Shelf Talkers

Shelf Talkers is a monthly series where independent booksellers across Canada tell us about a book they would put (and are putting!) in everyone's hands, it is that good.

Shelf Talkers: Slap On the Sunscreen and Dive Into a Book

Canadians have a strange relationship with summer.

Where is some places the season begins with the end of the school year, or the solstice (I know, I know, technically the summer solstice is midsummer, but that’s a cultural debate far too large and pedantic for this column), we Canadians kick off our summer much earlier.

Every year, the Victoria Day long weekend rolls around and the country, frankly, goes a little mad. Perhaps it’s because we’ve spent so much time in the grips of winter (I assume the celebrations this year will be especially frenzied), but the May 2–4 marks an orgiastic explosion of outdoor living. Cottages will be opened up, beaches will be packed, rivers will be tubed, gardens will be weeded, skis will be watered...

Wait. I don’t think that last one is right.

But what do I know? My idea of a perfect summer day is one spent with a cold beverage, a nice piece of shade, and a good book. (I was on the beach in Tofino this weekend, and was having a pretty good time, until I heard a suspicious sizzling sound, like bacon in a pan, only realizing too late that it was, in fact, me.) I might go for an occasional dip, but you can keep your boogie boards and diving raf …

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Shelf Talkers: Let's Get Bold and Call These Spring Reads

A little caution is perhaps in order.

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. After a winter that was starting to seem Narnia-like in its duration, it seems as if spring has finally arrived for much of the country. Patios are filling up, convertibles are cruising the streets, and shorts and sundresses are making their annual reappearance. Heck, I walked to and from a meeting last night wearing only a t-shirt! (I was also, before you panic, wearing pants. It’s the lack of long sleeves th …


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Shelf Talkers: This Is a Read Until 3 am Book and More

Out here on Vancouver Island, the first few days of spring have been largely grey, with intermittent periods of dismal. I mention this not to complain (we had a wonderfully warm and sunny run in the late winter) nor because these conditions are unusual (spring rarely arrives with a clichéd fanfare), but as a matter of contrast. Despite the grizzled pallor of the change of season, there are bright flashes of colour: the reds and purples of tulips, the shocking green of a city park lawn, the pink …


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Shelf Talkers: Love and Thrillers to See You Through to Spring

As February slips into March, the warm-hearted booksellers of our Shelf Talkers panel have some picks to see you through to spring.

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

The Pick: The Rule of Stephens, by Timothy Taylor

In award-winning author Timothy Taylor’s new no …


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Shelf Talkers: White Magic in the 1800s, Rock in the 90s, and the World in 1979

For a lot of Canadians, this can be a rough time of year. The stretch of late January and early February, characterized by cold temperatures and mostly grey days, can induce a wintery funk. Sure, there may be a bit of skiing, skating, or walks on those rare days when Canada’s much-loved natural world isn’t actively trying to kill you, but there’s a certain glumness to the air. The unbridled optimism (and hangovers) of the new year are behind us, and we’re left with, well, hangovers from …


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Shelf Talkers: 2017's Must-Reads

Reading through a year’s worth of Shelf Talkers columns, I am struck by a couple of details that likely have not slipped your attention: the quality of the books chosen by our panelists, and the eclectic nature of those choices.

Every month, our esteemed independent booksellers share their picks for not just the best books they have been reading, but those books which they feel merit special attention. Books that aren’t just good, but are distinct in some way, powerful enough to merit an enth …


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Shelf Talkers: Ideas for Christmas 2017!

It’s happened every December for the last few years. There will be a morning early in the month when I wake up before the alarm with a strange, unsettled feeling, a sense that there is something missing in my life. The first time it happened, it took me most of the morning to identify this absence; in subsequent years it was clear from the start: I miss being a bookseller in December.

I was a bookseller for a long, long time, a proud independent. I loved it. I loved hosting events, and making n …


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Shelf Talkers for the Dark Days of November

Halloween may be over, but that doesn’t mean November isn’t dark enough all on its own. Is there something inherently spooky about the autumn that lends itself to a celebration of the darker mysteries around us?

With the waning of the year, we’re surrounded by reminders of mortality, from the crunch of leaves underfoot to the snap of cold in the air in the morning to the faint whispers of smoke in the distance. And along with those reminders, the early evenings and the lengthening shadows h …


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Shelf Talkers: Thanksgiving 2017 Edition

Gratitude.

It seems like such a small thing, doesn’t it? Aren’t most of taught, from our earliest days, to say thank you? To be grateful?

It’s not that easy, though. And it’s more important than we had ever imagined.

As we gather, this week, for a national day of gratitude, tucking into our turkey (or turkey substitute), it’s worth noting that not only have the vast majority of spiritual and religious traditions long endorsed the significant benefits of gratitude, but Forbes magazine, of …


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Shelf Talkers: Back to School and Beyond

Let’s face it: the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, of newly laundered gym strips, of paper and pens and binders ushers in the gorgeous Canadian fall season.

