It’s been two years since my dad died of prostate cancer, late in the night of his 62nd birthday. On his birthday this year, we drove to join a family gathering in Bemus Point, NY, where he grew up and where he now rests in the same cemetery as my Grandma Nonna and Grandpa Booney. We returned to Hamilton for a relaxed Victoria Day, and Tuesday, D and I headed to Toronto for the Second Annual Gregory Zuroski Memorial Bookcrawl (#bookcrawl15).
We did this last year in the vein of emotional survival, I think. Every day without him has been strange, but May 15 is difficult. So last year, D suggested that we spend the day doing what my dad would have done, if he could have done anything. The answer is obvious: he would have spent the day in bookstores and coffeeshops. And this is the crux of the memorial bookcrawl—as I resemble him exactly in this preference, it is the perfect way for me to pay tribute to his memory and yet keep the day joyful.
The bookcrawl is somewhat tuned to my own preferences. For one thing, I like used bookstores more than my dad did. He would have been quite content to spend the day in a Barnes & Noble (or, up here, a Chapters), while I prefer something dustier. But we were always equally drawn to independent new-book shops kept by doting, well-read staff who are eager to recommend titles, and receive recommendations in turn. Our first stop this year, Type Books, was exactly this kind of place—my dad would have loved it. And he was also one for any book-related adventure (this was the man who sped me from Riverdale to Manhattan one Dec. 31st evening to try to catch the upper east side Barnes & Noble before they shut their doors at 6pm when I finished The Fellowship of the Ring, which I was rereading in anticipation of the movie, and realized there was no copy of The Two Towers in the house; we arrived just as the security guard was locking the door, and he wouldn’t let us in, and somehow the pathos of this denial compensated for the disappointment), so I know he would have happily joined the bookcrawl, wherever it led, as long as someone else did all the planning (as I did) and all the driving (as D did) and there was no pressure to limit browsing (this requires key time management at the start of the day, of which D was in charge) and plenty of coffee breaks (obv).
Stop 1: Initial caffeination at Cafe Oranje
This lovely spot on King Street right in downtown Hamilton has become our second home, where I go to rev up and get my brain in order and settle into work when I can’t do that under my own roof. We stopped for coffee and a protein bite and I plotted our descent on Toronto. (Incidentally, Cafe Oranje is right next door to one of Hamilton’s best used bookstores, J.H. Gordon Books, which featured in last year’s Hamilton-based crawl.)
Stop 2: Type Books
Type Books landed at the head of bookcrawl by virtue of its being the only shop on the list that opened its doors as early as 10am. It was a dangerous first stop, as we could have spent the whole day there, not to mention all our money. Seriously, guys, walking in there was like walking into the heart of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
Every book on my New Fiction Wish List was just laid out on these tables, ready to receive me. It was vaguely sinister, in the most lovely way, how acutely this place resonated with my readerly desires. Even D, the more wary and exacting consumer, was taken in by their well-stocked poetry shelf. He did wish for more women in the mix, but the density of excellent poetry titles was irresistible. (And, I pointed out, female writers were heavily featured on the fiction tables, as well as on a fantastic list of somewhat counterintuitive recommendations for Mother’s Day.) I somehow resisted buying one of everything in the store, but I did pick up Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk, telling D the story of how I’d first seen it in Daunt Books in London, and carried it around the store before putting it back en route to the register, in an attempt to preserve space in my suitcase for the hardcover UK edition of The Bone Clocks I was bent on bringing home, a silly decision, of course, as nothing could make hauling The Bone Clocks around Europe a reasonable action, so I had been ruing the loss of H is for Hawk ever since—and while I suspect D was only half-listening to this saga, it caught the ear of a fellow browser, who came over and said, “I was trying to decide whether to buy this book myself, and you’ve convinced me to do it,” and I thought, the fact that within minutes of the kickoff of bookcrawl I’ve just inadvertently persuaded not only myself but a total stranger to buy a book I really know very little about other than I WANT IT, means my dad’s spirit really is presiding over the festivities.
