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…