Shelf Talkers: Indie Booksellers Remain Devoted to Customers During Covid-19

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Over the past weeks of sheltering-at-home, we have come to recognize the true meaning of the word “essential.” From front-line health-care workers and peace officers to grocery store and pharmacy clerks, delivery staff and couriers, take-out restaurants and online dispensaries and on and on, these are the people and businesses we need to keep ourselves and our families alive and – hopefully – healthy.

But it’s not just about our physical bodies and well-being. The arts are just as essential in keeping our hearts and souls alive during this time of massive stress and uncertainty.

Which brings me, perhaps not unexpectedly, to booksellers. I have always felt that booksellers provided an essential service to their communities, and the past weeks have underscored that truth. Across the country, booksellers are struggling to keep their doors open in order to provide soul-sustenance to their customers. With contactless local delivery, pick-up windows, limited browsing and other measures, our booksellers are here for us, even during the worst of times.

The dedicated independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers panel are a small sampling of those brave booksellers, not only showing up but taking extreme measures to be sure their readers are not only able to get A book, but are able to get the perfect book.

Below are some of their recommendations, covering fiction, non-fiction, kids books, and one recommendation that will make you laugh out loud in its deadpan drollery. Also, they provide ways to get their recommended titles – and thousands of others – into your hands.

Please, as you finish your current Netflix series or put down that tome you’ve just finished reading, reach out to one of our Shelf Talkers booksellers; they’re here for you.

(Note: ordering, take-out, and delivery information are accurate at time of publication. As you know, though, things are changing pretty fast.)

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The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: Crow, by Amy Spurway

Crow was delightful, ribald, unflinching—with a cast of characters where everyone could recognize a family member or two. 

Crow returns home with terminal cancer and confronts her past head-on. But the humour through the pathos is pitch-perfect. Comedy in the face of tragedy? Perhaps something needed right now. Give Crow a shot—this is not the tourist's view of Cape Breton!

As for Blue Heron Books during Covid-19:

We are no longer having customers in the store, so you can be assured that all of your books are clean and have only been touched by sanitized hands!

We encourage customers to shop online. If you are looking for recommendations give us a call and we would be happy to do a virtual walkthrough of the store. We will also be delivering books and activities locally, for free, to families who are in quarantine due to illness, vulnerability, or recent travel. To place an order with us visit our website at www.blueheronbooks.com or give us a call (905-852-4282) or email us at manager@blueheronbooks.com. We are offering curbside service and free local delivery.  We will work with you to help you find what you’re looking for and make sure it gets to you safely!
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The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: Misconduct of the Heart, by Cordelia Strube

On the way to the bookshop, I pass an innumerable amount of darkened or struggling restaurants, grinding their way through the pandemic. Before I lucked into bookselling, I worked for a steak house for about eight years. As such, I'm a sucker for restaurant settings in novels. (Shout-out to Stephane Larue's The Dishwasher from Biblioasis a couple years back). It's also tough not to be a fan of noted Canadian novelist Cordelia Strube, so this worked pretty well.


In Misconduct of the Heart, Strube's tenth novel, Stevie has beaten alcohol and toils as a kitchen manager for a corporate-soaked chain restaurant. After a stint in Afghanistan, her son is coping with PTSD and her own dark past runs up against a disparate group of kitchen workers sweating their way through the hijinks and indignities of  thankless and poorly paid jobs.
 Misconduct gets in gear when someone unknown to Stevie drops off a five-year-old girl who may be her granddaughter. What follows is either a shot at something resembling a second chance on several levels of Stevie's life, or just as likely, the proverbial final straw.
 Stevie's parents weren't much for nurturing and her son is the product of rape. The question of how to be there for someone who needs you, when such things were never passed on, powers the rest of this powerhouse of a book. In the hands of a brash, hugely talented and for my money, underappreciated novelist, the last three quarters of the book make up for a bit of a meandering start.
 Misconduct of the Heart is funny, possessed of hard-won wisdom, and Cordelia Strube wears her ravaged heart on her sleeve. In these times especially, a bit of compassion for the dispossessed goes a long way, and while Misconduct might not be for everybody, readers who are hungry for a bit of punk rock in their fiction will find a hell of a lot to like.
Canadian fiction needs veterans who have this kind of voice.

As for Words Worth Books during Covid-19:

At Words Worth Books, we continue to do online sales and free no-contact local (Kitchener & Waterloo) delivery until further notice (subject to change).

On top of this, we are now offering back-door book pick-up! Simply call ahead and prepay for your titles. Then swing by between Mon to Sat from 9am to 5pm. Ring our doorbell and stand six feet back. We'll leave your package beside the door for safe, no-contact pick-up!

Order through our searchable database online at: www.wordsworthbooks.com

Call us between 9-5 Mon-Sat: 519-884-2665

Email us: hello@wordsworthbooks.com

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

howtopronounceknife

The Pick: How To Pronounce Knife, by Souvankham Thammavongsa

The K is silent.

As for Type Books during Covid-19:

We believe that trying times and social distancing are made easier by the solace of a stack of books and the connection found therein. To this end, we will continue to sell books in a variety of ways.

1.    Book delivery is available to the West End (King to Eglinton, Yonge to Jane ish). Please call our Queen Street store at 416-366-8973 or email us at delivery@typebooks.ca to place your orders. Please be succinct in your message as demand is high.

2.    Curbside pickup is available at all three stores by phone daily from 10am-6pm. 883 Queen St W 416-366-8973. 2887 Dundas St W 416-761-9973. 427 Spadina Rd 416-487-8973.