Lisa Robertson, Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture
Helen Macdonald, H is for Hawk
Quentin Meillassoux, Science Fiction and Extra-Science Fiction
Kenneth Patchen, The Walking-Away World
David Berman, Actual Air
Clark Coolidge, 88 Sonnets
A Dark Dreambox of Another Kind: The Poems of Alfred Starr Hamilton
Dahlov Ipcar, Black and White
Stop 3: The Monkey’s Paw
I’ve wanted to visit this shop since reading about their Biblio-Mat a couple years ago, but never got around to it. It is amazing, a carefully curated assemblage of print curiosities that displays that infallible sensibility for the “weird and wonderful” across genres that popular culture imagines all antiquarian booksellers possess, but which I think few actually do. Again, I’d walked into a space that was speaking right to me. There was an entire shelf of kindred titles to one of my favorite past finds, An Unhurried Look at Erotica by Ralph Ginzburg. And the very first thing that caught my eye as I walked in was Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, a companion to another one of my favorite past purchases, Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop.
There is no way to replicate the delights of browsing the titles gathered in these dim rooms; the best attempt I can make is to offer “Titles Observed in The Monkey’s Paw Bookshop: A Found Poem”:
The Compleat Imbiber. The Wonder Book of Animals. Gymnastic Pyramids. The Truth About Robin Hood. The Sensibility of the Alimentary Canal. Teach Yourself to Swim. Animals Parasitic on Man. Things for Little Girls to Sew. Home Book of Taxidermy and Tanning. An Uncensored Anthology. Industrial Art Explained. More Trips Around Ontario. Pedophilia and Exhibitionism. Montreal Yesterdays. The Sexual Urge: How It Grows or Wanes. The Defiled Gentlewomen. The Normal Sex Urges of Children. The Virility Diet. The Illustrated Book of Sexual Records. Cosmic Mission Fulfilled. Business Letter Writing: Applied English and Filing. Alas, Babylon. Seventeen Party Book. Quail: Their Breeding and Management. About Mushrooms. Eggs!. Swedish Food. Golf Widow. Flying and How to Do It. Outer Space Humor. The Art of Home Cheesemaking. A History of the British Pig. The Sports Car Engine: Its Tuning and Modification. The Sexpert’s Travel Guide. Noted Witnesses of Psychic Occurrences. They Saw It Happen in Classical Times.
D’s experience in The Monkey’s Paw was also what one might call uncanny, which is interesting since I think his mental landscape is actually quite different from mine. “What song is this?” he asked at one point. “Can you SoundHound it?” I did. “Moondog, Symphony #6,” I reported. “Oh yeah. I tried to get them to use this on an Oxford American soundtrack once,” he said.” “This is kind of like looking at our own bookshelves,” he said later. And as we chatted with the owner at the front, after almost two full hours of browsing, he noticed in the front window the very same medical diagram D has installed in our own living room.
The Monkey’s Paw is one of the very, very few used bookstores we’ve visited (maybe the only one??) to pass D’s “Robert Duncan Test,” which asks, simply, is there anything by Robert Duncan on the shelves?
And, of course, I used the Biblio-Mat, and scored The Life and Remains of Henry Kirke White (Halifax: Milner and Sowerby, 1857).
Hollis Frampton, Recollections/Recreations
Euell Gibbons, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, Field Edition
Sara Coleridge, Phantasmion (facsimile of 1837 edition)
Harry Crews, All We Need of Hell
Harry Crews, Karate Is a Thing of the Spirit
The Life and Remains of Henry Kirke White
Stop 4: quick lunch at Nova Era Bakery
We spent so much time (and money) in the first two bookshops of the day that we needed a very brief lunch to see us through the afternoon. Since we were in Little Portugal, chouriço rolls, custard tarts, and coffee at this bakery across the street seemed the obvious way to go.
Stop 5: Ten Editions Bookstore
The owner of The Monkey’s Paw recommended this shop as one of his favorites, and one that might not be long for this world, as the University of Toronto has reportedly purchased the block on which it sits. This is one of those classic piles of everything, in which a good dig—or, in this case, climb—will yield rewards. Of all the shops we visited on the bookcrawl, Ten Editions reminded me most of our beloved Dickson Street Books, though—as D put it—it is not quite as cozy or extensive, and is overwhelmingly vertical rather than labyrinthine.
