Shopping for books is one part of Christmas that I really enjoy, and this year I found all the books I needed by walking between four bookstores clustered near the centre of town. At Manhattan Books I picked up two bright green hardcover copies of Bescherelle, L’Art de conjuguer (Éditions Hurtubise HMH Ltée), a nifty little guide to French verbs. Unusual books to give as gifts but necessary for family harmony: only one Bescherelle in the house means ongoing arguments over where it is, who had it last or who took it to school. By the time you read this my oldest daughter Robin and my son Travis will have their own copies so Cassia, my middle child, can keep the family copy (which she had already claimed by putting her name in it).
While I was in Manhattan I also picked up a copy of Le Zébre by Alexandre Jardin (Éditions Gallimard) for Robin (on the recommendation of a francophone friend). I gave Robin a couple of days to get into the story before I hounded her to tell me what it was about—I needed to finish this piece. She started to explain that it was about a middle-aged guy trying to rekindle the passion in his marriage but that was as much as she would tell me because she thought the story sounded dumb in English. Apparently in French it’s pretty funny.
A few blocks away in the big Duthie’s store, I spent quite a while in the children’s section trying to choose for my niece and nephew and finally settled on True Confessions of Adrian Albert Mole by Sue Townsend (Mandarin) because I’d been reading about Adrian Mole lately. For those of you who’ve never met Adrian, he’s a true nerd who does his homework, wears grey cardigans, and worries about the lack of morals in modern life—especially the modern life of his parents.
Our hardcover collection of the first four Adrian Mole diaries, Adrian Mole: From Minor to Major (Methuen) had found its way onto the dining room table a few weeks ago and each of us seemed to be dipping into it as we ate our breakfasts. For a few days I tried to maintain the place of whoever was officially reading it, but once it became apparent that no one else was being so considerate, I gave up and just read on, chomping my toast and chortling.
My youngest, who is twelve, must have heard me because he unearthed a worn softcover edition of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 to try out. After reading several entries he got a puzzled look on his face and wanted to know if Sue Townsend really wrote this book—did she make it up or did she just find someone’s diary?
Right beside Adrian Mole I found another Sue Townsend book called The Queen and I (Mandarin) in which a Republican government declares the end of the monarchy and has the royal family removed to a council estate in the Midlands. Reminded me of a song by Leon Rosselson about the Queen hating to wait in queues so I bought it for Cassia. I didn’t get any books for Christmas (they claim I’ve read them all) so I ended up reading The Queen and I while Cass was busy with something else. I tried not to laugh too loud as the royals tried to cope with life on the dole because I wanted to finish the book before Cassia noticed I had my nose in it.
Still in Duthie’s I asked after books by Jim Kjelgaard, which is a difficult thing to do because I can never quite remember or pronounce his name. I described him as “a guy named Jim whose last name starts with a K. He writes books about dogs” and a helpful employee knew just who I was talking about. My son loves Kjelgaard’s books but someone else must too because they were all sold out.
Another book, this one for my partner David, I described as “something about red tape and labour bureaucracy by someone named Mark Lear” got translated into Red Flags & Red Tape: The Making of a Labour Bureaucracy by Mark Leier (University of Toronto Press) but no copies could be found there.
On to Bollum’s Books, the new kid on the block—a nice-looking store with plenty of ambiance and a great coffee shop downstairs, which I usually visit last because neither the staff nor the computer system are very knowledgeable. But thanks to Duthie’s, I knew what I was looking for, so I headed for the kids’ section and found Stormy by Jim Kjelgaard (Bantam-Skylark) for my nephew and Haunt Fox for my son.
While there I suggested to a tired grandmother that she buy a book from the Nate the Great series (by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, Putnam) series for her seven-year-old granddaughter. Nate the Great is our favourite detective—sort of a pint-sized Philip Marlowe who specializes in domestic mysteries like lost lists, boring beach bags, stolen bases, and missing keys.
Couldn’t find the Red Flag book at Bollum’s and didn’t have the energy to ask a clerk, so I headed to another Duthie’s—the one in the atrium of the new library. I love to pull open those big glass doors and smell the pizza from the Flying Wedge. The clerk at this Duthie’s suggested I try Spartacus Books on Hastings Street, a place I’d heard of but never visited. I walked three more blocks and found the entrance, a glass door that led to a wide wooden staircase. Dark and uninviting but when I saw a little kid on the landing I figured it was OK. If you’ve ever been part of a co-op you can probably picture this place. Rough wooden floors supporting rough wooden shelves. Murky windows, bad lighting, and no way to tell the customers from the staff. It turned out that the guy behind the cash register was a brand-new volunteer so when I asked him about the book we walked around the store together and eventually found it right back beside the door. It was, predictably, a red book and it looked pretty academic, with small type, long chapter names, lots of notes and an index—just the thing for a nonfiction hound like David. Back at the counter my volunteer added on the tax and told me this was his very first sale so I went easy on him and came up with exact change.