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 October 14th : New Books on Parenting
Forty Fathers

Forty Fathers

Men Talk about Parenting
edited by Tessa Lloyd
foreword by Peter Mansbridge
edition:Hardcover
tagged : fatherhood
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Parenting Right From the Start

Parenting Right From the Start

Laying a Healthy Foundation in the Baby and Toddler Years
edition:Paperback
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Digital Life Skills for Youth

Digital Life Skills for Youth

A Guide for Parents, Guardians, and Educators
edition:Paperback
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Cat and Nat's Mom Truths

Cat and Nat's Mom Truths

Embarrassing Stories and Brutally Honest Advice on the Extremely Real Struggle of Motherhood
edition:Paperback
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Excerpt

TWO

Bad New Ladies: The End of the Delivery is Just the Beginning

The morning after I gave birth to our first child, I woke up with fifty stitches in my vagina and a question in my head: “Catherine, what the hell have you gotten yourself into?”
 
Barely a day earlier, we’d been at a rehearsal dinner for a friend’s wedding. It was late. I was grumpy because everyone else was wasted and laughing and I couldn’t drink. That’s when labor hit. It hit hard— and so did a huge wave of fear and panic. The idyllic “I’m going to have a baby!” suddenly became the terrifying “I’m going to have to deliver a baby through my body!” I’ll never forget what happened next. I leaned over to my husband, squeezed his hand, and whispered in his ear: “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
 
A little late to back out now, Cat.
 
And besides, it was definitely time to get on with it. I was two weeks past my due date. For a couple months, I’d spent most of my time feeling either gigantic or homicidal. Sometimes both. Usually both.
 
I know some people probably think Canada is cold all the time. But Toronto in summertime is like living inside a dryer filled with wet towels. It’s hot. It’s moist. It’s supernoisy. You’re sweating all the time. Which makes carrying around another entire person inside of you such a huge pleasure, she says sarcastically. I knew we were in uncharted territory when I discovered one morning that I could no longer see my vaheen. It was lost somewhere between my stom-ach and my thighs. That seventy pounds of extra weight was not my friend.
 
Marc and I lived in a tiny little house on a dead- end street. We were one of those annoying couples that had a dog we treated like a child. We’d dress him up on Halloween and even give him gifts on Christmas morning. Yep, we were pretty insufferable. I’m sure more than a few strangers rolled their eyes at us, but I didn’t care. I was honing my maternal instincts!
 
In those final couple months, when I basically weighed a metric tonne and couldn’t fit into any clothes and most automobiles, it is possible that I maybe got a little grumpy from time to time. I remem­ber one night my husband made the mistake of asking why I was al­ways so tired. We were sitting at our little kitchen table, and my first instinct was to jab a fork into his arm. He didn’t really mean anything by it, I’m sure. He probably said it without thinking. (Men are great at that.) But do you think I was going to let him off the hook? Not a frickin’ chance! I gave it to him with both barrels. “Oh, I’m sorry if I’m a little tired since I spent all day growing another human person inside of me. Growing their organs and their fingers and every other part of them. I grew part of a brain today! What did you do?”
 
Most times when there is shouting in a marriage, it ends in a draw or in an uneasy truce—but I think it’s safe to say I won that one. Decisively. Feel free to steal the “growing a human person” card and use it yourself. You can’t lose.
 
For the whole time I was pregnant, and even a bit before, I had this very clear image in my head: Life with a baby was going to be so perfect. My husband and I would lie in bed together with the baby between us and we’d hold hands. We’d go to pumpkin patches and we’d be so cute and everyone would think to themselves, “Now there are a couple of parents who’ve got it all together, posing on a haystack in their flannel with their apple cider donuts, looking all adorable.”
 
Fast-forward to my tenth hour of labor. I’m in agony. Meanwhile, my husband and my doctor are down at the end of the bed, mak­ing small talk about hockey. I wanted to murder them both. I’m not even sure that I’m joking. If only they’d been just a little bit closer, I might have reached out and clocked them with a bedpan. I know that sounds kind of harsh, but believe me: It’s hard to be your calm, regular self when a human being is trying to push her way into the world through your vagina. You’re bound to be a little on edge.
 
Eventually, the epidural worked its magic. I managed a couple hours of enthusiastic pushing/profanity. I even remember the Au­gust sun coming out and shining into the hospital room just before our little girl was born. The whole thing turned out kind of great, to be honest. I remember thinking to myself: “I did it! Mission ac­complished! Hooray for me!” I even managed to crack a joke. When the doctor went to work on repairing my vagina, he said that he was going to “sew [me] back up like Mother Nature intended.” With­out missing a beat, I said, “Can you make it a little tighter than she intended?”
 
I was pumped. I had gotten through it. My pregnancy was over at last!
 
Turns out the end of the delivery was just the beginning.
 
Goodbye, excitement; hello, exhaustion. So long, anticipation; hello, anxiety. I wasn’t ready for any of it. From the second that Olivia was born, I felt an overwhelming urge to go home. I wanted to set a land speed record for getting out of a hospital. But first, I had to pass a test.
 
I had to pass the fart test.
 
They gave me the whole explanation, but I wasn’t really listen­ing, due to the exhaustion and the precious new human life that was suddenly taking up all my brain space. Basically, it was about makingsure everything was working down there after the epidural and the trauma of the delivery. Bottom line: I had to fart before they would agree to discharge me. Now, just to be clear, it’s not like they post a nurse at your bedside and give her a Geiger counter for fart monitor­ing. They take your word for it.
 
