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 Non-Fiction for the week of November 18th : New Art Books
Florine Stettheimer

Florine Stettheimer

New Directions in Multimodal Modernism
edition:Paperback
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Michael Snow

Michael Snow

Lives and Works
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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The Group of Seven Reimagined

The Group of Seven Reimagined

Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings
edited by Karen Schauber
edition:Hardcover
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Light Revealed

Light Revealed

Scratchboard Engravings by Scott McKowen
illustrated by Scott McKowen
introduction by Peter Hinton
edition:Hardcover
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Fluevog

Fluevog

50 Years of Unique Soles for Unique Souls
edition:Hardcover
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Ruling Out Art

Ruling Out Art

Media Art Meets Law in Ontario’s Censor Wars
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook Hardcover
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Unbecoming Nationalism

Unbecoming Nationalism

From Commemoration to Redress in Canada
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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The Story of Painting

The Story of Painting

How art was made
by DK
foreword by Ross King
edition:Hardcover
tagged : painting
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Women Who Work

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New Fiction for the week of December 31st : New in Life Stories
What the Oceans Remember

What the Oceans Remember

Searching for Belonging and Home
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover
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In My Own Moccasins

In My Own Moccasins

A Memoir of Resilience
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Dance Me to the End

Dance Me to the End

Ten Months and Ten Days with ALS
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Mostarghia
Excerpt

From Mostarghia:

Just a few days before your death you’re determined still to be strong, to be the man of the hour, he who can do everything, always, even have his children forget the war and the concentration camps, the bombs and the hunger, the danger and the fear. Your doctor has come to inform us that you are living your last days, and that you are to be moved up to the floor for palliative care. They want to put you on a stretcher to carry you to the floor for the dying, but you refuse. You insist on taking the stairs, leaning, when necessary, on me. I feel you to be short of breath and feverish, like a leaf trembling at the approach of a hurricane. I like your smell, your silky skin, your boniness, and your lightness of weight. You were never a big eater, and even before your illness you said that we had to feed ourselves like birds, just enough to be able to fly. I see our two shadows making their way slowly along the hospital corridor. The impassive beauty of the flowers brought to the dying seems extravagant to me in this thankless place. You hold to me, as once you held to my translations in all the countries we knew where you refused to learn the language. For a long time I reproached you for this linguistic sulkiness, but towards the end of your life I understood that it was a deliberate strategy, a refusal to accept any social contract. As you lean on me and your breath comes faster, I search for words to tell you how deeply sorry I am for all our misunderstandings. (How to say sorry properly in your language, no longer really mine ever since others, like young wives unseating the older ones in a harem, have come to dwell in me, and to make me multiple.) A strange feeling runs through my entire being. As I adjust my body to better serve you as a support, my left breast slips naturally into the cavity in your chest, there where once resided the lung and ribs that have been taken from you. Gently, my breast has begun to swell, to breathe, as if it wanted to become the organ you are lacking, as if it wanted to complete you, but also to hide itself from the world and to return to whence it sprang. At the same time, in a neighbouring room, the Rwandan priest you chased away the other day because he wanted to convert you to Christianity, is reading the Bible to a dying person in a low and solemn voice: “And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof. And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from the man, made he a woman.” With your rolling Slavic accent, you whisper in my ear: “My rib is the Adriatic coast. That’s where you were conceived. You will conceive in your turn on another coast.” Your face, like that of mystics in a trance, glows with a beatific smile, and I have a sudden conviction that you have always understood everything, all the languages and all the codes you claimed not to comprehend.

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Hello I Want to Die Please Fix Me
Excerpt

How do you talk about trying to die? Haltingly, urgently: in mes­sages and calls to friends. Abashedly: you stand in the middle of a hospital hallway on a parent’s cell phone as your grandfather bel­lows, “No more stupid tricks!” Gingerly: you stand in your psych ward at the patients’ landline, conscious of fellow patients watch­ing TV just behind you, white corkscrew cord curled around your finger as you murmur to your grandmother who understands better than she should. Who is the first to tell you, as you lean against the orange-tinted counter with its row of cupboards for confiscated belongings below the sink, that you have to write all this down. And even though you put it off for months, agonize for years, you know she’s right.
 
