Margaret Atwood, Literary Tourist in Kingston

A Biblio File podcast interview, in which: I talk, in rather rushed fashion, to great Canadian author and “bad” feminist Margaret Atwood about literary tourism: ‘place’ and her novel MaddAddam, Harvard and The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Kingston Penitentiary and Alias Grace, also about: the real and the imaginary, the unreliability of eye witnesses, following the research, Samuel Johnson, Ernest Hemingway, food and underclothing, bodies, space and smell, plus the importance of plumbing – all of which took place at the Kingston Writers Festival 

several years ago, a wonderful literary celebration that occurs every September in the city of wind turbines 

…of my (and now my youngest daughter’s) alma mater, Queen’s University 

with its Jordon Special Collections Library, full of Lorne Pierce’s Canadiana,

…of Berry and Peterson’s bookshop, where I regularly visit John and Richard to get the latest and hottest antiquarian book gossip

and learn stuff about books etc., like for example that important early editions of Canadian Forum magazine are worth diddly-squat.

…of Morrison’s where I used to go 30-odd years ago for hungover breakfasts (now I hear from famed Canadian book designer Laurie Lewis [ listen to our conversation about her time at the University of Toronto Press with Allan Fleming here]

that it’s not the ‘go to’ place anymore, Peter’s on Princess is, but still this is a pretty damned good photo so I’m leaving it in anyway)

…of the Belvedere Hotel

where I once met my hero, Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee who signed about 25 of my/his first editions and after my yammering on for about 10 of the signatures I suddenly shut up, realizing that I don’t know J.M from Adam, and what the fuck am I trying to do here anyway? Convince myself that there is some sort of relationship when in fact there’s nothing? And why am I so obsessed with signed firsts editions anyway…

…of Chez Piggy where I’ve spent some stellar evenings shooting the breeze with friends about airy concepts out on the back patio, and

…of Pat Grew my best friend, and the best math teacher in the world. Okay don’t take my word for it.

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.