Located across from Central Memorial Park at the corner of 4th Street and 13th Avenue S.W., Shelf Life Books is a favourite haunt of book lovers in the city and a hub for author readings and other literary happenings. Kevin Lee has been with Shelf Life for two years and is currently the events coordinator for the local, independent bookstore. Here, Lee talks bookstore life, summer reads and why it makes perfect sense to host a poetry reading during Stampede week.
What’s the book of the summer so far? What are people coming in and asking for?
“Right now our best seller is Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari. It’s this very expansive history of human beings starting from a hundred thousand years ago. He kind of dips into the future a little bit, where we’re going, too.”
Why are people responding to this book?
“Well, I think it relates to everybody! That, and it’s been critically acclaimed as well. It’s a thorough survey of a very relevant topic.”
What about a lighter read? What’s a good book to take to the lake?
“I’d probably suggest Thirteen Ways of Looking At a Fat Girl by Mona Awad. It’s generally been a good seller everywhere. It’s about a girl named Lizzie and it’s written in these short little vignettes as she grows up and battles with her body image. It’s been really well received and it won the Amazon First Novel Award.”
What about you, what are you reading right now?
“I’m actually reading Double Teenage. It’s a very arty summer novel, but it’s beautifully written. It’s these two girls growing up in this weird nameless American city. It’s kind of surreal. Their names, Celine and Julie, are a reference to this French film I really like called Celine and Julie Go Boating. So that was the initial draw for me, but I really like it so far.”
What’s the best thing about working in a bookstore?
“The best thing and the worst thing is that you’re surrounded by books and you’re constantly discovering something every day. That makes it the worst thing because you can’t stop buying books and it’s really hard to keep up with how much you buy, so you have to set out all these little rules for yourself so that you don’t just get overwhelmed by stacks that you can’t work your way through. But that constant discovery is also the best thing. I would argue that even if you study literature in university, you won’t get that same high volume of discovery as you would when you work in a bookstore. Instead of studying a bunch of critical texts, you just get bombarded with all these beautiful, interesting titles that you’re exposed to every day.”
Do you have a constant sense of literary FOMO over what you’re not reading?
“Oh yeah. Sometimes if I go a few days without reading I feel almost illiterate somehow. But it keeps you on your toes. It keeps you reading for sure.”
In addition to being a bookstore, Shelf Life is known as a hub for author readings and events, so what’s that scene like during the summer months?
“Well, summer is a little quieter because launch season is mostly springtime and fall. But we do have a really cool event on Tuesday, July 12 at 7 p.m. It’s a handful of poets, all from Coach House Books, which is a pretty well-known Canadian poetry publisher: Nicole Markotic, Susan Holbrook and Helen Hajnoczky.”
What kind of crowd comes out to a poetry reading in the middle of Stampede?
“I think it’s all the people who are avoiding Stampede, which is a lot of the poets, I think. So it makes sense!”