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Interviews, Recommendations, and More

Shelf Talkers Spring 2022

As I’m writing this, the rain is gently echoing on the roof above me. It’s a most welcome sound. It’s not that I’m a particular fan of the rain—though I have been known to do an occasional spin around a lightpost during a downpour, Gene Kelly style—but I’m a tremendous fan of what it signals: spring, it seems, has finally arrived.


Look, it’s been a long winter. Even for those of us on the west coast, who haven’t been facing snow for the past six months (though Victoria did get snow in April, which, frankly, is just rude), it’s been a long, cold stretch of grey. Dispiriting, to say the least.

But now… well, to quote ee cummings, the world is mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful. The leaves are bursting into life, the blossoms are bobbing, and it feels—to lean into the cliché—like a most welcome rebirth.

And, like every new season, the beginning of spring (finally!) heralds a new crop of recommendations from Canada’s independent booksellers, the fine folks who do the heavy lifting for this column. And what a verdant crop it is! We’ve got booksellers from coast to coast weighing in on old favourites and new discoveries, a far-reaching selection of recommendations perfect for the new season.

So, my advice? Pop out your umbrella (or zip up your Gore-Tex) and head out to your favourite local independent bookseller. Stock up on some books, then hustle home to brew a pot of tea and settle into your reading place. Open your book, and listen to the rain.

And breathe.

The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)


The Picks:

The Strangers, by Katherena Vermette

This powerful intergenerational saga, told through multiple narratives, explores family and the connection that endure even when families are broken apart. A complex and beautifully written novel.


Urchin, by Kate Story

This coming-of-age tale of Dor, a non-binary teen, crackles with energy against the backdrop of Newfoundland's surging seas and howling winds, precarious ice fields and mudslides. A glorious, literary mish mash of magical surrealism and history, filled with sparkling moments of suspense and humour.  


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


The Pick: An Unthinkable Thing, by Nicole Lundrigan

There's a ton of milquetoast crime fiction out there in which a "normal" family behaves abnormally. Broadly speaking, the storytelling chops are also decidedly normal. Nicole Lundrigan's writing, on the other hand, is genuinely creepy. The richness in her sentences and the constantly shifting ground throughout bring much needed fresh air to a stale room.


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

The Picks:


Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St John Mandel

A novel made up of separate stories including a British exile in Canada in 1900, an author on a galaxy-spanning book tour during the outbreak of a pandemic, and a resident of a moon colony 300 years in the future. They are all connected by a time traveller who brings the storylines slowly and steadily together.  


The Gunsmith’s Daughter, by Margaret Sweatman

Lilac Welsh lives on the Winnipeg River in 1971 with her father who has built a fortune designing guns. A young man seeks out her father before he enlists in the war in Vietnam to use those guns. A novel that connects the familiar with the complicated connections of the entire world.


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

The Picks:


Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley

I’ve been fascinated by Sarah Polley since she was a child actor, and even more so as a talented filmmaker. I could not put Run Towards the Danger, her first book of essays,  down, reading it in two sittings. It’s by turns funny, horrifying and captivating, always articulate. Nothing is off limits, from the dangers of being a child actor and where that took her, to the parental neglect after her Mom died, her own complicated pregnancy to her decision to be silent during the Ghomeshi trial. The essay on her concussion may have been a favourite. Sarah Polley is as honest and straightforward as they come and it makes for a great, moving read.


Talking to Canadians, by Rick Mercer

I picked this up and laughed all the way through it. Then I started reading it out loud to my spouse. Not for nothing has Rick Mercer spent his life honing skits and writing humour. He's a pro and it shows in this book. Highly recommended.


the tiger

The Bookseller: Drew Clarke, Iron Dog Books (Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories - Vancouver, BC)

The Pick: The Tiger, by John Vaillant

John Vaillant's The Tiger transports the reader deep into the Siberian forest to track a renegade tiger that is deliberately and methodically stalking and killing hunters. This non-fiction epic plays out like a gripping true crime drama that pits man against beast in a receding ecosystem.


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


The Pick: What Comes from Spirit, by Richard Wagamese

Richard Wagamese was one of Canada’s most celebrated Indigenous authors and storytellers, a writer of breathtaking honesty and inspiration. Always striving to be a better, stronger person, Wagamese shared his journey through writing, encouraging others to do the same. What Comes from Spirit is a collection of Wagamese’s meditations and short non-fiction writings—some for the first time in print! Reading this book was an emotional, spiritual and enlightening experience, one that left me with a sense of calm and tranquility. Making one feel that we are all more alike than different from one another as humans on this small planet.


