There is no way to sugar-coat this: we are living in difficult times. We’re entering the third year of a global pandemic, scarcely daring to hope that the end might be in sight (it’s become a bit like Charlie Brown and the football, hasn’t it?). Canadian society is buckling along ideological lines, and many of us are going to have PTSD from the sound of truck horns. What's more, it’s beginning to look like there will be no going back for any of us. We have no idea what the future might look like, and many of us are drifting in a troubling, troubled limbo.
Thankfully, there do remain a few refuges, safe spaces where we can shut out the world for a while, if that’s what we need, or explore it more deeply, if that’s what we want. Places we can see the past, and imagined futures. Places we can find even moments of stability and calm.
I’m talking, of course, about books.
And I’m talking about bookstores. Independent, Canadian bookstores.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, our Canadian booksellers have been a beacon in the darkness, a place – both physical and virtual – of respite, of calm, repositories of story, and cathedrals of hope. I say that without fear of contradiction – our booksellers have provided a vital service over the past two years, by doing what they have always done: giving our readers a place of safety, and a connection to countless brighter worlds.
As we round this particular turn, wondering what’s next, remember: your local independent bookseller is there, with recommendations to make everything a bit easier.
We’ve collected a few for you here.
The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Binge, by Douglas Coupland
Douglas Coupland's latest work of fiction is comprised of 60 short stories. Linked by sometimes the tiniest of threads, Binge gives readers a glimpse into a wide cross-section of characters: funny, sad, dangerous and all somehow familiar and comforting. With each story only a couple of pages, it is the perfect book to dip into between Zoom meetings, but, as the title implies, you will likely want to binge read them all in one sitting.
The Bookseller: Susan Chamberlain, The Book Keeper (Sarnia, ON)
The Pick: The Music Game, by Stéfanie Clermont, translated from French by JC Sutcliffe
Stéfanie Clermont’s award-winning debut novel is impressive and makes me look forward to her future writings. The novel is told in short glimpses or snapshots of time in the lives of the main characters and their satellite friends. It is the story of three young women growing into their selves and finding their way in the 2010s. Sabrina, Celine, and Julie begin as idealistic, anti-capitalist protesters, working low-level jobs and struggling to pay rent. They come together and move apart as they form friendships and experience jealousy, rivalry, and grief. They discuss big-picture issues and the minutia of everyday life while they pursue sex, find love, fall into the pits of depression and deal with the death by suicide of Vincent, a young man in their friend circle. Clermont masterfully navigates the blurry devastation of grief with gritty realism blanketed in the writing skills of a poet. This novel contains many passages that made me stop and savour the author’s deft manipulation of language and her ability to bring deep emotion to the surface. This is a book that I can highly recommend to readers who enjoy discovering new, talented, contemporary, writers.
The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)
The Pick: The Maid, by Nita Prose
If you’re tired of winter and COVID and, heck, everything else happening in the world right now, and if you’re a fan of Only Murders in the Building or Search Party (not season 5), then you’ll love The Maid, by Nita Prose. This is a witty who-done-it mystery starring a socially inept but loveable maid named ... get ready for it ... Molly. Molly is an obsessive-compulsive, regimented, kind, and lovable maid at a fancy hotel. The novel starts with Molly mourning the death of her grandmother, who raised her and taught her some odd social skills, and quickly amps up when the police suspect Molly of murdering a rich businessman—all because her behaviour is unexplainable and bizarre. This is a fun romp, an escape into a mystery that is humorous and fast paced. You’ll be rooting for Molly all through.
The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The List of Last Chances, by Christina Myers
At thirty-eight years old, Ruthie finds herself newly unemployed, freshly single, sleeping on a friend's couch and downing a bottle of wine each night. Having overstayed her welcome and desperate for a job, Ruthie responds to David's ad: he's looking for someone to drive his aging mother, Kay, and her belongings from PEI to Vancouver. Ruthie thinks it's the perfect chance for a brief escape and a much-needed boost for her empty bank account.
The resulting roadtrip is fun and heartfelt while Ruthie struggles to keep up with Kay's bucket-list and plans a little secretive side trip of her own, all the while trying to keep Kay's son David from hearing of their adventures.
As an alcoholic, drug-addicted comedian with tendencies to over-indulge and under-achieve since he was a teenager, Alex Wood was on track for to achieve his greatest goals: to die young and drunk. At the age of twenty-eight, feeling desperate in the face of addiction and associated health problems (ulcers, pancreatitis)—which were compounded by the deaths of loved ones and even worse undiagnosed issues—he decided to do something he'd actually been doing all his life: fight. Alex concocted a plan to quit not only alcohol and drugs, but everything else that he felt was holding him back: cigarettes, caffeine, red meat, dairy, sugar, social media, smartphones, porn, credit cards, nail-biting, social media, and gossip. His biggest weapons? A pair of boxing gloves and plenty of peppermint tea.
Why is this not a plodding laundry list of a sanctimonious addiction memoir? Alex Wood is very very funny. Like, put the book down for a minute while you get your breath, funny.
The book is loosely based on his podcast, where he brings his mom and other addicts on to his show.
The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: Autonomy, by Victoria Hetherington
Autonomy is a rare bird. Set about fifteen years from now in an Ontario under occupation, there are several tent pegs in a plot that involves an illegal act, a story of late-capitalism survival, and the birth of a synthetic being. The better novels ask questions rather than try to answer them, and Autonomy is bold enough to wonder aloud how we're going to get through the next while, what it might look like and how we determine happiness, love, and all things human. Canadian fiction is getting younger, more diverse, and with a lot of different ways to spin a tale. Our national literature, at least, looks very bright indeed.
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