Literary South Africa

Some years ago I visited my brother in Cape Town. He put together the most amazing itinerary: the ‘big five’ in Kruger National Park, then, closer to town, lounging on the beach and watching the cold surf in Kleinmond; seafood on the sea shore in Hermanus, wine and escargot for the price back home of burgers and coke, in Franschhoek; Table mountain, flowers and weddings in the Company Gardens, and hiking up Lion’s Head. This however is not what I am to him most grateful for.

Rather, it’s the tireless manner in which he drove me to every bookstore I could find in the country, and his patient waiting as I pored fiendishly over miles of shelves full of new and used books. After which, I can happily report that Cape Town and environs is home not only to the world’s Continue reading “Literary South Africa”

Ontario is home to many great used bookstores. Here are five favourites:

The Pilgrim Reader, Combermere

This oasis in the wilds of Eastern Ontario contains a great selection of books, old and newer, rare and popular. Particularly strong in religion. Instead of investing their money in the stock market, the owners built this store next to their home, and are very glad they did so. Found a couple of early Irving Layton titles here. Contact Press editions.


Book Bazaar, Ottawa

Wide selection spread over two floors includes many interesting, unusual titles; massive music section downstairs; several cases of collectibles and a very strong Canadian fiction section on the main floor. Many more on-line.

Berry and Peterson, Kingston

Very pleasing shop with lots of character, stone walls and a good selection of books both on the ground level (nautical, fiction) and one flight up (literary criticism). Don’t miss The Wayfarer used bookstore either, it’s only a block away, around the corner on Princess Street. I’ve pulled some lovely early Coach House Press books out of there.

Ten Editions, Toronto

As the owner says: “a little bit of most things.” Shelves all around reach up to the high ceilings. Good Canadian fiction and poetry sections in the back. The store, incidentally, was named by the current owner’s mother: an edition for each of her ten children!

Attic Books, London

Generous selection of books – from bargain reading copies, to ‘really old books’ behind glass – should please all but the crankiest. Sections meticulously labelled by category. This downtown shop also carries ephemera, sheet music, postcards, maps, prints and ‘eccentric antiques’. They move books here, so there’s good turn over in stock. Two or three other stores within a block or two, should make for a fruitful stop.

How to be a Literary Tourist

The literary tourist is a multi-colored bird. One species likes to visit places that help get them closer to characters or places found in novels. Another plays the pilgrim, paying respects to admired authors – contemplating in front of gravestones, touring childhood homes and museums, walking footpaths that inspired favorite poems. Others pay little mind to literary content – it’s the casing, the container that speaks to them. They haunt rare book libraries and (if the acquisitive type), antiquarian bookstores, thrilling to the touch of leather, the feel of letterpress printed pages, the look of woodcut illustrations. Many of these book-loving travelers also love Shakespeare, and good theatre. They seek out live stage performances.

As with other genuses, the literary tourist typically looks first for Continue reading “How to be a Literary Tourist”

Ontario authors play literary tourist

Literary Tourists are a hard breed to define. Some like to visit places that appear in novels, others to walk along the footpaths that inspired great poems. Some go on pilgrimages to honour their favourite authors. Others seek out the book itself. They go to rare book libraries and antiquarian bookstores, thrilling to the touch of leather bindings, the feel of letterpress-printed paper, the beauty of woodcut illustrations. Still others love good theatre; they search out live stage performances; many like to hunt down famous living authors, listen to them read, and get books signed.

While there are lots of ways to be a literary tourist, all have one thing in common, and that’s alchemy. Each knows how to mix together just the right combination of literature and geography to come up with the perfect travel experience.

I recently asked writers from across the province of Ontario to help me work a little magic. Here’s what happened: Continue reading “Ontario authors play literary tourist”

Audio: David Theis on his book Literary Houston

While there is no ‘great Houston Novel,’ a lot of good stories have come out of the city, many of which are told in David Theis’s Literary Houston, an anthology of writing on and about ‘the Bayou city’. Stories, because Houston is a place where people come to DO things, ‘To fly to the moon, create empires, build fortresses against cancer, and temples to surrealism’ as Theis puts it.

I met him at a cafe just off Houston’s busy Westheimer street. Seems like everywhere we moved something or someone very noisy decided to followed us. Still, we had an interesting conversation. Hope you enjoy it.