Don't you love escaping into a book where brothers, sisters, moms, and dads—not to mention freaky aunties and uncs—are crazier than yours? Where they fight more, philander more, commit more crimes, get sadder, and have their hearts broken even more than than you do? The best families in literature are wonderful because they are somehow utterly familiar—but strange enough—and thus cathartic. Here are a few greats. Of course there are many more (Larry's Party anyone? Fall on Your Knees?) so we want to hear suggestions from you. Tweet us @49thShelf with the hashtag #CanLitFamilies.
The Flying Troutmans, by Miriam Toews
“Toews’s writing is a unique collision of sadness and humour. . . . The Flying Troutmans is a dark story but it is also a never-ending series of hilarious adventures.”—Ottawa Citizen
Days after being dumped by her boyfriend Marc in Paris—"he was heading off to an ashram and said we could communicate telepathically" —Hattie hears her sister Min has been checked into a psychiatric hospital, and finds herself flying back to Winnipeg to take care of Thebes and Logan, her niece and nephew. Not knowing what else to do, she loads the kids, a cooler, and a pile of CDs into their van and they set out on a road trip in search of the childre …
Winter, with its long nights and its forced sequestration, is a perfect time for books. Whether you take on a big reading project, or use the time to catch up with old favourites, or merely try to keep up with the new releases, winter is ... well, it’s basically peak season for book geeks. None of that feeling “I should really be outside” nonsense.
And here to help minister to your winter reading needs, our dedicated independent booksellers weigh in with some of their picks for the darkest of seasons. Put the kettle on and settle in.
Robert J. Wiersema
The Bookseller: Mary-Ann Yazedjian, Book Warehouse Main Street (Vancouver, BC)
The Pick: The Horrors: An A to Z of Funny Thoughts on Awful Things, by Charles Demers
Charles Demers is well on his way to being the King of Comedy in Canadian writing. His razor-sharp, self-deprecating, intelligent humour is such a pleasure to read; I've loved each of his books and this one is no exception. Charlie has the amazing ability to make you burst into laughter while reading an account of him coming to terms with OCD, or having a poignant moment with his brother on the anniversary of their mother's death. This is the dark, funny, perceptive, and poignant book you didn't know you needed.
It’s that time of year again, that most wonderful time, when the evenings are long, and the air is full of the sound of Year-End Best-Of lists. What, you were expecting carolling?
Sure, the holidays are swell and everything, but as a booklover, the turning of the year is a time to look back, to recall what books brought me joy and, more significantly, to look at other peoples’ lists and see what I missed.
My book budget goes out the window in December, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.
The Year-End Best-Of list has become as much a tradition as turkey dinners and fighting with your family around the table. David Gutowski has, at the time of this writing, more than a thousand such lists aggregated over at Largehearted Boy (and yes, I’m spending altogether too much time there).
But the lists, at least in their more formal iterations, are also a recurring cause of frustration. Open a newspaper, flip through a magazine, click a link, and what do you find? Writers talking about the best books of the year. Reviewers boiling a year’s work down to a handful of favourites. Media figures weighing in with their choices. It’s as if, in the wake of the major prizes, everybody gets to contribute their voices.
Well, almost everyone.
Who don’t you find, as a rule?
Sure, there’s the occasional broad-based piece: Quill & Quire usually consults with a few booksellers for an article, and Publisher’s Weekly did a great job with a survey of American booksellers last we …
Research shows that most of the books we read are the result of one thing: someone we know, trust, and/or admire tells us it's great. That's why we run this series, The Recommend, where readers, writers, reviewers, bloggers, and others tell us about a book they'd recommend to a good friend ... and why.
This week we're pleased to present the picks of Robert Hough, author of the upcoming The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan; Nina Berkhout, author of The Gallery of Lost Species; Harry Karlinski, author of The Evolution of Inanimate Objects; Ann Dowsett Johnson, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol; and Steve Stanton, author and former president of Canada's national association of science fiction and fantasy authors.
Robert Hough picks Black Bird, by Michel Basilières
"I’m not exactly sure how I discovered my favourite Canadian novel, though I’m pretty sure I have my editor at the time, a legend named Anne Collins, to thank. In my memory, we were at some industry party—likely a sweaty Harbourfront affair—when she pulled me over and, in a slightly conspiratorial voice, said, 'There’s a book coming out I think you’re going to like.'
The year was 2003. The title was Black Bird and it was the first title by a Montreal native named …