What We’re Reading:

Editors’ Picks Part One, Fall 2019

Here are some titles from Canadian writers that our editors are especially excited to read this fall.

Recommended by James Cairns

Recommended by James Cairns

I Am a Damn Savage; What Have You Done to My Country?

by An Antane Kapesh

Wilfred Laurier University Press, March 2020

“Quebec author An Antane Kapesh's two books, Je suis une maudite sauvagesse (1976) and Qu'as-tu fait de mon pays? (1979), are among the foregrounding works by Indigenous women in Canada. This English translation of these works, presented alongside the revised Innu text, makes them available for the first time to a broader readership. 

In I Am a Damn Savage, Antane Kapesh wrote to preserve and share her culture, experience, and knowledge, all of which, she felt, were disappearing at an alarming rate because many Elders – like herself – were aged or dying. She wanted to publicly denounce the conditions in which she and the Innu were made to live, and to address the changes she was witnessing due to land dispossession and loss of hunting territory, police brutality, and the effects of the residential school system. What Have You Done to My Country? is a fictional account by a young boy of the arrival of les Polichinelles and their subsequent assault on the land and on native language and culture. 

Through these stories Antane Kapesh asserts that settler society will eventually have to take responsibility and recognize its faults, and accept that the Innu – as well as all the other nations – are not going anywhere, that they are not a problem settlers can make disappear.”

Recommended by Dana Hansen

Recommended by Dana Hansen

Lost Feast: Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food

By Lenore Newman

ECW Press, October 2019

“When we humans love foods, we love them a lot. In fact, we have often eaten them into extinction, whether it is the megafauna of the Paleolithic world or the passenger pigeon of the last century. In Lost Feast, food expert Lenore Newman sets out to look at the history of the foods we have loved to death and what that means for the culinary paths we choose for the future. Whether it’s chasing down the luscious butter of local Icelandic cattle or looking at the impacts of modern industrialized agriculture on the range of food varieties we can put in our shopping carts, Newman’s bright, intelligent gaze finds insight and humor at every turn.

Bracketing the chapters that look at the history of our relationship to specific foods, Lenore enlists her ecologist friend and fellow cook, Dan, in a series of “extinction dinners” designed to recreate meals of the past or to illustrate how we might be eating in the future. Part culinary romp, part environmental wake-up call, Lost Feast makes a critical contribution to our understanding of food security today. You will never look at what’s on your plate in quite the same way again.”

Recommended by Jessica Rose

Recommended by Jessica Rose

The Missing Millionaire: The True Story of Ambrose Small and the City Obsessed With Finding Him

By Katie Daubs

McClelland & Stewart, September 2019

“The gripping true crime story of the disappearance of a millionaire from Toronto in 1919, one hundred years ago, which captivated the city and remains one of the great unsolved mysteries. For readers of Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City and Charlotte Gray’s The Massey Murder.

In 1919, Ambrose Small was another ghost in the city of the missing. Thousands hadn’t come home from the First World War, but it was the disappearance of Ambrose Small that captivated Toronto’s attention. In this brilliant new book, Katie Daubs unwinds the story of the mercurial Small, who assembled an Ontario theatre empire in the dawn of the twentieth century, sold it for an unbelievable $1.75 million, and disappeared before he could spend a cent.

Weaving together a remarkable true crime narrative with social and cultural history, Daubs masterfully tells the story of Ambrose’s sensational disappearance. She examines the wild lives of the cast of characters who surrounded him and became prime suspects: his independent, powerful wife, Theresa Small; his longtime personal secretary Jack Doughty, charged with theft and kidnapping; his two unmarried sisters; Patrick Sullivan, a lawless policeman; and Austin Mitchell, a hapless detective. As the years passed, a series of sensational trials exposed the relationships and resentments of Ambrose and his inner circle; allegations of sexual impropriety, murder plots, and confessions swirled; and an explosive OPP report revealed the incompetence of the police. But as the main players died off, nobody would be found guilty, and their secrets were buried for good: Ambrose Small would forever be missing.

Drawing on extensive research, from police investigations to political dossiers, private correspondence, and press reports, and her own interviews with surviving descendants of key figures, Katie Daubs masterfully recreates Toronto as it was following the First World War, painting a rich portrait of a city undergoing immense cultural and social change, which protected its elite and was just as hard then as it is now.”

