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Posted By DMB

Last Saturday at a Queen’s Park demonstration – large, with a profusion of signs demanding Government action – I saw what has to be the most radical demand I’ve ever seen – and I go back to the sixties.

The large hand-painted sign read “I WANT A HAIRCUT”.

Posted By DMB

We are all adapting in our own ways to this modern plague, learning daily new tricks to outwit boredom. Those of us who read books have a huge edge these days and we have been transformed from curious nerds into people who have barely time to chat on the phone with our desperately bored friends who’s houses are empty of books. They still don’t understand. But we continue what we always have done reading, reading, and rereading. I myself am rereading the entire oeuvre of my favourite authors from 20 to 40 years ago.

My cousin Liz Warrener, a retired librarian, tells me she and her book club are reading the whole of Jane Austen and are currently having heated online arguments about Northanger Abbey.

I wear the same clothes for a week getting seedier every day. Instead of grooming myself for the world I’m reading different chapters of eight history texts over coffee.

I write less, but longer emails to various friends world-wide, to my mind the greatest benefit of our new electronic reality (except for ease of research for us book people). I walk around the block every day. The world seems more peaceful, if more distant, and I’ve been watching more free movies many of which I didn’t know existed.

While baseball didn’t announce another spring, I’ve had complete replays of both the World Series from 92 and 93 bringing back wonderful memories. And even last year’s triumph of the Raptors has been shown in full.

My friend Eric X, ensconced in an undisclosed location, in a house full of books, clocks, and old musical instruments (he’s still leery of book thieves even though I tell him that he’s safe from thieves, because even if they stole his books they’d have nowhere to sell them – except maybe to me – and he knows I would never stoop so low as to buy his stolen treasures. Some are so important and unique that I’d have to keep them myself – I couldn’t sell them for fear of being caught. Why would I buy his copy of Stevenson’s Treasure Island which was Long John Silver’s own copy – it really is, Long John was modelled on Stevenson’s friend W.H. Henley and Eric X’s copy is the very one which Stevenson inscribed to Henley. It’s unsaleable on the open market, perfectly safe I assure Eric.) I mention Mr. X here for the following anecdote: When the horrible plague first descended and we were ordered to stay at home Eric said to his wife, “Gee, we’ll be completely isolated,” whereupon Mrs X replied, “Eric, you’ve been isolated for years.” Eric realized his status wasn’t changing at all. He’s been at home reading ever since he retired. Another gift for us life-long readers!

I’ve been sorting old papers (another blog on that, later) and books. I’ve already found so many books I didn’t remember I’d bought that I have enough new reading for a long time. Along with the recent development where my old man’s natural reduction in memory has caused me to forget what I’ve read – almost before I’ve finished the book I’m reading, has also rendered my entire thriller / mystery section into unread books. This means that I’m safe for a very long time.

Still, I do miss baseball and fiddling around with flowers and plants. And chatting with the neighbours. And playing with my books in the store. But it will pass.

Last note: I now watch once a week Gary Oldman’s magnificent portrayal of Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour just to remind myself how bad it can get. We’re a long way yet from that. Also, the sports channel, desperate to fill space keeps playing Field of Dreams. I’ve seen it 5 or 6 times in the last month (instead of my usual once a year). We will prevail.

Posted By DMB

The plague, having imposed isolation, now includes our TV news people demonstrating the décor of their homes, which I’ve been studying in my ongoing social study of how our society uses books.

Commentators like to use books as a backdrop so we see a section, mostly containing paperbacks on Ikea shelves, the worst modern aberration invented to store our sacred relics. Outsized for books, they have almost everything wrong with them relating to the storage of books. I have come to loathe them. They insult the books most, just as we would feel insulted if we were forced to wear clothes in sizes much too large and in styles which made us feel ugly and distorted out of all proportion.

When I moved my huge storage last year I had lots of extra shelves (very expensive to build especially for young new dealers) and I tried to give some away. I had a dozen or so of those Ikea monstrosities which I had stupidly accepted for free over the years when I bought the books they contained. They are too heavy to move easily due to the weight of that obscene pressed board and the shelves are too deep – for no sensible reason – and ludicrously spaced (as though standard book size was uniformly 18” tall, and prone to chipping easily, making them even uglier. In all, the wrong size, too heavy, ugly white, when books demand the deep shades of browns that lend dignity – an obscenity and an insult to the true booklover. I couldn’t give any of these shelves away so I took to leaving them outside the doors of my storage every day, along with other useful things no longer wanted. Everything free was taken, except the Ikea shelves, which I ended up throwing into the garbage bin. The lesson is that even the garbage scroungers have a greater aesthetic sense than our cultural guides.