This is an important piece of information, because I was obsessed with getting out of there. So I decided to exploit the loophole in the system. Translation: I lied. I told them I had farted. But I hadn’t farted. People lie about farting all the time, but this may have marked the first time in human history that anyone ever lied to take credit for a fart.
 
They believed me. My fake fart set me free. As my husband started packing up all our stuff, I put my feet on the floor and pushed my way out of bed so I could get changed, practically able to feel the sweet air of freedom on my cheeks. And then I went down like a ton of bricks. Turns out the epidural hadn’t totally worn off—or maybe it was the painkillers they were giving me on account of my poor, dam­aged vagina. Either way, my legs were basically a couple of gummy worms.
 
Looking back, I think of this as the first of roughly 28,000 mis­takes I’ve made as a mother. I can’t even remember why I was so eager to leave. I should have just stayed in bed and let those farts rip.
 
After fifteen minutes or so, I got the feeling back in my legs. I could stand on my own. As I left the hospital, less than forty-eight hours after giving birth, they gave me an ice pack and a baby. Our beautiful baby. Our beautiful, crying Olivia. And that was it. Were they really just going to let me go off into the world and be a mother? Couldn’t they tell I had absolutely no idea what I was doing? I had faked a fart test!
 
The days that followed were a blur. I mean that literally. I was so tired that I had trouble seeing things in focus. It wasn’t how I thought it was going to be. I can’t actually remember if Marc and I ever lay in bed with the baby between us, holding hands and being all cute. I can tell you we definitely never made it to a pumpkin patch.
 
For the six weeks after our daughter was born, I was basically a hermit. I became a self-imposed shut-in. I was afraid to leave the house with the baby. Too many scary and dangerous things out there in the world!
 
Or maybe I stayed in because I didn’t want the world to catch on to the fact that, when it came to being a mom, I just didn’t have a clue. What if my baby cried? What if I cried? Everyone else seemed to always have it together, and I was hanging on by a thread.
 
I’d walk circles around our living room, holding our daughter. Twenty minutes. Forty minutes. Two hours. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. I’d try swaddling her using the zillion different techniques and methods that people swear by on the Internet. None of them worked—she wouldn’t stop crying. I’d put the baby down and walk out of the room for a breather, only to rush back in because I was scared by how loudly she was crying. I’d beg my husband to come home from work and help out. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. Feed the baby. Hold the baby. Put the baby down. Pick the baby up. It didn’t matter. The baby wouldn’t stop crying. I felt like a fuckup.
 
In those early moments, I came to understand why some women simply fall apart at the seams. The first six weeks can be hell—especially if you’re like me and you get into your own head. It goes like this: “This is my responsibility. She is my responsibility and I’m screwing it up. You’re screwing it up, Cat.” You feel it every time your baby cries. You feel it every time you can’t figure out what’s wrong with her. You feel it every time your baby is wailing in public and people are looking at you, like, “Hey, can you stop being a terrible mother for just a minute and make your baby be quiet?” You feel the heat of all those eyes staring at you and judging you. You actually start to sweat. And you don’t know what to do to make the baby stop crying, because you’ve tried everything. You wonder why you don’t have any maternal instincts. You feel like a failure. I felt like a failure.

At my lowest point, I can remember feeling as though I was stuck in a snow globe. Just when everything finally started to feel settled, my whole world would get shaken up again. And I was powerless to stop it because I was stuck in the game of “perfect,” just like every other mom. My only outlet was taking to Facebook to ask perfectly normal, concerned parent questions like, “Does anyone have any sug-gestions for good sleep training materials?” Which really meant, “I’m not getting any sleep. I’m going out of my mind. Someone send help.” And then I thumbed through the comments as I sat in an old T-shirt covered in vomit (not mine) and food stains (mostly mine, to be hon-est). Scroll, scroll, scroll. And then I saw a message notification.

It was a message from my old friend Natalie, whom I’d barely seen since high school. She’d had a baby of her own eight months earlier. Her message was very direct: “Get over here. Now!” Natu-rally, I said no. Going to someone’s house meant . . . gasp . . . going outside! And outside is where the sun is, and the bugs, and strangers and trucks and germs and noises and surprises. Nat wouldn’t take no for an answer. Thank God she wouldn’t.

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Day Nine

Day Nine

A Postpartum Depression Memoir
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

June 18, 2014

I sit in my living room rocking Fiona in the car seat while Gordon makes phone calls to three sets of parents — his mother, then my father and stepmother, followed by my mother, who left us a few hours earlier. I can hear my mother’s tears when he puts me on the phone to assure her I am doing okay. I’m sure she’s upset with me, but I need to centre myself tonight. I’m a mother now, too.

It’s time to go to bed. Four hours ago I was throwing up into my lap in a delivery room, and now at 1:00 a.m. I’m thinking about how to sleep with this tiny human in my arms. Gordon suggests we try to set up our co-sleeper bassinet between the two of us in our queen-size bed so we can all sleep together. He gently lays Fiona down on her back in the bassinet. We leave her wrapped in the receiving blanket and clothes we brought her home in.

Twenty minutes pass and I can’t sleep. Why can’t I sleep? I’ve been awake for close to twenty-four hours. I delivered a healthy baby girl. I did it. The worst is over. I’m exhausted. Gordon has fallen into a deep, snoring sleep. I look down at Fiona — she’s also quietly sleeping. My mind starts to reel. What do I do if she wakes? Do I pick her up? Rock the bassinet? I need to make sure she doesn’t get upset. I won’t know what to do. I scoop the sleeping baby into my arms and take her down the hall into her bedroom. Sitting in her dark, unfamiliar, and newly painted nursery, I am stunned by this immediate transition to motherhood. Maybe I’ll never sleep again.

