Recommending Books

Telephone booths

I’ve got a part time job over the Christmas season working at a bookstore. It’s the big national chain bookstore in Canada, and I worked here last year as well. I’m learning about some of the retail end of the publishing industry–and also something about how to sell books to people, by trial and error and by watching my coworkers, many of whom are astonishingly good at their jobs.

(My favourite story of the week, though not a sell: a woman came in and asked me if I could help her find a book. She didn’t know what it was called, who wrote it, whether it was nonfiction or fiction, or when it came out. She thought it had been translated out of Finnish or Swedish or something like that, had been written up in The Globe and Mail a few months ago, and was about fatherhood. I blinked, said frankly I had no idea what it could be, and went to ask a coworker for advice. She said, “Hmm, I think that might be Knaussgaard.” It was.)

I’m learning. I had a few good moments today, particularly my enthusiastic endorsement of Jean Craighead George’s Julie of the Wolves and My Side of the Mountain, Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic books (which we, alas, don’t carry at the moment, but can order!), and earlier in the week there was Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw, and a week or so ago, I got someone to buy one of my very favourite books, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.

All this has got me thinking. As I mentioned, oh, a week ago, I’ve been trying to reconsider my blog, at least in terms of getting back into the habit of frequent, if not quite regular, posting. I have been working well on Part One of my cunning plan, which the writing and publication of short stories. “Blue Moon Over Pincher Creek,” which was up for free for quite some time, is now available on Amazon and will shortly be up on the other vendors, and I am just finishing up the cover of a new story, “Indigo, Frankincense, and Jade.” This is something of an Arabian-Nights-esque retelling of Bluebeard, set in a different world.

“Indigo, Frankincense, and Jade,” is related to my Red Company tales, of which you will be hearing more over the coming months, rather than to Scheherezade and the actual Arabian Nights–or at least that version in my narrative universe! Once its cover is finished and the story is available, I will let you all know. It’s a bit longer than my other short stories have been; at 12,000 words closer to being a novelette (but since that’s a form I’ve only recently learned about I’ll probably stick with ‘long short story’ for now.)

Anyhow, I think I’ll do some recommending of books–or at least discuss which ones are my favourites, and something of why. I’m not going to review them, exactly; rather, I intend to talk about why I like them so much, and perhaps a bit about how they’ve influenced me as a writer. It’s rarely so straightforward an influence as you can see in Till Human Voices Wake Us, which is deeply entwined with the impact reading Hamlet, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and Dante had on me … but it’s there, just as Shackleton’s Escape from the Antarctic is in Human Voices–and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land.


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