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Judy Marsales
Arts + Culture

Rad Reads – Hamilton Style!

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Looking to cozy up with a good book? Hamilton authors have served up a bumper crop of local lit that will keep those pandemic blues at bay.

Spring days and nights are arguably the best time of year to curl up with a good book - the promise of sunnier days to come. Throw in a third calendar year of the pandemic and who isn’t ready for a bit of escapism? Luckily for us, Hamilton is home to some of the country’s most celebrated storytellers and there are more than a few new voices worthy of your ear. 

We’ve compiled a list of Hamilton stories that includes new releases and a few must-reads you may have missed from last year. 

Visit your local bookseller or branch of the Hamilton Public Library to get your copy. 

Beatrice and Croc Harry
by Lawrence Hill

Young Adult Fiction, HarperCollins Canada (2022)

Fifteen years after Lawrence Hill became a household name among Canadian readers with the Book of Negroes, he has released his debut title for young adults. Beatrice and Croc Harry stars a girl of an uncertain age who wakes up alone, with amnesia, in a treehouse perched in a magical forest. Beatrice, unsure of her own identity, sets out on an adventure to figure out who she is. However, she isn’t alone for long for just outside the door of the mysterious tree house, Beatrice meets an unlikely ally. Harry is a 700-pound fast-talking crocodile in need of a journey of his own. Beatrice and Croc Harry is a lively adventure story with humour at every turn. Exploring themes of injustice, identity, and friendship, it’s a book to be enjoyed at any age. 

Danger Flower
by Jaclyn Desforges

Poetry, Palimpsest Press/Anstruther Books (2021)

Jaclyn Desforges is an award-winning poet and writing teacher whose latest collection of poetry, Danger Flower, was named one of CBC Books’ picks for Best Canadian Poetry of 2021. In its lyrical poems, a baby transforms into a reverse mermaid, a stepped-on snail exacts revenge, and nature everywhere comes to life. Inventive and subtle, Danger Flower urges us all to look at the world around us differently. For younger readers, Desforges is also the author of Why Are You So Quiet (Annick Press, 2020), a picture book that celebrates the power of silence.  

Her Name Was Margaret: Life and Death on the Streets
by Denise Davy

Non-Fiction, Wolsak and Wynn (2021)

Denise Davy first met Margaret Jacobson at a drop-in shelter on a cold winter night in the early 1990s. An award-winning journalist, she was reporting on social justice issues for the Hamilton Spectator. Much to a shelter worker’s surprise, Jacobson was willing to share her story. Still a teenager in the 1960s, Jacobson entered the psychiatric hospital system at a time of deinstitutionalization and waning support for those with mental illnesses. For decades, she moved between temporary housing and the streets. She died at 51 in a fast-food restaurant where she was seeking shelter. In Her Name Was Margaret, Davy weaves together the story of just one of Hamilton’s hidden homeless women, using medical records, Jacobson’s personal diary, and interviews with family and others who knew her. However, it’s not simply a biography. It’s a brutal and stark look at the many ways in which women like Jacobson face systemic failure. It’s a rallying cry that calls for necessary change. 

It Was Dark There All the Time
by Andrew Hunter

Non-Fiction, Gooselane Editions (2022)

When we think of slavery, we likely think about the American south. However, in his new book, It Was Dark Here All the Time, Andrew Hunter argues that the slave trade in pre-Confederation Canada was not only prevalent, it also continues to impact contemporary Canada today. Born in Hamilton, Hunter is a freelance curator, artist, writer, and educator. In It Was Dark Here All the Time, he introduces readers to Sophia Burthen, who arrived as an enslaved person into what is now Canada sometime in the late 18th century. Burthen lived to be over 90, sharing her story in an 1856 book called The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada by Benjamin Drew, which is why her name and narrative survive today. It Was Dark There All the Time is an important reminder to all Canadians that the country was built on the forced labour and confinement of enslaved Africans. Sophia Burthen’s is just one story of many left untold. 