All my shifting and rocking in the chair wakes the baby, and she begins to cry. Her cries get louder. I try to breastfeed her, but I can’t quite get the hang of placing this new human onto my breast. Desperate for a solution, I stick my pinky finger in her mouth and she suckles for a few minutes, calming down. I stand in her room, swaying back and forth, awkwardly holding my daughter, this stranger, in my arms. I’m still in the same mesh hospital underwear I was given days ago, holding an overdressed baby in total darkness. This is motherhood, I guess?

I head back to my bed and return her to her bassinet. Gordon is still snoring loudly, though, and I wince at the thought of him waking her. I scoop her back up immediately and head downstairs to our living room. I decide to set up the pull-out couch as a bed, then maybe I can get a little sleep downstairs with her. She starts to cry again. I feel panic, realizing I can’t pull out the couch unless I put the baby down. Where can I put her down safely? I spot the bucket car seat and gently place her in it. Then I quickly pull out the couch, scoop her back up, carry her back over, and sit down. She fusses a little at being moved. As Fiona falls back asleep, I realize I’m stuck in this sitting position upright on the couch. I didn’t think to lie down before she fell asleep, and now that she’s stopped crying, I don’t want to move. Even if I did lie down, she might fall and be smothered! I’m not that tired really, I tell myself. I can wait till the morning’s arrival. When the sun comes up and my mother inevitably arrives, I’ll know I’ve survived this night.

The middle of this night is scary. The quiet creeks of our house startle me. The earlier storms are causing power disruptions. I hear the power go out. Even though the lights are off, when the power shuts down, our street swallows the city’s rumble and leaves us in heightened silence. I can hear my next door neighbours’ steps when the air conditioning and house appliances shut down. With the power off, the baby’s breathing is surprisingly loud, reminding me of a subway train passing through a station. I can’t put her down and try to sleep. I can’t even lie back. I sit straight up, with no support for my back, and hold her in the powerless dark and wait. I sense my exhausted brain getting cloudier and cloudier. I wait for the baby to wake up so I can shuffle in my seat. Every second feels like hours. The power flickers on, then off again. She finally stirs and begins to cry. I try to latch her onto my nipple, but I can’t get the hang of the perfect seal Rose demonstrated while also holding Fiona’s tiny head. My hands shake as I shuffle the baby in my arms, pressing my nipple to her chin, hoping she will guide us both through this. Breastfeeding feels unnatural. Isn’t this supposed to be one of nature’s most instinctual acts? I let her head fall away from me and try to squeeze a little milk out of my breast and into her mouth. I’m hoping if I squeeze my sore nipples hard enough I can get a drop of milk to fall out and land on her lips. She squirms impatiently and I’m so frustrated that I can’t settle her. Why can’t I do this?

After another seemingly endless crying and rocking interaction, she finally settles back to sleep and I move into a more comfortable seated position on the pulled-out couch. The power is back on; I might as well send an email from my phone.

Sent: June 18, 2014, 4:07 a.m.
To: Mom
From: Amanda
Subject: I need
Depends or the thickest pads you can find
Some kind of soft battery transportable nightlight. Our lights are too bright and the power went off four times tonight waking her up. I need an easy way to move rooms. Maybe Walmart?
Watermelon and more fruit please

I wait for her reply. She’s probably awake. Aren’t all mothers awake at 4:00 a.m.? It doesn’t come for over an hour, but the ding of my phone makes me feel better. I peel myself off the couch with the baby and head back to our bedroom. I have something to keep me distracted in bed until the sun comes and I have permission to be awake again.

Sent: June 18, 2014, 5:15 a.m. To: Amanda
From: Mom
Subject: Re: I Need
NP
Keep thinking of more stuff you might need. I’ll leave here after rush hour this morning.

Sent: June 18, 2014, 5:15 a.m.
To: Mom
From: Amanda
Subject: Re: I Need
Advil regular strength
Cold compress for my stitches — I’m in a lot of pain
Cold cuts — salami and buns
Something else with protein

Sent: June 18, 2014, 7:20 a.m.
From: Mom
To: Amanda
Subject: Re: I Need
I’ll probably leave here after nine.
How do you spell Fiona’s middle name?

Sent: June 18, 2014, 7:25 a.m.
To: Mom
From: Amanda
Subject: Re: I Need
Fiona Adrina Munday

This is the first real conversation I’ve had with my mother since becoming one and it’s nothing more than barking orders between 4:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. A few weeks ago, Gordon and I agreed that he would be the point of communication with all of our family members once the baby arrived. Communication would be something he could own while I rested. I created an email mailing list of all our family members and close friends for him.

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Lunch Box Letters

Lunch Box Letters

Writing Notes of Love and Encouragement to Your Children
edition:Paperback
also available: Paperback
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Blissfully Blended Bullshit

Blissfully Blended Bullshit

The Uncomfortable Truth of Blending Families
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
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Excerpt

Prologue

Where the fuck is my confetti? Where is my celebratory dinner? Oh, right. I’ve forgotten about the less-than-thrilled response I received from some members of my blended family when I told them I’d signed a book deal. I suppose breaking the news that it was about them might have had something to do with that. They didn’t seem overjoyed that I was going to write about the cold, hard, uncomfortable truth of what really happens behind the closed doors of blended families. Welcome to my life. Even before I sat at my computer to compose my thoughts on what this book would look like, certain members of my blended family already had their backs up, wondering what the hell I would be writing about and, of course, how they would be perceived. It’s not that they weren’t happy that I’d got a book deal. They just weren’t exactly enamoured with what they thought, or assumed, I was going to share. They were anxious. And, honestly, they should be.

