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Shelf Talkers: Marilyn Monroe, YA Romance, Magic Basketball, and More

In a lot of ways, reading is the perfect summer reading project: you get to accomplish something AND you don’t have to break a sweat in doing it! You can savour the leisure of summer AND feel the faint edge of righteousness that comes with a job well done!

Some of us – many of us – have a conflicted relationship with summer.

On the one hand, we anticipate the season as one of leisure, with extra daylight to spend on patios or beaches, the heat preventing us from doing anything too onerous. A time to savour the slow passage of the day, the lingering of the evening.

And yet, when summer arrives, we are suddenly taken up with the idea of projects. Extra daylight means more time to get things done. Too hot? You’ll be so happy when it’s done, whatever “it” is. Building a new deck? That’s a perfect project for summer. Growing vegetables? Sure, summer. Getting your life in order? Well, we’ll start it this summer.

And readers are no different. Summer is the season of “beach reads” and of ambitious summer reading projects. The latter is a hold-over, I think, from those glorious summers of our childhoods, when the library ran their summer reading programs. (Did anyone else get a tingle reading those words? I bet you did.) One summer, I swam the Great Lakes. Another, I walked across the Sahara. All without leaving my room or the shade of my grandmother’s apple tree, my preferred spot for reading.

In a lot of ways, reading is the perfect summer reading project: you get to accomplish something AND you don’t have to break a sweat in doing it! You can savour the leisure of summer AND feel the faint edge of righteousness that comes with a job well done!

This time around, the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers column have suggestions for your very own summer reading projects (and we’re pleased to welcome a few new booksellers to the mix as well!).

Now, all we need to make summer complete is a mock-passport that we can track our reading in, and some Lik-M-Aid Fun Dip!

Happy summer, everyone. Happy reading!



The Bookseller: Vaughn Naylor, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Starlight, by Richard Wagamese

I have never read Richard Wagamese's work until now, and I am so happy that I am finally doing so. It is a bittersweet happiness because this book was published after his death and in its unfinished state (the last chapter cuts off a few sentences in) with the blanks filled in by the publisher, family, and friends in an epilogue of sorts. Knowing I have all of Wagamese's material to read through is the sweet, and knowing I'll never truly finish this book or any new works from him is the bitter. Still, this book inexorably moved me on a number of occasions despite its lack of completion, and I have thought about it and its characters every single day since finishing it. Many of the scenes replay in my mind, and the prose had me stopping to just breathe every now and then.



The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)

The Pick: Every Little Piece of Me, by Amy Jones

I loved Every Little Piece of Me, a novel that is laugh-out-loud funny but also heartbreaking. Amy Jones manages to throw into sharp relief the degree to which our modern lives are public, while still making us care about the characters caught up in this reality. I loved Ava and Mags and look forward to more from this outstanding author.



The Bookseller: Charles, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Love From A to Z, by S.K. Ali

This book is the perfect mix of heartbreaking and uplifting. It tells a story of marginalization, standing up for oneself, and learning to thrive in a world trying to tear you down. If you like YA romance but are tired of seeing the same characters going through the same things, Love From A to Z will find a place in your heart and on your bookshelf.


The Bookseller: Kyle Buckley, Type Books (Toronto, ON)

The Pick: Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, by Anne Carson


Anne Carson's newly published play, Norma Jeane Baker of Troy, provides various lessons from the history of war. One such lesson is that simply, "In war, things go wrong. Blame women." But we are prepared for such a lesson earlier in the play when Norma Jeane (Marilyn Monroe but also Helen of Troy) says plainly, "One thing I learned from psychoanalysis is how to fake it, with men." It's beguiling (which, like rosé, is perfect for summer).

The play is full of meditative poetic lines that are either meant to be spoken or taken as stage directions. Marilyn Monroe is cast as Helen of Troy, but from the version of the story in which Helen never goes to Troy. A cloud of Marilyn Monroe is sent instead. The war still happens, although it is largely waged through public relations.

Anne Carson is the poet of unusable ideas.


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


The Pick: When I Arrived at the Castle, by Emily Carroll

It's barely summer and I'm already looking forward to fall. Which makes Emily Carroll's When I Arrived at the Castle the perfect macabre read for someone dreaming of Halloween. Gothic, graphic perfection told in black and white (and red, so much red).


