee,” said Kelli a moment after we pulled out of the driveway. Which meant her right knee was cramping up, as it often did when she sat in close quarters.

“Your knee sore, Kelli?” I asked.

“Knee sore.”

“She’s got arthritis,” I explained to Trevor. “We should maybe get the sedan . . .”

Trevor glanced down at Kelli’s thighs, like two massive, sweatpants-clad loaves of bread squashed together.

“Ah, you’re good, darlin.’”

“Knee sore.”

“It’s a short trip.”

It was a thirty-minute trip out of town, the last five minutes of which took place along a winding dirt road that grew darker the deeper it took us into the woods.

This is like a fairy tale, I remember thinking. But the cautionary, old-world kind, the kind that never bothered with happy endings. Where parents take their innocent and trusting children to the forest and abandon them for hungry old ladies to entice into their ovens, for talking wolves to swallow whole.

“Kelli’s knee,” said Kelli.

“Almost there, Beaner.”

And it was true. All at once the woods opened up — also like a fairy tale, but this time of the Disney variety. Because what stood before us was a mansion. An honest-to-god Regency-style mansion like something out of Masterpiece Theatre. Where was the horse and carriage? Where were Mr. Darcy and the Bennett sisters? It had a Doric portico and French windows and buttresses and balustrades.

“This is it,” said Trevor. “Barnbarroch Manor.”

I burst out laughing. The angry kind.

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Worry

Worry

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback eBook
tagged : psychological
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Women Talking
Excerpt

 
The meetings have been organized hastily by Agata Friesen and Greta Loewen in response to the strange attacks that have haunted the women of Molotschna for the past sev­eral years. Since 2005, nearly every girl and woman has been raped by what many in the colony believed to be ghosts, or Satan, supposedly as punishment for their sins. The attacks occurred at night. As their families slept, the girls and women were made unconscious with a spray of the anesthetic used on our farm animals, made from the belladonna plant. The next morning, they would wake up in pain, groggy and often bleeding, and not understand why. Recently, the eight demons responsible for the attacks turned out to be real men from Molotschna, many of whom are the close relatives—brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews—of the women.

I recognized one of the men, barely. He and I had played together when we were children. He knew the names of all the planets, or he made them up anyway. His nickname for me was Froag, which in our language meant “question.” I remember that I had wanted to say goodbye to this boy before I left the colony with my parents, but my mother told me that he was having difficulty with his twelve-year-old molars, and had contracted an infection and was confined to his bedroom. I’m not sure, now, if that was true. In any case, neither this boy nor anybody from the colony said goodbye before we left.

The other perpetrators are much younger than me and hadn’t been born, or were babies or toddlers, when I left with my parents, and I have no recollection of them.

Molotschna, like all our colonies, is self-policed. Initially Peters planned to lock the men in a shed (similar to the one I live in) for several decades, but it soon became apparent that the men’s lives were in danger. Ona’s younger sister, Salome, attacked one of the men with a scythe; and another man was hanged by a group of drunk and angry colonists, male relatives of the victims, from a tree branch by his hands. He died there, forgotten apparently, when the drunk and angry men passed out in the sorghum field next to the tree. After this, Peters, together with the elders, decided to call in the police and have the men arrested— for their own safety, presumably—and taken to the city.

The remaining men of the colony (except for the senile or decrepit, and myself, for humiliating reasons) have gone to the city to post bail for the imprisoned attackers in the hope that they will be able to return to Molotschna while they await trial. And when the perpe­trators return, the women of Molotschna will be given the opportunity to forgive these men, thus guaranteeing everyone’s place in heaven. If the women don’t forgive the men, says Peters, the women will have to leave the colony for the outside world, of which they know noth­ing. The women have very little time, only two days, to organize their response.

Yesterday, as I have been told by Ona, the women of Molotschna voted. There were three options on the ballot.

1. Do Nothing.
2. Stay and Fight.
3. Leave.

Each option was accompanied by an illustration of its meaning, because the women do not read. (Note: It’s not my intention to constantly point out that the women do not read—only when it’s necessary to explain certain actions.)

Neitje Friesen, age sixteen, daughter of the late Mina Friesen and now permanent ward of her aunt Salome Friesen (Neitje’s father, Balthasar, was sent by Peters to the remote southwest corner of the country some years ago to purchase twelve yearlings and still has not returned), created the illustrations:

“Do Nothing” was accompanied by an empty hori­zon. (Although I think, but did not say, that this could be used to illustrate the option of leaving as well.)

“Stay and Fight” was accompanied by a drawing of two colony members engaged in a bloody knife duel. (Deemed too violent by the others, but the meaning is clear.)