Notes about our broadcaster’s libraries will be added to my long ongoing study of how our society really views books (not how they think they do) which I shall eventually publish, at least in part.

With our business shut and me locked up for two months now I have been absorbed with sorting old messes, trying to establish the order I’ve been planning to impose for several years. This has resulted in a couple of remarkable results.

First is, naturally, finding all sorts of books I forgot I owned which has resulted in much reading of the browsing sort – pamphlets, articles – ones I hadn’t read and ones I’d read and kept for eventual rereading – which I now did. All these things caused much searching for other details mentioned in other books, which meant I spent much of every day reading in every direction. Great fun of the sort which ends with everything messy, the day has disappeared and your mind is swirling with ideas and you had a great time.

And the second thing is that by all this sorting and searching I also sorted to file all the emails I’ve printed out. Afterwards I realized I had in fact relived and reappraised the last ten years of my life. I’ve had renewed conversations forgotten, and encountered people who’d disappeared. I sent overdue emails to neglected friends and colleagues, even phoned some and start again lapsed dialogues. All in all it’s been – again – a wonderful example of things and people discarded or misplaced by time and our modern obsession, with getting more of everything while ignoring and enjoying what we already have.

I’m looking at the world and many things in it differently and I’m sure that lots of other people are doing the same.

We all know this pandemic is changing everything, some things irrevocably, but it’s now clear to me that some of these things will be to the good – to our great profit – if we are wise enough to see. For all of us the first trick is to say alive. But for many small businesses including us booksellers, the next is to survive. I will speak more of this in my next blog.

We have sold nothing in two months, not surprising. Books are seen as a luxury by our society it seems. In all the news items I’ve seen about amusing ourselves in isolation I saw not one suggestion about reading until finally a morning talk show host exclaimed, “I might just crack a couple of books. Reading, you know.” Only someone who hasn’t read a book within his memory would talk like that, but his was the only mention I’ve heard. None of my friends who I talk with has experienced the slightest boredom, nor has mentioned any activity – except sorting and clearing old messes like me. Readers are never bored because they have thousands of worlds to enter and explore.

Posted By DMB

For years I’ve been making notes for use in various writings, or just for my own amusement, or sometimes just so I won’t forget anecdotes from books I’ve been reading. Many of them have neither use nor relevance to any project I’m working on so it occurs to me that I should put them in this blog with the hope that they might amuse others as well.

It had never occurred to me that this blog might have readers but just in the last month 3 people admonished me that I hadn’t added anything in ages and when was I going to.

So, here’s the first couple completely devoid of any book relevance.

“Not only is there no God, but try getting a plumber on the weekend.” Woody Allen

Making Amends

A long time ago I took my mother out to dinner in a fancy restaurant which had developed a good reputation as one of the best for cuisine minceur. It was at the height of the cuisine minceur craze, but I chose that restaurant not because of that, but because it was owned by a good friend and drinking buddy of mine. I knew my friend, who was also the Chef, would fuss over my mother because I knew he also had a middle-class no-nonsense mother who would also not understand, nor approve of fancy, expensive restaurants. And also, and more important, because at the very early hour we went, I knew he would still be relatively sober.

My mother enjoyed herself but mostly because her son and his friend fussed over her. She was of a generation which almost never went to a restaurant unless it was for a cup of tea after a shopping expedition. I think she didn’t approve of the fashionable décor in spite of the rave reviews his restaurant had been getting in the Toronto newspapers.

Afterwards she said, “It’s was nice enough, but this silly friend of yours didn’t cook his vegetables long enough. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by telling him that. Why wouldn’t his own mother tell him?”

After I got her home, happy but bemused, I returned to my friend’s restaurant where we shared another bottle of wine discussing matters of great importance, such as trying to make amends to aged mothers for all those years of worry and grief we had caused them.




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