Tuesday 20 April 2010

Bookstore tourism

Oh friends, the first vacation in two years that my husband and I will have been able to take together is almost nigh! At an obscenely early hour on Sunday, we will be getting in a car and driving to our nation's capital. Lunch with a fellow book-lover and all around hilarious friend of mine that I haven't seen in 2 years or so will occur immediately upon our arrival. Woot, I say.

Working in a bookshop is great...but I need a little break from it. It therefore may make you scratch your head when I say how much I'm looking forward to getting some serious reading in. I get some fairly serious reading in here at work but it's not the same. Reading in a comfy chair, in the sunshine, with a fruity drink and hubby nearby doing exactly the same is a world away from reading during slow times at work. We read like fiends all over our honeymoon in Europe and will likely do the same when we're puttering about in Ottawa and Montreal. I've got two new books to take with me: Flaubert's A Sentimental Education and Mantel's Wolf Hall; I'll also take my Gogol short fiction collection as there's no way I'll get it done before we leave.

But for me, a vacation isn't complete without a fairly exhaustive tour of the bookstores of whatever city I'm visiting. My lunch-providing friend, Andrew, has already sent me a very promising list of second-hand shops in Ottawa. As for Montreal, I think I'll play it by ear and hope to stumble upon some gems as we walk around that lovely, lovely city. (I'll likely have already spent a shitload of cash in Ottawa on books, so a little less intentionality in that regard might be better on our second stop.)

(Have you been to Montreal? To me, it's the most gorgeous city in Canada, hands down. If I spoke French at all, I think ending up in Toronto mightn't have been such a foregone conclusion.)

But back to the idea of bookstore tourism. I doubt I have to ask if all of you engage in it, because I suspect the majority of you do. I guess the question is, why? I am an inveterate bookstore tourist because I hope to (and usually do) find books I've never seen elsewhere. But I also find it extremely comforting to know that book culture thrives everywhere, in very different sorts of cities and countries. Even before I became a bookseller myself, I loved talking to other indie booksellers about what motivated them to commit to a life that will certainly never lead to fame and riches. Most times, it's because they too are incorrigible book hounds and we often end up having great conversations.

I also like the quirks of personality that come through in indie shops - things such as how books are categorized, displayed, and how much the overflow infringes upon floor space. Or, to provide a more specific example of bookseller personality: Two years ago in Charlottetown, hubby and I found a used book store where the sign in front of the rare book section said something to the effect of "WE DON'T CARE WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE - COLLECTOR, BOOKSELLER, OR FAN - IF YOU TOUCH THESE BOOKS WITHOUT OUR PERMISSION, WE WILL KILL YOU." I kind of like that. And sometimes wonder if I should put up similar signs here, due to all the browsers who seem surprised when I tell them they can't rest their coffee cups on the shelves. I recall I bought a Wodehouse novel and The Conference of the Birds (a 12th-century Persian poem) at this cranky shop and was questioned closely for my strange combination of tastes. I like booksellers to engage this way, but they're all tired of seeing me here, so anonymity is another perk of bookstore tourism.

I suppose I should do some work now as I'm not on vacation yet. But don't think I won't be counting the minutes until Sunday.


Hannah Stoneham said...

Enjoy your holiday... your post made me think as I have been indulging in a bit of bookstore tourism this very day! I took the train to Paris (which is about 40 mins from where I live) and visited the legendary Shakespeare & Co - it is fabulous. I think that there is a real sense in special bookstores such as that one of a community of readers

Lovely blog - thanks for sharing


Trapunto said...

Oh, the places I have seen sticky latte cups. I'm not even a bookseller. It makes my eyes go beady and my heart go hard.

Heidenkind said...

I have been to Montreal, and it is an absolutely gorgeous city. I wouldn't mind living there, myself.

Yesterday, while walking to my car from my new job (it's downtown), I passed a new rare, used, and antique bookstore I'd never seen before! I'm so excited to check it out later this week.

Unknown said...

Moral dilemma: very cheap books via the Book Depository or more expensive, older, second-hand books in a shop? Luckily, living in the far-flung outer suburbs, this is not a dilemma I confront often, but there have been occasions where I've thought "I could buy this coffee-stained paperback for $9, or I could get a pristine version for $10 via the internet...". I'm probably going to hell :(

Bookphilia said...

Hannah: I'd really like to go to Shakespeare & Co. - I have a number of friends who've been and they've asserted that my life won't be complete until I've been there too. They may be right.

Trapunto: I know, I know. Where you are, do people also through garbage of all sorts into people's locked up bicycle baskets? They do that here. That makes my heart go hard.

heidenkind: Oooh, a new book shop! Jealous!

Tony: For me, that one's not a moral dilemma at all; but I don't live in Australia. For me, browsing in a shop is so much a part of the whole experience that I would only order online if I were desperate for a particular book.

nicole said...

I always say Montreal is "nice to visit, not so nice to live in" (I have that experience). But of course other people really love it. I have to say, though, I never found such exciting bookstores there, except it was nice to have such easy access to titles in French.

Enjoy your trip!

K said...

dear C, please do think of me on your vacation - I love all manner of gifts: hats, shirts, flags, mugs, keychains (no jewelry, thank you), and books books books, say, a first edition copy of Oliver Twist!

J.G. said...

C.S. and I always plan our trips to include bookstores, but we concentrate on the used variety (also very eccentric in signage, organization, use of floorspace, and proprietorship). Plus "we brake for used books" even if they aren't on the route map. Some of our best finds have occurred that way.

Have a great vacation filled with all your favorite things!

Bookphilia said...

nicole: Well, I'll have to take your word for it - I think Toronto is where I'll be for a long time to come.

K: I'll send you some poutine in the mail - what you're address?

J.G.: I also brake for books not on the map - random bookstore finds really are the best!