Friday, March 30, 2007

Author, Author: a Bookstore Story

One day at our small second-hand bookshop, a quiet day per usual, the phone rang, unusual in itself, and it was one of my bookclub members, an owner of one of the independent retail bookshops in town. A customer of his was looking for a certain title which seemed to be out of print. It was a pleasant feeling to know that I did in fact have a copy, a very nice trade paper reprint. He said that was wonderful, he would send his customer over. 

Just before my anticipation began to wane and just before my mind returned to its maunderings, a woman quietly slipped into the shop. The effect of her silent arrival, startling me just at the point of my falling into dreamy bookish preoccupations, must have shown on my expression, and in my voice as I greeted her in a rather hesitant and stilted fashion, the blood rushing to my face. For the woman who had entered was a rather famous Canadian author. Should I rise from my desk and become exceedingly gracious? No, that would just scare her. Somehow I managed to remain calm, but I think it was shock. She approached the desk and very kindly inquired about the book being held for her. I duly handed it to her and she said it was excellent, she would buy it, but she would browse the shelves for a bit as well. 

At this point, I hadn't broached the subject of her identity, not knowing quite how to do so. I didn't possess the charm of my brother-in-law, an actor, and on top of it all, I was having a bad hair day and I was feeling much like Dylan Moran's Bernard Black. Well, she started to look at the fiction and I saw her work her way down to where her books would be. My eyes followed her hand which reached out to gently pull a volume off the shelf before saying "I see you have one of my books."

Now, at this point I may have been seen as daft for not knowing a famous Canadian author, so I tried to salvage my self-respect by saying how nice it was to have Alice Munro in our little bookshop, and would she like to sign the book for me. She brightened up at this request and sat down on the chair in front of my desk and I handed her my pen and she very kindly signed her name on the title page. I asked her if she was in town for the theatre, but she said she dropped into town from time to time. Then she told me that she used to run a small bookshop. I was quite ignorant of this fact. Yes, she and her first husband started a little bookshop in Victoria, B. C. and it specialized in paperbacks. This was the early 1960s. She said she did all the jobs from running it to cleaning it too. Of course, it dawned on me, Munro's Books in Victoria. It has evolved. And so has she. I can't remember the rest of the conversation, but I do recall how pleasant and kind she was. A very nice person. 

On another occasion, my wife was at the shop when Alice Munro was looking for an older classic, but together they couldn't find a copy. When I arrived she had just left. I said I could have sworn we had a copy of that title. I scanned the shelf, then the shelves around and yes there it was, hidden behind other books on the wrong shelf altogether. My wife, a librarian, is the Queen of finding mis-shelved books but somehow this one had eluded her keen eye.

I ran to the window. No one to be seen. To the door but no, she had vanished. I descended the stairs and looked up and down the street and I saw her walking at a jaunty stride with her husband, and off I went clutching the inexpensive paperback in my hand like it was forgotten medicine. Shuffling before the sprint I realised I would actually have to run and not jog. 

I discovered not only was I out of shape, but how difficult it was,  for an untrained voice facing a head wind, to call out to someone far ahead. But somehow I managed to reach them at the corner and she thanked me for the effort. My ability to respond adequately was of course countered by the fact that I could hardly breathe, but somehow this too I managed. And off they went, and off I went with the price of the paperback in my hand.

As I walked back to the shop, I did try to regain some poise.

Only later, in the calm of the empty shop, did it occur to me, that a strange young man running after them waving a paperback in the air must have been a startling sight, certainly to her husband who'd never laid eyes on me before.  Some raving fan with a book for her to sign? A talker perhaps? A follower even. Someone to avoid. Excuses forming. Late for a play, must dash . . . .

Such was the day's excitement.



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