Shift Change: Scenes from a Post-industrial Revolution
by Stephen Dale

Non-Fiction, Between the Lines (2021)

A lot has been written about Hamilton in the last decade or so. However, much of that writing has depicted a Hamilton that doesn’t exist. Sure, for many, it’s a city with a thriving arts scene that’s habitable to start-ups and trendy restaurants. However, what about the people who are left behind? Shift Change: Scenes from a Post-industrial Revolution explores Hamilton as it is now and how we want it to be. With an urban renaissance taking shape, it asks: “Who wins and who loses in the city’s not-too distant future?” With chapters like “Boom, Bust, and a Double-Sided Bohemian Renaissance,” “A Blue-Collar Legacy — for Better and for Worse,” and “Slogging towards Tomorrow,” Shift Change is unsentimental, looking backward, but most importantly, imagining a future where Steeltown is an economically diverse and inclusive place for all. It’s a crucial, unromantic look at the Hamilton we love, and the Hamilton we desperately want to be better.

I, Gloria Grahame
by Sky Gilbert

Fiction, Dundurn Press (2021)

A glamorous, long-dead movie star with bright pink lips gazes from the cover of I, Gloria Grahame, the most recent novel by writer, director, and drag queen extraordinaire Sky Gilbert. The book’s namesake, she’s the muse of protagonist Denton Moulton, a professor of English literature who is compelled to tell her story. Traipsing between time and place, I, Gloria Grahame moves readers between Gloria’s imagined life and Denton’s real life as an artist. Bringing together humour and obsession, it begs the question: “Who has the right to tell someone’s story?”

Chasing Zebras: A Memoir of Genetics, Mental Health and Writing
Margaret Nowaczyk

Memoir, Wolsak and Wynn (2021)

Born in Poland, Margaret Nowaczyk is a pediatric clinical geneticist and a professor at McMaster University and DeGroote School of Medicine. Her memoir, Chasing Zebras, follows her life leaving Communist Poland to eventually becoming a doctor specialising in prenatal diagnosis. Chasing Zebras is also Nowaczyk’s personal journey of living with an undiagnosed mental illness and of using writing as a tool to navigate both her work and personal lives. Above all, it’s a story of determination, and the many moments that brought Nowaczyk to see that “life is precious and fragile and wondrous and full of mistakes.” 

Three Funerals for My Father: Love, Loss and Escape from Vietnam
by Jolie Hoang

Memoir, Tidewater Press (2021)

When we think of slavery, we likely think about the American south. However, in his new book, It Was Dark Here All the Time, Andrew Hunter argues that the slave trade in pre-Confederation Canada was not only prevalent, it also continues to impact contemporary Canada today. Born in Hamilton, Hunter is a freelance curator, artist, writer, and educator. In It Was Dark Here All the Time, he introduces readers to Sophia Burthen, who arrived as an enslaved person into what is now Canada sometime in the late 18th century. Burthen lived to be over 90, sharing her story in an 1856 book called The Refugee: or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada by Benjamin Drew, which is why her name and narrative survive today. It Was Dark There All the Time is an important reminder to all Canadians that the country was built on the forced labour and confinement of enslaved Africans. Sophia Burthen’s is just one story of many left untold. 

I Thought He Was Dead: A Spiritual Memoir
by Ralph Benmergui

Memoir, Wolsak and Wynn (2021)

Ralph Benmergui is one of Canada’s most beloved storytellers, best known as a television and radio personality; he’s also a Hamiltonian. In his memoir, I Thought He Was Dead, Benmergui shares his experiences as the son of Moroccan immigrants, surviving two bouts of cancer, and his eventual practice and leadership in Hashpa’ah: Jewish Spiritual Direction. Like most memoirs, I Thought He Was Dead isn’t simply about one man’s journey. It’s also a critical look at aging in a society that prioritises youth. With great candour and humour, it reveals how even the biggest challenges can prove to be exactly what one needs to reinvent their life. 

Arts for All
Judy Marsales