Quietly, desperately: in one medical appointment after another. Trepidatiously: to colleagues. Searchingly: in interviews. Increasingly loudly. In a book? With the world?
 
A disorder hijacks your life and becomes an obsession. Know thine enemy. Chart in minute detail the way it wrecks you and seek out every aliquot of information out there. Butt up against the con­stricting limits of human understanding, smash yourself against that wall and seek instead to map the contours of collective ignorance. Know the unknowns of thine enemy, learn them by heart. Because even if you never best it, never loosen its grip on your existence, at least your best attempt at understanding will give you some sem­blance of agency.
 
No one wants this crap illness that masquerades as personal failing. I had no desire to plumb its depths. The struggle to func­tion leaves me little capacity to do so. But in the end I had no choice. I approached this enemy I barely believed in the only way I knew how: as a reporter. I took a topic about which I knew nothing and sought somehow to know everything. I talked to people in search of answers and mostly found more questions.
 
Personal experience has made me more invested in addressing the gross inequities depression exacerbates, in hammering home the human, societal, economic costs. The depth of depression’s debilita­tion and our reprehensible failure to address it consume me because I’m there, spending days paralyzed and nights wracked because my meds aren’t good enough. But this isn’t some quixotic personal proj­ect that pertains to me and no one else. Depression affects everyone on the planet, directly or indirectly, in every possible sphere. Its very ubiquity robs it of sexiness but not urgency. I found this in every interview I did, in every article I read, in every attempt I made to sort out how the fuck this can be so bad and so badly unaddressed.
 
This book is also my way of exorcising endless guilt at having been so lucky—to have benefited from publicly funded inpatient and outpatient mental health care; to have maintained, for the most part, employment; to have had patches of insurance lighten the burden of paying for years of drugs. This shouldn’t be the purview of the priv­ileged but it is. We fail the most marginalized at every level, then wonder why they worsen.
 
I don’t want to be the person writing this book. Don’t want to be chewed up by despair so unremitting the only conceivable response is to write it. But I am. I write this because I need both life vest and anchor, because I need both to scream and to arm myself in the dark. Maybe you need to scream, to arm yourself, too.

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All Things Consoled

All Things Consoled

A daughter's memoir
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
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Excerpt

     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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Cozy Mysteries

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New Children's for the week of November 4th : New YA
The Grey Sisters
Excerpt

