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Cast Your Vote: Bookstores' True Stories picks


UPDATE: These polls are now closed. Check out our other polls on our featured polls page!

There are a lot of great Canadian true stories out there. How is the regular reader going to sift through all of them? Recall the non-fiction classics? Unearth the much-loved but overlooked small press memoir? It's a difficult task. Which is why we aren't going to let you do it alone. We asked people from all across the publishing spectrum — booksellers, bloggers, publishers and more — to build their dream Canada Reads: True Stories list. We will roll these lists out through the Top 40 campaign. They can be a source of inspiration and a fantastic reading list, and they give these books an extra notch to make it to the next round in this year's debates. But you also get to have your say.

Below the jump, you will find five polls, each submitted by a smart and savvy Canadian bookseller. In each poll, vote for the book you'd most like to see on the Canada Reads: True Stories list. You can vote once in each poll. The polls below will close on Tuesday, October 11, at midnight ET — but stay tuned for the next one!

Each vote counts as one point. Books accumulate points based on polls and recommendations. The 40 books with the most support will be named the Canada Reads: True Stories Top 40.

Tory McNally of McNally Robinson


McNally Robinson is a family-oriented independent bookseller with stores in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and New York City. Tory McNally is the director of operations for McNally Robinson.

When we asked Tory to choose five titles for her dream Canada Reads: True Stories list, here's what she had to say:

"I read non fiction to understand my — and Canada's — place in the world. How we live, treat our surroundings and accept change. The Boy in the Moon is a powerful memoir from the multi-talented journalist Ian Brown. This book is shockingly personal. His yearning to connect with his disabled son shows such anxiety and love; it is a rarely opened window into a challenging family. The Death and Life of Great American Cities is by Jane Jacobs who was the first to articulate the importance of mixed-use neighbourhoods that are pedestrian friendly at a time when "suburb" was not a dirty word. Feisty and smart (and arrested twice protesting urban development), she changed the field of urban planning, thus changing how all of us experience our surroundings. The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant tells the many stories of the Queen Charlotte Islands: the violence of the logging camps, the myths of the Haida people and the biology of a growing tree. The book centres around the man who cut down the sacred Golden Spruce, his cryptic reasons and the Haida reaction. I followed Vaillant as he jumps from native storytelling to the vascular systems of trees, hanging onto every word. Home: A Short History of an Idea by Witold Rybczynski is a celebration of the comforts of home — both as an idea and a place. He shows how the concept of home has changed since the middle ages, exploring the changes in domesticity and relaxation, and the evolution of public versus private. A home is so much more than the latest stainless steel appliances."


Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Titles McMaster University Bookstore


Mark Leslie Lefebvre has been a bookseller for over 20 years, working in various bookstores and locations in Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto. Mark is president of the Canadian Booksellers Association and sits on the board of directors for BookNet Canada. Mark is also an author (writing under the name Mark Leslie) and an avid blogger. He recently left his position at Titles McMaster University Bookstore to join another leader in Canadian bookselling, Kobo, as its director of self-publishing and author relations.

When we asked Mark to choose five titles for his dream Canada Reads: True Stories list, here's what he had to say:

"In determining this list I had to wanted to think about Canadian authored books I had read that not only told some sort of "true story" but which also had a significant impact on me. I'm primarily a fan of fiction, and, as such, I don't typically read a lot of biographical books. When I read non-fiction I tend to want to read something that will teach me something. To that end, each of the five books I selected ended up teaching me something. It might have been something new that I was enlightened to learn, it might have been a perspective I hadn't previously considered; but in many cases, the reading of these "tales" taught me something new about myself. Reading these books altered my perception, my understanding and the stories stayed with me long after reading them. I tried to draw a list that ran the full spectrum of the types of "true stories" that I like — stories that demonstrate growth, learning, the gaining of wisdom through trial and error and overcoming the various trials and tribulations that eventually build character."


Shelley Macbeth, Blue Heron Books


The unpretentious atmosphere of Blue Heron Books with its comfy chairs, wood shelving and creaky floors lends itself to a long, slow browsing session, but under that sleepy atmosphere vibrates a strong pulse. The store has a quaint, old-fashioned look with an up-tempo vibe, as there is always something happening. The store is a hub for the community and a bastion of calm chaos where everyone is welcome, even the local dogs that drop by with their owners for a treat from the tin kept under the front counter. Shelley Macbeth has been involved with Blue Heron Books since 1992, and has been the owner since 2005.

When we asked Shelley to choose five titles for her dream Canada Reads: True Stories list, here's what she had to say:

"An eclectic bunch, my picks... Right off the top, as my most obvious choice is Ted Barris's Victory at Vimy: Canada Comes of Age April 9 - 12, 1917. Master interviewer Barris draws on the stories of the veterans who were there to paint a full colour portrait of the defining battle in our history that conferred upon Canada its nationhood. As the "people's historian," all of Ted's books are extremely accessible — a vital component of any Canada Reads selection.

The immigrant story is told most eloquently by Marina Nemat in her memoir, Prisoner of Tehran. As a nation of peacekeepers, I felt Marina's story of escaping the brutality of an Iranian prison was a necessary inclusion.

For me, the environmental story is best told by Canadian scientist Diana Beresford-Kroeger in her book, The Global Forest. She calls herself a renegade scientist, as she marries aboriginal healing, Western medicine and botany to advocate for better stewardship of our natural world.