I was “gently” advised by my partner to “be cautious” when writing about all of us — all of us being myself, my partner and his two biological children, the son we have together, and my daughter from my first common-law marriage. One big happy-ish family! I felt like a child being told to think before I speak. I “gently” reminded him that I’m a grown woman. So, no, there was no dinner, no champagne toast, not even dying roses from a gas station in my honour when I got the go-ahead to tell my story about what it’s like to be in a blended family.

It’s a story worth telling. Holy shit, have my experiences opened my eyes, not just to the gargantuan reality of adjusting to life in a blended family, but also because of what I’ve learned about myself and relationships while blending. You kind of get a crash course in reality when trying to manage all the bullshit that comes along with this rapidly growing family dynamic.

Sometimes what happens in a blended family really is stranger than fiction. The fights and slights can be so ridiculous, I’m not sure anyone would actually believe me. Which is why I’ve never truly shared, nor have I found any book out there that can commiserate with me about what a shit show it is to be in a blended family.

This is not a memoir about being a step-parent or having stepchildren or the step-parent–stepchild relationship. Not that I don’t touch on it. But this is more 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.

The truth about blending families can be fucking harsh. Those who haven’t gone through it and are dating others with children, are thinking about blending, are embarking on blending, or are just curious about what it’s like to blend families probably just figure it’s an … adjustment? Perhaps a process to learn, a path to travel, a mountain to climb, a field to plant, a knot to unravel, a Coen brothers movie to fully understand. In other words, a difficult but seemingly surmountable challenge.

Ha! Challenge. Living it, I’d probably use a much different word. Every single one of us in my blended family has our own perception of our roles in each other’s lives and in our blended household. We may all live under the same roof, but our experiences are totally different and can even be contrasting at times. Our truths may have discrepancies and may even have zero basis in reality. Everyone else’s sense about what it’s been like for them to blend is a reflection of them, just as my reactions while blending reveal a lot about me.

My family — the kids, the grandparents, the Boyfriend, and the exes — know that honesty and candour are my MO. This memoir is my truth, and, unfortunately, truth can sound an awful lot like criticism. Some people — yep, I’m gonna go there — can’t handle the truth. Or, at the very least, they would prefer to ignore it than to admit and confront it. Believe me, I’ve been on that side, too. But I know my truth from talking to others in blended families — some successful, some not so much, some not at all — and comparing notes to see if I’m just batshit crazy, or if they could relate to a lot of the bullshit I’ve found comes along with blending. I mostly know about the bullshit of blending from living it, from being honest about the way I feel in certain situations and the way I think everyone else feels in my blended family, and, also, from the hundreds of texts and email exchanges over the years with the cast of characters in my blended family. Thank you, iCloud!

So, yeah — blah, blah, blah — the truth will set us free. But first it will piss someone, or everyone, off. Or, who knows? Maybe everyone in my blended family will let out a huge sigh of relief that it’s not just us who thinks navigating our new roles is a bit of a shit show. Maybe they’ll even have a good giggle. What screws most of us up is a picture or the fantasy in our heads of how a family is supposed to be, how we are supposed to treat each other, and how we are supposed to look. I hope that when my family looks back on the most difficult times, we’ll also remember the awesome memories we’ve created and continue to create. I know I will. Even for all of our scars and bumps and bruises and imperfections and missteps, it hasn’t all been all bad.

There is one thing I’m pretty sure we’d all agree on, though — and I do mean just one! The process of blending families comes with a considerable amount of bullshit.

Still, knowing that the people who have been in my life now for years — the family I’ve gained after blending and as we continue to blend — are, for lack of a better word, perturbed over what I’m going to write kind of stings. I’m not going to lie. I’m legit hurt by their lack of enthusiasm.

So, okay, I don’t exactly have a cheering section. There is no confetti. No bouquet — flower, fruit, balloon, or otherwise — in my future. But maybe, just maybe, this book will be like blending families: completely unexpected, with some WTF, but also a whole lot of, “Oh, really? I hadn’t thought of it that way!” My family need not fear that they will come off looking like assholes while I come across all roses and rainbows. Quite the opposite, actually. Many times I’m the one who comes across as the schmuck. Many, many times, my dark, jealous, resentful side surfaces, and often my feelings are completely irrational and immature, to the point that it horrifies even me.

But I’m not one to shy away from sharing my account of the hard truths, the less-than-ideal realities, and all the bullshit I was completely unprepared for by blending. I wouldn’t be me if I held back. So I don’t plan to.

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New Fiction for the week of October 7th : New Fiction
Honey

Honey

A Novel
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

 

I never went back to the house on Montague Street again. I didn’t even return to town. The day of my release I thought about dropping by Robinson’s on 3rd to pick up something new to wear, give myself the illusion of a fresh start, that sort of thing, but there were bound to be a few locals around who remembered what happened so I kept driving.

 

All I took with me was a suitcase and that thrift store hour glass Honey gave me on Christmas Eve the night they ran off: brass, with genuine hand-blown bulbs. She said it was precise, never got clogged, the sand always ran true. It turned out to be symbolic as hell but that’s the nature of an hour glass after all: it whispers the bottom line without saying a word.

 

No, I never returned to Buckthorn at all. It would have been like cruising through an abandoned movie set, tumbleweeds blowing down the boulevard, the last fake storefront nailed shut — which is what that Godforsaken place was bound for anyway. That’s why you’ve never heard of my hometown. It doesn’t exist anymore, at least not in the way I remember. Maybe it never did. Look at me, will you: twenty-five and already living in the past.

