Book written by Elizabeth Hand
It seems longer ago, but it must have been 1994. We were vacationing in Toronto, seeing the sights easily reached by the downtown subway. Shopping meant Queen Street West for us. You didn’t have to go far for it to get funky back then. Nowadays, things feel a little more foodie and upscale, though I probably just miss old favorites.
After searching the telephone book in the hotel room (ask someone older if those words made no sense), I knew that we were in a city filled with bookstores. Even more miraculous, at least one specialized in science fiction: Bakka Phoenix on Queen Street West. This was when the science fiction shelves at Borders were a revelation, so a whole store… “My God, it’s full of stars.”
I don’t remember the time, but we were alone with the only clerk on duty. He approached and asked about our interests. I must have looked lost. As if in a library, I mentioned a fondness for Howard Waldrop and Jonathan Carroll. I may have mentioned that they did not publish frequently enough for my desires.
The clerk appeared pleased with my query. My tastes presented a challenge while also matching his own refined interests. He had some thoughts and led me around the shop. Pausing here and there, he tugged a book off the shelves, creating a pile in the middle of the store.
He vastly overestimated our finances as well as what we could carry. To be honest, he selected a lot of dense prose and I was not totally against escapism. But, hey, you make somebody work for the sale like that and you want to live up to their expectations.
One book from that excursion remains with me. You can see the copy pictured here.
I devoured that book.Even after my exposure to Carroll and others, Hand made me reconsider the genre that had saved me. Her book moved me along the path to being a more thoughtful and better person.
So, of course, I wanted more. Naturally, not being in Toronto, I couldn’t find any more books by Elizabeth hand. I didn’t even have a good way to find out how many books by her existed. But… we had family in Boston and reason to visit there.
Cambridge was home to Pandemonium Books (at least I think that was their name). Elizabeth Hand had just visited the shop for a signing when we made our visit. But… there were more books!
We’ve all heard a hundred old guys talk about the good old days and I can’t pretend that I would not have been so much happier with Amazon when I was younger. The virtual shelves are worthy of Jorge Luis Borges, far outshining the paperback exchanges that I most often visited.
But I can’t help thinking of that nameless clerk in Toronto who spent a few minutes escorting me around his shop. More than anything, he gave me a sense of community. He passed books to me and we weighed them together.
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You’ve Got to Check This Out is a blog series about music, words, and all sorts of artistic matters. It started with an explanation. 157 more to go.
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