It’s almost overwhelming when you walk inside. The books. The books. The books.
For a bibliophile such as me, it’s almost too much to handle.
It had been a long time – at least three years – since I stepped foot in one of my favourite stores, The Bookshop on Penticton’s Main Street. I had called a moratorium on book buying for myself, since my reading was not keeping up with my accumulating. But my son, who had heard the legend of The Bookshop – the size, the volume, the variety – was chomping at the bit to check it out. Two weeks ago, we made our pilgrimage.
It’s not like it’s the biggest second-hand bookstore in the world or anything. I’ve heard of much bigger shops, including one in Portland, Oregon, that’s on my bucket list to check out. But it is one of Canada’s biggest, and the depth and breadth of the books it contains can hold my attention for the better part of an afternoon.
I fell in love with The Bookshop about 15 years ago when I was on the hunt for an obscure book by writer Angela du Maurier, called Treveryan. Even in her native Cornwall, England, book sellers would scratch their heads and question whether I didn’t mean her better known sister, Daphne DuMaurier. During my first visit to The Bookshop I thought I’d just ask, but was sure they’d be completely unhelpful.
As it happened, the sales guy I spoke to not only knew of her, but led me directly to a book by her called (appropriately) It’s Only the Sister. It wasn’t the one I was looking for but it was the first bit of evidence I had that this woman actually existed and had published something. So I snapped it up forthwith, and both the store and the people who work there have had my admiration ever since.
I have heard complaints from other customers that the number of books out at any given time is bordering on ridiculous. They are stacked, in some places, three deep. Tall piles obscure the shelves in some places, making it hard to locate what you might be looking for. But if you like treasure hunting like I do, poking behind this book to see what’s hiding here, and walking through the labyrinth of tall, narrow bookshelves, it’s a wonderful place to explore.
What amazes me even more is the recall of the staff. While the stock does seem to be inventoried on computer, they seem to know off the top of their heads the exact location of almost any book you hit them with. At least this has been my experience. During this last visit I asked about an out of print book I bemoan not buying new when I had a chance – The Piano Shop on the Left Bank, by Thad Carhart. The lady who helped me came up with nothing when she looked it up on the computer. But just before I left, she came running over with a copy in her hand. “I thought I’d seen it in this other area,” she told me, “so I looked, and there it was, behind another book.”
I bought it, along with a small collection of kids books my two small book junkies couldn’t leave without.
It was good to be back. To smell the musky, booky smell of old paper and ink overlayed with a fine layer of dust, unique to second-hand books. To run my hand over the bumpy backs of old and new volumes filled with thoughts and ideas and poetry and ambition. To see my kids gobble up the vastness of paperbound opportunity. To just be.
I don’t think I’ll let it go so long between visits again.
– Words and photos by Lori-Anne Poirier