Shelf Talkers: August 2015

Normally in this space, I try to write something a little clever by way of an introduction to the current round of recommendations from our panel of independent booksellers. (I say “try”—cleverness isn’t something that one can rely on, as my fourth-grade teacher often told me, usually before sending me out into the hallway to think about what I had done.) This month, though, I’m going to go with something a little different: sincerity. Sincerity and gratitude.

I spent more than two decades—the greater part of my adult life—as a bookseller. I know their concerns, the pressures upon them, the constant flurry and flux they face as the industry shifts and heaves around them.

And as a writer, I want to say, simply, thank you.

What independent booksellers do isn’t easy. They face frequently overwhelming odds and strains, long days, and recurring doubts. It isn’t an easy life. And yet, every day, they find time to read. The booksellers I know read incessantly; the backrooms and sales floors of every independent bookstore I’ve ever been to are a hum of “Have you read this?” and “What did you think of that?” No matter the financial pressures and the ongoing stresses, booksellers find time to immerse themselves in books new and old, to read deeply and passionately.

They are also, it has to be said, some of the most critical readers you are ever liable to meet: if they feel strongly enough about a book to recommend it, you know it’s a good one. They won’t dis a book they don’t like, at least outright, but another bookseller can always tell. It’s as simple as the difference between a book on the shelf, and a book in their hands as they press it toward you, their face lit up with enthusiasm. “You have to read this,” they’ll say. That’s what this monthly column is all about.

As a writer, I cannot thank the independent booksellers of this country enough. They not only read, they react, passionately. They order stock. They up their orders as they win over their customers. They make sure the book has a good, visible place in the store. They host the authors. They are—and this is, if anything, an understatement—the lifeblood of this industry. Every writer owes them a debt, their deepest gratitude.

I write this in the throes of publication week, mere hours after a fantastic launch of my latest book at one of this country’s independent bookstores. I’m not going to say anything about Tracey’s pick below (I have never played any part in the bookseller recommendations, except to bring them together, and I’m not going to start now), except “thank you.”

And I suspect I speak for all writers in this country when I repeat, “Thank you. Thank you, independent booksellers, for all you do.”

*****

The Bookseller: James Schmidt, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: Harmless, by James Grainger

When Joseph's daughter Frannie and her best friend disappear on a weekend reunion in the woods, what starts out as a dark riff on The Big Chill rapidly evolves into a variant of Deliverance. Grainger effortlessly pulls the reader first into the resentments, secrets, and unfinished business of old friends meeting after many years and then into the increasingly complex and twisted search for the missing girls, delivering a story that will keep readers turning the pages late into the night.

 

The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: The Way the Crow Flies, by Ann-Marie MacDonald

This is my absolute favourite of Ann-Marie MacDonald's books! Madeline is eight years old when her family is posted to an air force base in rural Ontario. Here, her life changes completely. You'll be mesmerized by the beautiful prose; this is a must-read, especially if you loved Fall on Your Knees.

 

The Bookseller: Jenn Hubbs, Curiosity House Books  (Creemore, Ontario)

The Pick: This is Sadie, by Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad

Sadie is a little girl with a big imagination. She has had adventures in wonderland and visited the world of fairy tales. She has wings that take her anywhere she wants to go, but that always bring her home again. She likes to make things—boats out of boxes and castles out of cushions. But more than anything Sadie likes stories, because you can make them from nothing at all. 

The best picture books connect with us at an elemental level, reminding us of something we may have forgotten but need to remember. Morstad's deceptively simple illustrations (look for the fox doll on each page) remind you of classic works of art, while O'Leary's words draw us into a child's view of famous fairy tales and familiar stories. This is Sadie is a beautifully illustrated book that reminds us that sometimes all children need for a good time is a plain cardboard box and the power of their imagination.

This is a delectable read to be shared by the very young and all those who are not-so-young, perhaps on a porch at dusk or while the cicadas chirp in the night air. 

 

The Bookseller: Leigh Buchanan, The Mulberry Bush Bookstore (Parksville & Qualicum Beach, BC)

The Pick: The Birthday Lunch, by Joan Clark

This is a beautifully written story about three people—Hal, husband, father, entrepreneur; Lily, wife, mother, and sister; Laverne, sister to Lily. Laverne and Lily jointly own the heritage house all three inhabit. Because Laverne lives alone, she is possessive of Lily's attention and resentful of Hal, and there is constant tension in between the two. When Laverne connives to have Lily exclusively to lunch for her birthday, events are set in motion which lead to a devastating blow to the family.

 

The Bookseller: Tracey Higgins, Bryan Prince Booksellers (Hamilton, ON)

The Pick: Black Feathers, by Robert J. Wiersema

I have to say that I devoured Black Feathers in one sitting—an evening of literary gluttony that left me thoroughly satisfied. The novel follows Cassie, a teen runaway who is not only fleeing demons from her past, but who must also avoid the more immediate dangers of a serial killer who roams the streets of Victoria. Black Feathers is, from the outset, creepily atmospheric and suspense builds from the first chapter. The author, however, has developed his characters with such care and attention that we never lose sight of the very human, sometimes touching, moments between those living on the streets. As the nights turn chilly this is a perfect book to keep you company through the wee hours.

**

See all our Shelf Talkers right here, and always: http://49thshelf.com/shelftalkers

August 24, 2015
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