I found a copy of Jona Oberski’s Childhood, which I had added to my wishlist after reading Dorian‘s review of it in Open Letters Monthly. I also spotted this Joseph Andrews with an excellent cover on my way out, which I probably should have bought but did not.
Russell Hoban, The Medusa Frequency
Jona Oberski, Childhood
Harry Crews, The Mulching of America
Robert Kroetsch, The Ledger
H.D., End to Torment: A Memoir of Ezra Pound
Stop 6: Bakka-Phoenix Books
D reads a lot more sci-fi than I do, and he’s really more interested in used than new titles, but I like specialty bookstores on principle and wanted to poke my head into this one. Mori, the narrator of Jo Walton’s Among Others, would have been right at home here. We found a few shelves of used books in the dank basement, including this morsel, which I did not buy:
The basement also housed this, which won Bakka-Phoenix one of the key awards of the day (more details anon):
A.E. van Vogt, Slan
Cordwainer Smith, The Instrumentality of Mankind
Stop 7: Caversham Booksellers
Next door to Bakka-Phoenix, and right where we parked our car, Caversham is another specialty store with a fascinating collection, most of which I hope I never need.
I browsed a shelf of Donald Winnicott’s books, and we paused over a beautiful edition of Jung’s Red Book, but we moved on without buying anything—which earned Caversham an award of its own.
Stop 8: Balfour Books
This neat little shop is full of pristine paperbacks, ranging from vintage to very recent. The selection was “too narrowly literary” for D’s taste, but I noted a bunch of recent fiction titles that I’d already purchased at full price that I could have picked up here for about half that. There is also a wall of large art books in beautiful condition. But the real thing of beauty is the long rack of pocket paperbacks:
There were just enough weird flourishes to this place to keep it in the quirky spirit of the day. Like, the music playing was the soundtrack to Jurassic Park. The shelf furthest back is full of DVDs for rent. I overheard an award-winning telephone conversation between the proprietor and her mother (see below). And I found this, which rivals anything in The Monkey’s Paw for the claim to Best Title of the Day:
Jane Gardam, God on the Rocks
Stop 9: Starbucks
One of the things I inherited from my dad was his Starbucks rewards card. I stopped using it regularly earlier this year when I realized that doing so meant I was paying in US dollars, at Canadian prices, for every purchase. But I’m still able to claim his free birthday drink, so every bookcrawl includes a stop for his favorite coffee: a doppio espresso con panna.
Stop 10: Sellers & Newel
I realized when we walked into Sellers & Newel that we’d actually been here before, on one of our trips to Little Italy for food, probably. It’s a compact shop, just one room, but packed with interesting and lovingly selected titles.
I found a first edition of Dorothy Parker’s Death and Taxes on the poetry shelf for $15, and D found a book of poems and photos by Leonard Nimoy that became the frontrunner for the day’s Best Find. I came across a number of things that I’d picked up in other used bookstores, which made it the natural setting for the day’s Baseball Haiku Award, about which, well, see below.
Elizabeth Smart, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Sirk on Sirk: Interviews with John Halliday
Dorothy Parker, Death and Taxes
Leonard Nimoy, Will I Think of You?
Gregory Battcock, The New American Cinema
The Collected Poems of James Agee
Stop 12: June Records
Ok, so it’s not a bookstore, but it was right there on our path down College Ave. and since D bought me a new turntable for Christmas, we’ve been rebuilding our LP collection (after selling our old collection off because we didn’t have a good turntable). So we stopped in for a browse and I walked out with Richard and Linda Thompson’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight.
Stop 13: Eliot’s Bookshop
After a detour to do some pick-ups and drop-offs for D’s new filmmaking project, we made it to the final bookstore of the day, the tried-and-true Eliot’s. We’ve traded books in here before, and D even found $7 of remaining credit tucked deep in his wallet from who knows when. With three floors piled high and somewhat haphazardly with titles of all kinds, this was a good place to land at the end of the day, when fatigue dictated that I wander somewhat aimlessly and let things find me. And they did—after 45 minutes or so, we had brought the final haul of the day to the front and paid up, when a title I’ve been searching for (Adam Phillips’s On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored) practically jumped out of a pile stacked on the floor by the counter and insisted on coming with us.
