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  • Mark Shupe


Two weeks ago I drastically reduced my online activities.

I had to. Cause I caught myself watching a funny cat video. And then another.

And then this whole compilation of cat videos:

I once swore that if I ever caught myself watching more than one cat video I would need to overhaul my life.

So if you see me wearing a pair of jeans with a bib and shoulder straps you know why.... (cause I just got overhauled)

I really got hooked online around the time of the 2016 election, when all of a sudden everyday there was something more unbelievable in the news. So since then I have been reading a lot of online news from various news feeds, and that has expanded to travel news and sports news and pet news and the odd funny cat video. And let's be honest, all funny cat videos are odd.

See, when I'm not travelling or dreaming about travelling or walking the streets of Calgary or going to marvel movies or doing something active, I like to read.

A lot.

Reading for me is like a massage of the mind.

That is if I’m reading something written well. I'd probably read more, but I can only sit so long before I have muscle cramping, and I have to be up moving and getting the blood flowing for my heart. So reading time is a rarer commodity than plutonium.

And alas online reading had taken up almost all of my reading time.

And the news that is the foundation of my reading.... It has taken away from my reading books like the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas, the collected works of Aristotle by Aristotle, China, by Edward Rutherford, the latest young adult book by the famous Lana Shupe, and anything by Brian Michael Bendis. (He writes comic books. So sue me.)

But the funny cat video was the last straw. If I thought that was news...

So I stopped looking at electronics before 10am and after 8pm. It has been amazing. I feel more relaxed, my blood pressure has dropped and my vocabulary has increased. (Did you know that incunabulum is an early printed book, generally before 1501 and advances in printing press technology? I can’t wait to drop that one in a conversation because I love books so much and not at all because I’m a show-off.)

I didn't even know that trump got indicted.

Wait trump got indicted?

So I had to decide what to read instead of that online stuff. A history of the Burgundians? That was easy. I had started that one when I bought in while travelling in France. But I needed something serious, enlightening, erudite.

So I read 66 issues of Aquaman comics.

It was awesome.

Then I read 52 issues of Green Lantern comics.

I didn't think it was possible but it was even more awesome. (issue15 of the 2015 volume was particularly good.)

I'm reading some travelogues and some research material, but what I suddenly realized was I wanted to learn more about literary Calgary. I was walking all the Cowtown streets and picking up bits and pieces, but I wanted to learn about the city from a novelist’s perspective.

So I went to a bookstore in Calgary. I am from the Maritimes. It’s where my reading preferences were formed. There it has always been easy to not only find out about local authors but to find them in the bookstores. The author community is well supported by the Writers’ Federation.

It’s also supported by great bookstores like Dartmouth Book Exchange, ) with the fabulous Sue Slade and Amy McIsaac; Endless Shores Books in Bridgetown, ( (where by the way I signed the contract to sell my first book); LaHave River Books on the Lahave River. (worth the drive to visit the store. ( There’s a trio of store’s in Lunenburg: Blockhouse books, ; Lunenburgbound Books and Paper ; Elizabeth Books. The Whirligig alone is worth the drive to Shelburne. And in Halifax there’s a place called Open book that is associated with the publisher Nimbus. And that's only a short list of Nova Scotia bookstores featuring local authors. I’ve been to all those bookstores more than once and loved my visits. So I was especially excited to visit a Calgary bookstore through the lens of looking for Calgary literary works. Because Calgary is the third most livable city in the world. And how can a city be livable without great books? Am I right?

I went in, admittedly dripping from a bit of sweat from a long walk, jumping over ice banks. My first impression was wonder. The store was huge.

But that turned to disappointment. The selection was tiny. On books. If you wanted to buy painted scarves or sculptures of snowmen, the selection was endless. Before approaching the literary area, I did my normal rounds. I started as always with the history section where I hoped to get a book on Vikings.

There were none. No books on Vikings? In the history section? What, had the history section been raided by bookish Norse warriors?

