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Shelf Talkers: Books to Buy for the Holidays

I know, I know – no one wants to talk about the problems with the supply chain. Either you’ve been completely overwhelmed with the information and can’t possibly take in anymore, or you’re doing your best to ignore the issues altogether. I understand both approaches entirely.

And I wish we could leave it at that. Unfortunately...

By now you have probably heard that there may be issues with books—especially reprints and re-orders—making it to store shelves between now and the end of the year. Perhaps you are envisioning the second act of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, with no joy in Who-ville. It’s a significant issue, and one that appears to be worsening by the day.

There are, however, several things you can do.

First, shop early. I know, I know, a bookstore in the middle of December is a wonderful place, and you can usually pick up everything you want even a few days out from Christmas. Well, that’s not happening this year. Instead, try to get your shopping done now. (As a bonus, think how chill the festive season will be with all the shopping behind you!)

Second, pre-order. If the book you are looking for hasn’t been published yet, call (or email) your local independent bookseller and pre-order a copy. Everybody wins!

Third, if you see a book you want on the shelf, buy it. This is, for the record, always a good approach to book shopping, but it’s especially important this year—you might not see it on the shelf the next time you’re in browsing.

Fourth, be flexible. It’s going to happen—the book you really want is going to sell out, and the bookseller won’t know when they will be getting copies. That’s okay, though! Look at it as an opportunity! Talk to your bookseller, tell them what you were looking for, and allow them to make some recommendations. Trust me, they live for moments like this! And you might just discover a new favourite.

And with that bit of advice out of the way, it’s time for a moment of sheer indulgence. It’s been a long couple of years (truthfully, the time since mid-March 2020 feels like about 17 years at this point, but I’m told that’s not the case), and one of the constants that has gotten me through is this column, a chance, every couple of months, to get in touch with these fantastic booksellers. Independent booksellers are a breed apart, and I still, even years after resigning my name-tag, am thrilled to be part of that community. So thank you, to the booksellers of the Shelf Talkers column, and to all the independent booksellers across the country: you’re doing very special work, and don’t you ever forget it. And thank you, as well, to everyone who reads this column, who adds these picks to their reading lists, who calls up their local bookstore and asks their favourite bookseller to put yet another book on hold for them. I hope your 2021 ends as a resounding success, and that 2022 exceeds your dreams. Happy reading, everyone.





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

The Pick: A Town Called Solace, by Mary Lawson

Longlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize, A Town Called Solace is a gem. It’s a quiet, thoughtful book about loss and about intense human relationships. It has three narrators—seven-year-old Clara, thirty-year-old Liam, and the elderly Elizabeth, a woman at the end of her life. Each of these characters is connected to the others but has to solve their own mysteries before they can move forward in life. Clara’s sister has gone missing, Liam has to figure out his past, and Elizabeth has to come to terms with a crime in her history. These characters live in the small town of Solace and they interact and comfort each other as they figure out their lives. It’s a deep but fast book—the narration pushes you along quickly—contemplative and compelling, full of beautiful moments and thoughts. A must read.



The Bookseller: Jim Schmidt, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: Vile Spirits, by John MacLachlan Gray

In Vile Spirits, John McLachlan Gray returns us to the seedy world of 1920s Vancouver he introduced readers to in his novel, White Angel. When the provincial Attorney General is found dead under suspicious circumstances, freelance writer Ed McCurdy, always-listening telephone operator Mildred Wickstram, and constable Calvin Hook return from White Angel to struggle with the Ku Klux Klan, bootleggers, crooked politicians and of course each other to untangle what happened. The fast-paced plot, well-developed and compelling characters, seemingly endless historical titbits and healthy dose of Gray’s signature sly humour make this a wonderful read.



The Bookseller: Gabriel Covarrubias Oropeza, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: Five Little Indians, by Michelle Good

Where there's resilience and resistance, there is love and joy. This is the story of Lucy, Clara, Maisie, Kenny and Howie, who are residential school survivors. The prose by Michelle Good is absolutely beautiful, accessible, and full of powerful images. This book should be read by every person living in Canada and the whole continent. A definite must read!



The Bookseller: Penny Dobbin, Misty River Books (Terrace, BC)

The Pick: All Over the Map, by Ron James

Ron, a comedian from Nova Scotia, has travelled our vast country performing stand up comedy: Canada’s most verbally eloquent and colourful comic is as richly gloriously funny on the page as on stage!

His debut book highlights hilarious reminiscences of growing up in Nova Scotia, his family’s parental roots in Newfoundland, his struggles as an aspiring comic, his encounters with people from different provinces and tributes to those comedians who inspired him.

He makes you laugh out loud, and truly appreciate how human we all are!

Warning: You might want to purchase some Depends before reading this book!



