We try not to be overly political here in the Shelf Talkers column, but there are some issues we can only avoid for so long. We would like to apologize in advance for any offense this column might give, but we feel it’s something that needs to be discussed, now more than ever.
Yes, you read that right.
Summer reading probably isn’t the most contentious issue of our times, but it’s a conflict that recurs with a troubling, almost calendar-like, regularity.
Every year, we are faced with two bitterly divided camps, framing the months of al fresco literary experience in such starkly differing terms you wonder if we could possibly be talking about the same activity.
On the one side of this bitterly entrenched ideological divide is the “summertime and the readin’ is easy” camp, those folks who feel that summer reading should be lighter, undemanding, a cool drink against the heat. These readers make the chaise longue resemble a fainting couch, as they reach up with trembling hands for the latest potboiler.
On the other side of the divide are the keeners, the readers who feel that summer’s endless vistas and seemingly unlimited time is perfect for reading projects. With all the determination of a fourth grader in a summer reading program, these readers attack their stacks, glowing not with sunburn, but with the satisfaction of a job well done.
It seems an untenable situation, two sides so rigourously opposed and each so well supported.
Here’s the thing, though: as readers, we’re not so divided as it may appear.
Hear me out: the truth, and the path to salvation, is in the middle ground.
The fact is, sometimes you want something lighter, something refreshing, something recreational, the mojito of books, if you will. And sometimes, you want a project, something to really sink your teeth into. And that’s okay. This is one situation where you can—and should—have it both ways. Sure, I might be itching to disappear into Stephen King’s It for a (long, long) while, but I’m also working my way through Robertson Davies, one delightful trilogy at a time.
What’s important here is not one's ideological position, but the books themselves. Because truly nothing is better on a summer afternoon than a good book.
And, just in time for your readerly questions, we have another set of recommendations from our courageous and overworked independent booksellers, who have, this month, weighed in with summer reading choices that run the gamut from the literary to the not-so-much, fiction and non. No matter how you categorize them, these are six fine books, each deserving of the sunscreen fingerprints you’ll leave behind.
The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang
Dragon Springs Road is an immersive journey to early-twentieth-century Shanghai, as we follow the path of Jialing, a seven-year old Eurasian girl abandoned by her mother. A coming-of-age story that provides deep insight into the role of women at this time and in this place, and with a touch of magical realism that includes a wonderful, mythical, shape-shifting fox, this is an unforgettable and beautiful story.
The Bookseller: Melanee Koponen, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: The Last Neanderthal, by Claire Cameron
The Last Neanderthal weaves together the story of two women about to give birth; one is a Neanderthal and the other is an archaeologist in modern times. It's the correlation between the two that brings this story to its fascinating conclusion. A very interesting read.
The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Victoria’s Most Haunted, by Ian Gibbs
Victoria BC is often referred to as “charming” or “idyllic” with its breathtaking ocean views and beautiful gardens, but after spending a bit of time with Ian Gibbs readers will be adding “chilling” and “haunted” to that list of descriptions. Victoria’s Most Haunted is an unsettling tour of the capital city and even you are not a believer in the paranormal you will likely find yourself peering over your shoulder next time you wander through Fan Tan Alley, Pioneer Square or any of the other landmarks with an overlooked grisly past.
The Bookseller: Lee Trentadue, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Pick: Little Sister, by Barbara Gowdy
For fans of Gowdy, who have been waiting 10 years for her latest novel, Little Sister does not disappoint. The novel is gorgeously written, atmospheric and haunting. Ms. Gowdy handles the theme of buried grief with delicacy, humour, and deep pathos. This novel will stay with you a long time after putting it down!
The Bookseller: Rebecca Sanger, Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai
A fun journey through time and a look at the dystopia that we believe to be our reality. You'll laugh until you cry and contemplate whether you would rather live in a world where avocados don't go bad or a world with someone you love.
The Bookseller: Jenn Hubbs, Curiosity House Books (Creemore, Ontario)
The Pick: Optimists Die First, by Susin Nielsin
Any new book by Nielsin is something to celebrate but this one is particularly special. Filled with her trademark humour and a Pinterest-worthy list of crafts, it examines grief and finding yourself in a unique and heart-wrenching narrative. Great for the mature middle-grade or YA reader.
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