Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Simultaneous Reads

As a bookseller, the worst thing I encounter is having someone apologize for a book they're buying. "I know I should be reading something more serious, but..." I don't think The Bookshelf gives off any kind of haughty vibe; I'd like to think that any feeling of shame is the result of a creeping miasmic rumour that you're less of a person if you're not familiar with Finnegan's Wake. But the thing is, we're not an academic journal; we sell books. And selling books means that we support and encourage titles of all kinds of heaviness and lightness. And if you're ever feeling sensitive about a book, don't sweat it: we love that you're here, and we want to hear about the books you love, why you love them, and how they fit into your life. Life is full of cracks of all depth and width and the great thing about there being so many damn books is chances are there's one that's a perfect fit for all those weird spaces in your life.

The fact is, most people are omnivorous readers: sometimes we like to fathom the depths of our own inky condition and sometimes we like to go for gentle paddles. And sometimes we like to do both simultaneously.

This year's Journey Prize winner, Naben Ruthnum was just featured on Hazlitt's great Shelf Esteem feature. "If there’s something I’m smug about, reading-wise," Ruthnum says, "it’s the diversity of my taste. I read so much stuff that might be considered trash, but it’s not trash. Most of it is really good." The variety of his reading habits lead Ruthnum to start this Tumblr, Simultaneous Reads. The stacks featured on the site will probably look familiar to you. You have these in your house--by your bedside, on your toilet tank, beside the TV--or you've seen them at friends houses. These simultaneous reads stacks bring to mind inuksuks, both in appearance and meaning--"something which acts for or performs the function of a person."

So, if you can put down your book for a second, have a look at the stacks on Naden's Tumblr, and imagine how the books that make them up describe the person that left it. And if you have an extra moment, send us a picture of your own simultaneous reads stack, or if you spot one while you're out and about, snap it and send it along.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Q & A with Stephanie Domet

From the back of the book: “Lansing Meadows has one last shot to get it right. With the clock ticking, he sets out on the road one last time, to sing his songs to anyone who’ll listen, and to try to right his wrongs, before it’s too late. Fallsy Downsies is a novel about aging, art, celebrity, and modern Canadian culture, told through the lens of Lansing Meadows, the godfather of Canadian folk music; Evan Cornfield, the up and comer who idolizes him; and Dacey Brown, a young photographer who finds herself along for the ride.”

The publication of Stephanie’s new novel was preceded by the fancy (and sometimes limited) fifth anniversary of her first, Homing, which was the first to be published by increasingly formidable saints/weirdos at Invisible Publishing and won the Margaret and John Savage First Book Award. If you turn your dial far enough East, you can hear Stephanie hosting CBC Nova Scotia’s Mainstreet and Atlantic Airwaves.

The Bookshelf is pleased as spiked punch to be hosting Stephanie in the bookstore on December 3rd at 7:30pm. A reading and conversation will be bookended by a tribute to Stephanie’s creation, Lansing Meadows. Imagining the hits of Lansing Meadows will be Jessy Bell Smith, Alanna Gurr, Gordon Auld, and Greg Denton.


Could you fill us in on your models for Lansing? In the book you've put him in the context of real life folk heavies, but also set him slightly apart from them.

It was important to me that Lansing stand on his own, as himself. Which is why I peppered the narrative with real life folk heavies, as you say, so that the temptation to think he was based on any one of them would be somewhat alleviated. I was definitely inspired by Lightfoot, McLauchlan, Hynes and Connors, but also by Britney Spears and Justin Bieber and Avril Lavigne, if you can believe it. I wanted to think about fame and how it affects those who are saddled with it, and those who are in awe of the famous. And so in that way, Lansing was broadly modeled on a whole bunch of people, and also on no one person.

What was the first appearance Lansing Meadows made in your life? Were you carrying him around for a while?

