Monday, May 30, 2011

Of Badgers and Bookstores

Cathy Stonehouse, author of the just-released short-story collection Something About the Animal, is hosting The National Post's Afterword this week. In Of Badgers and Bookstores she wonders what will happen in a world where we don't have independent bookstores as cultural centres, as places where we can get our literary bearings:

I don’t go to church or frequent many bars but I do go to bookstores. I love the fact that they are so anonymous: the perfect place to fondle the raw edges of new paperbacks or discreetly sniff stuck-together pages for that new ink smell. I go there for the sensory overload, the sense of company, to trawl the shelves for serendipitous findings or just to remind myself that books are still there. I prefer not to talk, although I like the companionship of other customers, each on their own erotic quest, seeking companionship, a quiet, yearning restlessness in the air.

The crazy crowded logic of Jimbocho, Tokyo’s bookselling quarter, that tiny store in the Japanese town of Kushiro with its half shelf of English language books, the subterranean alternative bookshops of 1970s Manchester, the antiquarian delights of Charing Cross Road. Whenever I travel I seek out bookstores as entry points. I also visit them for moments of peace.

A good bookstore is a matchmaking enterprise. Rifling through musty volumes in Vancouver’s Macleod’s Books one day several years ago I chanced upon an old green leather-bound volume entitled The Life Story of a Badger, by J. C. Tregarthen. Inside the front cover was a bookplate stating it belonged to a Mr. and Mrs. Brooke. Pasted into the back was a yellowing newspaper clipping on “Men and Badgers,” alongside penciled-in notes about the Brooke family motto. Slid into the pages were several newspaper articles and postcards depicting badgers.

I am a badger-phile. These tenacious, occasionally ferocious black and white creatures that shy away from humans fascinate me, not least because they are native to where I grew up. So I seized on the book with great delight. Its melodramatic tale of a badger named Brock, who escapes being hunted and trapped, is a piece of writing few would perhaps appreciate, yet clearly the Brookes were inspired by this fable of their namesake. I will treasure it also.

A good bookstore is not just a place where books are sold but one where connections are forged between past and future. It’s also a place where literary community is formed. When I arrived in Vancouver twenty years ago I knew nothing about West Coast Canadian literature. I also did not have many friends. But browsing the shelves of R2B2 Books in Kitsilano I overheard fascinating literary conversations. Dawdling in the aisles of Octopus Books on Commercial Drive I learned about local readings, got to know local writers. In People’s Co-op I browsed the rotating chapbook stand. In Duthie’s I surveyed the vast range of Canadian fiction titles, and in Ariel, the Women’s Bookstore and Women in Print I learnt about SKY Lee, Dionne Brand and Ethel Wilson.

Would I be able to do any of this online?

To read the rest of her post please go here. And please check back at The Afterword over the following days for more from Cathy.

1 comment:

camobel said...

This cannot have effect in actual fact, that's what I think.