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Shelf Talkers: Melting Queens, Mysteries, and More

With all due respect and apologies to the rest of the country (I’m looking at you especially, St. John’s), I’d like us to take a moment to consider winter.

This is a topic with which, until recently, I have been largely unfamiliar. Now, though, having survived two days in which there were several centimetres of snow on the ground in Victoria, I feel uniquely qualified to discuss the frigid season. (Honestly, I’ve never felt more Canadian.)

And I just have to say: I don’t like it.

No sir. Not one bit.

It probably goes without saying that, for me, adding “winter” in front of the word “sports” doesn’t do anything to make them more enticing. And have you noticed that all of these “fun” pastimes are actually accidents waiting to happen? “Hey kids, let’s strap a board or two onto our feet and go down a frozen hill really fast!” “You know what sounds like fun? Tying blades to our feet and trying to stay upright on a sheet of ice!”

Not for me.

And then there’s the matter of trying to figure out where you packed your scarf and gloves twenty-three years ago, after the end of the Blizzard of '96. How can I possibly be expected to keep track of things like that?

No, with my harrowing exposure to winter, I have come to a simple conclusion: the groundhogs have it right.

Think about it: they stay in their dens during the coldest months of the year, they poke their heads out when they think the worst has passed, and if it hasn’t, they sequester themselves for an …

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Shelf Talkers: Indie Booksellers' Fall 2019 Picks

Weeks like this – the transition between seasons – serve as a strong reminder of just how huge and far-flung this country truly is. And no, I’m not talking about the federal election campaigning.

As I write, meteorologists are predicting heavy snow for parts of the prairies. Meanwhile, the temperature is in the twenties in Toronto, it’s twelve degrees in St. John’s, four degrees in Yellowknife, and fourteen degrees outside my front door in Victoria.

You might be expecting something pithy right now, something like “thankfully, we’re united in our love of books.” While this might be true – I certainly think it is – I’m reminded regularly through this column just how disparate Canadians are as readers. There’s no better reflection of this than the choices of the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers panel. They're recommending fiction and nonfiction, books for adults and books for kids, books about caves and trees, art and literature, current events and timeless novels of connection; something for everyone, really.

Sometime soon, before the snow hits, you’d be well-advised to make your way to your local independent bookstore and ask your favourite bookseller what they’re reading; you never know what they might have in store. In the meantime, here are some of their favourite books of the year.

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Shelf Talkers: Marilyn Monroe, YA Romance, Magic Basketball, and More

Some of us – many of us – have a conflicted relationship with summer.

On the one hand, we anticipate the season as one of leisure, with extra daylight to spend on patios or beaches, the heat preventing us from doing anything too onerous. A time to savour the slow passage of the day, the lingering of the evening.

And yet, when summer arrives, we are suddenly taken up with the idea of projects. Extra daylight means more time to get things done. Too hot? You’ll be so happy when it’s done, whatever “it” is. Building a new deck? That’s a perfect project for summer. Growing vegetables? Sure, summer. Getting your life in order? Well, we’ll start it this summer.

And readers are no different. Summer is the season of “beach reads” and of ambitious summer reading projects. The latter is a hold-over, I think, from those glorious summers of our childhoods, when the library ran their summer reading programs. (Did anyone else get a tingle reading those words? I bet you did.) One summer, I swam the Great Lakes. Another, I walked across the Sahara. All without leaving my room or the shade of my grandmother’s apple tree, my preferred spot for reading.

In a lot of ways, reading is the perfect summer reading project: you get to accomplish something AND you don’t have to break a sweat in doing it! You can savour the leisure of summer AND feel the faint edge of righteousness that comes with a job well done!

This time around, the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers colum …

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Shelf Talkers: Whispering Words to Hasten Spring's Arrival

I don’t want to jinx anything, but it needs to be said: Happy Spring!

I’m knocking wood, just to be safe.

This is, I think you’ll agree, an unusual spring. Usually, the vernal equinox signals a period of regrowth, of blossoming, of fresh green in the trees and t-shirts worn outside, without a parka!

This year, though, spring is a bit different. Across the country, it’s been greeted with whispered questions: Can it be? Is the long winter of our discontent finally over?

Spring has limped late even into Victoria. To the cheer of our social media friends, we had snow in March. Snow. In Victoria. In March.

That sort of thing will mess with the cherry blossoms.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, embrace the season, the spirit of renewal.