The Bookseller: Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories – Vancouver, BC)


The Pick: Breaching the Peace: Site C Dam and a Valley's Stand Against Big Hydro, by Sarah Cox

The most expensive hydroelectric project in BC's history, the Site C Dam has been mired in controversy for most of its development. Sarah Cox provides an intimate look at the lives of the people directly affected by its construction, as well as a deep investigation into the politics and economics of the project. A vital book, particularly in this time of climate emergency when it is more important than ever to ensure publicly funded projects take into account social, economic, and environmental effects.

The Bookseller: Sue Saunderson of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)


The Pick: The Wizenard Series: Training Camp, by Wesley King

I recently read Wesley King’s new book The Wizenard Series: Training Camp. The story is about what it takes to build and become a basketball team in spite of overwhelming odds and adversity. The coach uses unorthodox methods and magic to help each boy overcome personal fear, self-doubt and prejudice. The story is told in five different voices and perspectives, each belonging to a teammate. The basketball vernacular woven throughout will resonate with the reader, creating some very exciting team practices! Once again, Wesley has proven that a well-written story can transport the reader to a magical place ... even just for a little while!



The Bookseller: Heather Bastin, Misty River Books (Terrace, BC)
The Pick: French Exit, by Patrick deWitt

I recommend French Exit by Patrick deWitt as a summer read. It is light reading with a hefty dose of dark humour and a liberal dash of quirkiness. If you love Wes Anderson films, you're going to enjoy this book.



The Bookseller: Duncan Parizeau, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: A Mind Spread Out on the Ground, by Alicia Elliott

Wordsmiths like Alicia Elliott are worldly treasures. Her stories command the kind of attention that will leave you unable to put this book down. A Mind Spread Out on the Ground is a must-read for settlers to better understand the effects of intergenerational trauma and institutionalized racism. A lot of emotional labour is contained in the pages; the least we can do is read them.



The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)

The Pick: Bunny, by Mona Awad

Samantha Mackey, the protagonist in Mona Awad’s new novel, Bunny, is doing an MFA in creative writing at a prestigious New England university. That’s the last normal sentence about this book I’ll write. The plot is too wild and unexplainable. Imagine the movie Heathers mixed with the TV series Stranger Things and Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History. Now imagine something completely different – think of rabbits exploding, men with hare-lips being conjured into being, novel-writing workshops of unimaginable jargonistic savagery. Imagine a clique of women who call themselves Bunny and perform sacrifices to the act of writing. Jumble all that up together and that still won’t explain Bunny. Mona Awad has invented a world of weirdness that you just can’t stop reading – I loved this book. It’s something so completely different, yet so familiar. There is a plot, there are powerful characters. But it’s also a book about the process of writing, about invention and creation. It’s about editing too. Bunny is fantastically original. You won’t see another novel like this in a long time.


The Bookseller: Vaughn Naylor, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)


The Pick: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel

A "lacuna" in the context of language is a gap in translation; it is when you can't quite translate a word from one language to another and retain its literal and/or emotional integrity/intention. While I was reading this book I couldn't help but feel an overflow of love and loss, and the wildly painful emotion that rises from that pairing. Plenty of words came to mind to describe what I was feeling (see: love and loss), yet I couldn't think of a word to describe the unique fusion of all the emotions I was feeling. No English word could truly, truly capture the emotional resonance that permeates this book. Thankfully, I did happen to know a word in a different language. "Saudade" is a Portuguese word, implying a nostalgic melancholy. It is the pieces of love that remain with the knowledge that what was may never be again, it is light and dark all at once, one step further than simple longing or missing. This book holds back in neither, and it reminded me to be grateful for everything I have while I have it because what goes around doesn't always come back, things can end quickly and without warning, and "saudade" is one of the few things can last forever.



The Bookseller: Jan Lindh, Mulberry Bush Book Store (Parksville, BC)

The Pick: Out of the Woods: Woodworkers Along the Salish Sea by Pirjo Raits, photographs by Dale Roth & Michele Ramberg  

This is a profile of twenty-six artists, carvers, and sculptors showcasing their works. Each artist is unique; some of the pieces are functional, some purely aesthetic. All are beautiful and vividly brought to life through the full colour photographs.

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