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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 meet friends on a patio?

Fear not – we’re Canadian. We can do all those things, no matter the weather. We’ll just have to remember to pack a raincoat. And possibly a parka. And definitely a book. Or two.

For readers, Canada basically has two seasons: indoor reading, and outdoor reading. And while the variability of the weather might blur those seasons a bit this year, we’re nothing if not adaptable: sunglasses and cold drinks al fresco when the sun is shining, a cozy quilt and a hot beverage indoors when the skies turn grey. It all works out in the end.

But what to read?

Funny you should ask.

To kick off the summer reading season, Canada’s dedicated (and compulsive) independent booksellers have compiled a sterling selection of possibilities, from a Canadian icon to a hot new must-read, from a business visionary to a stunning short story debut, and more. A word of advice, though, given the weather? You might want to pack a couple of books. Just to be safe.

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Rebecca Rosenblum: Good Books for Hard Times

Rebecca Rosenbaum's debut novel, So Much Love, is a stunner, and it's recently been nominated for the 2017 Amazon First Novel Award. And while it's a heavy book, in her list with us Rosenblum shares the books that helped her along the way by providing a little levity. These are, as she tells us, good books for hard times.  

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I wrote a very serious, very dark book and it took six years. I read a lot of different things for different reasons during that long challenging period of writing—for research, for inspiration, for reminders of what I was striving for—but I read a lot for fun. These are some of the books in that last category. These are all fiction—my preferred reading matter—and though not all were originally intended for grownups, all can be enjoyed by us. These are all good books—the word funny isn’t a pejorative in my world—but those that take on serious issue do so with a lighter hand and some skip right over the serious issues and go straight for the silly. Apply as needed.

Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Mongomery

I’ve …

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Bon Appetit: Food in CanLit

We all have our favourite food scenes from books and movies. Mia Wallace and Vincent Vega bonding over a $5 milkshake in Pulp Fiction. The poor lobsters in Annie Hall. Lady and the Tramp’s romantic spaghetti and meatball dinner. Butter beer and Cornish pasties in Harry Potter. Loretta telling Ronny how he’ll eat his steak in Moonstruck. Every single meal in Louise Penny's mysteries. Key lime pie and potatoes in Nora Ephron's Heartburn. The list is endless and adding to it is completely addictive. You could lose yourself for hours just by clicking on this link.
 
The best food writing defines characters and crystallizes their challenges and desires, allowing readers and viewers into a fictional world that is both familiar and surprising. When we “read food,” we automatically put ourselves into the scene and imagine how we would feel. Loved. Hated. Shocked. Enraptured. Pretty much any emotion can be summoned through food—and immediately, in very few words—if the writing is brilliant enough.

Food plays a key role in Trevor Cole’s Hope Makes Love. In the novel, the female protagonist, Hope, has suffered a terrible trauma. She is functional, but just, and fearful of intimacy. She meets a man named Adnan, and he is gentle. So as not to give too much away, here’s an excerpt from the book. The context: an email from Hope to Adnan, recalling a night they spent together.

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We made—or you made and insisted it was “we"—tarts with roasted cherry tomatoes and onions and …

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Rebecca Rosenblum and Mark Sampson on loving an author, and the momentous highs (and moronic lows) of the writer's life.

Rebecca Rosenblum and Mark Sampson, writer couple.

Writers can be dissatisfied, wistful, complex. Manic, gleeful, hyperbolic. Imagine then two writers living together, day in and out. What is it like to work and live beside someone who shares your professional aspirations? What is like to love that person? I chat with Rebecca Rosenblum and Mark Sampson, writers and romantic partners, about how they make room in their household for evolving stories and stringent writing schedules.

If you're in Toronto, please join us at the launch of Rebecca's latest short story collection, The Big Dream, published by Biblioasis. Interviewed by Canadian Bookshelf's own Kerry Clare, you'll also get to catch a glimpse of two longtime friends on stage.

When: TONIGHT. Tuesday, September, 20, 7 p.m.
Where: Dora Keogh, 141 Danforth Avenue

Julie Wilson: As partners, how does your support of one another's career manifest itself? Time? Space? Personal sacrifice? First reads?

Rebecca Rosenblum: Well, whatever it takes, I guess. It's good to be able to bring a dysfunctional story, or an impersonal rejection, or whatever writing blow I've received to Mark and know I don't have to explain why it sucks. We do first read for each other sometimes--it's a little fraught, because obviously his opinion matters a lot to me and I'm more emotional reacting …

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YOSS Guide for Novices

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Even before a passionate group of writers and readers declared 2011 the Year of the Short Story (YOSS), Canadian short stories had been enjoying some time back in the spotlight. Sarah Selecky’s This Cake is for the Party and Alexander MacLeod’s Light Lifting were both much celebrated and made the Giller Prize shortlist last year, and Katrina Best’s Bird Eat Bird won Best First Book for the Canada/Caribbean Section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Online initiatives like Joyland and Found Press are giving short stories new life online.

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And now the YOSS itself has delivered some remarkable new short story collections, all of this an absolute boon for those readers devoted to the form, and has surely also brought about a few converts. But there remain those readers upon whom all the celebration is lost, those who’ve tried and fail …

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There is Life Among the Cubicle Dwellers: Guest Post by Rebecca Rosenblum

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Rebecca Rosenblum is author of Once, which won the Metcalf-Rooke Award and was one of Quill and Quire’s 15 Books That Mattered in 2008. Her second collection, The Big Dream, is forthcoming from Biblioasis in September 2011.

My book, The Big Dream, is about people who work…among other things. I’m interested in putting work in its proper place as a big part of the lives of many of the characters I write about. I have read too many novels and stories where the main character is a freelance something or other, and never does any work at all, or where the narrative cuts from 8:30 am to 6pm as if the characters had just been asleep in a closet during that period.

However, I wasn’t interested in writing a book where all the characters live their lives mainly at the office. There are certainly people whose main emotional life is on the job, and actually I enjoy writing about them. But I also enjoy writing about people who have jobs and parents and children and lovers and ex-lovers and problems and angst and great senses of humour. I think work is very closely woven into the fabric of our lives, and that our lives are generally more complex than genre designations like “office novels,” “domestic fiction,” “romance,” etc. Though my writing is not autobiog …

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