What’s so exciting about London, Stratford, and Hamilton, Ontario?

Literary Tourist tours Ontario, Canada

The adventure began in my book-filled storage cave in Ottawa. This picture was taken after twelve boxes full were removed and crammed into my car. A local bookseller, Bill Cameron, had told me about Attic Books several years ago.

I’d already carted a van-load of books down Highway 401 to London, Ontario, where Attic is located, and gotten what I thought was a reasonable deal for them ( I always go with trade). Owner Marvin Post likes to move books – buys and sells lots of them – turnover is good for business he says. What I love is that he doesn’t just cock his nose, sniff at your offerings and deign only to take a handful. No. Marvin – depending upon what you bring him of course – will take a whole whack: ten boxes worth this time round. Now granted, my books were pretty good, but most booksellers just wont do what Marvin does.

I arrived late. It’d taken two hours just to get from one frikin end of Toronto to the other on the clogged highway. Luckily I’d downloaded a bunch of book-centric podcasts – including some episodes of Eleanor Wachtel’s Writers & Co, (she’s one top-drawer interviewer). Of the many I listened to that afternoon, perhaps the best was with Diana Athill. Absolutely delightful. Listen here. She talks of Andre Deutsch, and of her experience publishing books over many decades. So glad I bought a signed copy of her Life Class a few years ago (from Dan Mozersky) (she died recently at the age of 101)

And the episode on Simone de Beauvior? Riveting

When we’d finally unloaded the car and the books had been priced,

it was closing time, so Marvin and I postponed out conversation until the next morning. He and I met at a table near the Books on Books section
on the 2nd floor of his building. This is one of my favourite spaces in all of Canadian bookstoredom. Where else will you find a run of Big-Little books

next to a display of International Tauchnitz editions?

One of the best parts of our conversation, to my mind, is when the book elevator kicks-in, accompanied by chiming hot water pipes.

Once we’d finished jawing, I hit the road for Stratford, famed for its Shakespeare Theatre Festival established in 1952 by Tyrone Guthrie. It was off-season so nothing was on. I’ve seen Christopher Plummer play Lear here; and William Hutt, but I’m sorry, I’m a snob. While Stratford may be good by North American standards, the best Shakespeare is in London, England, although I must say, one of the funniest versions of MacBeth I’ve ever seen was in Montreal, outdoors, where the witches were played by dudes in drag.

Macbeth Repercussion

I met up with my friend David Monkhouse who, being the renaissance man that he is, in mid-life was completing his second year of study at the Stratford Chefs School. We headed off to the only two used bookstores in town. One had a half price/going out of business sale on ( picked up this Leslie Smart-designed number)

the other was headed in the same direction. Owner, Manfred
Meurer – who looked remarkably young for his 80 years – told me he planned to close shop in the Spring of 2019. Seems to me there’s a potential biblio-monopoly business opportunity here.

That evening Dave and I went out to eat at the School. The menu was fashioned after one developed by chef Grant Achatz whose Chicago restaurant Alinea had earlier in the year been voted the best in the world! I’m afraid, to my shame, the effort was lost on me. The food was just a tad too effete for this peasant’s palate, although the candied tuna stick was, I must admit, pretty good.

From Stratford I headed, the next morning, to Kitchener-Waterloo where I first hit old goat books

and found a copy of Elaine Dewar’s The Handover. Like a detective story it meticulously unravels the tortuous, untoward journey that “Canada’s Publisher” McClelland and Stewart takes on its way to becoming foreign owned.

From the Goat I drove over to Kitchener and stopped in at KW Bookstore where I found a signed copy of Mavis Gallant’s Selected Stories for a towering $10, plus a paperback anniversary edition of George Grant’s Lament for a Nation, with its clever (as usual) David Drummond cover design.

$10! Hell, I thought this was a good find – until I discovered a copy online for a mere $30. Canadians sure are pathetic when it comes to valuing their dead authors. Gallant is outstanding. A signed edition of hers should be worth way more than this. Not sure what I was more disgusted by: what I’d found not being such a find after all, or my fellow countrymen not revering their iconic compatriot writers enough…

Finally, across the street and up a few blocks I came to A Second Look Books & Movies where I traded in a load of the books that Marvin hadn’t taken, in exchange for, among other things, a first edition of A.M. Klein’s The Rocking Chair, and a couple of Frank Newfeld-designed Pierre Berton – no mistaking this –

titles (one signed)( I think they produced this in three editions – note to self: must get third colour). All I can say is that there are a lot of very decent used book dealers plying their trade in Canada today, including John Poag here

and there are still many interesting books up for grabs on their shelves (despite my sometime grumbling about other dealers picking them clean). Make a point of getting to know some of your local bibliopoles. You wont regret it.

So I was in a pretty happy mood as I drove off to Hamilton where I had an interview lined up with Jim King, Jack McClelland’s biographer. We engaged in a good discussion about Jack, A Life with Authors

the consensus being that McClelland is Canada’s greatest publisher and cultural nationalist, and that this country should name its forthcoming new National Library building after him.