 

Honey was from Buckthorn too, although she bullshitted from childhood on about various far-flung locales being her true birthplace. I went along for the fun of it. And after all, our town being what it was? Who could blame her for getting stoned now and then and dreaming? Elba, some island in Italy, was her favorite fantasy. She had a thing about it for years. According to her she’d been born there in another life. “The life that counts,” she said. I sometimes thought she would have chosen any exotic locale as long as it had a beach, a big red sunset, and rose-colored sand. Sand that color is pretty unlikely, I told her, even in Elba, but that didn’t bother her. She liked pretty unlikely things, her dreams (and old scrapbooks) full of beaches and ruins and old trees with truffles tangled in their roots — things like that. In a way I guess you could say that this whole mess came down to Honey trying to find her true-blue homeland, and me doing my best not to lose her again.

 

I’m not much for talking, now more than ever, although I’m sure that’s hard to believe. I mean, look at me rattling on. If you asked me where I’m from, what it was like there — and what I mean by “what happened,” I’d tell you about Honey. Because she’s where I’m from, and the only place I’ve ever really been.

 

She’s what happened.

 

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Of Vengeance

Of Vengeance

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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Let’s be honest: Who hasn’t fantasized about shooting someone in the face with a hunting rifle? It doesn’t matter why. In the heat of the moment, one reason’s as good as the next. When the reasons still seem good after enough time has passed, I take action.

Every day I look a murderer in the eye. There she is, through the looking glass. An inverted image of the same person standing on my side of the mirror. I’m a murderer; the murderer’s face is my face. Voilà. I know exactly what a murderer looks like. Hey, friend.

I look myself in the eye, hands resting on the rim of the sink, and perform my daily affirmation. “I’m a murderer.” It’s my own personal version of “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. I can do this.” My lips move and, depending on the words I say, a few teeth appear. The same ones that show when I smile.

I recite each word slowly, either in my head or ever-so-quietly out loud. Sometimes I take a chance and say it slightly louder, in my normal speaking voice. I like the sound of my own voice. It’s a murmur in my silent apartment, slipping out of the bathroom only to be drowned out by the electrical hum in the walls. I listen to the irregular clicking of the baseboard heaters, generating heat without the slightest concern about who I am.

Another reason for this daily ritual: I’m scared of forgetting who I am. Sometimes life is good, and I take breaks.

It’s a summer afternoon. I’m twelve, finished with elementary school. I’ve been on summer holidays for three weeks now, and I’m hanging out down by the river. There’s nothing I enjoy more than spending entire days outside, coming home only to eat. Sometimes I even skip meals, though my parents disapprove. I come home when evening falls and it gets hard to see. Get some sleep and head right back out the next day. Eighteen hours of daylight is my version of bliss.

I’m in a place I think of as my spot. There’s a tree that’s perfect for climbing, with three branches in all the right places: one under my ass, one to prop up my feet, and a third to rest my back on. Together they form a chair of sorts. I have a nice view of the little river flowing through a ditch down below. I can also see the opposite bank. If I stretch, I enjoy an almost unobstructed 270-degree view all the way to the cemetery, where the trail runs. I can’t see behind my position, but that’s no big deal; all that’s out that way is forest too dense to play in this time of year. Beyond the forest is a city park, but no one really bothers with it — why would you, with all this pristine nature, teeming with life?

Up in my tree, no one can see me. Sometimes I pack a lunch. I make my own. My parents think I’m responsible and have stopped worrying that I’ll starve to death. I’m almost a teenager, so it only makes sense that I’ve more or less stopped talking to them. That’s their theory, anyway.

I wrap my food in nonreflective packaging. No aluminum foil, no plastic bags. I watched a movie once where the murderers caught sight of a witness because of a ray of light that reflected in the lens of her binoculars. That won’t happen to me. I also steer clear of sunglasses. They’re just one more thing to carry around, one more thing I’d probably lose anyway. Noise isn’t such a big deal up here. It’s okay to open a container, move around, let out a sigh. The river drowns out most sounds. Except for screams.

I found my spot last week. I was out early to do a little scouting before anyone else showed up. Sometimes I arrive too late, and there are already people at the river bank or the path leading up to it. When that happens, I turn right back.

One morning, eight days ago to be precise, I got here early enough one day to find a nice quiet spot. Just the kind of place no one would think to look. Eureka: the perfect tree. Next to it was a large rock that I could stand on to reach the higher branches. It was a massive balsam fir that had by some miracle survived an entire century without being massacred at the altar of Christmas. An old, almost dead tree with barely any remaining trace of scent and not a lot of sap to stick to my clothing. Sap smells great, but it’s hard to get off your clothes, so I stay away. I don’t want hassles with my mom.

I’ve been counting the days since I found my tree: eight. I count a lot of things. The number of kids down below, the tiles on my ceiling, the holes in my runners, the exact number of seconds it takes an egg to cook so the yolk is still a little runny but not slimy. Careful planning minimizes the chances of nasty surprises.

My first time was a stroke of random luck. I responded with sound reflexes, and discovered the sheer pleasure of it. Now I come mentally and physically prepared, and bring all the equipment I could ever need.

I’m still startled every time I catch a glimpse of myself in a window, a mirror, or a photograph. My face is all wrong. Some might put it differently; they’d say I have the perfect face. My theory is that I was born with someone else’s face, and my real one is off somewhere else, attached to the wrong soul.