Here in the Shelf Talkers column, we have a round-up of books for your spring reading pleasure. And, in keeping with the theme, we have a couple of new booksellers aboard, offering their choices from Peterborough and the Tsleil-Waututh, Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Musqueam territories.

We have fiction and non-fiction, YA and adult books, even a little something for poetry month.

You might say we’re blossoming (so long as you knock wood while you say it).

So let’s all get out there and enjoy the spring, maybe hitting up an independent bookstore while you’re out.

But you might want to wear a hoodie; there’s no reason to go all crazy.

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The Bookseller: Michelle Berry, Hunter Street Books (Peterborough, ON)

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Get You Through February

For many Canadians, February is the doldrums of the year. The holiday season, and the promise of a new year, is but a distant memory, and winter seems to have taken hold with a cold fury that seems like it may never end. Of course we know that spring will come eventually, but in the meantime, it's a perfect time for self-care. Not the much-ballyhooed, often impetuous self-improvement of resolutions for the new year, but genuine self-care. Think baggy sweaters and hand-knit slippers, think warm baths and hot drinks, think, of course, of books. (And if your self-care includes chocolates, well, no one here will judge you.)

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The Bookseller: Stella Kingscote, Galiano Island Books (Galiano Island, BC)

The Pick: A Tale for the Time Being, by Ruth Ozecki

Ruth Ozeki threads her words into a precise combination of magic and realism to create what is A Tale for the Time Being. Young Nao’s journal guides the reader into the story of her life, and how she faced the bared teeth of a bullying society, dealt with family dysfunction, and found peace in her grandmother's comfort. Ozeki tugs your heartstrings with this beautiful novel. Sometimes you may want to look away from the words on the page, just as Nao would have done if she were able to; but the story keeps you. This nove …

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Shelf Talkers: Books for Christmas Eve Shoppers

With apologies to Clement Moore.

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'Twas the week before Christmas and all 'cross the land

The booksellers were racing, stacks of books clutched in hand.

They doled out some Ravi, Rick Mercer, and Washington Black

And if they couldn’t find it, why, they checked in the back.

They raced up the aisles, they dodged the kids’ wails,

They thrived on the bustle, they rang up the sales.

They walked and they walked, and their blisters brought a tear

Until they heard a faint voice, one they often did hear:

“You’re an indie bookseller, the best of the best.

You work before dawn, you work without rest.

You’ve read all the books, you could pass any test,

Now, could please tell me, which one was the best?”

The booksellers paused, the booksellers stilled

It was an impossible question, one that pricked like a quill.

Who could say what was best, who could even compare,

Not just apple and orange, but mango and pear!

Put two books together, and how do they rank

When one is a novel, the other history frank?

“Impossible,” they said, “that’s not how books work

To say one is the best would make me feel like a jerk.”

“All right,” said the voice, loaded with care,

“Which book is your favourite, that you want to share?”

“Ah,” said the booksellers, “this I can do,

Just give me a coffee, and a moment to stew.”

And the booksellers weighed in, with their picks of the year

It was a list most compelling, and rich with good cheer.

The voice tried to thank them, but they waved it away,

Turning back …

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Shelf Talkers: Books to Carry You Through November

There’s something about November that puts me in a contemplative state of mind.

Perhaps it’s the presence of Remembrance Day, an ongoing reminder of heroism, sacrifice, and loss.

Perhaps it’s a vague sense of an ending, the end of the year in sight.

Perhaps it’s the world around me, the days growing shorter, the leaves in the gutters, the darkness seemingly all around.

Or perhaps it’s just a sugar hangover from those little tiny Halloween chocolate bars.

I’m really not sure of the cause, but it happens every year at around this time. I find myself thinking about the past, about my place in the world, about the people around me, the stories they’re carrying. And it’s not just me: pretty much everyone I’ve spoken with reports much the same mindset as the evenings begin to encroach on the day.

It’s not a bad thing at all. A period of reflection, of examination, of contemplation, is necessary, and in many ways a balm.

This month, the independent booksellers of the Shelf Talkers panel have some thoughtful choices for you, companions for your own hours of contemplation.

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

The Pick: The Wars, by Timothy Findley

I try to find time every fall to give Timothy Findley’s The Wars a reread. For me it is an im …

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Shelf Talkers: Read Your Way to a Relaxed Thanksgiving

There’s a hard truth that people are, rightly, reluctant to discuss: Thanksgiving can be something of a mixed bag.
Sure, it’s a long weekend, right when we need it most. With summer but a distant memory and the routines of the fall starting to weigh heavily upon us a three-day weekend, with its promise of a good dinner and some relaxed time with those closest to us, seems like the answer to the early autumn ennui.
But those three days can quickly turn from warm and relaxed to intense and overscheduled. Juggling timelines, fretting over details, sweating over an unexpected intensity...and that’s just cooking your turkey dinner!

