Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

Archive for May, 2011

May 31st, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

Bookstore Tortoise Photo of the Week

Next time you’re in Montpellier, Vermont, drop by

Rivendell Bookstore, Monpelier, Vt., home of Veruca,

Rivendell Books. Not only will you find a good selection of used books,

 Veruca, Rivendell Bookstore, Montpelier, Vt.

you’ll also meet

Veruca, Rivendell Bookstore, Monpelier, Vt.


Veruca, Rivendell Bookstore, Monpelier, Vt.

the Russian Desert Tortoise.

May 30th, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

Guest Post: Shane Neilson on the Bookstore that revolutionized his Life


The Secret Door

    It was four months in Halifax before I really ventured out into the city. I was living as a boarder in an old couple’s home; I had a computer, but there was no internet connection. I had a bookshelf fashioned by my father’s hands: old plywood hammered together at the last minute in the garage. It swayed when empty. When I arrived at medical school, I did what all the medical students did in their first few days: I went to the University bookstore and bought every text I could that seemed relevant. I bought Stedman’s Medical Dictionary, and Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (can’t recall the edition, but it was blue, with red lettering). I bought Dean Ruedy’s On Call, and the awful Merck Manual. I bought both anatomical atlases at the time, Netters’ and Gray’s. Two is clearly so much better than one. I carried those books the twenty-minute walk to my room, big heavy books in plastic bags straining to burst, and I recognized the genius of my father: there was space for regular-size books on the upper shelves but the bottom shelf had space enough for giant medical textbooks. I put the textbooks there with feelings of newness and fear and overwhelmed ignorance. I remember taking the atlas (Netter’s; the ones we love, they get the most damaged) that was to become formalin-stained, even shit-smeared, down from the shelf and looking at intricate depictions of the broad ligament. I thought: I need to know this.

   But it was four months before I spiritually left the room on the upper floor. I walked to school; I walked home. I had just left New Brunswick, and in a hurry- I didn’t finish my undergraduate degree. I had never lived away from home before, and up to that point I lived in a part of the word that wasn’t cosmopolitan. I didn’t know how to travel. Still don’t.

   But then there came along a girl; and she asked me, innocently, if, when I went to a new place, I explored that place. If I walked the streets, and got my bearings, if I got lost and had to find my way back. If I discovered that place. If I learned how it worked.

   A little time passed. She watched as I walked the same route to school, and the same route back, and the same path to her door. She took me in hand and we walked the streets of Halifax; we started on Spring Garden Road and moved to Barrington. When the downtown was more or less conquered, I ventured down Quinpool with her. She was interested in the clothiers, the knick-knacks and antiques, the restaurants; but as we walked around the city, I took note of only two things: the magazine shops and the new and used bookshops.

   The magazine shops I recall fondly: there was The Daily Grind on Spring Garden Road. It had the distinction of being one of two places in Halifax which would carry the Telegraph-Journal, my provincial paper, with its weekend insert The Reader. I loved The Reader. After having read it for years, it published my first poem, and I remember showing that poem to this same girl, with the paper bought in this same magazine shop. The poem wasn’t very good, as I recall; and I rather expect that she thought so too. But it was a start, and I started just as I wanted to: a poem about New Brunswick published in the paper I read growing up. The problem with The Daily Grind was that there wasn’t much in the way of little poetry magazines to be found. So, my girlfriend and I looked for other places to go.

   The other magazine shops in Halifax were just as vigorous, though further from the medical school. There was Atlantic News, all one could want in a magazine store: a vast selection, wide aisles, generous hours. I’m sure they returned the poetry magazines they stocked. Nevertheless they continued doggedly stocking them. There were journals from across Canada and the US, both famous and obscure; I used these magazines to gain a foothold in publishing poetry in Canada. I learned more from them than just where to submit – but that’s another essay.