I just don’t look the part. My face should be angular, striking, and slender, with that sickly pallor certain men find irresistible. But the allure of the mysterious femme fatale, that image we’re bombarded with day in and day out, just isn’t me. I’m fresh-faced, with the most innocuous features imaginable. I emanate innocence and wholesome pleasures, like farmers’ daughters advertising milk or girls on the packaging of anti-acne medication. Just like them, my pores breathe healthily. I have slightly rounded features, a ready smile, straight teeth, and smiling eyes. Even the beginnings of crow’s feet, if you look closely. My pale skin turns rosy in the wind, or in the cold, or when I exert myself. My cheeks are like scrumptious fall apples. People have been saying it since I was a little girl. All the hours I spend outside, plus these freckles: How could anyone imagine I’m not an exemplary young woman?

Where did that other face end up, the one that should be mine by rights? What happened to that pointed jaw, those big feverish eyes and salient cheekbones? Who got that intimidating head of hair? Was my soul mixed up with another in some limbo, like babies switched at birth in a Latin-American hospital?

I wonder if ugly people feel the same way: startled by their own reflections in the mirror, disgusted by an unattractiveness no amount of torment will ever inure them to. Do they feel the same confusion I do after performing certain acts? Are they, like me, unable to believe that the symmetry of their faces remains unchanged? If my outward appearance reflected my inner self, I’d look dangerous, like the bad guys who get killed off at the beginning of the movie: dark-skinned cannon fodder, balding villains, disfigured hoodlums, random henchmen. I might also give off that whiff of danger, but I have to face facts; I just don’t. My pheromones collide with those of other people without causing so much as a ripple. Yet the real danger is her. This woman I spy from the corner of my eye in every window I pass. She’s there in the bathroom, just above the sink. She’s the one staring at me innocently.

I look like a nurse, or a librarian, or a soccer player. My face is my best alibi.

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An Ocean of Minutes
Excerpt

People wishing to time travel go to Houston Interconti­nental Airport. At the orientation, the staff tell them that time travel is just like air travel, you even go to the same facility. People used to be apprehensive about airline travel too. But when you arrive at the airport, it is not the same at all. Before you can get within a mile of the terminals, you reach a bus stop moored at the edge of a vast concrete flat, where you must leave your vehicle and ascend a snaking trolley, like the ones they have at the zoo.
A quarantine taxi makes its way to that lone bus stop, the airport appearing through a million chain-link diamonds. The driver is encased in an oval of hermetically sealed Plexiglas. In the back seat, Frank is wearing a yellow hazmat suit. The colour marks him as infected.
Now is the time for last words, but Polly’s got nothing. Frank keeps nodding off and then snapping awake, stiff-spined with terror, until he can locate her beside him. “We can still go back!” He has been saying this for days. Even in his sleep he carries on this argument, and when he opens his eyes, he moves seamlessly from a dream fight to a waking one. Already his voice is far off, sealed away inside his suit.
She pulls his forehead to her cheek, but his mask stops her short. They can only get within three inches of each other. The suit rubs against the vinyl car seat and makes a funny, crude noise, but they don’t laugh. Polly would like to breathe in the smell of Frank’s skin one last time, a smell like salt cut with something sweet, like when it rains in the city. But all she gets is the dry smell of plastic.
The news outlets went down weeks ago, but that didn’t stop the blitz of ads for the Rebuild America Time Travel Initiative: billboards painted on buildings, posters wheat-pasted over empty storefronts, unused mailboxes stuffed with mailers. there is no flu in 2002 and travel to the future and rebuild america and no skills necessary! training provided!
At first the ads were like a joke, gallows humour for people who were stranded once the credit companies went down and the state borders were closed to stop the flu’s spread, people like Polly and Frank, who got trapped in Texas by accident. Later, the ads made Frank angry. He would tear the pamphlets from the mailboxes and throw them on the ground, muttering about opportunism. “You know they don’t market this to the rich,” he’d say, and then an hour later, he’d say it again.
They stayed indoors except for the one day a week when they travelled to the grocery store, which had been commandeered by five army reservists who doled out freeze-dried goods to ragged shoppers. The reservists had taken it upon themselves to impose equal access to the food supply, partly out of good­ness and partly out of the universal desperation for something to do. One day, the glass doors were locked. A handwritten sign said to go around the back. The soldiers were having a party. With their rifles still strapped on, they were handing out canned cocktail wieners, one per person, on candy-striped paper dessert plates that looked forlorn in their huge hands. Ted, the youngest, a boy from Kansas who had already lost his hair, was leaving for a job in the future. He was going to be an independent energy contractor. There was another sign, bigger and in the same writing, on the back wall: 2000 here we come! It was a rare, happy thing, the soldiers and the shoppers in misfit clothes, standing around and smiling at each other and nibbling on withered cocktail sausages. But just that morning, the phone had worked for five minutes and they got a call through to Frank’s brothers, only to be told it had been weeks since the landlord changed the locks to Frank’s apartment, back in Buffalo. The landlord was sympathetic to Frank’s pre­dicament, but he could no longer endure the absence of rent. “But what about my stereo?” Frank had said. “What about my records? What about Grandpa’s butcher knife?” His voice was small, then smaller, as he listed off everything that was now gone.
Frank was usually the life of the party, but that afternoon behind the grocery store, he picked on a pinch-faced woman, muttering at her, “Why don’t they stop the pandemic, then? If they can time travel, why don’t they travel back in time to Patient Zero and stop him from coughing on Patient One?”
“They tried.” The woman spoke with her mouth full. “The earliest attainable destination date is June of ’81. Seven months too late.”
“What? Why? How can that be?” This clumsy show of anger was new. Frank was normally charming. He was the one who did the talking. Later, his sudden social frailty would seem like a warning of the sickness that arrived next. It unsettled Polly, and she was slow to react.
But the woman didn’t need someone to intervene. “That’s the limit of the technology. It took until the end of ’93 to per­fect the machine, and twelve years is the farthest it can jump. Or to be precise, four thousand one hundred and ninety-eight days is the farthest it can jump. Do you live under a rock?”
The tips of Frank’s ears pinked and Polly should have made a joke, offered comfort. But she was distracted. In that second, it stopped being a fiction. Time travel existed, and the plates of her reality were shifting. She felt a greasy dread in the centre of her chest. She wanted to drop her food and take Frank’s hand and anchor him in the crook of her arm, as if he were in danger of being blown away.
Now they are pulling up to the lone bus stop, and they can see the new time-travel facility across the lot bisected by trol­leys. The facility is a monolith, the widest, tallest building either of them has ever seen, and something primal in Polly quails. The only thing remaining of familiar airport protocol is the logistical thoughtlessness of the curb: once you reach it, the line of unfeeling motorists waiting behind you means only seconds to say goodbye.
“You don’t have to go,” Frank says.
“Say something else. Say something different.” Polly is smiling and shaking her head, an echo of some long-ago courting coy­ness that once existed between them. It has landed here, in the wrong place entirely, but she can’t get control of her face.
“You don’t have to go,” he says again in his faraway voice, unable to stop.
Polly can only muster short words. “It’s okay. We’ll be together soon. Don’t worry.”
The sole way Polly was able to convince Frank to let her go was through Ted, the reservist from Kansas. He and his buddies had a plan to meet in 2000. They had chosen a place and every­thing. “We can do the same,” she said to Frank. “I’ll ask for the shortest visa, I’ll ask for a five-year visa.” It was a setback when she got to the TimeRaiser office and they offered minimum twelve-year visas. But still he would meet her, on September 4th, 1993, at Houston Intercontinental Airport. “What if you’re rerouted?” he asked. He had heard about this from another patient, who heard about it from a cousin, who knew someone who worked at the facility, who said they could change your year of destination, while you were in mid-flight. Polly said reroutements were a rumour, a myth. Why would they send you to a time totally other than the one you signed for? That would be like buying a ticket to Hawaii and winding up in Alaska. But to calm him, she came up with a back-up plan. If something went wrong and either of them couldn’t make it, then the first Saturday in September, they’d go to the Flagship Hotel in Galveston, until they find one another. “Not just the first,” he said. “Every Saturday, every September.” This was over­kill, a lack of good faith, but he was distraught, so she gave in. And if the Flagship Hotel is gone, they’ll meet on the beach by its footprint. Even if between now and ’93, aliens invade and the cities are crumbled and remade, the land will still end where the sea begins at the bottom of Twenty-Fifth Street.
Still he is not satisfied. He puts his head back. His skin is so grey and drawn that it looks about to flake off, and it’s as if the brown is fading from his hair. When Polly speaks again, it sounds like when she is drunk and trying to conceal it, enunci­ating each of her words, a single phrase requiring maximal con­centration: “If I don’t go, you will die.”

