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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 the unbridled optimism. Spring is on the horizon, but it seems so far away.

There is a respite, though.

This is the perfect time of year to lose yourself in a good book.

Think about it: curled up under a fluffy duvet, a steaming beverage close to hand, maybe some music playing, a bit of sun creeping in through the blinds, a new favourite book... Doesn’t that sound lovely?


Think about it: curled up under a fluffy duvet, a steaming beverage close to hand, maybe some music playing, a bit of sun creeping in through the blinds, a new favourite book... Doesn’t that sound lovely?


The hardy booksellers of our Shelf Talker panel certainly think so. They’ve weighed in with some picks perfect for winter reading, those warm hygge holidays that will see us through until the daffodils start to pop up.

And remember, it doesn’t stop here. The next time you’re out, duck into an independent bookstore and ask what the booksellers are reading. They’re eager to share!


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Shelf Talkers: April 2016

With any luck (and owing entirely to the incredible effort put in by the organizers), the end of April will become known as well for books as it is for being the early days of spring. Authors for Indies, now in its second year, draws attention to Canada’s independent booksellers with the best of Canada’s writers working shifts on the country’s independent sales floors, meeting customers and making recommendations. It’s a beautiful synergy, a living representation of the ecosystem that underlies Canada’s book trade.

If I had my way, it would be a national holiday.

Canada’s independent booksellers aren’t just retailers; they’re cultural resources, the face of our rich literary heritage. For Canada’s indies, it’s less a job than it is a calling: the hours are long, the financial rewards limited, the stress sometimes overwhelming. And yet, every day of the year, they’re there, critical parts of their communities, literally spreading the word.

When this column started, two years ago, our intent was to give voice to those booksellers, a platform for them to do what they do best: to recommend books they love to readers who will love them. And don’t they do a fine job?

Happy Authors for Indies Day, everyone. And please join me in raising a glass for our independent booksellers, every day.


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That Trying Genre: Guest Post by Susan Olding

Susan Olding

Pity the essay—so undervalued that nobody recognizes it. We pass it by without a nod, or imagine we see it in a dozen other faces. “Ah, there you are! I’ve been looking for you! We must catch up,” we say, pumping a hand or slapping a rounded shoulder, all the while checking our watch in anticipation of our next appointment. Nobody wants to read the essay. Nobody wants to buy it. It’s so unpopular that in the 2012 Canada Reads—the first nonfiction edition ever—books of essays are explicitly ruled out.

But why? What makes the form so dismissible? Traditionally, the essay has been considered a minor genre, a species of “belles-lettres.” Pretty, perhaps—but useless. Lightweight. Like a lavender-scented lace handkerchief hidden in a great-aunt’s attic. At the same time, we associate it with those silly five paragraph stumps of thought that we were made to write in school. Not to mention the fact that when we hear its name we tend to imagine a tract or a sermon or a rant—all worthy literary forms in their own right, perhaps, but no more relation to the essay than a terrier is related to a cat.

Maybe that is the real, the deeper problem. Like a cat, the essay wants to go its own way. In an unstable world, we want to know what we’re getting, and …

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The Critical Mind by Ray Robertson

The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul. —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Book Cover Why Not

Edmund Wilson was the son of a Princeton and Columbia-educated lawyer, a man whose tools of trade his son described as “learning, logic, and dramatic imagination and eloquence,” the very same tools Wilson would employ over the course of fifty years of elucidating, advocating, and exposing the books and ideas (good, bad, and inconsequential) of his time. A literature-as-subject-of-study autodidact, I – among many others – owe a great debt to Wilson for not only consistently steering me in the right aesthetic direction, but also for helping to develop my own critical sensibility. Give a person a good book, he’ll have something to read for a week; teach a person how to critically separate the wheat from the chaff, and you provide him with the skills to read well for the rest of his life. Note: read – not study. The most valuable result of the finely tuned critical mind turned toward the world of books is assisting the common reader in reading – and therefore living – better. “Reading,” Bacon reminds us, “maketh a full man.”

Virginia Woolf liked this idea enough to entitle a collection of essays The Common Reader, quoting with approval Dr. Johnson: “I rejoice to …

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