   I remember Blower’s Street Paper Chase. It was closer to the action of Halifax; Atlantic News was more safely tucked away, but the Paper Chase was close to the bars and pizza shops. As I became more familiar with the city, on my way to these more popular establishments, I would regularly duck in to the Paper Chase and see if a new issue of a poetry magazine were stocked. It strikes me now that the magazine I looked for the most closely was Canadian Notes and Queries, back in its John Metcalf-edited, Porcupine’s Quill-published days.

   Yet the magazine shops, bright and much-frequented and up-to-the-minute, were really only a preliminary for what I’d dedicate myself to that year. My girlfriend and I were walking to the end of Barrington one day, about to tip into a gross highway interchange, about to reach into the polluted harbour, when we discovered John W. Doull’s bookshop. That girl, she changed my life; but this bookshop revolutionized it.

   We walked in and wandered around. As I recall, the place was crammed with books. It was not a precise operation, to my admittedly untrained eye: there were books arranged on shelves, but there were unbrowsable piles of books around the store. There were books on stairs. Books were everywhere. Books like tribbles. We went to the textbook section; there were some old medical texts, though I had no idea of the history of medicine at the time, and if any of these texts were valuable or important. I wish I could say that I spotted Osler’s The Principles and Practice of Medicine and knew immediately that it was something to own.  But I didn’t know. Though later that night, when I was in my room, and looking at my bookshelf, I wondered if any of these texts would end up in an old bookshop.

   I’m the kind of person who never asks directions. So I didn’t discover where the poetry section was that particular day; but you can be sure I went back, this time by myself, and I looked hard for it. I believe I found it on an upper floor. At the time I was becoming familiar with the history of poetry in Canada, though it was a very gradual process, having had no formal education in literature. When I say “becoming aware”, it is very much like… leaving my room, after a long residence. Wandering around a city in a different province. Refusing to ask anyone for help. Then having the self-satisfaction and pride to find my own way back, no matter how far I went, or how many turns Unwilling to use a map.

   I bought a few books from Doull’s that day; can’t remember the titles, alas. They were inexpensive, and they were rather damaged, as I’d come to learn. Like most people I knew that a book could be binary: in good condition or not good condition, but I had yet to learn the niceties of “near-fine”. It all came in time, as I came back to this bookshop often. Emboldened, I scoured the downtown for its competitors: Attic Owl, Schooner Books, and a few other shops with less sophistication but greater potential for a find.

   I’m not sure when it happened, exactly. I had been going to Doull’s every week; I was buying books with regularity, and they were always poetry titles. The guy behind the counter recognized me one day. He said: “You like poetry?”

   I was twenty years old, in my first year of medical school. I was studying hard, though I left my room more often now, both to be with my girlfriend, but also to be with books. I said, “Yes.”

   He then left the counter. He navigated past the piles of books and led me to a wall. He smiled, and pushed a magic lever that entered into a secret room of books.

   I thought immediately of Scooby-Doo, of how dreams can come true, I thought of heaven. He then said, “You can go in and see if there’s anything you like.” He left me in there, unchaperoned. The books in this room were different: they were meticulously arranged. It was clear that they were meant to be found. I browsed books that were in much better shape than the fare to be found in the general stacks. The Canadian poetry was sublime: I still remember the feel of Alden Nowlan’s hardcover Under The Ice. I pulled down a beautiful Heaney Nobel Lecture issue that retailed for almost $500. I put the book back on the shelf. I traced the cover of Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. I got out of there in a hurry, spooked, like Velma saying “Jinkies!” Though I thanked the man at the desk, but not properly- I don’t think it would have been possible to thank him properly.

   Out of respect, I stopped going to Doull’s to just browse. I went there like a lot of collectors do, when they know a store’s inventory: I went to buy. I don’t think they would have let me haunt the secret room anyway. They soon took my name and called me when certain firsts got catalogued. Thrilled at the prospect of better, rarer books, I went back to the other used bookshops in Halifax and asked to be let into their secret rooms. They all had these secret rooms, though none were as truly Scooby-Doo as Doull’s (Schooner, for example, had a basement which was plainly accessible through a red door.) My education in poetry deepened, as did book collecting; I didn’t pick up books to “just see”, as a fan might, to be awed by the presence of the poetry. I was a fan, and I was awed. But I had too much respect for the book itself to risk damaging it, to downgrade its condition. I only pulled out the books that, should they be in good enough condition, I would buy.

