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Shelf Talkers: Books to Make Our Groundhog Day Existence More Wonderful

Books are among the things that have helped most in the last months of weirdness and isolation. Worlds to explore, stories to escape into, journeys to undertake when we can’t go anywhere at all. And Canada’s independent booksellers have been at the forefront of efforts to make this time of strangeness liveable.

I’ve always been a big fan of Groundhog Day. Not the weird annual meteorological marmot celebration (I can never keep track of what happens if the groundhog sees his shadow, or not), but the weirdly charming Harold Ramis movie, featuring Bill Murray at his Bill Murray best, living through the same day, over and over, with no release on the horizon.

The movie is a lot less charming, though, now that we’re all having the same experience. A lot less charm. A lot less good humour. A lot more Zoom.

But here we are, almost a year into what many of us have come to call “how we live now” (AKA “our weird new times” or “all THIS”). We’ve mostly adjusted to our curtailed existences, our limited horizons, our close quarters. And it seems somewhat petty to complain, so long as we have our health, and we are able to put food on the table. (Okay, it’s a TV table—let’s not try to kid anyone here.)

So, instead of complaining, let’s talk about a small, good thing.

If you guessed “books,” you get a sticker.

Honestly, though, books are among the things that have helped most in the last months of weirdness and isolation. Worlds to explore, stories to escape into, journeys to undertake when we can’t go anywhere at all. And Canada’s independent booksellers have been at the forefront of efforts to make this time of strangeness liveable, not only with their ability to provide options for safe shopping—from limited browsing to drive-by pick-ups to local delivery—but in their continued joy at recommending the perfect book, no matter how crazy the time.

And that’s what we have here, another bevy of picks from the booksellers of the Shelf Talkers community, favourites old and new. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.



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

The Pick: What Bears Teach Us, by Sarah Elmeligi, Photographs by John E. Marriott

Sarah Elmeligi's first encounter with a bear lasted mere seconds but it changed her life forever. In What Bears Teach Us, Sarah takes readers on a deep dive, expertly weaving science with passionate personal experiences with bears in the wild. Filled with stunning, intimate photographs by John E. Marriott and "stories from the field" from Sarah's colleagues, readers will look at bears in a whole new light.



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

The Pick: Two Trees Make a Forest, by Jessica J. Lee

Absolutely loving Jessica Lee’s incredible book (and Canada Reads 2021 contender) Two Trees Make a Forest. It is a fascinating look at the history of Taiwan in the last 100 years as Jessica travels to the home of her grandparents in search of understanding who they were, triggered by a letter written by her grandfather. Her family’s history is twined with the tumultuous history of this island, and islands in the region, its geographic makeup, and its people’s history. Jessica intertwines her family’s story as she travels between Canada and Taiwan. Jessica holds a PhD in Environmental History and Aesthetics and her descriptions of the natural environment with special reference to the beautiful and incredible variety of trees, and birds there, have sent me scurrying to my reference books to view the trees and other plants she refers to in photos. This book does not fit easily into a single genre: nature, history, memoir, and so much more.



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

The Pick: Property Values, by Charles Demers

Laugh out loud funny! When a group of friends (in Coquitlam!) decide to fake a drive-by gang shooting to bring down the value of a house, well, of course it all goes haywire. Part comedy, part thriller, part buddy story—all hilarious and fun!



The Bookseller: Christie Shaw Roome, Salt Spring Books (Salt Spring Island, BC)

The Pick: Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space, by Amanda Leduc

Anyone who knows me well knows that I swoon and knee-buckle while listening to Disney music, that I unabashedly sing the songs myself, and that I am a lover of fairytales. There is comfort in a fairytale. The escape, the magic, the heroes journey and—in the case of Disney—the hilarious side-kicks, happy endings, beautiful animation (especially post-2000) and swelling musical numbers. Did I mention the swelling musical numbers?

But this love, like the magic in the stories, comes with a price. There is a tension for many of us that rests in how the stories of the classics by Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm were intended to explain bodies that were not the norm through magic and noble sacrifice. And, the modern re-tellings are often rife with happily-ever-afters, but with the key question of who exactly gets this happily ever after dangling in the air.

Amanda Leduc has opened up a discussion on how fairytales are centred around the duty of the protagonist to change while leaving the world unaccountable for how people with disabilities are seen, not seen, judged, vilified and invalidated. She talks about the classic fairy tales and the re-imaginings by Disney. This book is long overdue and her call for stories that show all the ways in which bodies can and do move through the world is much needed.



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

The Pick: Hunter With Harpoon, by Markoosie Patsauq

This updated edition of an essential work in the Indigenous canon brings new interpretation and insightful commentary to a book that might otherwise be relegated to historical status. Featuring the text in Inuktitut syllabics, Inuktitut in Latin characters, English and French, the new edition becomes required reading for fans of Indigenous writers and also is a joyous object to hold. Worth reading both for its artistry and its testament to Indigenous resilience.



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

The Pick: The Jane Austen Society, by Natalie Jenner

It's hard to imagine any Jane Austen fan not being charmed by The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner. Within a few pages, I felt welcomed to the village of Chawton. It's 1945 and the losses of the war are still being felt keenly, but many of the characters are finding solace in the works of Jane Austen, who lived in Chawton a hundred years before. Aside from her works, little remains of Jane Austen's legacy and a small group of determined villagers are determined to preserve what is left. There is something so sweet about imagining a house girl, a farm hand, a doctor, an American movie star, and a lawyer all being drawn to Jane Austen's books and their conversations about Austen's characters may well have me re-revisiting the original material next. Highly recommended.



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

The Pick: The Push, by Ashley Audrain
My staffer who got me to read The Push (I'm about two-thirds done) said, "Sometimes I wanted to put it down, couldn't put it down, had to put it down." It's a very disturbing look at very bad mothering.



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

The Pick: The Truth About Luck: What I Learned on My Road Trip with Grandma, by Iain Reid

Iain Reid is known mostly for his fiction—I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Foe. But his two memoirs, The Truth About Luck: What I learned on My Road Trip with Grandma and One Bird’s Choice: A Year in the Life of an Overeducated, Underemployed Twenty Something Who Moves Back Home should be read by anyone who wants a good laugh. The Truth About Luck follows Iain (28) as he takes his 92-year-old grandmother on a trip—his Christmas present to her. However, Iain has no money and so he brings her to his apartment in Kingston where they spend five rainy days talking and going out for dinner. Iain justifies this by saying that time spent together is worth more than where they go and what they do. And it is. This is a book about the passage of time, about the end of a life and the near beginning of one. It’s about patience and kindness and laughter, about sharing the past and thinking about the future. A must read for Covid19 times. This book will take you out of yourself and make you think again about the full lives of others.

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