The bookshop was in one of the older attractive stone row houses on St. Mathieu, west side, just down from de Maisonneuve Boulevard, huddled in the shadow of a high rise block of no memorable feature. I seem to recall that these old houses, though commercialized, still retained a fair amount of their gingerbread architectural detail in 1993. Using Google Street View today, the section of the street appears slightly different, the buildings have been modernized and the architectural details removed for the most part. There is an interesting restaurant, Pho Nguyen, in the address of the of old bookstore. Also interesting, the police station across the street, a building whose walls must have absorbed much stress, distress and anxiety, is now a commercial building with a company called BattleNet.24, an Internet café. An all night cyber café in an old police station. There must be some form of Gibsonian irony there.
The Book Signing:
Joining the line on the sidewalk outside in the rain, bumping umbrellas and trying not to poke some passing pedestrian's eye out--pedestrians bereft of comprehension of what could possibly draw people to line up in the rain--I found myself moving step by step as the line made its way slowly into the warmth of the upstairs shop. The bookstore was quaint, but cramped for space. William Gibson was seated at a table of modest dimension. He had a pen in his left hand. It looked promising. Thank god no beverages were involved. The line shifted forward like an assembly line for quality control. Murmur of small talk wafted backwards, voiced pleasantries with charming undertones. Perhaps a trill of light nervous laughter. The pressure to come up with something witty or urbane mounted within me. All of a sudden it felt quite warm. With the wet furled umbrella hanging over my left forearm, I advanced like some minion approaching his lordship with the latest telegram on a small silver tray, or a waiter with the soup of the day. I humbly mumbled a greeting and handed him the book. I recall he had a most discerning eye as we exchanged eye contact. I doubt mine was as discerning. He signed the half-title with panache, and finished by placing an audible period, or dot, in the middle of the "O" of his last name, closed the book and handed it to me. I duly thanked him and moved on allowing those behind their opportunity. I believe he said thanks for waiting in the rain, but whether it was to me or a friend who accompanied me, I can't recall.
I think it was one of the few specific book signings I had attended up to that date. I generally hesitate when it comes to asking authors for a signature. I remember a Martin Amis reading at the Centaur Theatre in old Montreal a few years later but I hesitated at approaching him in the lobby after his droll one-man performance. It takes a certain moxy to approach authors cold. I believe I would feel more at ease with a serendipitous meeting. Like spilling a drink on their suede shoes or something.
Looking at William Gibson's signature now, I realise I had forgotten that he had also underlined the "O" with three lines, creating an ideograph or logogram of some interest. A casual search of the Internet for his signature reveals examples of variation. Some are just plain W.M.Gibson. Some have a little circle within the "O" of his last name. I did come across a youtube video of him signing a book and I could see him underline the defining letter three times. There may be other variations. For the number of books he must have signed over the span of his writing career, variations must breath life into his well worn letters, and allow for a wider expression of his personality and character.
The bookshop Nebula, later moved to 1832 St. Catherine Street, the south side, (now an interesting Korean Restaurant called Towa) a larger space, but of infinitely less charm and interest, and here they continued to offer an excellent choice of science fiction, fantasy, crime, graphic novels, and magazines. Hard times must have hit them, for I then remember that it moved into the back of Mélange Magic bookstore for awhile. Then in the summer of 2000 it closed shop. Their letter of goodbye can be found here.
It is not quite a defunct bookshop as it continues in, dare I say with no disrespect, a nebulous form on-line.
Thinking about the year 1993, it certainly helps to jog the memory with music. The stream of popular hits that played in the shops and on the radio were probably dominated by Duran Duran, The Cranberries, Pet Shop Boys, U2 and perhaps overwhelmingly by certain songs by Sting off his Ten Summoner's Tales, especially Fields of Gold. For me, Sting's Fields of Gold dominates the year. The song and William Gibson's Virtual Light are connected in a an unusual juxtaposition, the pastoral romantic and a world of subtopian redeemers, their very substance seemingly at opposite poles, but spun together in a dance of time and place.