It was nothing really. Her ears closed up and then she felt a discomforting pressure like a rough, heavy hand on the top of her head. She tried swallowing repeatedly to equalize the pressure in her ears and then rummaged in her bag for some gum. She didn’t find any. Instead, she discovered Floppy Monkey stuffed down at the bottom with a spare pair of thick woolen socks.
D must have snuck him into the bag and kept Floppy Giraffe with her. They were ancient stuffed toys knitted for them at birth by their Nonna. They normally lived on the bookshelf, but not when the girls were sick or one of them was traveling solo. Kat smiled to herself. He was almost as good as having her twin sister sitting right there beside her, and she wished she could cuddle with him unnoticed for a minute but that was unlikely. She touched her fingertip to her lips, pressed a kiss onto his poor worn head, and hid him away again.
It was a small plane, and the twenty-eight kids and two teachers filled it completely. That was half of the tenth grade; the other half were building houses for low-income families, but she’d done that in grade nine and quickly realized that she wasn’t compatible with power tools.
Next to her, Jonathan interrupted the contemplation of his heavy book and swept his gaze around the crowded airplane. “G-force,” he said, staring at her with his amber eyes. His heavy-framed glasses magnified them hugely. It was unsettling, like looking at a praying mantis close up. Funny how, even though he and his just-eleven-months-older sister, Spider, shared an undeniable family resemblance — same eyes and brows, same strong features and dark hair — Jonathan hadn’t grown into his face and body yet. It was as if he was wearing a skin suit a few sizes too big and it made him ungainly and awkward. Spider was the opposite of that, sure and graceful in her movements. “You know, gravity.”
Kat grunted. He was always saying weird things and then not explaining them. This time though, he continued. “But are we going up or down? Roller coaster?” He moved his hand in a wave motion and pursed his lips.
She had no answer, nor could she be sure he was even talking to her. More like at her. Spider always said Jonathan was on his own trip, and barely noticed other people. He even referred to them as humans for chrissakes, as if he were from outer space or something. And being so smart, he’d gone straight from eighth grade into tenth — their grade. It was something he never let any of them forget.
Still, they’d all grown up together on the same cul-de-sac and Kat got him, or at least more than most.
“Is your seat belt on?” he asked, poking at her upper arm.
She lifted the corner of her shirt to show him and returned her attention to the thick notebook open on her lap. It was her idea book, stuffed full of images and clippings. Everything and everyone she drew inspiration from. At the moment, she was totally in love with Mexican floral embroidery and Yayoi Kusama’s crazy polka dots. Sometimes when she was snuggled under the covers in her bed, she saw flowers and butterflies imprinted on everything. A glorious world of movement and color.
The plane dipped, propelling her stomach into her neck.
Two rows up, she could see the back of Henry Chen’s tousled head, John Brewster’s hand high-fiving him. The noise of chatter washed over her, transforming the cabin into an even smaller space.
Surely they must be getting close? She estimated they were somewhere near Spectacle Lakes. Her Nonna had told her that they were so blue they were like a slice of heaven.

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The Dark Missions of Edgar Brim: Demon
Excerpt

Far away from home, from comfort and sanity, up in the arctic mountains of Spitsbergen Island, the sound vibrates in the frigid air, comes racing toward the sea and enters Edgar’s soul. It is a cry of anguish and it terrifies him. He stands on the little ship amidst the human blood and severed limbs and smashed skulls that the great whale has left in its wake, unable to move. Lucy and Jonathan are on the shore just an arrow shot away, motionless too. Tiger lies beneath them on the hard ground, awfully still.
“That sounds like the devil,” whispers the wounded captain, still on all fours.
“Bring her,” Edgar calls to Jonathan as he motions toward Tiger, a tear rolling down his cheek.
Though his friend is a young man with arms like a strongman, he cannot do it. Instead, he drops to his knees and buries his head in his hands. Lucy bends down and, summoning a strength beyond her physical powers, lifts her fallen companion and then staggers toward the boat with her, Tiger’s limbs limp and extending toward the rocks. Edgar gets to them in an instant, reaches over the railing, and takes his dearest friend from Lucy, shocked to feel how light she is. He stares down at her twice-broken nose and pale face, framed by short, raven-black hair. She is still so beautiful, even in death. Tiger. The indefatigable, the unconquerable, the inimitable Tiger, laid low by the monster they had pursued to this godforsaken place. The tilted boat is jammed against the high, rocky shore. Lucy clambers up and onto it as Edgar walks with Tiger in his arms across the deck, holding her close. He puts his forehead to hers and then sets her down, away from the blood. He presses his finger to the jugular vein on her neck and tries to tell himself that he feels a very slight pulse.
The cry echoes across Spitsbergen again and the captain cowers.
“Do you have binoculars?” asks Edgar in a monotone.
The captain points to them, their straps somehow still holding fast to a hook on a mast, but their lenses smashed. Edgar takes the binoculars in both hands and points them upward into the mountains. The cry comes one more time. Edgar stares through the broken glass, seeing a thousand images, but he focuses on one: a distant figure, only slightly less white than the snow. It is holding its face toward the sky as if it has just let out a howl. Below it lies the broken body of another polar bear, the one the monster had killed with his bare hands less than an hour before. Did the horrific cry come from this looming animal, or from something else?

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Bonjour Shanghai
Excerpt

Prologue

I made it.

