8 Books for the Politically Engaged | Holiday Gift Guide

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It’s difficult to balance the desire to stay informed with the stress of a constant news cycle, fake news, negative commentary, and clickbait. Our solution? Get off the internet and settle down with a book for an in-depth, long-form discussion. We all know someone interested in these serious and important issues, and perhaps you are too. Buy two copies—one for yourself and one to gift—so you and your recipient can chat after reading.


Your Heart Is the Size of Your Fist: A Doctor Reflects on Ten Years at a Refugee Clinic by Martina Scholtens (Brindle & Glass) draws readers into the complicated, poignant, and often-overlooked daily happenings of a busy urban medical clinic for refugees. These are not just stories of her patients, but also deeply examines her own biases, guilt, privilege, and reactions to the stories of suffering she encounters. By turns humorous, distressing, and hopeful, Scholtens’ gives an honest and unguarded look at more than just the doctor-patient relationship.

Fighting For Space: How a Group of Drug Users Transformed One City’s Struggle with Addiction by Travis Lupick (Arsenal Pulp Press) is the grassroots story of activists who fought for two decades to transform how the city treats its most marginalized citizen. Incredibly timely with the current overdose epidemic and fentanyl crisis, Fighting for Space shows how revolutionary approaches to drug addiction have saved lives, and can continue to do so. Lupick takes a compassionate yet journalistic approach to provide much needed context and useful policy suggestions.

Prison Industrial Complex Explodes by Mercedes Eng (Talonbooks) combines text from government questionnaires, reports, and corporate websites, lyric poetry, and photography, to examine the prison system in Canada. Eng’s long poem is an intimate and complex work examining the systemic racism of the Canadian prison system through the personal lens of her own family history. Prison Industrial Complex Explodes was inspired by her own father’s prison correspondence—the emotion of his personal letters juxtaposed with the cold formality of the government letters—as well as the impact of political bills such as the Anti-Terrorism Act on Indigenous peoples, refugees, and people of colour.

Dying to Please You: Indigenous Suicide in Contemporary Canada by Roland D. Chrisjohn and Shaunessy M. McKay (Theytus Books) aims to grasp the primary and political cause of Indigenous suicide as well as rethink the definitions of suicide, homicide, and treatment among First Nations. Suicides among First Nations youth is about five to six times higher than non-aboriginal youth in Canada, and there is also an increase in mental illness, substance abuse, and addiction. Chrisjohn and McKay examine the alternative solutions to psychiatric explanations and suicide prevention by identifying the underlying cause: the loss of indigenous culture, lifestyle and self-determination.


No Refuge for Women: The Tragic Fate of Syrian Refugees by Maria Von Welser (Greystone Books) is an exposé of the hidden suffering that more than half of Syria’s refugees endure and the conflicts they continue to flee. During the refugee crisis in 2015, journalist Maria von Welser noticed that most Syrian refugees arriving in Europe were men. This drew her to visit refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon to learn about Syrian women and children who had been left behind. No Refuge for Women reveals the hidden stories these Syrian women and children face, including loss of wealth and of life, child marriage, rape, kidnapping, and sex slavery. But there is also hope—that we can turn compassion into real change.

Abortion: History, Politics, and Reproductive Justice after Morgentaler, edited by Shannon Stettner, Kristin Burnett, and Travis Hay (UBC Press) challenges current thinking by revealing the discrepancy between what people are experiencing on the ground and what people believe the law to be after the 1988 Morgentaler decision. Abortion documents the diversity of abortion experiences across the country, from those of Indigenous women in the pre-Morgentaler era to a lack of access in the age of so-called decriminalization. The contributors of this in-depth collection caution against focusing on “choice” or medicalization without understanding the broader context of why and when people seek out abortions.

Rise of the Necrofauna: The Science, Ethics, and Risks of De-Extinction by Britt Wray (Greystone Books) is Jurassic Park meets The Sixth Extinction, a provocative look at de-extinction from acclaimed documentarist and science writer Britt Wray. Wray deftly delves into a discussion of the science of de-extinction (necrofauna or “zombie zooology”)–how scientists use technological advancements such as cloning, DNA manipulation, and genetic engineering to recreate an extinct species. This would be a perfect give for those with an interest in zoology, gene editing, biomedical advancements like 3D-printed organs, and the futuristic possibilities of technology.

Collected Tarts and Other Indelicacies by Tabatha Southey (Douglas & McIntyre) is a bit lighter note to end this collection of recommendations on. Beloved columnist Tabatha Southey offers the perfect balance of light and darkness, frivolity and knife-sharp witthat have endeared her to readers. Between her takedowns of all forms of bigotry, ignorance, laziness, and poor writing by those in power, readers also get glimpses into the equal parts bizarre and touching moments of her personal life.

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