Books About Bookshops

Blue Heron Books

Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario. It's one of my favourite bookshops. What's yours? 

In his August 2015 Shelf Talkers Column, Robert J. Wiersema wrote a passionate ode to the independent bookseller and the role these people play in the writer's life:

"As a writer, I cannot thank the independent booksellers of this country enough. They not only read, they react, passionately. They order stock. They up their orders as they win over their customers. They make sure the book has a good, visible place in the store. They host the authors. They are—and this is, if anything, an understatement—the lifeblood of this industry. Every writer owes them a debt, their deepest gratitude."

High praise, and it doesn't even begin to convey what independent bookshops mean to readers, and to anyone who is fortunate enough to live in a community with a thriving indie. Bookshops are some of the best places in the world. (Think I'm exaggerating? Check out The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell, which includes a few great Canadian shops in its international tour.) 

Canadians love bookshops so much we even put them in our books. Which is more than just meta—it makes for great reading too. 

*****

The Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny

Fans of Louise Penny's Inspector Gamache series know that, along with the bistro and the B&B, Myrna's New and Used Bookstore is fundamental to the geography of Three Pines, the tiny village in Quebec's Eastern Townships in which Penny's books are set. Owned by Myrna Landers, former psychologist, the shop is a community hub and even its most obscure volumes have an uncanny knack of holding within them clues toward the solution of the crimes Inspector Gamache and his team are solving. There's also a good selection of books by local poet, Ruth Zardo.

And guess what? Myrna's shop is not completely fiction! In a recent Facebook post, Penny shared that Brome Lake Books in Knowlton, QC, is its real-life inspiration. They now have a reading area devoted to Louise Penny's work, and you can even pick up a Three Pines café-au-lait mug. Learn more about Brome Lake Books at the Gamache Series website.

Brome Lake Books

Image from http://gamacheseries.com/the-nature-of-the-beast-real-place/

**

Book Cover Safe as Houses

Safe As Houses, by Susan Glickman

What is it about bookshops and murder? Glickman's new novel is a cozy murder mystery about how lives are transformed after the discovery of a body in Toronto's tony Wychwood Park neighbourhood.

But one of the most delicious parts of the book is the setting: a bookshop owned by Glickman's protagonist, Liz Ryerson, near Bathurst and St. Clair in downtown Toronto. The shop is called "Outside of a Dog," from the quote by Harpo Marx ("Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend") and also because there is indeed a dog (with whom Liz is out walking when she stumbles across the corpse). And the reader is able to vicariously experience the joy Liz takes in working in her shop. She spends time thoughtfully curating her collection and assembling themed tables, and reading the lists of books within the text was so much fun and an absolute bookish pleasure. 

 

Text from Safe as Houses

A page from Safe as Houses.

**

The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years, by Trevor Carolan

This brand-new title commemorates a legendary literary space, Vancouver's The Literary Storefront, which was founded by poet Mona Fertig and inspired by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. The Literary Storefront was Canada’s first non-profit literary centre and flourished in Vancouver’s colourful Gastown district from 1978-84, a pivotal time in west coast history when feminist, nationalist, and multicultural passions surged to redefine what a socially-committed literary community could be. The Storefront housed the regional offices of The Writers' Union of Canada, The League of Canadian Poets, an editing & printing company, and was the birthplace of the Federation of B.C. Writers. Carolan’s history recounts the inspiration, origins, achievements, and tribulations of this seminal and legendary BC literary institution.

**

Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner

The unnamed narrator of Dickner's award-winning first novel is employed by S.W. Gam Inc., a used bookshop on Montreal's St-Laurent Boulevard. We all know a bookshop just like it, don't we?

"[T]he S.W. Gam Bookshop is one of those places in the universe where humans long ago relinquished any control over matter. Every shelf holds three layers  of books, and the floorboards would vanish altogether under the dozens of cardboard boxes, but for the narrow, serpentine paths designed to let customers move about. The slightest cranny is put to use: under the percolator, between the furniture and the walls, inside the toilet tank, under the staircase, even the dusty closeness of the attic. Our classification system is strewn with microclimates, invisible boundaries, strata, refuse dumps, messy hellholes, broad plains with no visible landmarks—a complex cartography that depends essentially on visible memory, a faculty without which one wouldn't last very long in this trade." 