And the option of “Leave” was accompanied by a draw­ing of the rear end of a horse. (Again I thought, but did not say, that this implies the women are watching others leave.)

The vote was a deadlock between numbers two and three, bloody knife duel and back of horse. The Friesen women, predominantly, want to stay and fight. The Loewens prefer to leave, although evidence of shifting convictions exists in both camps.

There are also some women in Molotschna who voted to do nothing, to leave things in the hands of the Lord, but they will not be in attendance today. The most vocal of the Do Nothing women is Scarface Janz, a stalwart member of the colony, the resident bonesetter, and also a woman known for having an excellent eye for measuring distances. She once explained to me that, as a Molotschnan, she had everything she wanted; all she had to do was con­vince herself that she wanted very little.

Ona has informed me that Salome Friesen, a formi­dable iconoclast, had indicated in yesterday’s meeting that “Do Nothing” was in reality not an option, but that allowing women to vote for “Do Nothing” would at least be empowering. Mejal (meaning “girl” in Plautdietsch) Loewen, a friendly chain-smoker with two yellow finger­tips and what I suspect must be a secret life, had agreed. But, Ona told me, Mejal also pointed out that Salome Friesen had not been anointed as the person who can declare what constitutes reality or what the options are. The other Loewen women had apparently nodded their heads at this while the Friesen women had expressed impatience with quick, dismissive gestures. This type of minor conflict well illustrates the timbre of the debate between the two groups, the Friesens and the Loewens. However, because time is short and the need for a decision urgent, the women of Molotschna have agreed collectively to allow these two families to debate the pros and cons of each option—excluding the Do Nothing option, which most of the women in the colony dismiss as “dummheit”— and to decide which is suitable, and finally to choose how best to implement that option.

A translation note: The women are speaking in Plautdietsch, or Low German, the only language they know, and the language spoken by all members of the Molotschna Colony—although the boys of Molotschna are now taught rudimentary English in school, and the men also speak some Spanish. Plautdietsch is an unwritten medieval language, moribund, a mishmash of German, Dutch, Pomeranian and Frisian. Very few people in the world speak Plautdietsch, and everyone who does is Mennonite. I mention this to explain that before I can transcribe the minutes of the meetings I must translate (quickly, in my mind) what the women are saying into English, so that it may be written down.

And one more note, again irrelevant to the women’s debate, but necessary to explain in this document why I am able to read, write and understand English: I learned English in England, where my parents went to live after being excommunicated by the bishop of Molotschna at the time, Peters Senior, father of Peters, the current bishop of Molotschna.

While in my fourth year of university there, I suffered a nervous breakdown (Narfa) and became involved in cer­tain political activities for which I was eventually expelled and imprisoned for a period of time. During my imprison­ment, my mother died. My father had disappeared years before. I have no siblings because my mother’s uterus was removed following my birth. In short, I had no one and nothing in England, although I had managed, while serving time in prison, to complete my teaching degree through correspondence. In dire straits, homeless and half-mad—or fully mad—I made a decision to commit suicide.

While researching my various options at the public library nearest the park in which I made my home, I fell asleep. I slept for an extraordinarily long time and was eventually gently nudged by the librarian, who told me it was time for me to leave, the library was closing. Then the librarian, an older woman, noticed that I had been crying and that I appeared dishevelled and distraught. She asked me what was wrong. I told her the truth: I didn’t want to live anymore. She offered to buy me supper, and while we were dining at the small restaurant across the street from the library, she asked me where I had come from, what part of the world?

I replied that I came from a part of the world that had been established to be its own world, apart from the world. In a sense, I told her, my people (I remember drawing out the words “my people” ironically, and then immediately feeling ashamed and silently asking to be forgiven) don’t exist, or at least are supposed to be seen not to.

And perhaps it doesn’t take too long before you believe that you really don’t exist, she said. Or that your actual corporeal existence is a perversity.

I wasn’t sure what she meant and scratched my head furiously, like a dog with ticks.
And after that? she asked.

University, briefly, and then prison, I told her.

Ah, she said, perhaps the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I smiled stupidly. My foray into the world resulted in my removal from the world, I said.

Almost as though you were brought into existence not to exist, she said, laughing.

Singled out to conform. Yes, I said, trying to laugh with her. Born not to be.

I imagined my squalling infant self being removed from my mother’s womb and then the womb itself hastily yanked away from her and thrown out a window to pre­vent any other abominations from occurring—this birth, this boy, his nakedness, her shame, his shame, their shame.

I told the librarian that it was difficult to explain where I was from.

