Friday, March 13, 2009

Reading in Canada

MacLeod's Bookstore--Canadian Literature shelf

Visiting bookstores is one of my favorite things to do in Canada. I am always surprised by how familiar they are on first glance, and then, when I start to browse, to see all the unknown (to me) authors and books that await me.

On this trip we stepped into the chain store, Chapters, which looks eerily similar to Barnes and Noble. I walked by the travel literature section. At my Portland Barnes and Noble I think there are 5 or 10 shelves in this section. Here there were 25. They also had a display of books translated from other languages. You get the feeling that Canadian readers look to the greater world more than we do in the U.S.

Years ago I read Where Nests the Water Hen by Gabrielle Roy. It's a beautiful, understated short novel set in northern Manitoba. I'd never heard of her, but my husband had read it translated into Czech. I rarely see her books in the U.S.

MacLeod's Bookstore

I spent about 30 minutes looking through the fiction shelf for authors I didn't know. I picked up a book of short stories by Mavis Gallant, an apparently quite prolific writer I'd never heard of (though clearly that's my own shortcoming--turns out her stories appear in the New Yorker). And then I saw The History of Emily Montague by Frances Brooke. Written in 1769 by a British woman in Canada, it's considered Canada's first novel. Actually, it's considered North America's first novel. Is that possible? There was even mention on the back about its Jane Austenesque writing. How had I never heard of it?

The childrens' books section holds similar promise. On a visit 10 years ago, my daughter discovered White Jade Tiger, about time travel back to 1880's Victoria Chinatown, and the The Guests of War Trilogy by Kit Pearson about English children sent to Canada during the war. Both became favorites. She also discovered the prolific Canadian writer Jean Little.

Downtown Vancouver has at least two bookstores always worth a stop. One is MacLeod's, at 455Pender West (by Richards) is the kind of used bookstore you could settle into for an afternoon. The shelves make a maze; books are piled in the bookcase, extra ones jumbled on their sides on top of other books. You can find recently used books as well as older hard to find titles.

Another store I like to visit is Sophia Books at 450 West Hastings--just a block away. It's a multilingual bookstore, lots of Japanese, Spanish, and French titles especially, along with magazines and movies. And it's a good place to find Japanese knitting magazines.


Unknown said...

As I see it, the chain bookstores move out any author who doesn't sell enough which means all the older ones get lost. Our library does the same thing. I can hardly find the usual classics on their shelves anymore and if I do they are in cheap paperback editions. Long live used bookstores, but it's a tough survival!

Giovanna said...

Yes--that's always interesting. Our library seems to tend that way as well--they stock zillions of copies of new bestselling mysteries, only to be discarded a couple years later. When we lived back east our library was a small city one, presumably without as much money. It was such fun to browse there, and find forgotten books.

Of course, for bookstores, a lot is about marketing--they could try to liven up displays and introduce readers to some less known writers.

That's why I find it so fun to check out bookstores wherever I travel, to see what other people are reading, and--hopefully--discover a new author who I'll be glad to know.

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