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The Next Gone Girl

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Had It Coming
Excerpt

 
INTRODUCTION 
 
In writing a book about #MeToo, I could have gone two ways.
   The first, the easy route, would have been to lean into my own frustrations, anger, and indignation at the world, developed during thirty-four years of living as a human female. I could have collected those grievances—all those times that a man took credit for my work or a date pushed too far, or that time in a taxi when I barely escaped from the driver. I could have harnessed all the memories of men telling me to “Smile!,” of my ideas not being taken seriously on account of my gen- der, of having my butt patted on the street or on public transit or at a bar. And I could have rolled it all in with the gnawing reality that in 2019 women continue to earn less for the same work as men, represent only a quarter of House of Commons seats, and—as of 2018—total exactly one CEO among the top hundred most influential companies in Canada. That situation doesn’t even begin to approach the level of inequality for women of colour or for women in countries where by law they’re second-class citizens, where they’re under the thumb of male guardians, where their access to education is limited, where they’re routinely subjected to sexual violence as part of domestic life, or civil strife, or war. And then I could have taken that Molotov cocktail of resentment, lit it on fire, and lobbed it into the world, screaming, “Burn it all down!” That’s a book that would have earned me a lot of love on Twitter. It would have been simple to talk about and promote. The fury that many women are experiencing and voicing right now is real and warranted, and writing 70,000 words about why would have been cathartic.
   But that is not the book I’ve written.
   At the time I started researching this book, I’d already spent more than two years immersed in many of these issues. I’m a journalist with The Globe and Mail and in the summer of 2015, I began investigating how police handle sexual assault allegations. As part of that research, I interviewed well over a hundred people connected to the criminal justice system—sexual assault complainants, police officers, lawyers, judges, sexual assault nurses, academics, activists, and front-line support workers. I’d read through thousands of pages of court transcripts and police files. Building on what I’d learned through that reporting, I turned my mind to the #MeToo movement. I thought I’d have firm opinions on everything related to the movement, but the more I read, the more I pushed myself beyond the confines of like-minded social media silos, the more open conversations I had with those in my social and business circles, the more I realized that that approach wasn’t going to cut it. It’s been done. I came to see that a more useful and honest book about #MeToo wouldn’t shy away from the tough questions that the movement has raised.
   Unfortunately, as a culture we aren’t very good at having nuanced, complicated discussions. The public space is not a safe venue to talk about controversial subjects. Social media and call-out culture—the tendency to aggressively shame and reprimand people for real or perceived missteps—has seen to that. Instead, people are talking it out in private, with friends they trust not to rip them apart on Twitter. My goal with this book is to bring those discussions into the open.
   At this extraordinary moment of change in how men and women interact, the path forward isn’t simple. It’s important, I believe, to uncover and evaluate the facts, to expose outdated myths that pervade institutions, and to bring rigour, openness, and compassion in equal measure to this very important conversation. I’ve come to embrace the nuance and messiness that comes with those tough conversations. So rather than lighting a match to that oily rag, with this book I’ve tried to make the case for progress as well as healthy debate. 