   So went my student loan money, a better investment than my medical school colleagues who splurged on vacations abroad. I had a boarding room and modest habits, except for the extravagance of books. The medical textbooks, they occupied the bottom shelf. They were the foundation, the ground floor. But up above was the literature.

   I walked through the secret door as if I were through the looking-glass. A life that seemed to be dedicated to books, to reading, to writing… became true. In the fifteen years that’s passed since then, I haven’t looked or checked to see if Doull’s is still in existence. I haven’t ever gone back, even when in town on business. I’ve left the place alone and perfect.

Shane Neilson is a Canadian physician, author and poet. Born in New Brunswick, his books of poetry include Meniscus and Exterminate My Heart. In 2010, Neilson won Arc Poetry Magazine’s 15th annual Poem of the Year contest. Complete Physical, his latest collection of poetry has just been shortlisted for the Trillium Prize. He currently has a medical practice in Erin, and lives with his family in Guelph, Ontario

May 28th, 2011 • Posted in Literary Destinations

Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities in the U.S.

Sidewalk Book Vendor, Cambridge, Mass.

Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities according to buying stats from Amazon:

  1. Cambridge, Mass.
  2. Alexandria, Va.
  3. Berkeley, Calif.
  4. Ann Arbor, Mich
  5. Boulder, Colo.
  6. Miami
  7. Salt Lake City
  8. Gainesville, Fla.
  9. Seattle
  10. Arlington, Va.
  11. Knoxville, Tenn.
  12. Orlando, Fla.
  13. Pittsburgh
  14. Washington, D.C.
  15. Bellevue, Wash.
  16. Columbia, S.C.
  17. St. Louis, Mo.
  18. Cincinnati
  19. Portland, Ore.
  20. Atlanta
May 27th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview: Alex Ross on Modern, Classical and Popular Music

Alex Ross, Music Critic, The New Yorker

According to Wikipedia: Alex Ross  was born in 1968 and has been the music critic at The New Yorker magazine since 1996.

He graduated from Harvard University in English summa cum laude for a thesis on James Joyce, and was a DJ at college radio station, WHRB.

His first book, The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, a cultural history of music since 1900, was released in the U.S. in 2007. The book was a National Book Critics Circle Award winner, and placed on the New York Times list of the ten best books of 2007, 

He has received a MacArthur Fellowship, three ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards for music writing, and a Holtzbrinck fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin. In 2011 he will receive the Belmont Prize for Contemporary Music at the pèlerinages Art Festival in Weimar.

His second book, Listen to This, was released in the U.S. in September 2010 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. We met recently in Ottawa to talk about his approach to criticism, why he writes about music, and the connections he makes between classical, modern and popular music. Please listen here:

May 22nd, 2011 • Posted in Literary Tourism

Literary Tourist and partner to promote ‘Open Shop’ bookstores

Here’s the news release:

Independent book marketplace announced today that it has partnered with Literary Tourist to help support and promote independent brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Literary Tourist was launched last week by owner Nigel Beale, who acquired Book Hunter Press in late 2009 and re-created it as a literary destination website and bookstore directory for book lovers. The new site features a refined database of over 8,000 used bookstores including reviews and information about each store. It also contains expanded listings for literary landmarks, rare book libraries, book fairs, writing festivals and other book-related events.

“Our goal with Literary Tourist is to help book lovers find the kind of bookstores, literary locales and pastimes that will add some oomph and excitement to their travels,” says Beale. “We hope to make this site one of the best ‘literary destinations’ on the Web, and in so doing, in a small way, to help pump new blood and energy into literary culture throughout North America, and, if we’re successful, around the globe.”

