Shelf Talkers: August Is the Best Time for Reading

With record-breaking temperatures across the country, I think it’s safe to say we’re into the dog days of summer now. It really is the best and worst of the year: it’s hard to resist those blue skies, the heat, and the seemingly limitless potential outdoors—but at the same time, it’s too hot to really take much joy in moving around. It’s perfect weather for sitting in the shade, for finding a patio or a cool pool, for laying in the grass.

Or, conversely, for managing the hot walk from the kitchen to the couch, cold beverage in hand, collapse imminent.

These are all valid approaches to the heights (and highs) of summer, and they all have one thing in common (well, two if you count the heat, but I’m taking that as a given): they’re all improved, significantly, if one has a book. And not just any book—a good book makes a summer day all the better. Something you can get lost in. Something you can use for mental cover, or to enhance your lawn repose.

It’s all part of the experience: brave the heat and make your way to your local independent bookstore (bonus: many of them are air-conditioned!) and ask your favourite bookseller what they would recommend for a day like today. Then, recommended book in hand, make your way to your favourite park, or patio, or piece of furniture, and disappear for a few hours.

Be sure to hydrate, though; there’s no need for heroics.

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The Bookseller: Curtis Williams, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)

The Pick: Happy City, by Charles Montgomery

A perfect book to sit down with and mull over the whys of construction. Montgomery is an astute urbanist whose work across the world has contributed to ongoing change, with new and innovative perspectives concerning community, architecture and what makes us happy city dwellers. This book will leave you with a new way of looking at the landscape you might be taking for granted, while also anticipating a return to practical, usable cityscapes that give rise to communities with diversity and life, instead of just arid parking deserts.

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

The Pick: Lucky Jonah, by Richard Scrimger

Jonah is not having an easy time of it. A constant target for bullying by his brother, consistently outshone by his best friend, and not yet comfortable with this place in the world, Jonah wishes he could be someone else. When he receives a mysterious camera that allows him to swap places with the subject, Jonah gets his wish. There is a price, however, and Jonah only has a limited number of chances to figure out who he is meant to be.

At times hysterically funny and at others emotionally poignant, Scrimger has written a unique and intriguing coming-of- age story about a young man who needs to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of others before he can begin to accept the truth about himself. Jonah slowly begins to realise that everyone has complications in their own lives and that empathy is a much needed trait for everyone. The author's sense of humour keeps the story moving and allows the reader to understand and empathise with Jonah as he begins to accept that he is gay, and that his life will turn out okay after all.

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

The Pick: In This Together: Fifteen Stories of Truth and Reconciliation, by Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail (ed.)

Following up on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this collection of essays is a revelatory and fascinating look at various issues from the perspective of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. Some of the most evocative essays are those by Indigenous writers who have reconnected with their traditions after years of living away from their community. The book also includes an interview with Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair discussing some of the background and implications of the TRC.

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The Bookseller: Melanee Koponen, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: North of Normal, by Cea Sunrise Person

The title of this book is apt—nothing about young Cea's life is normal, from her nudist pot-smoking grandparents to her favourite foods, bear or bug soup. Living off the grid, Cea is a survivor; she sees and hears things children her age shouldn't but somehow things turn out.
I have bought this book for all my friends and nobody can put it down. This is our Canadian version of The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. I cannot wait until January 2017 for Cea's next book with more stories of her life. Seriously recommend.

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

The Pick: News from the Red Desert, by Kevin Patterson

In the acknowledgments to his third novel News from the Red Desert, Kevin Patterson notes that "the troublesome thing about wars is their actuality. If war bore more relation to its fantasized version, war novels would be both less necessary and easier to write."

Patterson has four books and two novels in print and his medical and military background served him well in Afghanistan. Dierdre O'Malley is an American war correspondent embedded with US troops in central Afghanistan in late 2001, when it's assumed that the war is largely over.  As the war drags on, her respect for the troops, her loyalty to her former lover, the US general in command of the
theatre is tested. The narrative match is lit when a supply sergeant makes a serious ethical lapse on a laptop and awaits imminent arrest.

It's no accident that Patterson paid homage to Tim O'brien's Things They Carried, widely acknowledged as one of the finest war novels ever written. In News from the Red Desert, Patterson comes very close to surpassing O'brien's classic story. This is an uncommonly fine
piece of writing, full of moral clarity, authentic characters, and crisp narrative tension. Whether it's cut to the fashion of the fall award lists or not, this will be seen as a classic in years to come.

August 5, 2016
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