Friday, 21 May 2010

What's In A Name?. . .

I finally got around to checking out this cool, secondhand scholarly bookstore that opened up last month just blocks away from the University of Toronto campus. It does have a name that's hard to remember - Of Swallows, Their Deeds and The Winter Below, which partially explains the delay. I'd seen a newspaper article announcing its opening and made a mental note, but then promptly forgot the name. Then it was featured in the latest issue of Toronto Life magazine as one of the "50 Reasons to Love Toronto Now". So I jotted down the address and popped over there with a friend this afternoon. It's located on the second floor of a nondescript building. The walls are painted dark grey and one's eyes are immediately drawn to a striking red velvet couch against one wall. The books are still being unpacked but there were enough on the shelves to warrant a good browse. Literary criticism, philosophy, film, classics and religion seem to be the main categories of focus. And yes, of course I couldn't resist picking up these two books:

I was born in Hull but left when I was still a baby and almost anything you read about the city has to do with Philip Larkin which is just fine with me as I quite like his poetry. Philip Larkin, The Marvell Press and Me by Jean Hartley promises not only to detail Larkin's early years in Hull and his relationship with a small press (I always love reading publishing memoirs) but also to describe the Hull of the 1950s and 1960s which hopefully will give me a sense of what my birthplace was like just prior to my arrival. Plus I was completely drawn to the cover - it's a photo of Larkin in front of a new library site in 1958. As to the second book, I have a number of titles in The German Library Series, mostly collections by German playwrights, but I was enticed to buy this anthology because it contains an excerpt from After Midnight by Irmgard Keun. I've read and enjoyed The Artificial Silk Girl and Child of All Nations and want more! There are also pieces by other German writers I'm interested in, including Ernst Junger and Gregor Von Rezzori.

With university bookstores carrying fewer books and certainly not offering the range from university presses that they used to - preferring to concentrate on t-shirts and electronics instead - it's really exciting to have this new used bookstore in the city. There's a good interview with the proprietor Jason Rovito in NOW Magazine which you can read here. I really like his philosophy - that a bookshop should be the centre of an academic community. Absolutely! But it takes skilled staff who actually love books, do the research needed to buy and stock intelligently, and who can foster good working relationships with faculty and students. As Rovito says in the NOW article, “Our gamble was that there was something that can’t be translated into electronic space in terms of bookselling. There’s a physical component that’s essential to the act. Part of that is the book itself as an actual object[...]but also talking about books, and the act of writing itself.”

"Just call it 283 College St, " said Rovito as I was leaving with my purchases, after having commented on the long name. I wish him luck and hope he can make a go of it - I'll certainly be returning.