Biblio augmented Literary Tourist’s existing bookstore database, with its own extensive database of booksellers and bookstores.

The original database first went on-line in 2000. For almost a decade it was updated manually. Beale notes that bookselling and bookstores are changing so quickly that “it is a challenge to keep up with all the closings and start-ups.” Both companies have partnered to create an easy solution to this challenge. Literary Tourist uses BiblioDirect, powered by Biblio, for booksellers to maintain and update their directory listings. BiblioDirect also serves as a portal for booksellers to maintain their accounts on,,,

"Our partnership with is a great fit with Biblio’s mission of helping promote independent booksellers," says Biblio’s vice president Allen Singleton. "Nigel’s site does a great job of evoking the unique character of the bookshops he showcases. His enthusiasm for great bookstores and the virtues of the printed word make it really exciting to be a part of this project."

Through their partnership both companies seek to increase traffic in physical bookstores, keeping these vital cultural institutions and landmarks open while preserving the business of independent bookselling.

About Biblio, Inc:

Biblio’s flagship product,, is one of the largest used book marketplaces on the Internet, offering 60 million high quality used books from independent book stores around the world. It also powers similar niche-market sites such as, (Independent Online Booksellers’ Association) and (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America).

About Literary Tourist:
Literary Tourist’s database represents one of the world’s most comprehensive and continuously updated directories of used bookstores and literary destinations. It offers dealer and destination listings, event information, full access memberships and printed regional Book Lovers Guides

May 22nd, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

Bookstore Critter of the Week




Lord of Drake Farm


Books, North Hampton N.H.

May 19th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Audio Interview with Michael Gnarowski on Contact Press: ‘the most important Canadian small press of its time’

Professor, poet, editor and critic, Michael Gnarowski was born in Shanghai, China in 1934. He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Ottawa in 1967. While an undergraduate at McGill, he contributed to, and co-edited, Yes (1956-1970) magazine. He also wrote for and/or edited Le Chien d’or/The Golden Dog (1970-1972), Delta, Golden Dog Press (1971-1985), and Tecumseh Press, and was series editor for McGraw-Hill Ryerson’s Critical Views on Canadian Writers Series (1969-1977) and co-edited Canadian Poetry (1977- ) with David Bentley.

In 1970 Gnarowski  wrote a brief history and checklist of the Contact Press. Here’s his entry on Contact in the Canadian Encyclopedia:

"Contact Press (1952-67) was founded as a poets’ co-operative by Louis DUDEK, Raymond SOUSTER and Irving LAYTON, who were generally dissatisfied with the slight opportunities for publication available to Canadian poets. Contact went on, in the course of its 15-year history, to become the most important small press of its time. Launched at the mid-century, it published all the major Canadian poets of the period, and transformed literary life and small-press activity in Canada by its openness to a variety of poetic styles and its assertiveness of the poet’s role in the production of his own work. Beginning before subsidies and government aid to Canadian book publishing had become a mainstay of such activity, Contact was a self-financed act of faith on the part of its founders.

While its main thrust was in publishing the new work of individual poets, it produced a milestone anthology, Canadian Poems 1850-1952, co-edited by Dudek and Layton in 1952, and an avant-garde manifesto of young poets published as New Wave Canada: The New Explosion in Canadian Poetry (1966). This was a successor to Souster’s Poets 56, which had featured young poets in response to Dudek’s query "Où sont les jeunes?"

Essentially a "no-frills" press, Contact published handsome, workmanlike books with, on occasion, a mimeographed pamphlet. Its writers ranged from F.R. SCOTT, one of the early moderns, to the newest wave represented by Margaret Atwood, George Bowering and John Newlove." 

I met with Gnarowski recently at his home in Kemptville, Ontario to talk about the history, and collecting of, Contact Press. Please listen here to our conversation:

May 17th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

The Antidote to War…

Courtesy of Playing for Change.  If you liked that, might want to try this.

