I have been reading My Bookstore, a collection of writers writing about their favourite bookstore. It is the type of book that is filled with many talented people saying the same thing in different ways.
It makes me think of the bookstores that I have loved, visited and lost (through closure or floods). While others travel they collect shot glasses or flags. I collect bookstores.
Calgary hasn’t really provided me with an independent bookstore I love. There are a few independents that I love to browse but they don’t tug on my heartstrings. I don’t go out of my way to visit them and I don’t long for them when I’m not home.
Growing up we enrolled in various activities at Mount Royal College (now a university) on the other side of town. All too often we wound up racing to the south through rush hour traffic for music or dance lessons.
Near MRU there is a large complex of big box stores and strip malls. Nestled amongst them is an Indigo that we visited so often as kids it felt like a second home.
We would go in and rush to the back corner that was home to the kids books. I collected Magic Tree House books and then A Series of Unfortunate Events. My mother never said no when we wanted a book.
Afterwards we would sit in the little café and eat a snack. I invariable purchased a lemon bar. I can still remember how it tastes. Eventually the café was replaced by a Starbucks as Chapters and Indigo became one.
In junior high my tastes turned to political books and non-fiction. We still made our trips to Chapters and I collected books describing the unpleasant things that happen in this world.
I also started reading comic books. One of my good friends in grade seven loved them and converted me. He gave me his lunch money so I could buy Xmen comics for him. I would get off the bus early and go to Another Dimension Comics in Kenzington. I would wander the aisles and pick up the latest request. In exchange for my labours I got to read them after he was done with them. By the end of the year there were so many mutants in my life I could barely keep track of them.
I started buying weekly comic series with very little taste or discrimination. Many were awful but one that sticks out in my mind is Batman City of Lights. It’s dark and brooding like most Batman stories. Using a special chemical the buildings in Gothan were made to glow. Unfortunately, the chemical also made the buildings come to life and eat people Venus flytrap style. I don’t remember how it ended but I assume Batman saved everyone at the last minute in and improbably and heart warming fashion. That’s usually what happened.
What made this collection special was that it centred on a group of artists. One named Rahn was commissioned to paint a portrait of Batman and got embroiled in the whole mess. I may have fallen hear over heels for Rahn with his spiky hair and painted stained clothes. It was junior high.
I still love to wander Another Dimension Comics. It moved two blocks down to a bigger space. The old location was replaced by an art supply store that I also love to wander. Now I’ve graduated to graphic novels that I exclusively get out of the library. Rahn still holds a place in my heart and I try to spend more of my energy on crushes that I have on real boys instead of fictional characters.
In high school much to my mother’s relief I got into fiction. And occasion I even read whatever the AP board was passing off as classic literature.
Me and my friends started going downtown for the first time. It was a mysterious land filled with tall buildings and unfamiliar streets. One that we got to know well was Stephen Avenue, a pedestrianized street one down from the LRT, that even we couldn’t get lost trying to find. There we visited a shiny temple of literary wonders called MacNally and Robinson. The store spanned three floors, with a café on top.
Here we could find everything we wanted. There were books we’d never heard of and those that had been mentioned by English teachers who were much wiser than us. Here I worked my way through George Orwell, John Steinbeck, Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland. Here I was talked into buying an Allan Ginsberg book that I ended up hating by one of my best friends. We were both strong willed and had very different taste in books. However, we could both agree that Dubliners is sheer magic.
Sadly, MacNally and Robinson closed before we graduated. It was replaced by a Sportcheck I still can’t bring myself to shop at.