Recommended by Sally Cooper

Recommended by Sally Cooper

Agnes, Murderess

By Sarah Leavitt

Freehand Books, September 2019

“Agnes, Murderess is a graphic novel inspired by the bloody legend of Agnes McVee, a roadhouse owner, madam and serial killer in the Cariboo region of British Columbia in the late nineteenth century. Fascinated by this legend—which originated in a 1970s guide to buried treasure in BC, and has never been verified—Sarah Leavitt has imagined an entirely new story for the mysterious Agnes: her immigration to Canada from an isolated Scottish Island; her complex entanglement with shiny things; and her terrifying grandmother, Gormul, who haunts Agnes’s dreams and waking life.

Leavitt puts a decidedly queer twist on the story, moving from women’s passionate friendships in the gardens of St John’s Wood to female relationships in the Canadian wild. At the same time, the book grapples with the dangerous pre-conceived notions held by settlers that the country was a “new world,” free of ghosts and history. Agnes, Murderess presents a tortured, complicated woman struggling to escape her past. It is a spine-chilling tale of ghosts and murder, friendship and betrayal, love and greed, fate and choice.”

Recommended by Noelle Allen and Dana Hansen

Recommended by Noelle Allen and Dana Hansen

The Nothing That Is: Essays on Art, Literature and Being

By Johanna Skibsrud

Bookhug, October 2019

“Written over a period of more than a decade, The Nothing That Is is a collection about the very concept of ‘nothing,’ approached from a variety of angles and in a variety of ways.

Addressing a broad range of topics and works by contemporary writers and artists, these essays seek to decentre our relationship to both the ‘givenness’ of history and to a predictive or probable model of the future. They do so by drawing attention to the ways that poetic language activates the multiple, and as yet undesignated, possibilities replete within our every moment, and within every encounter between a speaking ‘I’ and what exceeds subjectivity—a listening ‘Other,’ be it community or the objective world.”

Recommended by James Cairns

Recommended by James Cairns

Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction

By sue ferguson

Between the Lines, November 2019

“With #MeToo dominating headlines and an unprecedented number of women running for office, the fight for women’s equality has perhaps never been higher on the political agenda. Around the world, women are fighting against unfair working conditions, restrictive abortion laws, and the frayed social safety net. The same holds true within the business world—but there’s a twist: even as some women argue that pushing for more female CEOs would help the struggle for equality, other activists argue that CEOs themselves are part of the problem, regardless of gender.

In Women and Work, Susan Ferguson explores the history of feminist discourse, examining the ways in which feminists have conceptualized women’s work and placed labor, and its reproduction, at the heart of their program for emancipation. Engaging with feminist critiques of work, Ferguson argues that women’s emancipation depends upon a reorganization and radical reimagining of all labor, and advocates for an inclusive politics that reconceptualizes women’s work and work in general.”

Recommended by Jessica Rose

Recommended by Jessica Rose

Hustling Verse: An Anthology of Sex Workers’ Poetry

Edited by Amber Dawn and Justin Ducharme

Arsenal Pulp Press, September 2019

“In this trailblazing anthology, more than fifty self-identified sex workers from all walks of the industry (survival and trade, past and present) explore their lived experience through the expressive nuance and beauty of poetry. In a variety of forms ranging from lyrics to list poems to found poetry to hybrid works, these authors express themselves with the complexity, agency, and honesty that sex workers are rarely afforded. Contributors from Canada, the US, Europe, and Asia include Gregory Scofield, Tracy Quan, Summer Wright, and Akira the Hustler. As an antidote to the invasive and often biased media depictions of sex workers, Hustling Verse is a fiercely groundbreaking exploration of intimacy, transactional sex, identity, healing, and resilience.

Includes a foreword by Mercedes Eng, whose poetry book Prison Industrial Complex Explodes (Talonbooks) won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 2018.”

Recommended by Dana Hansen

Recommended by Dana Hansen

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace

By Matthieu Simard; translated by Pablo Strauss

Coach House Books, September 2019

“A novel about silence, tinged with the fantastic, The Country Will Bring Us No Peace sneaks the brutality of grief into your imagination.