The travel section didn’t have any material on the island south of Corsica and when I asked if they had any books, I ended up in the Sports Fishing section with a book on how to cook Sardines. That wasn’t going to help me learn about Sardinia.

I went to the local section. And it had several non-fiction local books. Which was good. But I didn’t need any more books on hiking in the mountains right now.

A clerk then asked if I was looking for anything in particular. “Well,” I said “I am looking for novels and literary books by local authors. I didn’t see any in the local section. Do you have a section on local fiction authors?”

“Oh now, we couldn’t have a different section for that,” said the friendly literary genius. “Do you know how many different sections we would have if we did something like that. We’d have to have a section of Canadian authors too.”

If I’d been drinking coffee, I’m sure I would have done a spit take.

“You mean you don’t have a Canadian authors section,” I asked. ‘Holy Canadian content rules.’ I thought. The government didn’t have a rule on this?

“It's okay though because all the local authors are just mixed in with the regular fiction.”

“Thank you,” I said, turning to look at the fiction stacks. I am actually okay with big book stores when they give me lots of choice and cheap prices, but when they start substituting backpacks made from recycled paper in place of books (I don’t make this up) it’s enough to make you want to go back and watch funny cat videos.

So just for fun, because even when no one else is around I still like to be a smart ass, I walked up and down every fiction aisle looking for Alberta and Calgary authors. I saw two books from Lesley Crewe an author from Nova Scotia and both of those books already sit on our shelves. I mention this to prove that I was indeed looking and not just to suck up to Lesley Crewe.

There were only five Bernard Cornwell books. Now any English language book shop will have at least a shelf full of his books. And Conn Iggulden, my main man for historical fiction, had only four. So I wasn’t too shocked that I couldn’t find any Alberta authors.

But if you want a book by Jodi Picoult. There’s your place. (I have no qualms about Jodi Picoult. I’m sure he or she is a terrific person and writer.)

So if a thorough guy like me couldn’t pick out books by Alberta authors, what are the chances someone who isn’t looking for one will find one?

And Calgary, the most livable city in the world. (okay, number three, but we are trying)

I did buy a day calendar for fifty per cent off. Although I was kind of tricked. The sign said fifty percent off final price. Except the final price was the original price. This being march 27, I was expecting a deeper discount on a desk calendar of which they had sixteen copies. It was a desk calendar of obscure European art. Now if you aren’t going to have a way to sell literary books by local authors, are you going to really attract the intellectual talent to buy sixteen day calendars of obscure European art? Eight months into the year?

To think they are more likely to recycle their backpacks then unused calendars I found kind of funny.

I left rather disappointed, but the story doesn’t end there. It doesn’t end here, because there will be another blog entry about this. But here’s my hope.

There is one Calgary author I know. Her name is Carrie Stanton and she writes terrific children books, including the Jewel, BeastBot and the Gardner.

Two days later I went to another store and found a book called “the Girl who Wore Boys Skates.” It’s about a Calgary family in depression era Calgary. I'm only forty pages in but it's already great. It's by K.A. Dann. I know its by a local author because there's a sticker on the cover that says so!

I also went to a Calgary Author’s meeting and voiced my concerns.

They told me of two bookshops in town that specialized in local authors. Oddly, these were both located on streets that I have not yet covered in my adventure to walk all the streets in Calgary. I will be checking them out shortly. You can count on that.

One is Shelf Life Books.

The other is Owl’s Nest Books.

So all is hopeful once again that there is plenty to read, without letting your tongue be captured by cat videos.

P.S. If you know of fiction by Calgary and Alberta authors please let me know.


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Apr 02, 2023

And you can always join the crew at Read by the Sea Literary Festival to support great Canadian authors! To try to get my steps in and read all the books, I tend to take to my treadmill though I love your street walking idea as the sun is healing, too. And my dog prefers it when I walk outside, that just makes it harder to read. Hmm... audio books on your outdoor adventures? Happy travels and funny cat videos! Sarah Butland

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