Shuggie Bain Douglas Stuart Paperback | Oct 2020 3 in store$25.50 (more on order)
The House on Vesper Sands Paraic O'Donnell Hardcover | Jan 2021 not in store$35.95 (available for order)
The Mercies Kiran Millwood Hargrave Paperback | Feb 2021 3 in store$22.99
Beneath the Keep Erika Johansen Hardcover | Feb 2021 2 in store$36.00
A Town Called Solace Mary Lawson Hardcover | Feb 2021 2 in store$25.60 (more on order)
Gwen’s March Notes
What a relief it was last month to finally be allowed to open our doors to the public once again. It’s not that we weren’t selling any books during the lockdown, it was more about the logistics necessary to get the requested books into the hands of our customers. The special orders were coming at us from all directions! If it wasn’t Instagram or online orders through our website, it was Facebook, email, or perhaps just an old-fashioned telephone order. Please don’t misunderstand me, it was all quite wonderful, and we welcomed each and every request, but it was a challenge. At least curbside pickup was a bit easier this time around, since people were used to it from the first lockdown, but we were also kept busy with hand delivering packages to people’s homes as well as to the post office. In addition, there was the small matter of how to process payment according to the preferences of the customer, whether by credit card over the phone, cash at the curb, or e-transfer. I have to say, by the time we get this pandemic truly over with, we should have our system perfected! Talk about learning new tricks and being forced to keep the brain young!
These last few weeks have kept us busy pulling books off shelves and returning them to our suppliers. I must admit that I struggle with not being too affronted by the sheer number of socalled “duds” nobody wants. You see, the books are oh so lovingly curated from the publishers’ seasonal lists of titles, but of course there are so many new books being published at any given moment in time, that it would be impossible for any store (even ours) to sell them all. Inevitably, the minute a book is returned to the supplier for credit, a customer will make a special order request for it. I imagine it has something to do with Murphy’s Law. Never mind, we happily order the book again. Sometimes I think about the same title crossing one another like ships passing in the night - only in the mail instead! It’s a crazy business this bookselling thing.
Aside from the happy fact you get credit from the publishers for the “Returns,” it’s a relief to make room on the shelves for all those shiny, new books. I always like to compare bookselling to baling hay, at least the way we used to bale hay when I was a kid. I am, after all, a farmer’s daughter. Back in the day before monster machinery dominated the agricultural industry, a farmer had to handle the same bale of hay numerous times from the point of growing it to when you actually fed it to the animals. It was very labour intensive not to mention hands on. The same goes for books. While some of us are shipping boxes of books out the back door via Can Par, others are kept busy receiving new titles at the front door. In six to twelve months those same new titles will endure the same fate as their predecessors, eventually ending up as remainders or sale items at discounted stores and outlets. To the best of my knowledge, books are the only returnable item in the retail industry. Anyway, enough of the curiosities of bookselling and onto my latest favourite reads.
For several weeks in February, I was engrossed in reading Shuggie Bain, the 2020 Booker Prize winning novel by Douglas Stuart set in working class Glasgow, Scotland during the Thatcher years of the early 1980s. Shuggie, a young queer boy born into the wrong family at the wrong time, will break your heart. One hopes the very best for “the wee boy” despite the parental neglect and addiction pervading his world. One is aware they are in the presence of greatness while reading this masterpiece, which given the fact it’s a debut novel, is astonishing. They say reading fiction makes one more empathetic, and I can’t think of a better example than this novel. I found I couldn’t read it for long periods of time, because it actually hurt my heart. All 430 pages of it. The pure goodness of Shuggie, despite growing up in an environment of horrific poverty and misery wrought from capitalism gone wrong, is what keeps one reading. Despite the grimness of the story, know that your life will be all the better for reading it. I know Shuggie will be with me for a long time to come.
The book I chose to cleanse my palette with after Shuggie Bain, was The House on Vesper Sands by Paraic O’Donnell, an atmospheric, gothic mystery set in Victorian London. Both Irish Times and Guardian Books of the Year, this was no ordinary mystery but rather an eerie, haunting, funny, and wonderfully enjoyable read.
Currently, I am right in the middle of The Mercies by Kieran Millwood Hargrove. It is a story set in a remote fishing village in seventeenth-century Norway. The book begins with a freak storm drowning all of the men while they are out on their fishing boats, leaving the women to fend for themselves in the aftermath. The women must defy their internal demons as well as their traditions by engaging in “men’s work” in order to survive. There is also a clash of values and power between the indigenous Sami with their spiritual beliefs, and the Christian priest sent out from Scotland in order to rid their island of witchcraft. It’s a great read.
The next two juicy books in my stack are both ones I’ve been saving! The first is the sequel to the Tearling Fantasy trilogy series, Beneath the Keep by Erika Johansson. The Tearling books are responsible for having dragged me back into the fantasy genre these past few years, a pastime I thought I’d left behind. Not so. Such wonderful escapism if it’s well done, and Johansson excels at it. It’s a nice feeling knowing I have this book waiting for me when I’m ready.
The other book-treat in the queue is Mary Lawson’s new novel, A Town Called Solace. The story set in rural Northern Ontario, a favourite setting of the author of Crow Lake and one of my all-time favourite authors ever! You can be sure I will be writing about this one for my April newsletter.
Ah April, I like the sound of that.
That’s all for this month folks. Spring is beckoning us with its increasing light levels both in the morning and evening, the maple syrup farmers are getting their equipment dusted off, and I’ve just received my seed order in the mail. Pretty soon all of my windowsills will be filled to overflowing with precious seedlings.
There is hope yet.
Arnprior Book Shop LTD., The
152 John Street N Arnprior ON K7S 2N7 Canada