Oh, my, what a month! April marks the first anniversary of this column, which offers monthly recommendations from independent booksellers across the country—the books you need to read, from people who know reading best.
(Waiting a moment, looking around ... Where’s the balloon drop?)
To celebrate, we have something even better than a balloon drop. We have an entire national movement! This month we have an extra-special, jumbo-sized edition of Shelf Talkers, wherein some of Canada’s finest authors weigh in with their recommendations. We’re not only celebrating the anniversary of this column, we’re pitching in and helping out with the Authors for Indies program.
On May 2, under the auspices of the Authors for Indies program, writers from across the country will be serving as volunteer booksellers at their local independent bookstore, helping out customers with their picks, throwing their support behind Canada’s independent booksellers.
In this month’s column, we’ve asked some of those volunteer, one-day booksellers for their picks, a sneak preview of what you can expect next month.
May 2: Mark that date on your calendar, and make a point of visiting your favourite authors at your favourite indie.
Until then, enjoy these picks, and thank you for reading this year. We’re just getting started.
The Bookseller: Angie Abdou
The Bookstore: Lotus Books (Cranbrook, BC)
The Recommendation: Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter, by Alison Wearing
In this staggering memoir, Alison Wearing shares her experience of growing up with a gay dad in Peterborough, Ontario, in the 1980s. Wearing delivers her story in three equally powerful parts: her own childhood impressions, her father's private letters and journals as he struggled with his sexual identity and the difficult decision to break up his family, and an imaginative rendering of her mother's story. The warm and beautiful conclusion of Confessions of a Fairy's Daughter will lead readers to reconsider the very notion of family. In the end, this one is not broken at all. Wearing's story glimmers with profound wisdom, humour, love, and empathy. I can't stop raving about this book. I want everybody to read it.
The Bookseller: Guy Gavriel Kay
The Bookstore: Book City, Danforth (Toronto, ON)
The Recommendation: The Tiger, by John Vaillant
The Tiger, by John Vaillant, is astonishingly good. On one level it investigates deaths caused by a man-eating tiger in one of the most remote places in eastern Russia. One wonders how and why Vaillant even thought of going there to research the story! This is not a bucket list destination. But what makes the book so compelling is how it swings from a vivid, "micro" examination of frightening events in an isolated location to a "macro" treatment of the history of the tiger and humankind's relationship with it, while leaving room to consider what life means in a place like this, and the politics of conservation. The book works in so many different ways it is something of a miracle.
The Bookseller: Jacqueline Baker
The Bookstore: Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Recommendation: Omens in the Year of the Ox, by Steven Price
Omens in the Year of the Ox is a rich, dark, mythical collection of poems that will linger with the reader long after the book is closed. The poems are chilling, mysterious, dark, yes, but there is light there also. And a kind of gilded beauty. And the seeds of tales as old as humanity in all its various shades. This is an exquisite, haunting book, as much story as poetry.
The Bookseller: Eden Robinson
The Bookstore: Misty River Books (Terrace, BC)
The Recommendation: Knife Party at the Hotel Europa, by Mark Anthony Jarman
Love gone awry collides with Italy. In this collection of connected short stories, our hero is a stunned survivor of adulthood, estranged from his grown-up children, divorced and now dumped by his current girlfriend. Jarman writes his escape in sun-drenched, machine-gun snippets. Prose flies from all sides like jets in a dogfight, riotous, and stunningly talented. Heartache has never been this hilarious.
The Bookseller: Adam Lewis Schroeder
The Bookstore: Hooked on Books (Penticton, BC)
The Recommendation: Coming Through Slaughter, by Michael Ondaatje
The story of jazz prophet Buddy Bolden's final useful days in 1907 New Orleans, it presents characters and moments with such beauty and clarity that they've never left me, though I last read it decades ago. Ondaatje's best. (From the title I imagined it would be about massacre survivors, and though peppered with violence it's not as bloody as that.)
The Bookseller: Alissa York
The Bookstore: Book City, Danforth (Toronto, ON)
The Recommendation: The Little Shadows, by Marina Endicott
Papa dead by his own hand, Mama on the edge, and three lovely young sisters with no choice but to sing for their supper in that other wild west known as Vaudeville ... what could possibly go wrong? I loved this book; I lived another life between its covers. Aurora, Clover and Bella are with me still.
The Bookseller: Terry Fallis
The Bookstore: Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Recommendation: The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan
Cathy Marie Buchanan has written a gripping tale of Paris in the Belle Epoque, as two sisters make their way in a world that is seldom kind to young women. Cathy's wonderful and vivid prose puts you right there in the streets of Paris and into the sometimes harrowing lives of these compelling and memorable characters. This story will linger long after the last page is turned. Masterful storytelling.
The Bookseller: Robert J. Wiersema
The Bookstore: Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Recommendation: Circle of Stones, by Suzanne Alyssa Andrew
You didn’t really expect me not to weigh in, did you? For shame.
Circle of Stones is a stunning debut, a deft, seemingly effortless deconstruction of narrative that never sacrifices emotion and character even as it dazzles stylistically. At its heart, the novel is a love story, between Nik and Jennifer, a painter and a dancer, an exploration of loss and longing, but it’s so much more than that. You have to read it.
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