Supporting Canadian Authors, Bookstores and Publishers in Precarious Times - theHumm April 2020

Supporting Canadian Authors, Bookstores and Publishers in Precarious Times - theHumm April 2020

By John Pigeau

In her profoundly moving memoir “This Is Happy”, Camilla Gibb wrote: “We are the storytelling animal; our stories are what make us human.” Indeed. Books bring us solace and pleasure in difficult times. Some help us escape to exotic and faraway lands, while others generously introduce us to different cultures. Books rinse our minds of the mundane, offering us instead adventure and intrigue, beauty and laughter, and meaningful insights too.

Books remind us, even in the best of times, that every human story is a valuable one. And just as importantly — as with all great art — books connect us. Reading one another’s stories connects us. As C.S. Lewis put it, “We read to know we’re not alone.”

“Stay healthy and keep reading!” That’s the message from Oscar Malan, owner of Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston — a go-to independent bookshop for multitudes of loyal customers in the city I grew up in. Like many small businesses, Novel Idea had to close its doors on March 24 because of government restrictions. They are, however, adapting to these chaotic times by offering both storefront pickup and free home delivery to folks within the Kingston region. For people living elsewhere, they can mail books. They’re taking requests by phone (613–546–9799) or email .

Independent bookstores across the province — indeed the country — are doing similar things to safely get books into readers’ hands, knowing full well the comfort a good book can be in frightening times. Of course, indie bookshops depend on steady business to keep afloat and pay their employees and rent, among other bills. None of us knows how long this pandemic will last, and the hard truth for indie bookstores is, unless we continue to support them — if we’re able to, that is, after taking care of absolute essentials — some may have to permanently close their doors. None of wants us that. And this is true for bookstores across Canada.

Almonte is home to the beloved independent bookshop Mill Street Books, which in 2011 made the top ten list in CBC Books’ Great Canadian Bookstore Contest. If you’ve been there, you’ll know what a fantastic experience it is to visit the shop, and perhaps you’ll even know the shops’ enthusiastic and always helpful owners, Mary and Terry Lumsden.

Mary said that Almonte is such a great town that Mill Street Books is able to take customers’ orders by phone and email and offer storefront pickup, where they’ll leave your ordered books on a table out front of the shop. For folks in Almonte and Carleton Place, delivery of books is also available. Mary says most people are paying by credit card or e-transfer, which makes it easier for everyone, while avoiding any physical contact. You can order books by phone (613–256–9090) or via the shop’s wonderfully detailed website .

While on their website, you can read what both Mary and Terry have been reading and also what books they’re recommending. Click on a book and you’ll get their take on it as well.

“Greenwood” by Michael Christie is one of Mary’s current favourite recommendations. “It’s an amazing book,” she says. “It’s futuristic — a brilliantly unexpected thriller.”

She also recommends pretty much any book by another Canadian author and two-time winner of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, Terry Fallis, but “Albatross” in particular. “It’s humorous and clever,” she says. “It’s certainly something light, and it appeals to teens and adults, appeals to all ages.”

For younger readers, Mary highly recommends “Stand On the Sky” by Kitchener author Erin Bow, who writes young adult books and won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award in 2011 for the book “Plain Kate”. “Stand On the Sky” won the 2019 Governor General’s Literary Award for young people’s literature. “It’s a great book for families to read together,” Mary says.

Readers who favour e-books are in luck, too, as some Canadian publishers are offering special deals, including Invisible Publishing (based in Picton) and Book*hug Press (which operates out of Toronto). Invisible Publishing is offering readers e-books on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, with all of the proceeds going to each book’s author. You can browse their virtual bookshelves by visiting . All of the Invisible’s print books are now 25% off as well, and are mailed out every Thursday.

Invisible’s publisher, Leigh Nash, says the press is providing the pay-what-you-can e-book service for several reasons. “Our authors need your support,” Leigh says. “Many have lost essential speaking and reading, teaching and writing gigs, and are facing significantly reduced income because of these losses. Secondly, we want to give affordable access to e-books to anyone who is worried about and/or struggling to make ends meet right now.”

Book*hug is offering its e-book titles for $5 each, with 100% of each sale going directly to the author. You can order any of their titles at .

Biblioasis, an award-winning publishing house that also runs a bricks-and-mortar bookshop in Windsor, is offering 50% off all their e-books. At you can also order any of the books they’ve published, and they will mail them out to you. Their site also features a virtual bookstore where you can place a special order or choose from books they have in stock, including non-Biblioasis titles.

This sort of thing is happening more and more by the day, as publishers, authors, and indie bookshops adapt to life during a global pandemic.

Many Canadian authors, too, are giving free readings on social media — of poems, snippets from their fiction and non-fiction titles, as well as children’s stories.

I spoke to some well-known Canadian authors about what books they would recommend (now or at any time, really), and what bookshops they’d suggest you visit and support — virtually, of course, for now.

