Shelf Talkers: 2017's Must-Reads

Reading through a year’s worth of Shelf Talkers columns, I am struck by a couple of details that likely have not slipped your attention: the quality of the books chosen by our panelists, and the eclectic nature of those choices.

Every month, our esteemed independent booksellers share their picks for not just the best books they have been reading, but those books which they feel merit special attention. Books that aren’t just good, but are distinct in some way, powerful enough to merit an enthusiastic response.

You’ve likely experienced this directly, in-person, during a visit to an independent bookstore: the bookseller leading you through the aisles, all-but-tugging you to a special shelf, or a slot on a table, picking up a book and pressing it into your hands, saying, almost breathlessly, “You must read this!”

For this year-end column, we’ve combed through the dozens of recommendations, a year of reading, to create a double-handful of special books, a stack of a dozen or so books to fill your carry-bag, to fill your winter nights with sheer reading pleasure.

Simply put, you must read these.

We’ll be back in January to begin another year of books, another year of discoveries.

Until then, though, we wish you warm nights, full bellies, and the happiest of reading.

***

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

The Pick: The Last Neanderthal, by Claire Cameron

Girl is the eldest daughter of a Neanderthal family who, through a tense series of events, is left to care for Runt, a young foundling. Together, they must travel through the winter storms to the annual fish run, where Girl hopes to find others of her kind.

Rosamund Gale is a present-day archaeologist who is attempting to excavate newly discovered Neanderthal remains before the arrival of her first child. Her task is complicated by pressure from museum officials who prefer to put the "show before the science."

These two different perspectives, separated by 40,000 years, begin to reveal the similarities in Girl and Rosamund's lives, from each woman's need for survival to the primal forces of childbirth. Cameron's latest involved five years of intensive study of Neanderthal history, including an exploration of her own DNA (she's 2.5% Neanderthal), and it is a powerful exploration the not-so-changing roles of women as well as our own human history. 

Cameron's latest involved five years of intensive study of Neanderthal history, including an exploration of her own DNA (she's 2.5% Neanderthal), and it is a powerful exploration the not-so-changing roles of women as well as our own human history. 

***

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

The Pick: Baseball Life Advice, by Stacey May Fowles

With Baseball Life Advice, Stacey May Fowles has captured the tumult, frustration and unabashed love that comes with being a long-suffering Blue Jays fan.

She loves the game and the team, and knows everything worth knowing to be sure, but her steely knowledge of the nonsense and shortcomings of pro ball don't keep her from the Church. 

Baseball has a unique mythology in sport simply because it suggests that a sort of purity of spirit around a simple game is still possible; there's no such thing as a Bull Durham-like movie for football. Fowles knows this and nails both the emotional attachment of the game and the need for a hard look at the state of pro baseball.

I haven't watched or been to a baseball game in years, but I reread Jim Bouton's masterful Ball Four every couple years because it brings me more pleasure than just about any other book I've ever come across. The years melt away to a near-perfect still point. I can absolutely see rereading Baseball Life Advice for the rest of my life and for the same reason.

... I reread Jim Bouton's masterful Ball Four every couple years because it brings me more pleasure than just about any other book I've ever come across. The years melt away to a near-perfect still point. I can absolutely see rereading Baseball Life Advice for the rest of my life and for the same reason.

***

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

The Pick: Sing a Worried Song, by William Deverell

In Sing a Worried Song, the sixth novel in the Beauchamp series, Deverell revisits a murder case 30 years in his detective's past. The one time that Arthur Beauchamp decided to work for the prosecution and put a man away for brutally killing a clown is coming back to haunt him. This is Deverell at the top of his game with his wonderfully cantankerous detective and familiar Canadian settings making this a fantastic read for any mystery fan.

This is Deverell at the top of his game with his wonderfully cantankerous detective and familiar Canadian settings making this a fantastic read for any mystery fan.

***

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 Metis 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-Metis. 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.

An utterly astonishing read. I am so surprised to realize how strongly this book affected my sense of what family really means.

***

The Bookseller: Rob Butterfield, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: The Georgia Straight: The 50th Anniversary, by Doug Sarti

A very thoughtfully compiled collection of back issues and sentimental odes to a publication that has been Vancouver's only counter-cultural anchor for the past half a century. For any life-time residents, long-time dwellers or shiny new transplants to the city of Vancouver, this publication (which is easily found for free anywhere about the city) is an invaluable map to the cultural pillars and happenings all around town and beyond. It is an acclimating touchstone for anyone to tune in, turn on and sink into.

This toast to one of the coolest things to ever come out of little-baby forever-changing, adolescent Vancouver shows just how consistently thoughtful the folks gluing it together have taken the care to impress and inform us. Of such a shape-shifting city, having this record of roots, pride and purpose should be enough to make you feel like part of the first act in a story that still could someday end up being the great tale of a magical natural setting, home to the world's most unique melting pot. The Georgia Straight has and will be the tome of the tale.

Of such a shape-shifting city, having this record of roots, pride and purpose should be enough to make you feel like part of the first act in a story that still could someday end up being the great tale of a magical natural setting, home to the world's most unique melting pot.

What an artful, playful, concerned and loving bunch these writers and editors have been for us. Let's hope they can release another boundlessly colourful version of this book in another 50 well-earned years. It's always been an easy to spot, sidewalk giant of the street to me.

***

The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)

The Pick: The Change Room, by Karen Connelly

I was blown away by Karen Connelly's The Change Room. Before I read it, I had been told it was sexy, and that sets up a whole bunch of preconceived notions. But Karen knocks it outta the park with this one. In her words, “After The Lizard Cage and Come Cold River, I had to write something both fun and sexy before I died...” Well. This is not a guy's version of sex and this is not a Harlequin version of sex. This is real. Interspersed with doing the dishes.  Well done, Karen Connelly.

This is not a guy's version of sex and this is not a Harlequin version of sex. This is real. Interspersed with doing the dishes. Well done, Karen Connelly.

***

The Bookseller: James Irvine, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: Bad Endings, by Carleigh Baker

A superb collection of short stories awaits the reader of this book. Each story left me wanting to read more. Take this book to lunch; take it for coffee or a nice glass of wine. A great companion. Carleigh Baker is a new and exciting voice in Canadian literature.

A superb collection of short stories awaits the reader of this book ... Carleigh Baker is a new and exciting voice in Canadian literature.

**

The Bookseller: Lee Trentadue , Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: A Queer Love Story: The Letters of Jane Rule and Rick Bébout, edited by Marilyn Schuster, foreword by Margaret Atwood

Rick Bebout is the editor of the monthly Toronto-based LGBTQ magazine The Body Politic. Rick and Jane were long-term friends and kept up this friendship through monthly letters, based on their explorations of their intellectual takes on many and varied issues of the day. The book includes an extensive examination of these letters over the course of their long-standing friendship. A fascinating account of an unusual friendship and one that crossed genders and generations.

***

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

The Picks:

Dina

del Bucchia's Don't Tell Me What To Do, Carleigh Baker's Bad Endings, Daniel Zomparelli's Everything Is Awful And You're A Terrible Person, and Clea Young's Teardown are four outstanding books that have come out in the last year by Vancouver authors. Each book is unique and engaging and every story is a page-turner – in turns bitingly funny, unflinchingly honest, deeply emotional – these books cover it all. These are the first short story collections by these authors and I can't wait for their next books.

December 18, 2017
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