Shelf Talkers: From Outer Space to Wrestling Rings to Vietnam

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. It’s not just the turkey dinner (though I’m always thrilled when turkey-dinner season comes around, that glorious stretch of monthly feasts incorporating Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas. Gobble, gobble, indeed.), but it’s what comes before, and what characterizes the day: a moment to take stock of our lives and offer our gratitude for what we have, for what we love, and for what, in some cases, we have lost.

And here’s the part, oh faithful readers of this column, where you expect me to express how thankful I am for Canada’s independent booksellers. And while this sentiment is certainly true, this year I’m feeling a bit more introspective, a bit more... melancholy, perhaps. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s the autumn, the sound of the rain in the night, the smell of leaves and smoke. Perhaps it’s a recognition of the passing years, the grey in my beard.

Perhaps...

Ah, but what does it really matter how I got to this point? What matters is this: looking back, I can barely express how grateful I am for the years I spent as a bookseller, at an independent bookstore in Canada. Two decades of my life, spent behind the counter or working the floor, connecting books with readers, introducing authors (often literally) to the people who would come to love them. It’s not just that being a bookseller made me a better reader (which it did: more discerning, and more empathic. And faster. Much faster.), and it’s not just that being a bookseller made me a better writer (which it did, though that’s for a much longer piece, for another time). Being a bookseller was to be part of something bigger, something important, a world of words and ideas, a part of a system that, in a very real way, shaped the world around me. Beyond that, I was part of a community, a fellowship of booksellers from coast to coast, all of us blessedly distinct, odd and ornery in our own ways, but always, always, united by a common cause.

So I guess, this year, I’m also grateful for this, this column that allows me, every month, to remain in contact with that world, with those people who I have long considered friends (though, in many cases, we’ve never actually met). And that means I’m thankful to you, faithful readers, who return to these pages and these bright, eclectic folks to discover—just as I do—what Canada’s foremost readers are recommending this month.

So, thank you, readers and booksellers (and webmasters and fellow travelers). Now, let’s eat!

***

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

The Pick: The Spawning Grounds, by Gail Anderson-Dargatz

It's been almost ten years since Gail's last novel and if you've been anticipating this book as much as I have you will not be disappointed!

Everything changes for 18-year-old Hannah when her brother Brandon almost drowns in the river where no one is supposed to swim. Then, when Brandon starts displaying the same symptoms that their mother did before she killed herself, Hannah has to decide how best to protect her family, while also considering that her brother may be inhabited by a spirit from the river. This is a beautiful melange of family drama, First Nations mythology, history, and romance. Much like Gail's other books, The Spawning Grounds is destined to become a Canadian classic.

The Bookseller: Chadwick Ginther of University of Manitoba Bookstore (Winnipeg, Manitoba)

The Pick: Gethsemane Hall, by David Annandale 


October is a great time to curl up with a spooky read. One of my favourites is David Annandale's Gethsemane Hall. A hidden staircase lures both readers and characters into the belly of the beast that is Gethsemane. As they spiral down together, Annandale ascribes reptilian, malevolent presence to mere steps, leading ultimately to the terror that is the real dark power beneath the hall. A perfect book if you want to stay up past your bedtime, but if you do, take the next day off work, because you won't be sleeping when you're done.

The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story, by Ariel Teal Toombs & Colt Baird Toombs

One of the greatest stars of the sports entertainment world, Rowdy Roddy Piper began writing his fascinating story, following his rise from troubled youth to wrestling the main event at Madison Square Garden, and beyond. Unfortunately, Piper passed away before the book was finished. Not wanting the story to remain untold his children sat down to set the record straight. Rowdy: The Roddy Piper Story offers a look at someone who often played the villain, but away from the ring let his humility, decency, and keen intelligence for the business shine.

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

The Pick: The Darkest Dark, by Chris Hadfield and Kate Fillion, illustrated by Eric Fan and Terry Fan

Young Chris loves rockets and planets and pretending he's a brave astronaut, exploring the universe. Only one problem—at night, Chris doesn't feel so brave. He's afraid of the dark. However, after he's given the chance to watch the moon landing at a neighbouring cottage, Chris realizes something: “He’d never really noticed how dark it was there. Outer space was the darkest dark ever.” Determined to become an astronaut, Chris begins to realize that the dark is all around us, and that our fear is the only thing holding us back from discovering how wonderful the world can be.

The reassurance that Canada's favourite spaceman was once afraid of the dark will likely be welcome news to lots of little readers, and the Fan brothers’ brilliantly detailed illustrations convey the fanciful monsters of our imagination as well as the realism of cottage life in equal measure. Readers will spend ages pouring over the finely drawn images and tiny quirky objects within, while parents will enjoy reading a story that reassures as much as it encourages.

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

The Pick: Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, by Yasuko Thanh

It's always wonderful to stumble on an unknown voice that can invigorate a reader, and Yasuko Thanh is a real find.

I'm a sucker for Vietnam novels, and at the turn of the century the French are the hated colonial power. Thanh introduces us to Nguyen Georges-Minh, a Paris-educated physician who is tapped to create an untraceable poison to dispatch a garrison of French soldiers at a Christmas feast.

His story illuminates the political struggle in an oft-contested land and Thanh splits the difference between a strong plot and writing of exceptional verve and movement. This is wonderful work, and I'll drop anything to read new stuff from Thanh in the future.

October 6, 2016
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