May 16th, 2011 • Posted in Authors and Books

Literary Tourist does Canada’s Maritime Provinces

Here’s a piece I wrote several years ago about a book collecting trip I took one Spring ‘down East’:

"With my two girls safely aboard the plane back to Ottawa, the week ahead lay open for indulging two passions: fast driving on smooth traffic-less highways, and book collecting. Moncton was made from the St. John airport in about an hour. My sporty new post-separation Mazda3 GT had performed beautifully. The drive was quick and construction-free.

The floors at The Owl’s Attic were hardwood and didn’t creak. Most of the books were housed in one large, high-ceilinged room on the main floor of an old Masonic temple. The proprietor, Edward Lemond, had recently moved his business from a storefront on Main street up the hill a block into this solid old square stone building. I’d just missed by days the big fifty to seventy percent off clear-out sale. Timing, particularly when buying at used bookstores, is everything.

I collect Modern First Editions, or more accurately, contemporary firsts, since, as British book-collecting icon John Carter points out in his ABC for Book Collectors, the term ‘Modern’ originates from the 1920s, and was first applied to the books of the naughty nineties. My preferred territory is the past fifty years. Ironically I tend not to read much written after 1980. There are enough time-tested classics to get through before wasting effort on the ephemeral.

Owl’s Attic was the first store visited on my fast-driven collecting tour. I arrived at approximately 3.30pm on Saturday afternoon. The radio was tuned to CBC Two. An opera was playing, free, thanks to the strike, from commentators thinking themselves more important than the programming. There was a little table in the corner of the room with a chess set on it. Two children’s chairs were pushed tightly up against itstop. No cat was evident. Lemond asked if I needed help… if I was looking for anything in particular. I informed him of my interests and told him my list was too long to recite. He beckoned me to a stack of nearby Firsts. "There are also a few shelves of signed books just around the corner," he said. "If you need any more assistance please, just ask." He let me be with the books. Just the right measure of solicitude and space.

The selection was good. So were the prices. Because it is a book of some dimension, my eyes were quickly drawn to a copy of William Gaddis’s JR, a novel noted for its ‘scabrous, hilarious condemnation of American business’ and considered by many to be a masterpiece. It was selling for $125. The book was unmarked and square. The jacket slightly rubbed at the spine ends with one closed tear at the top of the front panel. Unfortunately the price had been clipped off. I judged the book to be in near fine condition. Near Fine (NF) is a term used to describe a book and its dust jacket on a scale that ranges from As New or Fine, to Fair. A book in fine condition looks pretty well as it did when first issued by the publisher, with no noteworthy defects of any kind. Near-Fine (NF) indicates that there is some small defect with the book itself, such as a mildly dented corner or a small dirt smudge, or, in the case of the dust jacket, a short closed tear or creases at the head or tail of the spine. A book’s condition is crucially important to the discerning collector. This holds particularly true of the dust jacket where a whopping seventy percent of a volume’s value resides. Ironic, given that when first introduced, jackets served a mere protective purpose and were discarded as a matter of course. This all changed in the 1920s when talented artists and designers were hired by publishers to help promote and sell their books.

JR was critically acclaimed and definitely in collectible condition; the only things left to determine were its true ‘First’ status and whether or not the price was reasonable. Despite stating First Edition on its title page, I needed to consult my McBride, a handy pocket-sized paperback that lists publishers and the infuriatingly illogical, inconsistent practices they use to designate Firsts. Edward also consulted one of his books and we agreed that we had the real thing. Believe it or not ‘First Edition’ can appear on the title page of a book without it actually being one. The printer may have neglected or chosen out of laziness not to change the original plates. Successful identification of a First requires detective work and the process of elimination. Some cases are straight forward, others impossible. If there’s nothing about a book that suggests a later printing, you can reasonably conclude that it is a First. However, identification isn’t always simple and you can get burned. For example, a book might in every way resemble a First until you venture over onto the back board and spot a small circle, square or leaf shaped indentation at the bottom right hand corner. These pathetic little pock marks identify book club editions which are worthless to the collector. Pulse quickening ‘finds’ turn suddenly into so much blue-bin filler, unless of course you actually want to read them.