But more than anything else, there is the smell of new books.

Is there any better smell than that? Especially at this time of year?

I think not.

And if you disagree, well, you should take that up with one of our panel of independent booksellers.

They’ve weighed in this month with a healthy crop of books for the fall. And, for possibly the …


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Shelf Talkers: August Long Weekend, 2017

We try not to be overly political here in the Shelf Talkers column, but there are some issues we can only avoid for so long. We would like to apologize in advance for any offense this column might give, but we feel it’s something that needs to be discussed, now more than ever.

Summer reading.

Yes, you read that right.

Summer reading probably isn’t the most contentious issue of our times, but it’s a conflict that recurs with a troubling, almost calendar-like, regularity.

Every year, we are face …


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Shelf Talkers: July 1, 2017

Most years, the significance of July 1 passes with little in the way of fanfare. Sure, there are festivals and fireworks, cake and crowds, but—generally speaking—we’re a fairly low-key nation when it comes to celebrating ourselves. We might wave flags, one day a year, but we do it somehow apologetically.

This year is different, though. The Canada150 celebrations have turned (brace yourself for impending Spinal Tap reference) our annual momentary patriotic fervour up to 11. And that’s as i …


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Shelf Talkers: Mysterious Disappearances, Bad Endings & Utopia in BC

Brace yourself: what I’m about to say may be shocking.

Are you ready?

It’s May.

In fact, it’s not just May – it’s the May long weekend. Go ahead, check your calendar. You’ll see.

Yes, the May long weekend. Victoria Day. The May 2-4. The unofficial start of Canada’s summer.

Well, most years. This year? Perhaps not so much. It’s been a very strange spring across the country. Virtually non-existent in some places. And now it’s time to open up the cottage? To chill out on a dock? To mee …


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Shelf Talkers: Six New Books to Usher in Spring 2017

Is it safe to come out yet?

Groundhog Day was months ago, and across the country, Canadians are only now daring to emerge cautiously from our holes in the ground, wondering if the strangest winter in recent memory is finally over. Take, for example, Victoria. Looking back, thanks to the miracle of social media, Victoria’s cherry trees were in full bloom in mid-February last year (yes, we know that makes you hate us; that’s one of the reasons we post those photos every year). This year, Victor …


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Shelf Talkers: The Best New Book I've Read

Bookstores can be daunting experiences.

Walking into a good bookstore can be almost overwhelming: all these books! Where does one begin?

That’s where the bookseller comes in. A good bookseller can guide a reader through the impossibilities of selection in search of that perfect read. They know the sections intimately; after all, they’re responsible for every one of those spines being on the shelf. They’re the ones who spend hours every week selecting books, conscientiously and deliberately b …


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Shelf Talkers: The Mystery Edition

There’s probably been research done on this, but I think it’s a well-established enough truth as to not require footnoting: winter is the perfect time of year for mysteries. Whether it’s the punishing cold, the latent isolation, the stark quality of the light through the skeletal trees, the barren, dark ground... it’s easy to imagine the world littered with crime scene tape and evidence tags, mysteries lurking in the shadows, in the seemingly endless twilight.

As a result, it’s likely n …


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Shelf Talkers: On Family Day

By Rob Wiersema

I may be in the minority, but I've actually become quite fond of Family Day. In part, it's a practical thing: I love the way it breaks up that long stretch between Christmas and Easter, that formerly bleak, wintery run of five-day weeks with no respite. In part, I like its ramshackle nature, an invented holiday which occurs on different days across the country.

Mostly, though—and feel free to call me soft—I like it because I buy into the premise. The occasion gives me a chance, …


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Shelf Talkers: Under the Tree 2016!

It’s as seasonally inevitable as the need for warm gloves and the appearance of twinkling lights: every year, as December hits, readers are inundated with a flood of lists, each proclaiming The Best Books of the Year. It seems like everyone gets in on the game: journalists, writers, celebrities, newspapers, magazines... Everyone, it seems, except those folks who know the books best, the booksellers.

Sure, you might occasionally find a Best Of list featuring a token bookseller, but they are larg …


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Shelf Talkers: Remembrance Day 2016

We, as a nation, have grown up observing November as a time of remembrance, a quiet marking of the past (and present), and an attempt to come to an understanding of both the world around us, and our role in it, historically and today.

That search for meaning and understanding is on the minds of everyone today, even as we reel from the shock of this week's election result. From an exploration of the nature of Remembrance Day itself, to an examination of what it means to be Canadian, to a heartbrea …


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Shelf Talkers: From Outer Space to Wrestling Rings to Vietnam

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday. It’s not just the turkey dinner (though I’m always thrilled when turkey-dinner season comes around, that glorious stretch of monthly feasts incorporating Thanksgiving, my birthday, and Christmas. Gobble, gobble, indeed.), but it’s what comes before, and what characterizes the day: a moment to take stock of our lives and offer our gratitude for what we have, for what we love, and for what, in …


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