There’s a lot I could write about being in COVID isolation in rural Newfoundland (starting with “How on earth did I not see a moose? I certainly heard them!” and “Did you know that foxes scream at night, and it’s the most terrifying sound you’re likely to hear?”) but I want to focus on one small, grand thing.
As the only person not sick, I was in charge of errands, running into grocery stores and the like, stocking up on hot dogs and beer (it might not be the recommended regimen, but it seems to have worked). And while at first I was frustrated, and worried about everyone around me, I quickly realized what a privilege this whole situation was.
Because here’s the thing: Canada is a huge place. There’s no singular Canadian culture (insert cliched “Canadian mosaic” observation here), no monolithic homogeneity. Rather, Canada is an assemblage of worlds, each with their own way of living, of speaking, of viewing the world. To paraphrase a great (American) writer, we are vast; we contain multitudes.
Our writing and our publishing reflect that, and so do our booksellers.
Here, once again, we have our Shelf Talkers booksellers doing what they do best: reflecting and perpetuating the diversity and difference which characterize this country.
In the remaining weeks of summer, do yourself a favour—visit your local independent bookstore. Ask them for a recommended read from a Canadian writer.
You’ll be glad you did.
The Bookseller: Gabriel Covarrubias Oropeza, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: Scarborough, by Catherine Hernandez
The interconnected lives and journeys of Sylvie, Laura, and Bing, and their families and people that surround their everyday environment. The vignette chapter writing of it, and the thorough and picture-presenting language of how it is written, transports you into the livelihoods of all the characters. MS. Hina Hassani Rocks!
The Bookseller: Megan Pickering of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
Every Summer After, by Carley Fortune, is the perfect read to take you through the heat of summer. We all know the feeling of rolling up to a cabin and the sight of the path leading down to the dock, but Carley writes in such a way that takes you right back. Growing up in a town like Barry's Bay, I found that this book was dripping with the summer nostalgia I look to every July.
Where You End and I Begin, by Leah McLaren, really hits home on the mother-daughter connection and how dynamic it can be. A memoir of adventure and coming-of-age through different generations, Leah's desire for her mother's acceptance but also her independence, is that of so many mother-daughter relationships. You'll laugh, you'll cry and you most certainly won't be able to put this one down.
The Bookseller: Jo Treggiari, Block Shop Books (Lunenburg, NS)
The History of Rain, by Stephens Gerard Malone
Set in a French hospital just after the end of the first World War, this beautifully-told tale follows Rain, a young soldier convalescing from horrific injuries. While he is recovering, he begins to assist the old gardener and discovers both an affinity and a skill for growing and nurturing flowers. He pours all his grief and torment into making small places of peace and serenity. His other developing obsession is for Lily, a mysterious British girl who haunts the hospital grounds. This unrequited love story takes us from France to England to golden-age Hollywood where Rain creates gardens that transform anew every night, and lavish, temporary settings for blockbuster films. The horror of war, great loss and grievous injury is balanced by the gorgeous prose. A beautiful, sensual reflection on love, pain, trauma, loneliness, desire and the catharsis achieved by creating beauty and loving unconditionally.
Wonder World, by K.R. Byggdin
A charming, quirky, poignant and hilarious debut from Haligonian author Byggdin. Ten years ago, 27-year-old Isaac Funk triumphantly exited his small hometown of Newfield for the glitz of Halifax. Unfortunately his musical career has failed to take off, nor has he found the supportive queer family he dreamed of. He's bunking down with the grossest roommates ever, and he is completely broke when he receives word from his estranged father, Abe, that his beloved Grandfather Willie—perhaps the only supportive and loving member of their religious, uber-traditional and fragmented clan—has died, leaving Isaac sole ownership of his derelict petting zoo/amusement park Wonderland, IF Isaac will live there for at least six months. Can Isaac go home again? Can he find a place in this strait-laced community and on his own terms? In turns touching and humorous, this literary black sheep tale shines a light on connection, acceptance and queer community and is a love letter to small Prairie towns and the suprises and wonders they contain.
The Summer Between Us, by Andre Fenton
This coming-of-age YA novel set in Nova Scotia, follows 18-year-old bi-racial Adrian in his last summer between high school graduation and university as he tries to figure out what he wants and what everyone else wants of him. Adrian is a wonderfully realized character who lives and breathes on the page as he navigates pathways between his parents, friends, punk-rock-star girlfriend, Mel (lead singer of the best band that never was:Brown, Black and Infamous) and the crushing expectations faced by young people on the cusp of adulthood. Alongside themes of independence, family pressures, bullying, and identity, Fenton effortlessly weaves in contemporary concerns including mental wellness, body-shaming, racism, and the difficulties faced by teens of colour in primarily white spaces. Will Adrian go on tour with Mel or will he accept his scholarship to CBU? A powerful and nuanced story.