I met a traveller from an antique land, said the librar­ian, apparently quoting a poet she knew and loved.

Again I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I nodded. I explained that I was originally a Mennonite from the Molotschna Colony, and that when I was twelve years old my parents were excommunicated and we moved away, to England. Nobody said goodbye to us, I told the librarian (I live forever with the shame of having said such a piteous thing). For years I believed we were forced to leave Molotschna because I had been caught stealing pears from a farm in the neighbouring colony of Chortiza. In England, where I learned how to read and write, I spelled my name with rocks in a large green field so that God would find me quickly and my punishment would be complete. I also tried to spell the word “confession” with rocks from our garden fence but my mother, Monica, had noticed that the stone wall between our garden and the neighbours’ was disappearing. One day she followed me to my green field, along the narrow rut that the wheelbarrow had made in the dirt, and caught me in the act of surrendering myself to God, using the stones from the fence to signal my location, with huge letters. She sat me down on the ground and put her arms around me, and said nothing. After a while, she told me that the fence had to be put back. I asked if I could put the stones back after God had found me and punished me. I was so exhausted from anticipating punishment and I wanted to get it over with. She asked me what I thought God intended to punish me for, and I told her about the pears, and about my thoughts regarding girls, about my draw­ings, and my desire to win in sports and be strong. How I was vain and competitive and lustful. My mother laughed then, and hugged me again and apologized for laughing. She said that I was a normal boy, I was a child of God—a loving God, in spite of what anybody said—but that the neighbours were perturbed about the disappearing fence and I would have to return the stones.

All this I told to the librarian.

She responded that she could understand why my mother had said what she did, but that if she had been there, if she had been my mother, she would have said something else. She would have told me that I wasn’t normal—that I was innocent, yes, but that I had an unusually deep need to be forgiven, even though I had done nothing wrong. Most of us, she said, absolve our­selves of responsibility for change by sentimentalizing our pasts. And then we live freely, happily, or if not altogether happily, without tremendous anguish. The librarian laughed. She said that if she had been in that green field with me, she would have helped me to have that feeling of somehow being forgiven.

Forgiven for what, though, exactly? I asked her. Stealing pears, drawing pictures of naked girls?

No, no, said the librarian, forgiven for being alive, for being in the world. For the arrogance and the futility of remaining alive, the ridiculousness of it, the stench of it, the unreasonableness of it. That’s your feeling, she added, your internal logic. You’ve just explained that to me.

She went on to say that, in her opinion, doubt and uncertainty and questioning are inextricably bound together with faith. A rich existence, she said, a way of being in the world, wouldn’t you say?

I smiled. I scratched. The world, I said.

What do you remember of Molotschna?

Ona, I said. Ona Friesen.

And I began to tell her about Ona Friesen, a girl my age, the same woman who has now asked me to record the minutes of the meeting.

After a long conversation with the librarian, during which I talked mostly, though not entirely, about Ona— how we had played, how we had clocked the seasons by the tiny lengthening of light, how we had pretended to be rebellious disciples at first misunderstood by our leader, Jesus, and then posthumously hailed as heroes, how we had jousted on horses with fence posts (running full tilt, like knights, like Ona’s squirrel and rabbit), how we had kissed, how we’d fought—the librarian suggested that I return to Molotschna, to the place where life had made sense to me, even briefly, even in imaginary play in dying sunlight, and that I ask the bishop (Peters, the younger, who was the same age as my mother) to accept me into the colony as a member. (I did not tell the librarian that this would also mean asking Peters to forgive me the sins of my parents, sins pertaining to the storage of intellec­tual materials and to the dissemination and propagation of said materials, even though the materials were art books, photographs of paintings that my father had found in the garbage behind a school in the city, and even though he was guilty only of sharing the images with other colony members, as he was unable to read the text.) She also suggested that I offer to teach the Molotschnan boys English, a language they would need in order to conduct business outside the colony. And she said that I should become friends, once again, with Ona Friesen.

I had nothing to lose. I took this advice to heart.

The librarian asked her husband to give me a job driv­ing for his airport limousine service, and although I didn’t have a valid driver’s licence, I worked for him for three months to make enough money to purchase a ticket to Molotschna. During this time, I slept in the attic of a youth hostel. At night, when it felt as though my head was about to explode, I would will myself to lie as still as possible. Every night, in that hostel, as I lay motionless in my bed, I closed my eyes and heard very faint strains of piano music, heavy chords unaccompanied by voices. One morning I asked the man who cleaned the hostel, and who also slept there, if he had ever heard faint piano music with heavy chords at night. He said no, never. Eventually, I understood that the song I heard at night, when it felt as though my head was about to explode, was the hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” and that I was lis­tening to my own funeral.

