A Canada Day reading list from our indie presses

A Canada Day reading list from our indie presses
Here’s a Canada Day shout-out to our independent presses, intrepid purveyors of novels, stories, memoirs and literary hybrids.

The Dead Celebrities Club, Susan Swan

Dale Paul finds himself in a U.S. federal prison in the Adirondacks, sentenced to 12 years for bilking vets of their pensions. To pass the time in the hoosegow, our anti-hero starts a club in which inmate members wager on which celebrity will be the next to croak. Author Susan Swan is a member of Toronto’s literary tribe, certainly one of its quirkier practitioners. Her latest novel has elements of a classic caper, but a caper studded with Dale Paul’s doodles, the work of Toronto multimedia artist Mariel Marshall.

Lands and Forests, Andrew Forbes

The first story, “Inundation Day” in this fine collection has particular resonance for Canada Day. On that day, July 1, 1958, then-prime minister John Diefenbaker presided over detonations that erased towns and hamlets — and upturned the lives of many residents — to make way for the St. Lawrence Seaway. Most of the other 11 stories have a similar outdoorsy angle — spying on girls in cottage country, kayaking in Western Quebec, getting by in small-town Ontario. Forbes’ The Utility of Boredom: Baseball Essays was shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award in 2016.

Fear of Drowning, Susan White

This saga focuses on seven women from a single family, beginning in 1883 when the first is 3, ending in 2004 when the last, the eldest’s great-great-great granddaughter, is 5. They are the bookends: the real heart of the story is Lilliane, who in 1917, as a smitten young woman, devises a devious plan that suits the purposes of several women in this tale. It is the story of a family; it is also the story of Canada in the last century, marked by epidemics and war, as well as class divides, prissiness and prejudice. The author lives in New Brunswick.

Blissfully Blended Bullshit: The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families, Rebecca Eckler

We have tagged along with Rebecca Eckler for quite a while — first when she got pregnant (2004’s Knocked Up), then with the birth of daughter Rowan (2007’s Wiped: Life With a Pint-Sized Dictator) and Rowan’s early years (2008’s Toddlers Gone Wild), then Eckler’s return to dating (2011’s How to Raise a Boyfriend). This book is an account of life in a blended family: when her guy moved in, he brought two older half-sisters for Rowan, then along came baby Holt. In Eckler’s words, BBB is “my account of how blending families affects everyone, including people you’d never consider, like our exes, or our ex-in-laws, our new in-laws, and even the dog.”

What We See in the Smoke, Ben Berman Ghan

Author Ben Berman Ghan steps back in his preface to tell us what to expect in the pages that follow. He calls it a “fix-up novel,” originally 17 unconnected short stories that he reworked as a single speculative narrative, the only constant being the central character, Toronto, its immediate past and its far-flung future (specifically, 2016 to 3036). But this kind of meta literature defies space and time, and it’s perfectly OK to read these story-chapters in whatever order one fancies.
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