To counter this, it’s important to remember the meaning of the day: this is an opportunity to slow down and consider the blessings in our lives. To be, well, thankful.

This weekend, take some time for yourself. Take some time for self-care. Take some time to unplug, to unplan, to sequester yourself away. A few hours can make a world of difference, not just to the day, but to the coming weeks as well. Take a holiday from your holiday.

And why not plan a family trip to a local independent bookstore, followed by an afternoon of quiet reading? No screens, no pressure, just a good book, for everyone.

Canada's independent booksellers have a few recommendations to help with your holiday within your holiday. And if you want more suggestions, just ask: there’s nothing a bookseller likes more than recommending a beloved book.

Except maybe turkey. Though that …

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Shelf Talkers: Women, Songs, Oceans, Freedom, and Hellfire

It’s a special time of year.

September.

Even the word sounds a little magical.

The kids are back in school, some of us are taking classes, our routines are starting to settle again, after a few months of lovely summer entropy...

This month, our dedicated independent booksellers (including a couple of new folks!) have selected a set of fantastic fall reads. These are all fiction, all novels, but it’s striking just how close these picks hew to the real world, and what is going on in it. Sometimes we read for escape, and sometimes—like now—we read to connect to the world, to have the light of fiction shone into the shadows of the real world.

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

The Pick: Women Talking, by Miriam Toews 

Women Talking, the fantastic new novel from Miriam Toews, tells the story of a group of Mennonite women meeting in secret to decide the fate of their community. Set over 48 hours, and told from the view of the lone male in attendance (because the women are unable to read or write but need this event transcribed), Women Talking is a powerful read about the inner strength a group of women find to take control and change their futures for the better. It is a story that is often heartbreaking but sprinkled with wit to make it bearable …

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Shelf Talkers: Mid-Summer 2018

Summer.

The very word sends a shiver down the spine, carrying with it memories and echoes of those glorious months from our younger days when the world seemed limitless, and full of potential.

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For readers, the summer months have a special connotation. We remember not family trips, per se, but those books we read wedged in the back seat. We remember not pick-up games in the yard, but library reading programs and the stacks of books we devoured, heedless of the outside world. (Did you cross an ocean, measuring the nautical miles in page counts? Or did your reading stats take you on an epic walk? Did you get stickers, or bookmarks, or was the reading simply for its own sake, with no thought of prizes?) We remember all that time we had to read what we wanted, not what we had to read for school. Summer is when we made some of the reading discoveries that have lasted for a lifetime, books and authors who would shape us, in ways we may not even really understand.

As exciting as summer is for adults, it’s never quite so wondrous as those we remember.

But as readers, we can recapture a bit of that magic, whether we’re travelling the world, or sipping coffee on our tiny deck.

This month, the booksellers of the Shelf Talkers column pull back the curtain a little to describe …

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Shelf Talkers: Canada Day 2018 Edition!

Dear Canada,

Well, this is a little awkward...

Sorry about that, eh?

But the fact is, we’ve been watching the calendar with a bit of ... dread is too strong a word. Let’s say “worry.” Because—and here’s the awkward bit—we have no idea what to get you for your big day. Seriously. What do you get a country that has everything?

And there’s a bit of uncertainty, too. Like, is this a birthday? An anniversary? It’s so confusing. And what IS the appropriate gift for 151 years, anyway?

We decided to go with what we know best: books. They’re perfect for any occasion, and there’s no one better for suggestions than the independent booksellers that call you home. So, here you go: an overfull basket of books to see you through the summer, including some classics and some new books, fiction and non-fiction, short stories and comics. And, naturally, a book about beer. Because what would your celebratory day be without beer?

And happy birthday... anniversary... whatever you want to call it, Canada.

You don’t look a day over 150.

With love,

Shelf Talkers

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The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)
The Pick: Little Green, by Tish Cohen

With a tagline like, "How much pressure can a marriage take?" the bar is set and Cohen doesn't disappoint. Be …

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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 rafts and the like—all I need is a towel to dry my hands and wipe my glasses so I can get back to my book.

I won’t speak for the weekend plans of our dedicated cohort of independent booksellers, but I will say this: they’ve selected a perfect batch of books for your long weekend reading pleasure. …

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