Two-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature, author Tim Wynne-Jones, who lives near Perth, recommends Cherie Dimaline’s new adult novel, “Empire of Wild”. “It’s funny and scary and wonderful,” he says, “and takes you to a far-off land called … Canada!”

“I’m a huge fan of Novel Idea in Kingston,” he adds. “I never leave there without a book I know I’m going to love, even if I’d never heard of it before.”

Charlotte Gray, one of Canada’s best-known writers, and author of ten acclaimed books of literary non-fiction, recommends “The Stone Angel” by Margaret Lawrence. As for supporting an indie bookstore, she suggests shopping at Books on Beechwood in Ottawa, where she lives, writes and shops.

Books on Beechwood’s bricks-and-mortar store is closed to the public but they can still process purchases over the phone (613–742–5030) and readers can place orders with them through their online store at . They’re also taking requests by email at , and delivery is an option.

Terry Fallis, whose seven national bestselling books (as mentioned above by bookseller Mary Lumsden) are humorous and clever and ideal reading in chaotic times, offered some wonderful recommendations too. “As for what Canadian books I’m reading during this bizarre period,” he says, “I can tell you about two, one old and one brand new. For the old one, I recently reread (as I often do) Morley Callaghan’s ‘That Summer in Paris’, recounting his time among literary ex pats in Paris in the 1920s. I love that period and place in literary history. Callaghan gives us powerful insight about the time and about some of the literary lights of the day, including Hemmingway and Fitzgerald. I return to this book often.”

“Secondly, I recently read Joseph Kertes’ new novel, ‘Last Impressions’, launched earlier this month. Joe is a former Leacock Medal winner who really understands the power of juxtaposing humour and pathos. This is a fantastic novel that examines history and secrets and how they can, at one and the same time, strain and unite a family. I highly recommend both books by great Canadian writers.”

As for indie bookstores, Fallis says, “There are so many that I love, including Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Wordsworth Books in Waterloo, Book City in Toronto, Ben McNally Books in Toronto, Jessica’s Book Nook in Thornbury, the Book Keeper in Sarnia, and A Different Drummer Books in Burlington.”

Those are just a few, he adds.

Each of those shops has a website which you can easily and quickly find in an online search, and, rest assured, they are all, in their own unique ways, getting great books into the hands of Canadian readers — at a precarious time when, frankly, reading has never been so vital. 

If you’re in a brain fog and can’t think of that book you’ve been meaning to pick up — that dreaded mind fuzziness that seems to happen to us all, from time to time, the very moment we step into a bookshop — please check out 49th Shelf , a detailed site dedicated to helping people find their next great Canadian read. They not only break down the latest releases, but feature in-depth interviews with authors, interesting and timely columns, as well as lists, lists, lists, and the skinny on the most anticipated books, whatever the season. And if you find a book there to your liking, 49th Shelf automatically points you to the bookshop closest to you (typically an indie) or to the publisher’s website, where you can, of course, also buy the book.

There is also a chance that your mind is so busy and muddled and tied up in knots, you’ve been unable to read. Given there’s a global pandemic and all of our lives have been turned inside out and upside down in a short period of time, I think that’s happening to a lot of people. It has been with me. I have been stressed and deeply saddened and mentally fatigued by the news, and feeling so lonely and frightened and vulnerable, too, that reading’s been difficult. One remedy, I have found, is reading only in short spurts. I’ve read some poetry (mostly Jaime Forsythe and Jason Heroux, both truly talented and uniquely gifted Canadian poets), bits of C.S. Lewis for solace and inspiration, and a page or two from one of the novels heaped in a stack on my coffee table.

When my mind wanders, I pause and, after some thought, turn to prayers and gratitude. Living is luxury. That thought always returns to me. So, too, is reading. It’s also a proven stress reliever. In fact, the Canadian Mental Health Association suggests reading in anxious times, as engaging in an enjoyable activity is every bit as important to one’s health, they say, as exercise or eating healthy, and keeping in touch with friends and loved ones.

Returning to gratitude: indie bookshops are selling traditional gift cards and e-gift cards at the moment, and I think that’s a wonderful idea — what better time to support a local business and to give someone a little pick-me-up than now?

A dear friend of mine is an ICU nurse, and I’m going to sneak a heartfelt “thank you” card into her mailbox sometime very soon — and inside, a gift certificate so she can treat herself to a book or two down the road. Hopefully that will bring her some comfort, and maybe even some much-needed hope, as well as a reminder that she is deeply, deeply appreciated.

I’ll leave the last words here to a poet, Alice Burdick, who is also one of three co-owners of Lexicon Books in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. You can visit the shop online at . Although the shop is closed to foot traffic, they’re still selling books — including many by wonderful Canadian authors — and mailing and delivering them to people in Lunenburg and Mahone Bay.

“Reading is a necessity,” Alice says, “as it both describes and expands the world. Right now our world is quite small and interior, even as we are united by the effects of this pandemic. When I read, I laugh and weep as books themselves write the world… our bookstore is full of the whole world of words.” 


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