From Jim’s place I drove over to a shop he’d recommended called Westside Stories. Here I offered up what remained of my books to owner Lyn Barlow

a charmed and charming book-seller/lover who took what she wanted and offered me $45 or thereabouts in trade. I loped downstairs and surfaced fifteen minutes later with five first edition titles from Anthony Powell’s famed cycle of novels A Dance to the Music of Time.

More on this later. For now, it was back in the car, off to visit my old friend, the incomparable Rod Morris, and to interview one of Canada’s foremost antiquarian booksellers, in Welland, Ontario. To be Continued.

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What to buy when you’re in a Japanese Bookstore

Literary Tourist in Tokyo:

As noted in my previous post, while there are quite a few interesting English books to be had in the Jimbocho bookstore neighbourhood of Tokyo, there are obviously a lot more in Japanese. And I was able to get lots of shots of them, and the stores that sell them, but, do you think I could convince any of the owners to pose for the camera? Fat chance. Given their reserve, the trick, I’m convinced, for next time, is to plan things far in advance, get the approval of someone in authority, and be accompanied by a wise old dealer known to all, or perhaps an official from the local booksellers association!

Still, I was received very politely; just not, as is often the case in North America, with open arms.

But, on to the stores. First off, I was amazed by the number of post-it notes,

or whatever

they are, that these merchants use to display their wares. Also surprised that there wasn’t more Manga for sale. The only really good selection I saw was at this store:

Isseido Booksellers has a decent foreign language section on the second floor with a good number of books in English, mostly archeology and history, but the Japanese books, though incomprehensible, were much

more attractive

One thing that isn’t incomprehensible is the beauty of Ukiyo-e Japanese woodblock prints. They flourished between the 17th and 19th centuries. Subjects included female Continue reading “What to buy when you’re in a Japanese Bookstore”

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You can find bookstores and scorpions on the same street

Beijing’s Wangfujing Dajie is your typical high-end capitalist pedestrian shopping street filled with glittering international brand name stores; so it was with some surprise that I encountered

the government-run Beijing Foreign Languages Bookstore along side Gucci, Chanel and Under Armor. The store itself is pretty spartan: glaring fluorescent lights, warehouse-style shelving – dust all over the place. As for stock, the most prominently displayed title, in line with who owns the shop, was of course General Secretary Xi Jinping’s auto/biography

Half the main floor was taken up by English language books, and at least half of these were Penguins – red

white and black spined.

A little further along the street you’ll find a McDonald’s (it sells bubble tea!), and next to it this shopwhere, once again, Xi greets customers at the door

Upstairs, in a limited ‘imported titles’ section, you’ll find books on Steve Jobs and this titan

Across the street, if scorpion on a stick appeals to you(now imagine how appetizing these look when they’re moving) check out Snack Street. It’s crammed with Continue reading “You can find bookstores and scorpions on the same street”

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Literary Tourist City Guides

Photo Credit: Chris Wood           Wonder if this streetcar is named desire?

Some years ago Poets and Writers started running a great series of articles detailing literary life in cities throughout the United States. Specifically, “they asked  those in the literary community—authors, booksellers, publishers, editors, and the like—to take us on a tour of their city of residence: to the places they go to connect with writers of the past, to the bars and cafés where today’s authors give readings, and to those sites that are most inspiring for writing.”

This of course describes very well the plight of the literary tourist. Although some of the articles date back to 2011, and thus may be slightly out of date, for the most part these pieces serve as terrific literary ‘City Guides.’ The inside scoop from those in the know.

I plan to visit San Francisco soon and so am particularly interested in reading this. Here’s a link to the whole series. 

I’ve already lined up an interview with Andrew Hoyem, typographer, letterpress printer, publisher, poet, and founder of Arion Press, for my Biblio File podcast. Also plan to talk to someone at The Book Club of California, and am working on Dave Eggers, publisher at McSweeney’s.

Judging from their tourism webside alone, San Francisco is one happening town. Should be a blast!

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Wales meets Peterborough, W.W. E. Ross and Hugh Kenner

If there’s one thing you’ll find in a bookstore it’s connections…like the one made here

in Thea’s Books and Violins in Peterborough. I’m was in town to do a literary audit of the region, and what a delightful segue from my recent trip to Wales the owner provided.

Turns out his father, just like Dylan Thomas’s father, read Shakespeare to him at an early age, instilling in him a life long love of poetry. Bill gave me a copy of “A Book Lover’s Guide, Antiquarian, Rare & Out of Print Books in the Kawarthas…Peterborough, Lakefield, Cavan” and as warm a welcome to the area as anyone could wish for. Reminded me of the time I arrived in Dublin late one night. Cutting through a darkened park on the way to my hotel I encountered an old man lying on the grass. As I walked past him he raised himself up and exclaimed ‘Welcome to Dublin!’ the last thing I’d expected to hear. Set the tone for the entire trip.

Thea’s is a lovely, tight mess of a shop. Just the way I like it. Lots of interesting older titles. I found this one, Shapes & Sounds, Poems of W. W. E. Ross.

Ross was born in Peterborough in 1894 and is credited as Canada’s leading Imagist of the time, taking as his subject matter the Canadian landscape – birds and trees and such – describing them in short lines, with direct diction, movement, clear images. Interesting coincidence that one of the world’s great Ezra Pound scholars, Hugh Kenner, also hailed from Peterborough.

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