Olaf Stapledon, Sirius
Peter Dickinson, Sleep and His Brother
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
William Carlos Williams, Spring and All
David Jones, The Anathemata
Adam Phillips, On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored
Stop 14: dinner at Sansotei Ramen
At this point, we were a bit weary and hungry, and we wandered up and down Yonge Street as a chill descended and the wind picked up, looking for an accommodating spot for a quick dinner. And just as we wandered into the midst of an impending movie shoot, I noticed a ramen shop tucked behind a layer of white guys in hoodies standing around with various forms of large equipment waiting for something to happen.
As we ate, the movie crew blocked off the street outside. When we left, they were hosing the emptied street down for several blocks, presumably to simulate rain.
Bookcrawl 2015 Awards
We decided at the beginning of the day that there would be awards at the end. And so.
First Stop Award, for the first bookstore open: Type Books
Creative Taxonomy Award, for best named section:
Winner: Type Books, for “Plotless Fiction”
Runner up: Eliot’s, for “Mixed Subjects”
A-commode-ation Award, for having a public restroom: Bakka-Phoenix Books
Robert Duncan Award, for having a book by Robert Duncan on the shelf: The Monkey’s Paw
Haul of Fame Award, for most books purchased: Type Books (8 books)
Browsy Award, for no books purchased: Caversham Booksellers
Title-ation Award, for best title spotted: Balfour Books, for Masturbation: From Infancy to Senescence
Overheard Award, for best overheard conversation: Balfour Books
Proprietor, on the phone: “Mom. OK. I have to go. Mom, I’m glad you called, but can we talk about this later? Mom. Mom. I have a customer, I have to go.” [She did not.]
Piggybank Award, for least expensive purchase: Bakka-Phoenix, for Slan by A.E. van Vogt (50 cents)
Second Mortgage Award, for most expensive purchase: The Monkey’s Paw, for first edition of Karate Is a Thing of the Spirit by Harry Crews ($50)
Chapters Award, for most/best reading and “book life” accessories: Type Books, which carries, among other accoutrements, Absorene, a book-cleaning putty which we had never seen before
Sound Environment Award, for best background music: The Monkey’s Paw
Serendipity Award, for best find you didn’t know you were looking for:
Winner: Sellers & Newel, for Leonard Nimoy’s Will I Think of You? A Passionate Narrative Poem by the Internationally Known Star
Runner up: The Monkey’s Paw, for both Euell Gibbons’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Sara Coleridge’s Phantasmion
Good Hunting Award, for best find you did know you were looking for (even if its appearance was delightfully unexpected): Eliot’s, for Adam Phillips’s On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored
Baseball Haiku Award—so, my dad had this habit of buying books and DVDs he loved, or thought he might love, over and over again. At Christmas, my mom would give away unopened duplicate copies of DVDs she’d found on the shelves. I would occasionally cull duplicate copies of books from my parents’ house to trade in for store credit at the Strand, and would fetch a respectable price. This tendency was epitomized in my dad’s weird compulsion to purchase one title in particular—Baseball Haiku: The Best Haiku Ever Written About the Game—whenever given the opportunity. He owned a copy for himself, and once gave me a copy, and at another time gave me another copy, and then, during a family vacation, he came across a pile of them on a remainders table somewhere and bought three copies, one for each of his daughters. When he presented me with mine, I must have had a look of some kind, because he said, “What? Have I given this to you before?” and I said, “Yes, twice before,” to which he answered, “Well, it’s a really good book.”
So the Baseball Haiku Award, for purchase of a book that there’s a very good chance we already have at home: Sellers & Newel, for Elizabeth Smart’s By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, which a boyfriend gave me in college and I carried around for years, but which I haven’t laid eyes on for some time.
Runner up: Eliot’s, where I spotted a copy of one of my very favorite books, Susan Stewart’s On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, and was very tempted to buy it just because I love it so much, even though I know exactly where my own copy is at home.
And that’s #bookcrawl15, folks.