3.    Gift certificates can be ordered over the phone for future use or for a friend (or two) in need.

4.    Online: A selected collection is being considered.

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The Bookseller: Hilary Atleo, Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories - Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: The New Beachcomber's Guide to the Pacific Northwest, by J. Duane Sept

Physical distancing has meant that our time outside the home has shifted drastically, both by being reduced and being limited to solitary walks. The New Beachcomber's Guide to the Pacific Northwest is our favourite guide to carry these days; with clear photographs and descriptions identification is easy, and the size and price perfectly suits anyone who has the opportunity to explore the beaches and waterfront closest to them.  It is great to use as a homeschooling resource as well!

As for Iron Dog Books during Covid-19:

We have reopened pick up and delivery service for online and phone orders! Pick up at the door is available Monday to Friday from 10am to 2pm, and delivery happens two days a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. For more information or to place an order for a book we do not have in stock you can call us at 604-215-8807 or email us at requests@irondogbooks.com. You can shop our books in stock on our webstore by clicking "browse online." Thank you so much for continuing to support our small shop!

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The Bookseller: Lee Trentadue, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)
The Pick: Soap and Water and Common Sense, by Dr. Bonnie Henry

At this time, I would like to recommend Dr. Bonnie Henry’s book Soap and Water and Common Sense, a definitive guide to fighting coronavirus, colds, flu, pandemics, and other deadly diseases. She is my hero! What a smashing job she is doing, taking care of us all every single day!

And for a little more fun, Iona Whishaw’s latest is out this month; A Match Made for Murder is the seventh book in the Lane Winslow series.

As for Galiano Island Books during Covid-19:

We have continued to sell books by safe pickup at the store (no in-store browsing), home delivery on Galiano Island, and mailing books off-island.

Our orders are coming in from our local customers, and from across the country (our customers who are missing the island and not able to visit). If you would like to order from us, you can do so online at www.galianoislandbooks.com, by phone (250-539-3340) or email (leetrentadue@gmail.com), and by message on Facebook.

Galiano Island Books is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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The Bookseller: Jan Lindh,  Mulberry Bush Book Store (Parksville, BC)
The Pick: Land Beyond the Sea, by Kevin Major

I have loved Kevin Major’s work since I was a teenager. His spartan prose, multiple points of view, and compelling multi-faceted characters bring this fictional story based on real events to life.

The SS Caribou is a passenger ferry off of Newfoundland that is also carrying troops during World War II. It is sunk by a U-Boat with few survivors. Major follows the characters both during and after the sinking. I am going to be thinking about this one for a long time to come.

As for Mulberry Bush Book Store during Covid-19:

Mulberry Bush Bookstores Parksville and Qualicum Beach are currently closed to foot traffic, but we are still accepting orders via phone (Parksville: 250-248-1193, Qualicum Beach: 250-752-9722), email (MulberryPV@shawbiz.ca or MulberryQB@shawbiz.ca) and through our website, www.bookmanager.com/mulberrybush/.

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

The Pick: The Library of Legends by Janie Chang


This book is the perfect read for these trying times. You’ll be drawn right into the 1937 world of Hu Lian and Liu Shaoming as they’re forced to flee their university with their classmates and make their way west to safety. Entrusted with carrying the treasured volumes of the Library of Legends for safe-keeping, the students endure hardships on the road but also form unlikely friendships and see for the first time what life is like in rural China. This is a beautifully told story with endearing characters, a mix of reality and mythology, some romance and adventure, just such a pleasure to get lost in!


About Book Warehouse and Black Bond Books during Covid-19:

We are still working hard to get books to our customers. Currently, Book Warehouse Main St, Book Warehouse Broadway, Black Bond Books Ladner, and Black Bond Books Semiahmoo are open for curbside pick-up of orders. Our hours vary from store to store and all the info is on our website (https://www.bookwarehouse.ca/). We encourage our customers to shop on our website for pickup or delivery.



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The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Pick: Disfigured: On Fairytales, Disability and Making Space, by Amanda Leduc

Our society has long been fascinated by fairy tales and there are many books already out that look at them and the mirror they hold to society. Leduc has written a personal, fascinating book of what happens when you don’t identify with the characters one would be expected to, but that of the maimed, the mistreated and the mocked. Woven in with her own biography, the result is a book that is hard to put down even as it reshapes the world in front of you. Recommended.

About Audreys Books during Covid-19:

Audreys Books is now closed to foot traffic but continues to offer curbside and home delivery within Greater Edmonton (Sherwood Park, Edmonton, and St. Albert). Home delivery is $5 and free with orders over $50. Mailing and ordering books is of course still available.
 Steve Budnarchuk and Kelly Dyer, with a small staff, continue to work hard to make sure orders are being filled quickly. To order books or ask about existing stock, please email audrey@audreys.ca, call 780 423-3487, or visit www.audreys.ca.

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The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)
The Pick: The Glass Hotel, by Emily St. John Mandel

Emily St. John Mandel is best known for Station Eleven, her dystopian novel about the plague and a travelling Shakespearean troupe. Her new novel, The Glass Hotel, might not be as prescient to today’s crisis, but it does deal with social isolation and the relationships that form because of distance. The setting moves between the natural world of British Columbia and the urban jungle of Manhattan. The characters play loose
with money, power, art and love. This is a weaving tale that moves back and forth in place and time and keeps you hooked until the end.

As for Hunter Street Books during Covid-19:

Our physical store is closed, but we offer free delivery of books in inventory to Peterborough area residents three times a week. Webstore orders only. All information, including instructions on how to use the webstore, are on the home page of the site. Browse and What's in Store will show customers what is in stock.

May 14, 2020
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