Shakespeare and Company Bookshop

 

**

Shelf Monkey, by Corey Redekop

While big-box bookstores have been getting a bad rap since, well, ever since they came along and starting sucking the soul out of bookselling and sucking long-established indie bookstores out of their neighbourhoods, the truth is that they don't completely suck. For many towns, the local big-box is a bookish oasis, and many of their workers are excellent book-loving people.

Corey Redekop's 2007 novel, Shelf Monkey, is an ode to these fine individuals, as well as a strange and funny take-down of modern book culture. 

**

Hot, Wet and Shaking, by Kaleigh Trace

Not far into Kaleigh Trace's memoir of how she learned to talk about sex, she makes a shocking confession: when she was hired to work at Halifax's award-winning, education-based sex shop, Venus Envy, during the summer she turned 23, she was really in it for the books.

"Venus Envy has the very best books. The shelves seem endless. Pages and pages of new fiction, feminist publications, and cultural critiques line the walls of the store. I wanted to dive into all of them. I wanted to get lost in Venus Envy's literature, take each shiny new paperback home and make it my own. Working there seemed to be the best way to make this happen. I was in it for the books, not the dildos. And I really wanted in."

All that and dildos too? We're sold! 

PS for more sex shops in CanLit, do not miss Elaine McCluskey's short story collection, Hello, Sweetheart.

Venus Envy

photo from www.thecoast.ca

Book Cover Among Others

**

Among Others, by Jo Walton

In Walton's rich and bookish novel, it's true that the bookshop is kind of secondary, but I'm still including it because it's a bookshop indeed—beside a bakery even, which is always convenient. Following a tragedy that kills her sister, Morwenna is sent to boarding school in England, and it turns out to be books that save her new and lonely life. She finds solace in a friendship with her school librarian, the discovery of a local bookshop (where she browses making plans for purchases once she has money again—who hasn't done that?), and also at the local library where she finds community as part of a Science Fiction book club: "Libraries really are wonderful. They're better than bookshops, even. I mean, bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books quietly out of the goodness of their hearts."

**

The Green Man, by Michael Bedard

From Sarah Ellis's starred review of this YA novel in Quill and Quire: "The Green Man is a used bookstore, owned by an aging poet named Emily. The store is inhabited by the ghosts that reside in all such establishments—the spectres of long-dead authors and previous book owners, still present in scribbled marginal notes and bus-transfer bookmarks. There is also one particularly malevolent presence, whose role in the story grows as the novel progresses." When Emily's teenage niece arrives one summer to help out in the store, her own coming-of-age becomes linked with an untangling of the shop's mysteries in this excellent bookish tale. 

**

For Sure, by France Daigle

In Daigle's novel (part of her series of books written in the Chiac dialect), Didot Books is run by Terry, whose wife Carmen owns local drinking hole, the Babar, and together they're the epicentre of their artistic community in Moncton, New Brunswick. ("Didot, dat's a historical-like name for books." "Wouldn't dat be Diderot?" "Naw. Diderot, dat's anudder fellow...Didot, he was more a printer. Designed letters an' de spaces betwixt words an' betwixt lines, an' de like. In dose days, printing was more like an art.")

We meet the customers, regular and one-of-a-kind, and get to experience the pleasure of ordinary days built solidly around books. 

**

Tomes of Terror, by Mark Leslie

Somewhat disconcertingly, but not surprisingly, haunted bookshops are not all fiction either. In Tomes of Terror, Leslie takes the reader on a tour of haunted bookshops and libraries around the world. And it's not always what you'd expect: yes, you've got the dusty used bookshops whose ghosts are inevitable, but could you ever imagine a Smithbooks location in a suburban shopping mall with a ghost whose peculiar penchant was for titles by R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike?

Read all about it in our excerpt here.

What are your favourite bookshops in books?

October 1, 2015
Books mentioned in this post
The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years

The Literary Storefront: The Glory Years

Vancouver's Literary Centre 1978-1985
edition:Paperback
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Nikolski

Nikolski

edition:Hardcover
also available: Paperback
tagged :
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edition:
also available: Hardcover Book Book
tagged :
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Hot, Wet, and Shaking

Hot, Wet, and Shaking

How I Learned to Talk About Sex
edition:Paperback
More Info
Hello, Sweetheart

Hello, Sweetheart

Stories
edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
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For Sure

For Sure

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary
More Info
Tomes of Terror

Tomes of Terror

Haunted Bookstores and Libraries
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
More Info
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