the last visible dog (intertext) wrote,
the last visible dog

The Acquisition of Books Part 1

I can't imagine a house that isn't full of books. It's always the first thing I do, when I go to a friend's home for the first time: make a bee-line for her bookshelves and start perusing. I have so many books now, especially since I inherited all my mother's, to start an online bookshop of my own. And I still might. But sartorias' post this morning about buying books and how her habits have changed over the years made me think about where and how I acquired many of my own books.

I can't imagine giving up certain copies of my books, because so many have stories that go with them - and I'm helped not only by the fact that I still own most, or at least many, of my childhood books, but by the fact that my mum tended to write in them. "Debbie, from Mrs Cakebread, Christmas 1964." That's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. The original Puffin edition with the scowling bearded dwarf against a dark background. There's a whole series of "Mrs Cakebread" books. She was my teacher at Cranleigh School, and she Took An Interest in me; when we immigrated to Canada, she sent me Puffins from England for quite a few years afterwards. Landslide. That's one of hers. Then there are the "Debbie, from Aunty Joan" or "Debbie, from Aunty Joan JB" (I have two Aunty Joans, so they have to be distinguished.) AJ 1 used to send me Puffins by the ton from England - my Narnia books mostly came from her - I think my mum sent an SOS because children's books were so hard to come by in small town Canada in the early sixties. AJ 2 (who lived in the US) sent me posh hardcover classics. My Black Beauty came from her, as did my Pinocchio. She sent me an entirely unsuitable book of French Fairy Tales when I was about 5 years old which was full of the most explicitly gory pictures of ogres, and Bluebeard holding a severed head by the hair - it gave me nightmares, and I believe that was one that got left in England when we moved. Of course, my parents - or at least my mother - gave me books, too, though I think we were handicapped by living in a small town for the first few years we were in Canada.

Then we moved to Victoria, and book acquisition moved to a whole new level. My reading was dominated by the Library and the Book Exchange - one of those wonderful little musty smelling stores that sold candy and cigarettes as well, where you could take in four paperbacks and come out clutching one new one. Or just buy them outright for about 25 cents each. I tended only to buy books that I had read at least three or four times from the library - the tried and true. When you are on a limited budget, your buying habits have to adjust accordingly.

However, I have a whole group of hardcover books purchased on holiday in London in 1968. Foyles bookstore, and The Children's Book Center, and money to spend. Bliss. I bought nearly all my hardcover Moomin books in one blissful day there.

When I reached my teens, and had a bit more cash flow, book buying was dominated by Munro's. Those who live in or have visited Victoria will know Munro's in its present tony heritage establishment on Government St, with its Carol Sabiston wall hangings and Classical music playing in the background. My Munro's had the music, but at that time was still part owned by Alice Munro, the short story writer, and was on Yates st, in the upper 700 block, next to what used to be Standard Furniture before the building burnt down. It was tiny, crammed with books, had wonderful posters in the window (I clearly remember the pinky purple Ballantyne poster for Tolkien). It was across the street from the Library at that time, so one's book fetishes were well served (the Library, at least the downtown branch of it - at that time there was only One - has moved to a bigger, less tony establishment. This was when the Library was in the old Carnegie building. It was lovely.

After I graduated from high school, and before I started University, I worked in a government job for two years. Then, I bought hardcovers and coffee table books. I special ordered things from Munro's - that's when I got my hardcover Susan Coopers, and the first edition Silmarillion and Watership Down

Then it was Uni, and book buying tended to have to be restricted to text books and second hand paperbacks. There are one or two treasures, though, like the original paperback edition of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld with its gorgeous cover, purchased by chance from a drugstore rack. Then there's The Harpist in the Wind first edition hardcover, given to me by the Great Love of My Life (after he'd read it first, and teased me by threatening to give away the ending).

Grad school took me to Toronto, and once again book buying was taken to another level. There was the famous Children's Bookstore (no longer extant, alas), and the Science Fiction and Fantasy store on Queen St (which is, I believe, still going). I have hardcover Diana Wynne Jones from that era: The Magicians of Caprona with the lovely Ionicus cover. I have a first edition of The Throme of the Erril of Sherril bought for, I think $25 at the SF bookstore (I can't remember the name of the store). I thought that was expensive at the time. Lol. I think bitterly of the first edition Riddle Master of Hed that I could have bought for $50 but thought was too expensive.

Yikes. Such a long post already, and I'm only in my mid twenties! Half a life! I'll have to do part 2 another day...
Tags: books, memories, reading, reflection

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