Around the corner from the Firsts shelves I found a signed copy of The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace, an early award-winning author who in my opinion delivers on both good read and, though taking its time, good investment fronts. After putting aside several additional volumes I continued to browse, spotting on the way, collections of charming porcelain and stuffed owls perched atop one of the stacks. Next to this was a shelf filled with correspondence and criticism by Northrop Frye. Turns out that Edward organizes an annual conference in Moncton that draws dozens of world renowned scholars. Frye grew up here. Confident I was getting a good deal, and that Edward’s prices were competitive, if not a steal, I put down my money.

The Internet is a double edged sword. In many cases it provides revenues that allows brick and mortar stores to stay open. It provides benchmark pricing and identification info for the collector, as well, unfortunately as reducing the likelihood that sellers will under-price their treasures; these are now found almost solely in the domain of the garage sale, flea market and school and church book fair. There is little doubt that with patience you can find better pricing on the Internet. But you can’t touch and smell the books, you miss the heaven of being surrounded by beauty and knowledge, you don’t meet or learn much from the vendor, you pay for shipping, you risk extortion from our Russian roulette-like customs system and there’s a good chance you’ll end up with a purchase that isn’t as described. Nothing beats buying in person from a bookstore. Think about the hours of pleasure you spend browsing the shelves. Your patronage is an expression of gratitude for this experience, a way to ensure that there remain places for peaceful reflection in scattered towns; places to bask in un-harried contemplation.

The impact of the Internet and big box retailers on the used and rare book business was a dominant topic of conversation with booksellers during my tour. The tone was largely one of disgust. One seller observed with derision that when first on the scene Chapters used to carry 350,000 titles. Now its well under 200,000.

The Owl’s Attic was a very pleasant, rewarding first stop. It had given me an appetite so I walked down Main street into a Mexicali Roses. I sat at the bar, ordered beer and a fajita and shared conversation with a guy who judged a city’s culture by the quality of  its used bookstores. The only other store in town was further down Main street. Rags of Time had carpeted floors and no cat. It was well-stocked with paperbacks. A place more for readers than collectors. Jazz music played in the background. A young woman, not the proprietor, stood in the foreground. She was the first of many to hand me a pamphlet containing a list of antiquarian and secondhand book-sellers in Atlantic Canada. It became my guide. The sky was dark by now, and I was tired after the excitement. I started to look for accommodation. Within blocks I found a bed and breakfast. No reservations were required, despite it being the eve of Moncton’s annual Acadian festival. I would drive to Charlottetown in the morning sunshine, fill the tank with gas that was sure to be cheaper on the mainland than  on the isle and admire the rich red-soiled scenery along the way. 

Once over the link bridge on smooth tarmac, the pedal again hit metal,. I was set on arriving early in "Canada’s Birthplace". One little ‘Books’ sign, however, put paid to this notion and I was soon kicking dust down exit 47. Just as I started thinking ‘goose-chase’ the Bayfield Bookstore came into view looking like it belonged more on a muddy board-walk in the Klondike than in picturesque PEI. I was surprised to see a shelf of sun roasted spines sitting in the front window, more for show than sale perhaps. CBC Radio One prattled in the background. There were no cats but plenty of mosquitoes. The floors were wooden, wide, dusty and creaky. The place felt like an old time general store. I started to work the literature section. A customer was pleading for a better deal on some magazine he’d brought to the counter. The owner wouldn’t have it, which was fine, but there was a clipped haughtiness in his manner, perhaps too close to my own, that I found off-putting. I quickly warmed to him however when he mentioned he had a Colombian wife and a love of South American literature. I found little of interest on the shelves. However, wanting to purchase something from every store visited, I bought a copy of Dean Koontz’s How to write best selling Fiction for six dollars. If anyone could help the pathetic fame-seeker produce a blockbuster it was him. The wonderful irony here is that once home I learned that this book, bought as a sop, was worth about $150.00, making it by far the most profitable find of the trip.

