Books That Make You Go Hmmmm

Giving the reader pause for reflection, and a better understanding

In case you don’t know the reference, “Things That Make You Go Hmmmm” (that’s four m’s in Hmmmm) was an early 90s dance hit by C+C Music Factory. The song was all about the rhythm, but if you must know the lyrics were all about romantic situation gone awry, with protagonists picking up on cues that alerted them to infidelities or deceptions. Y’know, things that made them go “hmmmm.” Nothing deeper than that.

These books run much deeper than that. But they will make you go hmmmm. That is, give you pause for thought, then want to know more, hook you on their thread and insist you follow those thoughts to a new point of view, a new way of seeing something. Some do it with logic and fact, some tug at the heart strings, some are narrative or poetic gifts and some use humour too. But all are effective in giving the reader pause for reflection, and a better understanding.

The Spoon Stealer
Lesley Crewe
Nimbus Publishing

A classic Crewe book: full of humour, family secrets, women’s friendship, lovable animals and immense heart. But she may not get the credit she deserves for writing thought provokers. As reviewer Gemma Marr wrote, “as a meta-reflection on writing, it seems clear that Crewe took pleasure in depicting the nuances of the creative process through Emmeline’s internal struggles and joys…We are reminded that loss is a part of life, and that is serves no purpose ‘to be afraid of what people think of you.'” Crewe’s narrator observes: “What happens to one member of a family sends ripples through the nervous systems of the others. You are not one individual.” This work is full of pearls.

Canada in the World
Tyler A Shipley
Fernwood Publishing

Canada in the World argues that the colonial relations with Indigenous peoples represent the first example of foreign policy, and demonstrates how these relations became a foundational and existential element of the new state. Colonialism—the project to establish settler capitalism in North America and the ideological assumption that Europeans were more advanced and thus deserved to conquer the Indigenous people—says Shipley, lives at the very heart of Canada.

Niagara & Government
Phil Hall
Pedlar Press

“To tell what happened to you is not a poem,” writes Governor General Award-winning poet Phil Hall in this, his latest collection, Niagara & Government. What a poem is: roaring calamity, wedding deceptions, sobriety, Charlottesville mobs, estranged sisters, folk art, poverty, puffery, work, names on cenotaphs, white space, white space, white space. These long sequential poems want to be spoken. They invite the reader to check her ego and sit with “the good stories that un-tongued us.”

To Be A Water Protector
Winona LaDuke
Fernwood Publishing

LaDuke discusses several elements of a New Green Economy and the lessons we can take from activists outside the US and Canada. Also featured are her annual letters to Al Monaco, the CEO of Enbridge, in which she takes him to task for the company’s role in the climate crisis and presents him with an invoice for climate damages. In her unique way of storytelling, Winona LaDuke is inspiring, always a teacher and an utterly fearless activist, writer and speaker.

I Place You Into the Fire
Rebecca Thomas
Nimbus Publishing

In Mi’kmaw, three similarly shaped words have drastically different meanings: kesalul means “I love you”; kesa’lulmeans “I hurt you”; and ke’sa’lul means “I put you into the fire.” In spoken-word artist and critically acclaimed author Rebecca Thomas’s first poetry collection, readers will feel the poet’s deep love, pain and frustration as she holds us all to task, along the way mourning the loss of her childhood magic, exploring the realities of growing up off reserve and offering up a new Creation Story for Canada.

Identifying as Arab in Canada
Houda Asal
Fernwood Publishing

While “Arabs” now attract considerable attention – from media, the state and sociological studies – their history in Canada remains little known. Identifying as Arab in Canada explores the migration from Machrek (the Middle East) to Canada from the late 19th century through the 1970s. Houda Asal breathes life into this migratory history and the people who made the journey, and examines the public, collective existence they created in Canada to understand the identity Arabs have constructed for themselves here and the identity that has been constructed for them by the Canadian state.

Voices of Inuit Leadership and Self-Determination in Canada
David Lough
ISER Books

Here is a broad range of perspectives and voices — Inuit and non-Inuit, youth and Elders, academics and community members — united in their commitment to understanding what Inuit leadership is, has been, and will be. Premised on the understanding that new ways of blending traditional knowledge with scientific epistemologies must be forged, this volume represents a continuum of voices and styles. It also deploys a diversity of formats, ranging from traditional storytelling to structured critical discourse.

Text Messages
Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman
Roseway Publishing

This is the first multi-genre collection by Montreal-based Iraqi hip-hop artist, activist and professor Yassin “Narcy” Alsalman. Composed entirely on a smartphone during air travel and married to artwork from comrades, Narcy’s writing speaks of the existential crises experienced by diasporic children of war before and during imperialism in the age of the Internet. Narcy’s verses span the space between hip-hop and manifesto, portraying a crumbling, end-stage capitalist society, visions for a new reality and the myth of multiculturalism in post-9/11 North America.

Because We Love, We Cry
Sheree Fitch
Nimbus Publishing

During the global pandemic, Sheree Fitch shared what she calls “moments”—her first-burst warm-up writing exercises, on social media almost every day. Sometimes funny verse, other times lyrical prose or poetry, these daily missives were one way to negotiate the strange, unpredictable times. On April 20, immediately upon waking, as the full story of the tragedy in Portapique, Nova Scotia, was unfolding, Fitch thought of all affected, the painful days ahead, of what parents would say to their children. The result is Because We Love, We Cry, a mantra, a prayer, a lament, a talisman, a paper rosary, a beating heart to keep close to your own.

Finding Our Niche
Philip A Loring
Fernwood Publishing

Imagine a world where humanity was not destined to cause harm to the natural world, where win-win scenarios—people and nature thriving together—are possible. Loring explores the tragedies of Western society and offers examples and analyses that can guide us in reconciling our damaging settler-colonial histories and tremendous environmental missteps in favour of a more sustainable and just vision for the future. It is a hopeful exploration of humanity’s place in the natural world, one that focuses on how we can heal and reconcile our unique human ecologies to achieve more sustainable and just societies.



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