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

The Pick: None of This Belongs to Me, by Ellie Sawatzk

This is an A+ debut poetry collection. None of This Belongs to Me is the product of a mind that pays thoughtful attention to the sensory. Whether a poem is staring down the possible loss of a father, exploring the wilderness of a Mennonite girlhood and ancestry, side-eyeing old boyfriends, or ruminating on the impactful but temporary nature of nanny-child relationships, these pieces are unified in their ability to delight, startle, and raise goosebumps on your arms.



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

The Pick: Everything Turns Away, by Michelle Berry

Wow! Everything Turns Away is a  thrill, full of mess and disquiet, a quick little read that will stay in my head for a long time.
With fully human, complex and faltering characters, this one is a snack best savoured.
 The novel has shades of A.M Homes or Lydia Millett, but Michelle Berry has put together a great tune of her own here.
 One of my favourites of the year.


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


The Picks:

State of Terror, by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Louise Penny

I was dubious when this book was announced: what would book co-written by Louise Penny and Hillary Clinton look like? It starts off with a bang—bombings of buses in European cities that the US Secretary of State Ellen Adams must investigate, and hardly lets up. We're not in Three Pines here.

I can only imagine that much of Clinton's intel on Iran, Pakistan, and the US relations with them went into the chapters that follow as the Secretary of State must decide whom to trust, even in her own government. The friendship between the Secretary of State and her closest friend and advisor is apparently based on a real friendship. It makes up much of the humanity and humour in the book. This is a thriller that delivers, as well as having the Louise Penny trademark humanity and thoughtfulness.


It Fell From the Sky, by The Fan Brothers

A new book by the Fan Brothers is always a big deal. This one is no exception with is gorgeous illustrations around a marble "falling from the sky." None of the animals know what it is—and kids might not either as the book shows all the other objects—while adults will have fun with the nostalgia.


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


The Pick: "Indian" in the Cabinet, by Jody Wilson-Raybould

“I cannot overstress enough the need to proceed with urgency. Canada cannot, as a country, afford to let another generation of Aboriginal people down. Because in doing so we are letting Canada down…Our people are simply crying out for change and are taking steps to secure that change and we need partners.” —Jody Wilson-Raybould’s speech from the 2014 Liberal biennial convention.

I have always viewed Jody Wilson-Rabould as a strong and impactful woman and an incredible leader for positive change. But, “Indian” in the Cabinet amazed me. She is a leader with integrity, boldness, wisdom, experience and a deep rooted commitment to doing what is right and calling for those around her to do better. Canadians were so very fortunate to have her in the position of MOJAG and it is heartbreaking that she was removed from this role before the real work of Indigenous Justice was started.

It’s true that the portrait our Prime Minister (and others) is not favourably painted. But this book is not a damning of federal politicians, it is rather a call for a government that leads and works with less focus on partisanship and power and more attention to independent thought, fulsome discussion, transparency and a commitment to consensus.

I am a faithful voter, but I’ve always been disappointed in how politicians behave during an election and often even how they behave at public events. Their words are often suspect and empty with more of an investment in the maintenance of power than the betterment of ALL Canadian lives.

I am grateful both for Wilson-Raybould’s explanation of her work and the work of others and her analysis of how partisanship stops, interrupts and sometimes corrupts the potential for good work. Add this one to your Truth and Reconciliation reading list.


The Bookseller: Chris Hall of McNally Robinson (Winnipeg, MN)

The Picks:


Ring, by Andre Alexis

Here is the fifth and concluding novel in Alexis’s playfully intellectual quincunx cycle. Here he turns the romance novel on its head. Gwen is given a ring that gives her three chances to change something about her beloved but nothing can happen without ramifications of those choices.


Permanent Astonishment: A Memoir, by Tomson Highway

The new memoir that is as full of energy and laughter as you would expect if you are familiar with Highway’s work. Born in a snowbank in the far north of Manitoba, life is challenging but Highway remains determined to find joy in his life, honouring his beloved brother, Rene.


The Strangers, by Katherena Vermette

Here is the much anticipated follow-up novel to The Break. Phoenix, whom we met in that previous novel, continues to face the challenges of life as an Indigenous woman in Winnipeg along with her sister Cedar and her mother Elsie. Very much lives up to expectations.  


The Bjorkan Sagas, by Harold Johnson

Three sagas are found in the papers of a deceased neighbour by a character named Harold Johnson. Their translations are presented here. Merging the author’s Cree and Swedish roots this is a book that celebrates ancient tales told by traditional storytellers.  


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

The Pick: It Fell From the Sky, by The Fan Brothers (pictured above as it was recommended as well by Liz Greenaway of Audreys Books!)

The Fan Brothers are back with the wonderfully enchanting It Fell From the Sky. When a mysterious object falls from the sky Spider wants it all to himself. Readers young and old will love discovering all the fantastic details in the illustrations and parents will appreciate a story that holds up to repeat readings.

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