Well, barely.

I ran down the airline ramp all sweaty and winded, my bags swinging from side to side, including the canvas bag Jake gave me as a goodbye present that reads Smart Women Don’t Kiss Ass, They Kick It in bold pink.

I almost missed my flight because deep down inside, I still wasn’t sure I should leave. It was no surprise that leaving Jonathan behind was heart-wrenching. We stood there holding each other in the middle of the busy JFK terminal for what felt like forever, with Jake looking on.

Even though I was trying to be fully present in Jonathan’s arms, I could see and feel Jake’s anxiety in the distance. He kept checking his phone. I wish I could have helped resolve all his problems before I left, but I just couldn’t.

We all came together for a group hug, and I promised to video-call them daily on WeChat, then I kissed them both and just ran and didn’t look back until I got to the security gate. That’s probably why I’d chosen to wear sneakers — so I could run. Maybe I’d known that if I slowed down, I might lose my resolve in an instant, change my plans, and never get on that plane. Love and friendship can open your heart wide and make you do foolish things.

But I just couldn’t do that to Maddie, to my parents, or, more importantly, to myself. I need to prove that I can kick ass on my own. That I really can make it.

I rushed through security and dashed off to the gate with my visa, passport, and boarding pass in hand, and now here I am at the plane. I don’t look anything like a Parsons or Condé Nast fashion student at the moment, with sweat dripping from my forehead and my hair in a messy bun, but who cares?

When I board, the flight attendants don’t look too thrilled about my tardiness. But their mood shifts when I compliment them on their uniforms: impeccable red dresses and delicate silk scarves tied around their necks. They look impossibly chic.

Some of the passengers shoot me evil stares, maybe because I’m late, but more likely because of the pink-sloganed bag I keep shoving in their faces as I awkwardly manoeuvre to my seat. Jake would be immensely proud.

I pull out my magazines, the two paperbacks Jonathan gave me to read, and my bottled water. I also have a box of cupcakes baked for me by Jake’s mom. I actually teared up when he handed them to me. The fact that Jake’s mom has no clue about her son’s predicament breaks my heart.

I look around. Thankfully, my seat neighbour is a mature-looking Chinese woman who’s already got her nose in a book. I like my travel companions to be quiet so I can read and write.

I’m hoping to finally write another blog post for Bonjour Girl, one that resonates with my values, now that I have the time, space, and energy to do it.

After the emergency protocols have been duly explained and we’ve taken off, I pull out my laptop. I open a bag of roasted almonds and think about what to write. This feels good. Taking refuge in my writing will help me to have a more positive outlook on my upcoming adventure. I’m going to Shanghai!

Someone taps me on the shoulder.

“Clementine? Clementine Liu?”

I look up to see a handsome young Asian man standing next to me in the aisle.

“I have a note for you from a close friend of mine,” he says, handing me a folded piece of paper. “Enjoy your flight, okay?”

“Thanks.”

I sit up straight, curious about this mysterious note.

I open it and my eyes nearly pop out of their sockets when I see who it’s from.

Welcome to Shanghai.

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This week's recommended reading lists
New Fiction for the week of October 28th : New Autumn Poetry
What Fox Knew

What Fox Knew

And Others
edition:Paperback
tagged : family
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Mowing
Excerpt

Relay

 

The days are handed off like bright batons.

 

A runner stutters into dark, the night
ahead. Ahead, dawn tucked beneath her arm,

 

someone else begins to hammer
the pulsing slope of mount grief,

 

while, in her wake, another navigates
the barberry thicket of what might

 

have been achieved. Who she was or will be
keeps her company the far side of the track,

 

winded, lurching forward, looking back.

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Air Salt

Air Salt

A Trauma Mémoire as a Result of the Fall
edition:Paperback
tagged : canadian
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The Flame

The Flame

Poems and Selections From Notebooks
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
tagged : canadian, love
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This week's recommended reading lists

Keep On Trucking

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Kids' Food Books

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