Overwhelmed by grief, Simon and Marie flee the city to make a new and better life in a sleepy country town. But the silence is eerie, and the town is gloomy, almost hostile -- things haven't been the same since the factory closed down and a broadcast antenna was erected. The sidewalks and playground are haunted by secrets that the few remaining townspeople won't reveal, and even the birds have stopped singing.

The Country Will Bring Us No Peace shows us, with grace and tenderness, the violence of grief, how it can consume a person, a marriage, a town.”

Recommended by James Cairns

Recommended by James Cairns

Reclaiming Hamilton: Essays from the New Ambitious City

Edited by Paul Weinberg

Wolsak & Wynn, November 2019

“Hamilton has been called many things over the years, some positive – the Ambitious City, Steeltown – some not so much – the armpit of Ontario. But the city has endured it all and continues on, undaunted. In this wide-ranging collection of essays editor Paul Weinberg has collected many of the stories that have made up Hamilton's latest rising. From lost neighbourhoods to the environmental battle over the Red Hill Valley Parkway, from the rise of citizen journalism to the birth and impact of the James Street North Art Crawl, from the continual fight for inclusion to the new fight against gentrification, Reclaiming Hamilton looks at how this complex, storied city is reinventing itself right now.”


Freelance editor Kerry Bear, novelist Matthew Bin, McMaster professor Nancy Bouchier, journalist Joey Coleman, McMaster professor Ken Cruikshank, urban planner Rob Fielder, Raise the Hammer editor Ryan McGreal, anthropologist Kevin McKay, culture journalist Seema Nerula, freelance writer Jessica Rose, community historian Shawn Selway, columnist Margaret Shkimba, McMaster professor Sarah Wayland and freelance writer Paul Weinberg."

Recommended by Noelle Allen

Recommended by Noelle Allen

Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun: portraits of everyday life in eight indigenous communities

By Paul Seesequasis

Knopf Canada, October 2019

“In 2015, writer and journalist Paul Seesequasis found himself grappling with the devastating findings of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on the residential school system. He sought understanding and inspiration in the stories of his mother, herself a residential school survivor. Gradually, Paul realized that another, mostly untold history existed alongside the official one: that of how Indigenous peoples and communities had held together during even the most difficult times. He embarked on a social media project to collect archival photos capturing everyday life in First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities from the 1920s through the 1970s. As he scoured archives and libraries, Paul uncovered a trove of candid images and began to post these on social media, where they sparked an extraordinary reaction. Friends and relatives of the individuals in the photographs commented online, and through this dialogue, rich histories came to light for the first time.

Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun collects some of the most arresting images and stories from Paul's project. While many of the photographs live in public archives, most have never been shown to the people in the communities they represent. As such, Blanket Tossis not only an invaluable historical record, it is a meaningful act of reclamation, showing the ongoing resilience of Indigenous communities, past, present--and future.”

Recommended by Sally Cooper

Recommended by Sally Cooper

The Work

By Maria Meindl

Stonehouse Publishing, November 2019

“When aspiring stage-manager Rebecca Weir falls for the married director of the SenseInSound theatre company, she initiates a love triangle-and a working collaboration-which go on for two decades. Beginning in Toronto in the early 1980s, The Work traces the rise and fall of SenseInSound. The director has the status of a guru within the company, and his disciples call their method The Work. Is he pushing people to creative heights or abusing his power? Is The Work a cutting-edge artistic practice, a road to personal healing, or a cult? And as his top deputy, is Rebecca complicit, or merely loyal? A historian trying to write about the company, many years later, has little to go on but internet searches-that is, unless the women behind the man find a way to speak out.”

Recommended by Noelle Allen

Recommended by Noelle Allen

Breaking the Ocean: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Reconciliation

By Annahid Dashtgard

House of Anansi, August 2019

“Annahid Dashtgard was born into a supportive mixed-race family in 1970s Iran. Then came the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which ushered in a powerful and orthodox religious regime. Her family was forced to flee their homeland, immigrating to a small town in Alberta, Canada. As a young girl, Dashtgard was bullied, shunned, and ostracized by both her peers at school and adults in the community. Home offered little respite as her parents were embroiled in their own struggles, exposing the sharp contrasts between her British mother and Persian father.

Determined to break free from her past, Dashtgard created a new identity for herself as a driven young woman who found strength through political activism, eventually becoming a leader in the anti–corporate globalization movement of the late 1990s. But her unhealed trauma was re-activated following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Suffering burnout, Dashtgard checked out of her life and took the first steps towards personal healing, a journey that continues to this day.