Know your authors and always work the entire bookstore. Important titles often show up in weird places. I once found a $10 First of Kingsley Amis’s delightful $90 On Drinking in the cook book section of a store off Bank street in Ottawa.

Next stop was Victoria-on-the-Sea, a small tourist town full of colourful tangled gardens and quaint sweet shops. Home too to a little theatre.


A bare barn was home to the semi-epynomous Hilary Price Books. Jim Price sat in a comfy chair, reading. The floor was concrete. Don’t recall any music, and if there was a cat it doubtless was out thinning the field-mouse population.


I came up with Firsts of An Ice Cream War by William Boyd, which was shortlisted for the 1982 Booker Award and won the Mail on Sunday/John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and Richard Hughes’s The Fox in the Attic which features an extraordinary portrait of Adolph Hitler at the beginning of his career. I also picked up a paperback edition of Alan Sanison’s George Orwell after 1984. After complimenting me on my choices, which endeared him to me for life, Jim started musing wistfully about retiring in the Carribean to set up shop in some swank resort. I drove to Charlottetown with this dream sinking roots into my psyche, worrying about how salt and humidity might affect the books.


The Bookman on Charlottetown’s main drag looks like a bookstore. Big bay windows, high packed-in bookshelves , higher ceilings, wooden floors, and a wall of big bound bibles. Smells like one too. No cat though. I’m starting to think that the Canada Council should fund a study on this dearth.

I’d been warned that this store owner could at times be a bit…precious. He wasn’t there. Nor were any of the books I wanted. Lots of paperbacks, good children’s section, good biography, Canadian fiction and Irish writers sections too, plus a trophy selection of folio-sized leather bound Bibles. A brief conversation with the cashier about Hay-on-Wye and Irish writer George Moore (one of the first in English to practice French realism: Zola had been an important influence), the purchase of Nicholas Parsons’s Book of Literary Lists, and I was out of there and into a B&B three blocks away.

Turns out I already have the damned book in hardcover at home. Still, among other gems, it contains Arnold Bennett’s choice of the twelve finest novels ever written “ mostly Russian“ (Danielle Steel hadn’t yet been born); books that had the greatest impact on Tolstoy, (Russian ones of course, but the Brits, notably Dickens, and the Bible, also do pretty well); Connelly’s 100; Burgess’s 99; and Coleridge’s four classes of reader: 1) sponges who absorb everything and return books only a little dirtied, 2)sand glasses who retain nothing, content just to get through the book so they can say they’ve read it, 3) strain bags who retain only the dregs of what they read, and the rarest of readers, 4) the mogul diamonds who profit by what they read and help others to do the same.


After a fresh blueberry (the small tasty kind) breakfast, I headed three blocks east to The Reading Well where I found a store filled with urban cool, books. Beside the front steps sat a water bowl. For ‘literary dogs’ it said.  …to be continued.

Copyright © Nigel Beale.

May 16th, 2011 • Posted in Bookstores

A Book Lover’s Lament by Rafe Mair

Fat Cat

From Rafe’s piece in The Tyee:

"In all this pessimism, I hold out a ray of hope for the small bookstore, new and used, for they are more than just stores. In the same way that the technology has long been there to buy groceries online, people like markets. They love to congregate, window shop and have coffee and muffins. They go to many stores to meet friends and talk with the shopkeeper. That is especially so with bookstores.

I go to Deb at 32 Books and Scott at the Ambleside Book Barn as a matter of personal policy; I shop independent stores wherever I can and for whatever I want.

That’s because I don’t like any large business that has squeezed out the little guy, whether he/she be a butcher, baker, candlestick maker or small book vendor. One of the reasons is that I quickly get to know the owner and staff and can seek their advice or, as sometimes happens, I bring them up-to-date on books of my genre of choice."