Bookmas! with Robert J. Wiersema

Book­mas: when being a shelf mon­key is a won­der­ful thing. But when is it not?

Today’s not-so-secret Book­San­ta: Robert J. Wierse­ma!

Robert J. Wierse­ma is the author of the nov­els Before I Wake and Bed­time Sto­ry (both nation­al best­sellers), the novel­la The World More Full of Weep­ing, and the non-fic­tion, Walk Like a Man: Com­ing of Age with the Music of Bruce Spring­steen. He reviews fre­quent­ly for the Globe & Mail, the Nation­al Post, and oth­er peri­od­i­cals, and he teach­es intro­duc­to­ry cre­ative writ­ing at Camo­sun Col­lege in Vic­to­ria. His next nov­el, Black Feath­ers, will be pub­lished in 2015.

What 2014-pub­lished fic­tion would you rec­om­mend?

I loved Ais­linn Hunter’s The World Before Us a beau­ti­ful blend of craft and heart, his­to­ry and imme­di­a­cy, with a nar­ra­tive voice that is both bravu­ra and under­stat­ed.

And I’m not sure if it would fall into fic­tion or not, but Jack Zipes’ new trans­la­tion of the first edi­tions of the fairy tales of the Broth­ers Grimm is rip­ping up my mind and seed­ing it with all sorts of new ideas.

What 2014-pub­lished non-fic­tion would you rec­om­mend?

I know that oth­ers are like­ly to say this, but Robyn Doolittle’s Crazy Town, about the Rob Ford era in Toron­to pol­i­tics, was a won­der — not only an analy­sis of the imme­di­ate sit­u­a­tion in all its crack-addled gore, but an invalu­able primer on how, exact­ly, the GTA got into that sit­u­a­tion in the first place.

What one 2014-pub­lished book do you believe needs more love?

I’m con­stant­ly aston­ished — and aggriev­ed — that Jonathan Car­roll isn’t a house­hold name. His new one, Bathing the Lion, is mar­velous.

What book that you’ve read in 2014 (not nec­es­sar­i­ly a 2014 book) would you rec­om­mend?

Every cou­ple of years I re-read Neil Gaiman’s Sand­man, 75 issues of com­ic good­ness, col­lect­ed in a mul­ti­tude of for­mats. One of the best nov­els of the last 25 years, peri­od.

What ongo­ing series of books would you rec­om­mend?

In keep­ing with the comics theme, Bill Willingham’s Fables gives me a fris­son of plea­sure with every new issue. It’s wrap­ping up next year, which is going to leave a hole in my heart for a good long while.

What author would you rec­om­mend?

Did you miss that bit up there about Jonathan Car­roll? Have you for­got­ten so soon? See, this is how it hap­pens, right here. Jonathan Car­roll. Jonathan Car­roll. Jonathan Car­roll.

What’s the one book you’ve read in your life­time that you think every­one should read?

John Crowley’s Lit­tle, Big. I know peo­ple find it for­bid­ding, too com­plex, too thick, but, man…This one lives inside me (and in a tat­too on my left arm). A Vic­to­ri­an-style fairy tale with a con­tem­po­rary sen­si­bil­i­ty. No, a con­tem­po­rary nov­el about Vic­to­ri­an fairies. No, a love sto­ry, with fairies. No, a fairy tale with romance. Well, yes, all of those. But so much more.

Let’s go spe­cif­ic: what one book would you rec­om­mend for
  • The sci­ence-fic­tion fan: Holy hell, is William Gibson’s new one, The Periph­er­al, ever good.
  • The hor­ror fan: Brett Savory, who pub­lish­es me over it Chizine, is going to think I’m suck­ing up with this, but seri­ous­ly, you say hor­ror and I think of his In and Down. So freaky, it’ll shrink your baby-mak­ing parts.
  • The fan­ta­sy fan: Hav­ing already gone on about Lit­tle, Big and Jonathan Car­roll, I’m going to say Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, a sto­ry of beau­ty and won­der, pain and joy. And if you say “Oh, that, I saw the movie,” I will cut you.
  • The strict real­ism fan: I’ve spent a lot of time with Ray­mond Carv­er in my teach­ing this year. Take two Carv­er sto­ries and an Alice Munro sto­ry dai­ly and you’ll be a bet­ter human being for it.
  • The thriller/mystery fan: I sup­pose here is as good a place as any for my oblig­a­tory Elmore Leonard rave. The Library of Amer­i­ca start­ed their Leonard can­on­iza­tion this year with their Four Nov­els of the 1970s — it’s a hell of a place to start.
  • The non-fic­tion fan: I’ve had friends go through some hard times this year, and the one book I rec­om­mend (oh, who am I kid­ding, one of the books I rec­om­mend) is Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul. The idea that melan­choly isn’t some­thing to be avoid­ed but some­thing to be embraced, that the vicis­si­tudes of the soul are impor­tant, is pow­er­ful stuff.
  • The Cana­di­an fan: How Michael Crummey’s Sweet­land didn’t get even longlist­ed for the Giller this year is one of those mys­ter­ies that will obsess me until next year’s longlist reveals a sim­i­lar over­sight. I call it “Oren­da syn­drome”. Don’t let that stop you, though — Sweet­land is a pow­er­ful, com­pelling, won­der-mak­ing book from one of our finest writ­ers.
  • The (genre I couldn’t think of) fan: Books about books, you say? Care­less Peo­ple, Sarah Churchwell’s analy­sis of the world that con­tributed to The Great Gats­by, is a thor­ough, absorb­ing read, and will like­ly prompt you to reread Gats­by imme­di­ate­ly.

If, god for­bid, peo­ple couldn’t find any of your books, who else would you sug­gest they seek out for a sim­i­lar lit­er­ary fix?

My books, as in the books I wrote? You know what? Jonathan Car­roll. The answer to any ques­tion is like­ly to be Jonathan Car­roll.

What would you rec­om­mend for the hol­i­days in a non-lit­er­ary con­text?

This is new for me, but so sim­ple it should be blind­ing­ly obvi­ous, but isn’t: savour the hol­i­days. That’s it. Savour them.

I spent more than twen­ty years work­ing in retail, work­ing ’til noon on Christ­mas eve, back at it most Box­ing Days — the idea of not hav­ing to do any­thing, of being giv­en a chunk of time just your own? That’s the great­est gift of all. And even if it’s only a few hours, be greedy — carve it away, make it your own. Do what brings you joy.

Actu­al­ly, that holds true for the rest of the year as well…