Kingston & collecting Elizabethan histories, & Canadian fine press printing

Literary Tourist in Kingston, Ontario and environs

I couldn’t tell at the time. He looked pretty fresh to me. But, as I later learned, the convocation that marked my youngest daughter’s graduation from Queen’s University, was the eighteenth such ceremony that Daniel Woolf had adjudicated over as Principal and Vice Chancellor in just the past week. No wonder he’s clenching his fist.

It was a clear, clean morning, sunny and blue-skyed. So poetically blue in fact that one wanted to call it azure or cerulean. We’d driven down from Montreal the previous day. I love Kingston, both for the memories it conjures of studying ( and carousing) here back in the eighties, and for the fact that I get to visit one of my best friends, Pat Grew.

The building in which the aforementioned ceremony took place was bright and airy. The event moved along at a pleasing clip and it was wonderful to see Dorothy’s smiling face as she turned triumphantly to the audience, scroll proudly in hand. Here she is all successfully graduated with said scroll

The reason that I mention this event and Woolf is not to brag about my daughter (yes it is) but to emphasize the fact that I’m always on the lookout for book collectors to interview. There’s a very special buzz in the air when I talk to them. Just listen for example to cardiologist Bruce Fye as he describes gaining exclusive access as a mere boy to the hallowed second floor of a cherished bookstore in Philadelphia, here

or David McKnight’s passionate resolve, going after Canadian little magazines and presses, here

I’d put out feelers in Kingston the last time I was down and learned from Richard Peterson (the Peterson in Berry & Peterson’s, purveyors of fine used/antiquarian books), that the Principal of Queen’s was a known collector of items Elizabethan. I duly drafted an email, and Daniel and I arranged to meet in late July after his administrative duties at Queen’s had officially concluded.

Back down the 401 I drove, this time just past Kingston, on to the nearby village of Yarker

As we waited for the cleaning lady to finish up, I asked Daniel about his first wife, Jane Arscott. Her name had come up after I’d Googled his. I remembered it from Sutherland elementary school in Saskatoon. I was fresh off the boat from England, complete with school uniform shorts and a ripe English accent. Needless to say I lost both post-haste, not wishing to be at all different from the other kids. One of the first things our grade seven teacher shared with us was the fact that two students, Will and Jane Arscott, had tragically lost their mother that summer in a drowning accident. I never forgot this.

After the vacuum stopped and we’d calmed down about the coincidence, Daniel and I took our seats in his living room and started to talk about his collection. Listen here

After our conversation, and my admiring his telescope, Continue reading “Kingston & collecting Elizabethan histories, & Canadian fine press printing”

Margaret Atwood, Literary Tourist in Kingston

Literary Tourist in Kingston, Ontario

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.