Shelf Talkers: On Family Day

By Rob Wiersema

I may be in the minority, but I've actually become quite fond of Family Day. In part, it's a practical thing: I love the way it breaks up that long stretch between Christmas and Easter, that formerly bleak, wintery run of five-day weeks with no respite. In part, I like its ramshackle nature, an invented holiday which occurs on different days across the country.

Mostly, though—and feel free to call me soft—I like it because I buy into the premise. The occasion gives me a chance, once a year, to really think about family, and what it means.

We're all members of a number of different families: our biological roots and the friends we choose to surround ourselves with are, of course, the most obvious families, and worthy of being celebrated 365 days a year.

But then there are the families we stumble into, the groups we may not have been aware we were joining, but become, over time, as close-knit as the more traditional varieties.
For me, that extended family is booksellers.

And what a strange, eccentric family we are.

When I began working as a bookseller a quarter century ago, I didn't realize that some of my closest, longest-running relationships would be with other booksellers, a network that has spanned time and geography. Independent booksellers are all quirky, all individualistic, all occasionally wild-headed, all dreamers: you have to be to survive in this business. But booksellers aren't islands unto themselves; they're a family.

When booksellers meet, it's a chance for celebration, for talk and bonding, for an occasional glass of wine, for laughter and—if no one's watching—dancing.

But it's not just good times.

We share our tragedies, too.

This February, as we mark Family Day, booksellers across the country will be thinking of our losses in the past few months. When Victoria's great booksellers Jim Munro and Mel Bolen passed away late last year, their losses cut through our family, from coast to coast. The outpouring of grief was powerful, and staggering. We are also all reckoning with news that several booksellers are leaving their businesses in the next few months, either wrapping things up, or passing their stores on. These booksellers will be missed, but they will always be welcome.

Because that's what family is. We mourn together, we laugh together, sometimes family members move on ... But there will always be chairs for them at the table, and toasts in their name.

Consider this month's column a gift, from our family to yours, a few books to treasure, to curl up with in the grey of winter.

Happy Family Day.


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

The Pick: Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined, by Danielle Younge-Ullman

This is an excellent first novel by Canadian Danielle Younge-Ullman! She has created a realistic story that is still entertaining to read. Ingrid is a conflicted teenager, by turns overly-confident and then sullen. As the reader learns more of her story, we find out the difficulties in her past with her tumultuous relationship with her mother. Told through flashbacks as Ingrid is on a survival camping trip with a group of other "troubled" teens, Ingrid and her mother's heartbreaking story is revealed to us. A beautiful novel about love within an unusual family, about growing up and taking responsibility for yourself, and about the choices that we make in life. Highly recommend for teens who like John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and Jennifer Niven.


The Bookseller: Rebecca Sanger, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge ON)

The Pick: Juliet's Answer, by Glenn Dixon

Once in a while we all need a reminder that love exists. To find it between the pages of a non-fiction title - between the pages of a novel stemmed out of heartbreak—is too perfect for words. Juliet's Answer reveals more than just science and Shakespeare, it reveals how important and powerful love can be ... with a little help from Juliet.



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

The Pick: Aqua Vitae, by Glen A. Mofford

In Aqua Vitae, Glen A. Mofford offers a fascinating look at the rich history of drinking establishments in Victoria, BC. From the opening of the first saloon in 1851 through 1917, when prohibition brought everything to a halt, Mofford tours readers from the raunchiness of Johnson street to the high class of the Empress, with a colourful cast of characters and glorious black and white photos. So pour a drink and settle in for a look at the "intoxicating history of Victoria’s watering holes."



The Bookseller: Elizabeth Olson, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: The Break, by Katherena Vermette

This emotional and gritty story takes place on the streets of Winnipeg. A very young Métis girl, Emily, is sexually assaulted on a empty BC Hydro lot. The assault is witnessed by the girl's relative, Stella, who must work through her feelings about not only having run out and intervened but also of allowing herself to become cut off from her grandmother and family after marrying a non-Métis. The layers of story, told from the points-of-view of four generations of family members and also the culprit, move at a slow pace, working their way through the grief and healing in a mature way that transcends the brutality of the crime. While the police investigate, there is no blame placed or revenge sought by the family—every member is bent on wanting to move forward together, gathering and watching over the young girl at her hospital bedside and supporting one another. A powerfully written story of family love and forgiveness and showing bountiful beauty amid suffering. An utterly astonishing read. I am so surprised to realize how strongly this book affected my sense of what family really means. The Break has been shortlisted for several awards and has been one of the books chosen for Canada Reads in 2017.

February 20, 2017
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