Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A Novel Spot

I buy books. Sometimes I need them for research and other times I just need their company in the shade of a good wide tree on a warm autumn day.
There are two large, chain bookstores within walking distance of my home but there isn’t a single independent bookstore in all of Mississauga, the sixth largest city in Canada. No doubt the big stores sell lots of books and have a good selection but nowadays I buy all my books from the closest independent bookstore, A Novel Spot, located on The Kingsway just inside the western sleeve of Toronto.

Sarah Pietroski and her crew of Helen, Chris, Susan, Diane, Mary, Kathleen and Katie know everything about new fiction and nonfiction and they will source anything that is in print from anywhere in the world. Recent finds they have made for me include Killing the Black Dog, Early Tennessee Land Records, Searching for Life: The Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and The Plurality of Worlds.

Now, it seems, all I have to do is call and say, “She’s seventeen with ripening attitude” and they do my choosing for me. They ask, hardcover or soft? Then get an idea of price range and I have the gift cornered. I trust them. You will never get this kind of experience and knowledge of books in any of the big-box stores in the city.

And now I write as a writer. I know that Sarah and company bend over backwards to support all writers by reading and recommending their books. My novel Great Village was published in 2011 and there were enough reviews to get it distributed in some public libraries and the Chapters/Indigo chain for a few months but they’ve all moved on to the many books that have been published since. This little bookstore, alone, has flogged my book and virtually kept it in print. It would be all but forgotten were it not for these good women, their hard work and their love of books. And, they aren’t just doing it for me. They have writers at the store almost every month. They run a book club. They regularly send out recommendations and reviews. They’ll do whatever it takes to get good books into your hands.

Yes, it may be more convenient to walk the two blocks to the big players, but it takes lots of courage to enter the fray of book-selling these days when the big players have pushed out so many independents. I for one will continue to buy all my books from A Novel Spot and support the things they believe in. We can’t take this little book shop for granted. They’ve survived four years now but it’s tenuous. Sarah struggles every month to keep her little store solvent. Why not make a statement with your book budget this year? You can do this.

Saint John of God is the patron saint of booksellers and it’s clear he had as tenuous a hold on his sanity as on holiness. If selling books is madness, it’s the kind of madness with which I wish to be associated.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

About Writing

A good writer can get you to read almost anything and a great writer can get you to read about things you'd prefer not to think about. Have you ever had the experience of someone telling you something they found hilariously funny—they can barely get through the telling, it's so funny—but you were not at all moved? When that kind of thing is done in print, it's what I call, "I-feel" writing. A writer is in haste to tell the reader, "hey, I felt a lot, right here," and instead of using words, craft, the subject and elbow grease to make the case and woo me inside the story too, to actually make me "feel" the same thing, the writer takes the short cut, tells me how she feels, ergo how I should feel.

Now I can think one of two things: either, I'm not feeling enough, or, more likely, the writer is feeling a bit too much. Someone calls it, "smelling the writer". It's a good exercise for every author to work his way through a manuscript and pick out each place where he is telling the reader, point blank, "I felt. . .", remove it entirely, then work the text to actually make the reader wrap her own five senses around it without having to be hit over the head. This is no small exercise; it could take an additional year or two of research and writing.

Most of us are not natural story-tellers. We're probably more natural feelers and we might talk about feeling more than an earlier generation. It's not enough to stand at the headwaters of a book and say, "I feel; therefore I am." A writer must convince the reader on every page at a gut level of the need to care about this topic—that of all the things vying to soak up every drop of a reader's attention and compassion, this one should matter.