Shelf Talkers for April 2014: A New Series by Robert J. Wiersema

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To paraphrase an old cliché: you can find any book online; you need a bookseller to find the right one.

One of the great joys of life as a bookseller is the relationships you build with readers in your community. These people are more than customers, something different from friends ... you share with them the intimate bond that develops between fellow travellers: you are readers, together.

And there are no more devoted readers than booksellers.

Every hour of every day in bookstores across this fine land, booksellers are handing their fellow readers new books with the simple, trusted entreaty: “Read this.”

And today—in the first installment of a new monthly series I'm doing for 49th Shelf, Shelf Talkers—we have five of this country’s finest booksellers pressing their picks on you.

Please follow the links through to explore some of your favourite independent booksellers, local and nationwide. And if you’re an independent bookseller with a book to recommend, please email me: rjwiersema at gmail dot com.

*****

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The Bookseller: Lindsay Williams from Galiano Island Books, Galiano Island, BC 

The Pick: Coping With Emotions And Otters, by Dina Del Bucchia

"Like a conversation with your best friend, Del Bucchia's poetry offers laughter, comfort, and some perfectly strange advice. No topic is off limits, and her exploration of feelings across the spectrum from joy to despair is 'otter'-ly enlightening."

 

 

The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books, Uxbridge, ON

The Pick: Kicking the Sky, by Anthony De Sa

"Giller nominee Anthony De Sa has written a beautiful, complex coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of the 1977 murder of Yonge Street shoeshine boy, Emanuel Jaques. It was the 'end of innocence' for Toronto the Good. Wonderfully evocative if you grew up knowing this story (as I did), but completely absorbing and unforgettable regardless."

 

 

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The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Black Bond Books, Lynn Valley, BC 

The Pick: Three Souls, by Janie Chang

"This is Janie Chang's first novel and it is a beautifully written story of a young woman's life in 1930s' China. Leiyin has just died, and is watching her own funeral with her three souls as company. As she waits to move into the afterlife, she and her souls review her life, her struggles, the difficult decisions she had to make, and the betrayals she experienced. Perfect for fans of Vincent Lam's The Headmaster's Wager and Daniel Kalla's The Far Side of the Sky."

 

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The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books, Waterloo, ON

The Pick: I Was There The Night He Died, by Ray Robertson

"I Was There The Night He Died doesn't read like a lot of Canadian fiction. It's urban, it has a lot of alt country and obscure rock and roll in it, and it's not trying to turn anyone into a better human being.  It's just a great story populated by some very real, very flawed characters. Granted, no one who works for the Chatham Chamber of Commerce will be too thrilled, but I think many of the rest of us will remember fondly a life not too far removed from our own, and have a laugh on the way."

(David loved this book so much he wrote a full review, from which this is excerpted. The full review is appended at the end of this post.)

 

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The Bookseller: Timothy Carlow, Bolen Books, Victoria, BC

The Pick: Cadillac Cathedral, by Jack Hodgins

"Hodgins, with his trademark mastery of place, takes us on a journey through rural Vancouver Island alongside an eccentric gang of petulant but lovable seniors on a quest to bring a recently deceased friend home to rest from the city. Heavy though it may sound, Cadillac Cathedral is great for a laugh. This is a perfect summer read. Loads of fun, with just the right amount of heartfelt, human moments mixed in. Sit in the sun, put your feet up, and let Hodgins' expert wit and humour win you over."

*****

Full review of Ray Robertson's I Was There The Night He Died by David Worsley of Words Worth Books

"When I was considerably younger, I buried my head in books to figure out my place in the world. How it worked, what was worth pursuing, what had a cool factor, etc. For many of my contemporaries that meant reading novels full of angry young men, or Kerouac or whatever came close. Now it seems we've gotten away from all that.

Russell Smith, arts writer for the Globe and Mail, says he now 'feels sorry' for young men as they are chronically underfed by the modern novel. Smith's supposition is that fiction has gotten too pink, too given over to plot and character, emotionality and things commonly more suited to the reading tastes of the modern woman.

I take exception to much of that, but I do see a kernel of truth in what he's saying, and so I humbly offer Ray Roberson's great new novel, I Was There The Night He Died as a testosterone-fuelled corrective.

Robertson has been around for years, with about six novels and a couple essay collections to his credit.

The new book takes place in Chatham, Ontario, which Robertson opines, has 'all the problems of a big city with all the inconveniences of a small town.' Sam Samson is a writer burdened with his father's Alzheimer's, spiralling debt (writer), and the recent loss of his wife, killed in a car wreck.

His problem is—simply enough—that he's quite in touch with his sadness.

'Let's get this straight. I'm not in denial. Nothing has been repressed. I haven't bypassed my pain. What I'm most not is haunted. Only people in sentimental movies and overwritten novels are haunted. I'm sad. Real fucking sad.'

Still, our guy sucks it up and gets on with caring for his father. Thus, Sam is now a transplanted Toronto writer back in the small town of his youth, a place he left as soon as time would allow.

He comes upon a teenage girl, Samantha, and an unlikely friendship forms. Recreational drug use, loneliness, and a desire to be anywhere other than where they are fuel a staggered, but sweet, dalliance, and despite the pathos involved, you have to root for characters this human.

Samantha is like many teenagers who had to grow up quickly; worldly beyond their years and smarting because of it.

I Was There The Night He Died doesn't read like a lot of Canadian fiction. It's urban, it has a lot of alt country and obscure rock and roll in it, and it's not trying to turn anyone into a better human being. It's just a great story populated by some very real, very flawed characters.

Granted, no one who works for the Chatham Chamber of Commerce will be too thrilled, but I think many of the rest of us will remember fondly a life not too far removed from our own, and have a laugh on the way."

—David Worsley, Words Worth Books, Waterloo, ON

April 15, 2014
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