Living so close to where Lucy Laud Montgomery penned 11 of her 22 novels has inspired in me a fresh interest in this Canadian icon. But Maud was NOT the red-haired rascal we know and love in the Anne character, which is why I chose Jane Urquhart's recent addition to the Montgomery canon, Extraordinary Canadians: L.M. Montgomery.

In my opinion, a list is not complete without humour; the Canadian variety in the form of Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw by Will Ferguson. Will's exploration of our glorious country is insightful, irreverent and fascinating.


The team at The Beguiling


Founded in 1987, The Beguiling has set a new standard in Canada for comics and graphic novel retail. Showcasing the largest selection of alternative, underground and avant-garde graphic storytelling in the country, The Beguiling has a worldwide reputation for excellence.

When we asked Peter Birkemoe, Chris Butcher and the team at the Beguiling for their dream Canada Reads: True Stories list, here's what they had to say:

(The Beguiling had so much to say, they wrote a blog post about it all. Read it here!)

"We here at The Beguiling campaigned hard for Jeff Lemire's Essex County to win Canada Reads 2011 — and, we feel, with good reason. Graphic novels are no longer an emerging medium, but a fully formed one capable of telling any type of story, and telling it very well indeed. How fortunate for us, and for all Canadians, that Canada Reads 2012 will focus on non-fiction, as some of the most noted recent graphic novels have been true stories. Many of the graphic novels that people respond to the most strongly consist of history, reportage and especially memoir. Who hasn't heard of Art Spiegelman's Maus, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, or Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis? These are all excellent, internationally celebrated pieces of personal and public history, and we look forward to recommending the following Canadian non-fiction titles to join their ranks.

Louis Riel by Chester Brown: It seems that this breakthrough work by arguably Canada's most famous cartoonist Chester Brown is already being championed by his publisher and by the public. It's not hard to see why — this gripping portrait of the controversial Canadian anti-hero makes Canadian history (often thought to be 'boring') compelling and immediate. It also echoes the themes of Chester's other, more personal works, touching on religion, mental disorders and iconoclasm.

Two Generals by Scott Chantler: It's very difficult to do actual historical non-fiction in comics — the medium is expected to be strongly narrative and dialogue-driven, but Scott Chantler pulls it off with his graphic novel Two Generals. Heavily researched, it is the story of his grandfather and grandfather's best friend, both officers in the Highland Light Infantry of Canada, and the devastating Battle of Buron. With a minimum of dramatization, pulled entirely from letters home, interviews and the official war diary of the regiment, it is an historical record made real, and an endearing tribute from Chantler to his grandfather.

Pyongyang by Guy Delisle: Delisle's works are difficult to classify, being partly memoir, partly travelogue and partly reportage. Ultimately, these works are the comics diaries of someone travelling to some of the most fascinating places on earth. We've chosen Pyong Yang, his journey behind the world's last communist iron curtain into the heart of North Korea, for three reasons: it's illumination into this world that most of us will never see; what it doesn't tell us — can't tell us — about being there; and it's idiosyncratic and highly personal (and somewhat subjective) view of events. It's also beautifully drawn and engaging, and that doesn't hurt a bit.

My New York Diary by Julie Doucet: This raw, unflinching and utterly captivating look at a young Montrealer packing up her life and heading to New York City is something of a "lost classic" of Canadian cartooning, coming as it did before the breakout of comics into the mass market — but don't let that dissuade you. Dealing with alcoholism and drugs, a jealous boyfriend, worsening epilepsy and a loss of faith in her own talent to tell her story, the work is darkly funny, always surprising and perhaps more relevant today than when it was written. We'd specifically recommend it to fans of David B.'s Epileptic, not only for its treatment of mental illness, but for the chunky, graphic storytelling.

Reunion by Pascal Girard: This deeply personal reflection on a man's impending high-school reunion is hilarious, if often cringe-inducing. Pascal the character ultimately becomes obsessed with who was a winner and who was a loser at school, and needing to be seen as the former at the reunion. It's a comedy of errors from this point on, made all the more enjoyable — and painful — by the knowledge that this really happened. While the author describes this work as "semi-autobiographical," we feel after discussing it with him that it more than meets the qualifications of being entered into this event."


Mitzi DeWolfe, Box of Delights


Named for the 1935 John Masefield children's fantasy novel, The Box of Delights, this Wolfville, Nova Scotia, bookstore has been serving the Annapolis Valley since 1976. Bob and Mitzi DeWolfe purchased The Box of Delights Bookshop in 1991. While they updated the technology and revamped the store, it remained a mainstay in the community, offering a wide selection of books, cards and calendars, as well as good conversation and information.

When we asked Mitzi for her dream Canada Reads: True Stories list, here's what she had to say:

All of these books are memorable for different reasons. Their common thread is a strong narrative. They read like fiction, but happily or unhappily they are true. Each story is a very personal account and the writer is changed because of the experience. The reader can't help but be touched by these stories. We agonize and empathize with the writer, sharing tears and laughter. That each tale has stayed with us is a testament to the strength of the story. Shake Hands with the Devil and Burning Down the House are brutal in their honesty, and such important stories to tell and remember. Touch the Dragon, Time was Soft There and A Sound Like Water Dripping explore the human spirit in a gentler fashion but are not less meaningful. There are so many worthy reads and it is so difficult to pick only five. We offer this list for its lasting impression on us."


Don't forget you can recommend a book for Canada Reads: True Stories. If you do, you could win a trip to Toronto to see the final Canada Reads debate live in February. All the details are here.

Which books did you vote for? Let us know in the comments below.

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