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

The Pick: Calling My Spirit Back, by Elaine Alec

"The most important work we can do for our children is the kind we don’t always want to do, the work that is vulnerable, the work that requires us to look at things we may have tried to hide because we didn’t want to make a big deal about it or we didn’t want people to judge us. We didn’t want to make it look like we want pity. A tradition of silence has become the norm for so many of our people."—Elaine Alec


Elaine Alec’s inspirational memoir Calling My Spirit Back is a journey of courage and resilience. Elaine Alec is a Syilx & Secwepemc woman who writes about her own childhood experiences and the challenges she faced as a teenager and adult. Her book reads not like a journal but a novel, taking us from a traumatized young girl to a courageous woman who started her own company.

The most powerful aspect of this book is Alec’s honesty and vulnerability. She writes herself not as a hero but as a human engaged with the hard work of true healing.

One of the most inspirational things about Calling My Spirit Back is Alec’s ability to write a story that contains details that many non-Indigenous people can likely not relate to. However, she succeeds in making her story universal and creating the space for the reader to find themselves and their journey in her words.

This woman is a leader, a masterful storyteller, and a vital creator. The work she is doing has the power to transform our world.  



The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)

The Pick: Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley

Sarah Polley’s collection of personal essays, Run Towards the Danger—Confrontations With a Body of Memory, has quickly become one of the most talked about books of the season. I can’t go on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter without seeing someone say "this is an incredible book."

And it is. In these six essays Polley writes about her life—from traumatic child acting, high risk pregnancy and serious concussion, to surgery for scoliosis and Jian Ghomeshi. Polley says, "These are the most dangerous stories of my life." Her honesty, as she contemplates the human body and mind, the good and the bad, will resonate with everyone. This book is extraordinary.


The Bookseller: Julie Hillier-Vrolyk, The Book Keeper (Sarnia, ON)

The Pick: Daughters of the Deer, by Danielle Daniel


Daughters of the Deer is the book we all need to read. It’s raw and it’s uncomfortable and it makes us shake our heads and say, no, this can’t have happened.

The story of Daniel’s ancestors is one of loss, love, and survival.  The arrival of colonizers and the Catholic Church has changed the lives of the Indigenous communities. Christian marriage to settlers was expected and their role was to populate the “New World” with Christian people.  Marie’s determination to make a life for herself and her children takes on new meaning when her first child with French soldier Pierre is born. Jeanne will be someone who will fight against the expectations of the Catholic Church and find love and acceptance where she can. It’s not without heartbreak. Thank you, Danielle Daniel, for writing this book and reminding us of the painful role colonization and the Catholic Church played (and still plays) in the lives of the original people who lived on this land.


Every Summer After, by Carley Fortune

What a fun book of young love, tanned backs, and wet bathing suits! Every summer, Persephone spends her days and nights at her family’s cottage north of Toronto. And every summer, Persephone falls more and more in love with her best friend Sam. The feeling is mutual, but signals are mixed, and opportunities are wasted. The long months in between don’t help either. Just when they think their worlds are coming together something happens and they are torn apart. Twelve years later, Persephone and Sam are brought back together at the lakeshore. Can they work it out? Can they forgive? Is their love for each other still meant to be? This is the perfect beach read, cottage read, rainy-day read. The perfect book to pass around to your group of friends.



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

The Pick: One and Half of You, by Leanne Dunic

One and Half of You, by Leanne Dunic, is a memoir in poetry that examines the boundaries of belonging. Carried on a current of deeply consumable vignettes, One and Half of You delivers devastating truths with a casual attitude. Complete with a link to three unique scores composed to accompany the text, this collection digs deep to draw out the music in its settings.


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



Pick: Run Towards the Danger, by Sarah Polley

This is an extraordinary book of essays by an equally extraordinary author. Sarah writes of her young life as an actor under extreme pressure, both from her medical issues but also the demands placed on children in the acting world, by their parents, the professionals directing them, and themselves. Her writing is riveting and heartbreaking as she speaks her truth, even about very dangerous events, harmful and painful experiences. She does all of this with great compassion. Above all, this book is a tribute to the immense capacity of the human spirit. I loved this book and Sarah for having the courage to write it.

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