Breaking the Ocean introduces a unique perspective on how racism and systemic discrimination result in emotional scarring and ongoing PTSD. It is a wake-up call to acknowledge our differences, offering new possibilities for healing and understanding through the revolutionary power of resilience. Dashtgard answers the universal questions of what it means to belong, what it takes to become whole, and ultimately what is required to create change in ourselves and in society.”

Recommended by Jessica Rose and Jen Rawlinson

Recommended by Jessica Rose and Jen Rawlinson

Feminist City: A Field Guide

By Leslie Kern

Between the Lines, October 2019

“Leslie Kern wants your city to be feminist.

Feminist City: A Field Guide combines memoir, feminist theory, pop culture, and geography to expose what is hidden in plain sight: the social inequalities built right into our cities, homes, and neighbourhoods. Focusing on gendered experiences of the city, the books grapples with the challenge of claiming urban space amongst barriers designed to keep women “in their place.” From the geography of rape culture to the politics of snow removal, the city is an ongoing site of gendered struggle. Yet the city is perhaps also our best hope for shaping new social relations based around care and justice.

Taking on fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, and the joys and perils of being alone, Kern maps the city from new vantage points, laying out a feminist intersectional approach to urban histories and pathways towards different urban futures. Feminist questions about safety and fear, paid and unpaid work, and rights and representation prompt us to dismantle what we take for granted about cities and open space to ask how we can build more just, sustainable, and care-full cities together.”

Recommended by Sally Cooper

Recommended by Sally Cooper

Five Wives

By Joan Thomas

Harper Collins Canada, September 2019

“In 1956, a small group of evangelical Christian missionaries and their families journeyed to the rainforest in Ecuador intending to convert the Waorani, a people who had never had contact with the outside world. The plan was known as Operation Auca. After spending days dropping gifts from an aircraft, the five men in the party rashly entered the “intangible zone.” They were all killed, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves.

Five Wives is the fictionalized account of the real-life women who were left behind, and their struggles – with grief, with doubt, and with each other – as they continued to pursue their evangelical mission in the face of the explosion of fame that followed their husbands’ deaths. 

Five Wives is a riveting, often wrenching story of evangelism and its legacy, teeming with atmosphere and compelling characters and rich in emotional impact.”

Recommended by Jen Rawlinson

Recommended by Jen Rawlinson

There Has to Be a Knife

by Adnan Khan

Arsenal Pulp Press, October 2019

“For readers of Brother by David Chariandy and Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez, Adnan Khan's blistering debut novel investigates themes of race, class, masculinity, and contemporary relationships.

Omar Ali is a ticking time bomb. A phone call from his ex-girlfriend Annaâ??s father plunges him into darkness when he learns that sheâ??s committed suicide. Clueless and hurting, Omar turns to violence and petty crime to cope. His nefarious activities catch the attention of the RCMP, who pressure him into becoming an informant at a mosque they suspect harbours a terrorist cell. Unravelling from insomnia, sorrow, and rage, Omar grasps at his last shred of hope, embarking on a quest to find the note heâ??s convinced Anna left for him.

There Has to Be a Knife examines expectations - both intimate and political - on brown men, exploring ideas of cultural identity and the tropes we use to represent them.”

Recommended by Jen Rawlinson

Recommended by Jen Rawlinson

The Ticking Heart

By Andrew Kaufman

Coach House, October 2019

“Part modern fable, part detective novel, a journey through grief in the imaginary world of Metaphoria. One cold winter night, Charlie shares a cab with a stranger in a purple hat. As they talk, a cloud of purple smoke overwhelms him and he wakes up to find himself behind the only desk in the Epiphany Detective Agency. Charlie, as it turns out, is trapped in Metaphoria, an otherworldly place that reality has forgotten, a place where everything means something else. His first client is Shirley Miller, who insists on hiring Charlie to find her husband's missing heart. In fact, she's so insistent that she replaces Charlie's heart with a bomb. He has twenty-four hours to find Twiggy Miller's heart - and its meaning - or his own will explode.

Tender and brutal, optimistic and despairing, this modern fable by the author of the cult hit All My Friends Are Superheroes takes a fresh look at what it means to fall into, and out of, love.”