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Michael TaubeWhen I worked for the Windsor Star as an editorial writer and columnist, one of the stores I regularly frequented was Biblioasis.

The independent bookstore was located in the city’s downtown core on Ouellette Avenue. It had an impressive selection of fiction and non-fiction titles for all ages and interests. I bought a few books from them, and the store’s owner, Dan Wells, purchased a few boxes of used titles when I moved back to Toronto in 2004.

The original bookshop closed in 2007. A new Biblioasis on Wyandotte Street East in the historic Walkerville district opened five years later and has thrived. Wells’s dream of book publishing also became a reality and, more importantly, a highly successful venture.

I’ve reviewed a couple of Biblioasis’s most successful titles for the Washington Times.

Cecil Foster’s They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada (2019) was nominated for a Toronto Book Award and turned into The Porter, a TV series jointly produced by CBC and BET+. Mark Bourrie’s Bush Runner: The Adventures of Pierre-Esprit Radisson (2019) won the prestigious RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction in 2020, the final year it was awarded.

This column will examine two recent Biblioasis releases, proving that its cornucopia of great books is no illusion.

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Dale Jacobs and Heidi LM Jacobs’ 100 Miles of Baseball: Fifty Games, One Summer (2021) is the mesmerizing tale of two Detroit Tigers fans who lost their love of the great game and set out on a unique journey to revitalize it. The authors travelled to vaunted baseball diamonds of professional teams, small-town sandlots in the minor leagues and sat in the dustiest of bleachers as high school teams battled for glory.

Oriole Park in Woodslee, Ont., located smack dab in a spot that’s “not even really a town … [m]ore like a crossroads,” has a local team of players who “spend their free time keeping up this beautiful little park – their universe of baseball – so they and the kids of the community can play.” When the hometown Port Lambton Pirates played the Wallaceburg Warriors, it was clear they were the superior team, but there were “moments of great beauty” by each side, composed of “guys who just want to play baseball.” Even a U18 (under-18) game held in Tecumseh, Ont. between the local Thunder and Amherstburg Sr. reminded the husband-and-wife writing duo that “much of baseball is exactly what these young players are doing – refining and reworking their skills and their understanding of the game to become, as [Leonard] Koppett says, artists instead of purposeless stick-wavers.”

The Jacobs encountered local townspeople, both young and old, in the bleachers, concession stands or on the field. Each person had a unique story and/or personal observation about the teams, communities or life in general. Every game was different, but each was vital in helping understand what baseball truly means.

Elaine Dewar’s The Origin of the Deadliest Pandemic in 100 Years: An Investigation (2021) examines a more controversial topic. That is, the origins of SARS-COV-2 and whether it originated from a leak in a laboratory located in Wuhan, China.

“China’s official behaviour, its single-minded determination to stymie any real investigation into the origins of the virus” in its country concerned the longtime author and journalist. Chinese officials resisted a formal investigation, suggesting the virus “could have come from somewhere else, anywhere but China.” Officials also “did not explain why they weren’t allowing outsiders to study samples from the earliest known infections.” They also didn’t publish “more detailed epidemiological information about the first persons known to have endured SARS-COV-2” and, according to an Associated Press analysis, “were pushing out a wall of disinformation.”

This reminded her of an old Yiddish proverb used by her paternal grandmother when her children attempted to escape punishment. “The thief, his head burns,” according to the loose translation, which means “the thief knows what he did and works to deflect blame to others.”

With a keen eye and inquisitive nature, Dewar examined little-known academic research into the illness and deaths of miners cleaning out bat feces from a cave in Mojiang County. Their blood samples were sent to the Wuhan Institute of Virology, where the lab leak may have occurred. There’s also the 2019 removal of scientists Xiangguo Qiu and Keding Cheng from Winnipeg’s National Microbiology Laboratory. They’re not blamed for the pandemic, but her investigation into the married couple’s journey from China to Canada will raise plenty of eyebrows – and likely cause a few head burns.

The lab leak theory wasn’t taken very seriously when it was first mentioned. It seemed like nothing more than a conspiracy theory run amuck. While Dewar isn’t a full-fledged advocate, her impeccable research and investigative work have opened up the discussion much wider than most would have ever conceived.

Two very different and intriguing books from one publisher. Wells has truly created Windsor’s real-life oasis for bibliophiles – and Canada’s, too.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and political commentator, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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