5 Best Bets for the Holidays from Your Neighbourhood Indie Bookseller

December 11, 2015 by Sarah Ramsey

It’s been quite an exciting year for indie publishers in Canada; three of five Giller Prize-nominated books on this year’s shortlist were published by indies (congratulations to Biblioasis and Coach House Books!) and André Alexis won that prize, plus the Rogers’ Writer’s Trust Award, for his excellent book, Fifteen Dogs. 2015 has also seen outstanding debut short story collections from Kevin Hardcastle ( Debris, published by Bibioasis), Lana Pesch (Moving Parts, from Arsenal Pulp Press) and Jess Taylor ( Pauls, BookThug) and a first collection of poetry, Our Inland Sea, by James Lindsay (Wolsak & Wynn). As an avid reader, I am very excited to see emerging writers and new voices, but as a bookseller, I feel like it’s my responsibility to expose my customers to books unfamiliar to them.

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It’s been quite an exciting year for indie publishers in Canada; three of five Giller Prize-nominated books on this year’s shortlist were published by indies (congratulations to Biblioasis and Coach House Books!) and André Alexis won that prize, plus the Rogers’ Writer’s Trust Award, for his excellent book, Fifteen Dogs. 2015 has also seen outstanding debut short story collections from Kevin Hardcastle ( Debris, published by Bibioasis), Lana Pesch (Moving Parts, from Arsenal Pulp Press) and Jess Taylor ( Pauls, BookThug) and a first collection of poetry, Our Inland Sea, by James Lindsay (Wolsak & Wynn). As an avid reader, I am very excited to see emerging writers and new voices, but as a bookseller, I feel like it’s my responsibility to expose my customers to books unfamiliar to them.

That being said, it was very difficult to narrow my choices for Best Bet Picks for the holidays to five books. I think plenty has been said about Fifteen Dogs and I don’t think I could contribute much to a conversation about it, except to echo the sentiments that have already been expressed. It really is tremendous, a Book Of The Year certainly. But here are others, old and new, you may have missed that I thoroughly enjoyed:

 

Adrift by Loren Edizel (Mawenzi House) is one of my favourite books in recent years. In it, we are introduced to John at an airport in Montréal, suitcase in hand, but it’s not revealed from where’s he flown. This anonymous character finds work as a nurse on the night shift and begins to diarize the contact he has with the people around him. I enjoyed it so much because the characters John interacts with are well constructed and fascinating, even in their simple, everyday lives, and the idea of a near invisible protagonist is intriguing. Edizel allows us to explore John’s identity through his reflections, but because we know nothing about him, his passages are honest and free of judgment and illuminate our struggles with identity, connection, and meaning in our daily lives, our cities, and the greater world around us, all places where we can feel invisible and unheard. It is a beautifully written and compassionate émigré experience that will thrill readers interested in timely debates about multiculturalism, immigration, and mortality.

 

All My Friends Are Superheroes (Andrew Kaufman; Coach House Books) was first published in 2003 and was reissued to celebrate its tenth anniversary with additional character content and lovely illustrations by Tom Percival. Wildly imaginative and influenced by pop and comic book culture, it tells the story of Tom, an unremarkable man who must convince his wife, a superhero named The Perfectionist (who has the rather mundane ability to perfect everything), that he is not invisible, despite her hypnosis by an ex-boyfriend to the contrary. I applaud Kaufman’s deft and clever writing and the invention of ordinary demeanors or neuroses as something heroic (his description of The Couch Surfer: “Empowered with the ability to sustain life and limb without a job, steady companion or permanent place of residence. . . is not only able to withstand long periods of acute poverty but is also able to nutritionally sustain himself on only handfuls of breakfast cereals, slices of dry bread and condiments. Mysteriously always has cigarettes.”). This books is joyful and charming, a must-read.

 

One Hundred Days of Rain from Carellin Brooks and BookThug is a refreshingly honest autopsy of a relationship with subdued, yet sharp, third person narrative, conveying the weighty, and often complicated, emotions of love.  We are privy to the unnamed protagonist’s unraveling. Rain, as the central character, has started as her marriage ends; rain is the perfect entity in which the author beautifully conveys the despair and heartbreak of the protagonist. In one hundred short chapters, the protagonist is mourning her relationship and charting her failures and is struggling to rebuild, her moods a map of recovery (and discovery) from love to loss, but finding hope and strength in the ruins. A moving and poetic debut.

 

 

 

 

UniversalBureau

In Universal Bureau of Copyrights by Bertrand Laverdure and translated by Oana Avasilichioaei (BookThug), the author realizes a strange world in which free will doesn’t exist and a mysterious corporation owns the copyrights to everything real and imagined. Our protagonist is seen drifting “from delirium to delirium”, resisting the urge to write himself, as in this alternate world, “every word, every material, every object, every letter, every spark of life, every idea, every character, has their copyright”, suggesting he could never have ownership of his own constitution. This strange and wonderful work, which the publisher, BookThug, describes as “part poetic narrative, part sci-fi dystopian fantasy”, reminded me of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Fantasia by Walt Disney. It is a deliciously clever and bold rumination on identity and ownership. What a wild ride.

 

 

Pillow

I don’t read much crime fiction, but I adored Pillow by Andrew Battershill, published by Coach House Books. In it, we are told the story of Pillow, a low-level enforcer for a local crime syndicate who’s trying to escape his unfulfilling life of crime; in a delightful twist, it’s revealed that the mob is run by André Breton, the French writer, poet and founder of Surrealism, and other Surrealist luminaries like Louis Aragon and Georges Bataille. Pillow’s first obstacle is the fact that he’s not too smart, having endured a number of concussive injuries as a (now, former) boxer. He is also very linear and struggles to navigate Breton’s Surrealist thought. It’s mightily written and the character is one you can really cheer for, despite (or because of?) his knack for violence and his curious moral code. I would recommend Pillow to readers who enjoy Elmore Leonard or Dennis Lehane.

 

 

 

I’m really hoping to see continued support of Canadian writers being published by indie presses, and their books bought in indie bookstores across the country. Canada is a big place, and its voices so unique, there has to be a way to tell ALL our stories; I think that’s why indie publishing (and bookselling) is so important to our culture. I’m also curious to see if interest in literary fiction starts to climb. 2016 should be a good year!

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Sarah Ramsey is the Manager at Book City in Bloor West Village. She's been a good girl this year and would like nothing more than to be read bedtime stories by her favourite authors this season.


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