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

It’s a special time of year.


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.


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 and give the reader a glimpse into a life that seems out of time, even though it is going on right beside us.


The Bookseller: Madeline Holmes, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: Our Homesick Songs, by Emma Hooper

In Our Homesick Songs, Canadian-born Emma Hooper paints a gorgeous portrait of the Connor family. Told in Hooper’s signature ethereal style, each page of this incandescent novel glows with mythical, musical wonder. A charming and mystical story of a family on the edge of extinction, and the different way each of them fights to keep hope, memory, and love alive.


The Bookseller: Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)

The Pick: Up From Freedom, by Wayne Grady

This one has "award nomination" written all over it; it's deft, engaging, and laden with well-researched history.  Looking at the US just prior to the Civil War is thoroughly provocative—especially with racism and ensuing violence so much in the news these days. Kudos to Wayne Grady for hitting it out of the park.


The Bookseller: Madeline Holmes, Bolen Books (Victoria, BC)

The Pick: An Ocean of Minutes, by Thea Lim

Station Eleven meets The Time Traveler's Wife. A wonderful debut from Toronto author Thea Lim.


The Bookseller: Will McGuirk of Blue Heron Books (Uxbridge, ON)

The Pick: Beirut Hellfire Society, by Rawi Hage

Beirut Hellfire Society... There was a hellfire club where I grew up. And CNN’s Jake Tapper’s book is called The Hellfire Club; Hell’s Bells it's a theme maybe...

All that was enough to get me to pick up Rawi Hage’s newest, the aforementioned Beirut Hellfire Society and I was hooked in the first lines: “Pavlov heard the bell, got up and spat.”  This is a book of choices, of freedoms, of self-definition, of travelling your own path and observing others as they travel to the end of theirs.

Pavlov is an undertaker in Beirut, he’s busy, but there are those who can’t get buried for one reason or another, usually by another’s decree, and the dead are not bothered to argue. Pavlov is the funeral fixer. Because he lives among the dead, the living fear him: they fear his oversight, and because they fear him he is a target. Looking after the dead is an undertaking open to few and the takings are perceived to be lucrative. Because he is seen as a rich man, he is a target.  

How the fixer fixes to survive is the story Hage has set himself to tell. Pavlov lives in a magical reality, a state where the dead animals are more real than people, and people live like animals. Pavlov chooses his own path through the corpses. 

September 10, 2018
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