The Bookseller: Chris Hall of McNally Robinson (Winnipeg, MN)
Some Maintenance Required, by Marie-Renee Lavoie
A funny but serious novel about Laurie, in her last year of high school and learning that the world is bigger than any of us can control. We all need maintenance sometimes, but we need to appreciate the joys that come along the way.
Rehearsals for Living, by Robyn Maynard & Leanne Betasamosake Simpson
The pandemic lockdown spurred a series of letters between leading Canadian thinkers in the Black and Indigenous issues movements. These letters grew into a powerful exchange of where we go from here and are now presented in this insightful book.
Smil offers a reality check for the challenges we face and the limits to potential solutions. Covering subjects such as energy use, food distribution, and the environment, he argues that facing facts is the only way forward. A book that rewards effort.
The Bookseller: Liz Greenaway, Audreys Books (Edmonton, AB)
The Picks: Mindful of Murder, by Susan Juby
Is there anything better than a weekend and a new Susan Juby novel?
On a Gulf Island, Helen has taken over running an Institute as her employer has died while on a retreat. As she goes through the will’s instructions, she begins to wonder if her boss's death was natural after all.
What makes this book great? It’s just so sweet and charming. Juby has a very dry sense of humour and brings together a fun cast of characters—including Helen the Buddhist nun who solves the mystery. It’s a slow-moving mystery you’ll want to linger over, not a page turner. I’d recommend it to anyone who loves Juby’s previous books or Anthony Horowitz’s meta-mysteries.
The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, bookseller emeritus (Peterborough, ON)
The Pick: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch, by Rivka Galchen
When you find a book that is as strange and wonderful as this one, you want to tell everyone about it. A fictionalized version of the true story of Katharina Kepler, the mother of Johannes Kepler, a German astronomer in the 17th century, this is a book that is chillingly applicable to modern times. Accused of witchcraft, the illiterate Katharina asks her neighbour, Simon, to be her scribe and record what is happening to her for her trial. The notes, and Simon’s comments on the notes, make up this book. Katharina’s voice is witty, wild, determined and interesting. She is smarter than everyone around her and much more loveable. This book is about so many things: the way we see the elderly, gossip and self preservation, magic and science, and what we all believe. And all of this comes to the reader in Katharina’s lovely, beautiful, strong voice.
The Bookseller: Colin Holt, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)
The Pick: Caesar Country, by Aaron Harowitz and Zack Silverman
It's summertime and what better way to celebrate than with that most Canadian of cocktails, the Caesar! Caesar Country: Cocktails, Clams & Canada is your complete guide to everything Caesar. From the cocktails themselves to garnishes and accompanying meals there is sure to be something for everyone looking for a new summer afternoon treat.
The Bookseller: Jana Rankov, Massy Books (Vancouver, BC - the traditional, ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.)
The Pick: Uncertain Kin by Janice Lynn Mather
Mather's stories unfold in the tensions between women, often of the intergenerational kind. Each protagonist—whether mother, daughter, old, young, mentor, or mentee—is treated with the same kindness and depth. Worth the read for the complexity and breadth of emotion!
The Bookseller: David Worsley, Words Worth Books (Waterloo, ON)
The Pick: Estates Large and Small, by Ray Robertson
Two Torontonians are on new paths after the pandemic has beaten them up a bit.
COVID has eaten Phil's used bookshop and he endeavours to dive headfirst into a couple of millennia's worth of Western philosophy.
Caroline is staring down her palliative care, and carries much of the water in Estates Large and Small. She agrees to join Phil on his quest, and soon after the novel teaches everything anyone would ever need to know, while making you laugh and breaking your heart in equal measure.
Ray Robertson has an unwavering morality and like a lot of smart people, he's really, really funny. This is my favourite of the year so far and is perhaps a curative for the digestive cookie that is Where the Crawdads Sing.
The Bookseller: Nicole Monaghan, Massy Books (Vancouver, BC - the traditional, ancestral, unceded, and occupied territory of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations)
The Pick: Unfuckable Lardass, by Catriona Strang
Bearing water from the historic KSW (Kootenay School of Writing), Strang's latest is named after an insult hurled at German Chancellor Angela Merkel, refracting the vulgarity of the male gaze. Strang's collection recalls Suzanne Valadron's The Blue Room. With cultural references from the Renaissance to the profane present, and threaded with humour and resistance, this collection is a Canadian must-read!
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