 
 
KOBE BRYANT AND ME  
 
I was eighteen when police in Eagle, Colorado, arrested Kobe Bryant on accusations that he’d raped a woman in a hotel room. I don’t remember how I heard about it, but I do remember my first thought upon learning the news: “Well, what did she expect going to a hotel room with an NBA player?”
   The woman was nineteen, barely a year older than I was at the time. She’d been working the front desk at a mountain lodge when Bryant checked in on June 30, 2003. The twenty-four-year-old basketball all-star was in the area for knee surgery. He arrived late with a small entourage and asked the woman to show him around the facilities. After the tour, she escorted Bryant back to his room. He invited her in. They chatted for a bit. Flirted. And when he kissed her, she kissed him back. It was flattering, she later told police, that the famous Los Angeles Laker seemed interested in her. She was okay with the kissing.
   But then Bryant started to grope and fondle her. The teenager moved towards the door, but Bryant blocked her path. “I try and walk to the side, and he would walk with me,” she told police. That’s when, she alleged, the six-foot-six shooting guard put his hands around her throat and squeezed—not hard enough to close her windpipe, but hard enough to make it clear that he was in control. Bryant removed his pants. He bent her over a chair. When he removed the teenager’s underwear, she again protested, but he ignored her. “Every time I said ‘no’ he tightened his hold around me,” she told police.
   The woman told police that Bryant proceeded to rape her. He did so with one hand gripping her throat while she wept. When she was eventually able to leave, Bryant’s T-shirt was stained with her blood. Almost immediately, the woman bumped into a friend, the hotel bellman. She tearfully recounted that Bryant had choked and raped her. A sexual assault examination performed fifteen hours later revealed two one-centimetre lacerations and several smaller tears in her vaginal region. The injuries were “consistent with penetrating genital trauma.” Officials also documented a bruise on her jaw.
   Bryant initially lied to investigators and said he’d never had sex with the teenager, but he changed his story after police indicated that they had physical evidence from the rape kit. In his new version of events, Bryant admitted that they’d had sex, but he claimed it was consensual—and in fact, she had been the one to initiate it. The ensuing media coverage trumpeted Bryant’s athletic accolades, questioned the complainant’s character, and minimized the severity of the allegations by sprinkling basketball references throughout stories that were otherwise about rape. “On the hardwood, he often controls the court. But facing allegations of felony sexual assault by an unnamed nineteen-year-old woman, basketball superstar Kobe Bryant may find himself on another court where three-point plays don’t count,” NBC News reported after the arrest. The headline in the Los Angeles Times reassured fans that they had reason to doubt their star’s accuser: “Alleged victim in Bryant case is a 19-year-old graduate of local high school who is said to be fun-loving, outgoing and emotional.” The Associated Press story painted a portrait of a man deserving of compas- sion: “Sitting not far from the court, where everything comes so naturally to him, Kobe Bryant found it tough just to speak. After waiting several seconds to gather himself, the Los Angeles Lakers’ guard choked back tears and his voice quivered. ‘I’m innocent.’”

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Bootstraps Need Boots

Bootstraps Need Boots

One Tory’s Lonely Fight to End Poverty in Canada
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Lost Feast

Lost Feast

Culinary Extinction and the Future of Food
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
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Excerpt

 

To understand these culinary extinction threats, imagine a feast. It can be any feast: a Las Vegas buffet, a family holiday dinner, a South Pacific pit BBQ, or an Indonesian rijsttafel, the classic meal of many small dishes, served for special occasions.  Imagine a meal with many dishes and more food than can possibly be eaten at once. There are two things in that feast, aside from a great deal of hidden labour. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of species of plants and animals, a sort of culinary menagerie. There is also a huge body of culinary knowledge, the accumulated knowledge of growing, harvesting, processing and preparing foods handed down and improved upon over generations. A feast is a bit like a book, but a tasty book we read through eating. Now imagine that the dishes start to disappear one by one. The raspberries for the waffles, the sage on the Thanksgiving turkey, the poi or the pisang goreng. Gone. Slowly the table becomes less interesting, less captivating, and as each species disappears, the accompanying cultural knowledge vanishes with it.

 

This is the paradox of the lost feast. Even as we enjoy a time in which food is cheaper, more diverse and more available than ever before, the spectre of extinction threatens to radically challenge how we eat. In fact, it is already happening.

 

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The Cure for Hate

The Cure for Hate

A Former White Supremacist's Journey from Violent Extremism to Radical Compassion
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My Year of Living Spiritually 

My Year of Living Spiritually 

From Woo-Woo to Wonderful--One Woman's Secular Quest for a More Soulful Life
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Rochdale

Rochdale

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The Wealth and Poverty of Cities

The Wealth and Poverty of Cities

Why Nations Matter
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Are You Kidding Me?!

Are You Kidding Me?!

Chronicles of an Ordinary Life
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October

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Small in the City

Small in the City

illustrated by Sydney Smith
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A Likkle Miss Lou

A Likkle Miss Lou

How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice
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