Peters, who wears the same tall black boots his own father once wore, or at least similar ones, considered my request for re-admittance into the colony. He finally said he would allow me membership providing I renounced my parents (in spite of one being dead and the other miss­ing) before the elders and was baptized into the church and agreed to teach the boys basic English and simple math in return for shelter (the aforementioned shed) and three meals a day.

I told Peters I would be baptized and I would teach the boys, but that I wouldn’t renounce my parents. Peters, unhappy, but desperate to have the boys learn account­ing, or perhaps because my appearance unsettled him, as I looked so much like my father, agreed.

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This week's recommended reading lists

Fish School

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Women Who Work

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New Non-Fiction for the week of August 26th : New Food and Drink Books
The Olive Oil and Vinegar Lover’s Cookbook

The Olive Oil and Vinegar Lover’s Cookbook

Revised and Updated Edition
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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The Chowder Trail Cookbook

The Chowder Trail Cookbook

The best recipes for an East Coast specialty
edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback Hardcover
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Lure

Lure

Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the West Coast
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : seafood
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The 3-Ingredient Baking Book

The 3-Ingredient Baking Book

101 Simple, Sweet and Stress-Free Recipes
edition:Paperback
tagged : baking, desserts
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Everyone's Welcome

Everyone's Welcome

The Art of Living and Eating Allergen Free
edition:eBook
tagged : allergy
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Island Craft

Island Craft

Your Guide to the Breweries of Vancouver Island
edition:Paperback
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Coconut Lagoon

Coconut Lagoon

Recipes from a South Indian Kitchen
edition:Paperback
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Peace, Love and Fibre

Peace, Love and Fibre

Over 100 Fibre-Rich Recipes for the Whole Family
edition:Paperback
More Info
Excerpt

From “Fibre 101, or How to Get an A+ on Your Colonoscopy”
Years ago, one of my comedy buddies in my touring company at Second City was diagnosed with colon cancer. After he was finished treatment, a wild and crazy party was organized to celebrate. He spoke that night about the power of the colonoscopy and early detection and urged us to take part in a large study on colon cancer being held in Toronto. I wanted to be a part of the bigger picture and help science, so I immediately signed up.

Weeks later I was interviewed to become a volunteer in the study. I was so nervous—I mean, what if I didn’t pass? How pathetic would that be? What if the self-proclaimed Queen of Fibre got rejected for a study on poop, bowel function, and GI health? That would be an insult to my belief in the power of fibre.

Fortunately, or so I thought, I passed that test and was given a poop bucket to take home with me. The subway was really crowded that day; I had to stand holding the bar and a yellow poop bucket labelled “Hazardous Waste.” I knew people were staring, but I proudly clutched that bucket all the way home. I was helping science! I felt incredibly virtuous. The deal was, you pooped into the bucket and called a hotline, and a poop collector would come to your house within a specific time to ensure the poop was fresh, then rush it back to the lab.

Weeks later, after my colonoscopy prep (one of the most explosive preps known to man—enough said!), I showed up at the hospital only to be told that I had arrived one week early. Despite my begging, cajoling, crying, guilt-tripping (“I’m participating in a colon cancer study for the betterment of mankind!”), and, in one of the lowest-of-the-low moments of my life, throwing down the “I’m on TV” card, the receptionist was a rock and wouldn’t budge.

I was instructed to come back in several months so I could go through the whole shebang again. I quietly left the building, hat in hand, and did not submit myself to another colonoscopy prep until I was 50. Fortunately, this time I got the date right, had the colonoscopy, and received an A+. The doctor told me I had the most beautiful colon he’d ever seen, and apparently, he’d seen a million of them—he seemed close to 100 years old. I’ve considered having this carved on my tombstone:

Here lies Mairlyn Smith:
She had the most beautiful colon ever seen.
Signed, The Unknown Centenarian Colon Doctor
You too can get an A+ on your colonoscopy by eating healthy, back-to-basic foods that include fibre-rich vegetables and fruits, berries, whole grains, nuts, seeds, pulses, and fermented foods, as well as going for a walk every day and drinking enough liquids to keep your GI tract happy and moving. It’s never too late to start adding fibre-rich foods to your diet. This is the main reason I decided to write this cookbook. Although eating a lifetime of high-fibre foods is great, adding them to your eating style as of today is the best news your body will have heard in ages. Think of it as an investment in your retirement health savings plan. The sooner you start adding to it, the better. Your body is going to be on the winning end, pun intended.

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This week's recommended reading lists

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