Lansing first revealed himself to me I would say about six years ago. He came aboard as a crusty, cranky old git, but the more time we spent together the less like a caricature he became and the more I could hear his heart beating. He surprised me at every turn. I was equally shocked by the unfiltered way in which he speaks, but also by his tenderness. 
How complete is the discography of Meadows in your own head? In Fallsy Downsies we get a sense of his hits and his impact, but did you go further in preparation for the book?

I did not map out his discography, but I definitely thought about the length and heft of his career. I allude, in the book, to the album in which he went country. And I think he had a lot of those phases—I was thinking a lot about the career of a Bob Dylan or a Neil Young. You know, every couple of albums from one of those guys is pretty terrible, but they put it out anyhow, either as a testament of where they're at, artistically, or to keep everyone guessing, or just out of sheer cussedness. And I thought of Lansing as having the same approach to his music. He would be a true artist and some of his albums would be turkeys, but he'd release them anyhow because that was how you grew. You tried things and if they failed, well, you learned something from that. So though I don't have his complete back catalogue mapped out, I felt that I had a sense of what kind of artist he'd been. I can say that I can clearly picture all the album covers, however.

Do any of Lansing's touring stories come from your own experiences touring a book?

I wish! Touring a book is fun, but in a CanLit way, not a rock and roll—or even folk and roll—way. But my husband is a musician and I've been on tour with him. And I've seen some things! Even in the way that people will take your photo without asking, put their hands on you—the exchange with the super-fan in Thunder Bay, the one with the bags full of records, I just wanted to push fandom to its most inevitable conclusion. There's a delicate relationship, I think, between artist and fan—because neither of them is allowed to be genuine, in many ways. And as an artist, if someone doesn't like what you've done, and says so, there's not much you can say in response. Sorry, I guess? Thanks for telling me?

The book is very much about mentorship, though about both sides: being guided towards the type of person you'd like to be, but also being warned away from the type of person you'd like not to be. Care to talk about the mentor you've had in your own career, either positive or negative? (You don't need to name names!)

I have an amazing mentor, and that's Sue Goyette. She's a poet and she teaches, and she's wise and funny and real. And by and large, I have seen incredible acts of generosity among the writers I've met—people like Miriam Toews and Lawrence Hill and Lisa Moore—they've all been encouraging and curious and democratic, and I love that spirit of we're all in this together. Sure, I've seen lots of examples of the kind of writer and person I do not want to be, but I would say more often I'm shown examples to strive for. Sorry, that's probably not as juicy an answer as you were hoping for!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Q & A with Lyle Estill

From the back of the book: "Unflinchingly honest and compulsively readable, Small Stories, Big Changes provides an intimate look at the personal experience of being a pioneer in the sustainability movement, laying bare the emotional, spiritual and financial impact of a life lived in the service of change."

Lyle Estill is the president and co-founer of Piedmont Biofuels and the author of Industrial Evolution, Small is Possible, and Biodiesel Power. He has won numerous awards for his commitment to sustainability, outreach, community development, and leadership. We're thrilled to be hosting Mr. Estill in the eBar this Friday, November 8th at 7:00pm. Ben Minett fired off a few questions in advance of the reading.

Your book gathers together the stories of individuals you have been influenced by during your life championing environmental sustainability. What role has collaboration played in your success?

At Piedmont Biofuels we are in the energy business. As such we collaborate across a wide spectrum: policy makers, bureaucrats, oil companies, fleet managers, and individual coop members. I would say we collaborate or die.

What were Piedmont Biofuels' biggest obstacles to the public's perception of biofuel as an attractive alternative to petroleum?

The status quo can be hard to budge. Mechanics and engine manufacturers have been the most intractable for us, but we have managed to open the door just enough for our locally made, artisanal biodiesel to slip through into public acceptance.

You have been ahead of the curve in terms environmental sustainability. In fact, you have taken it into your own hands and made a life out of research, development, and implementation. Where was this passion nurtured? Where did you develop the skills to implement your various projects?

Our skills came from the school of hard knocks. We started in the backyard, and just figured stuff out. Passion is harder to identify. When something just makes sense, it is hard to abandon. And sometimes being told it will never work is a great motivator.