A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

When Celia Duthie told me back in December that her sister was going to let go of the last Duthies store in February 2010 I thought about my relationship with bookstores since I began buying books in a pocket book emporium on 6th Street in Austin, Texas back in 1958. There were no porno stores in those days. So a 16 year-old boy with raging hormones could only find information about sex in racy pocketbook novels written by Frank Yerby, The Saracen Blade, Kyle Onstott’s Mandingo or Frank G. Slaughter’s medical novels and Taylor Caldwell's religious” novels like Dear and Glorious Physician (believe it or not even though it was a novelized biography of St Luke the Evangelist it had lots of sex). The Viking by Edison Marshall had graphic sex scenes, in Viking dragon ships. I was deeply dissapointed when all that was removed in the film version, The Vikings (1958) with Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh and Kirk Douglas.

In Mexico City in the late 50s and early 60s I bought every science fiction pocket book I could find plus studying under Ramón Xirau made awoke an interest in the Greek philosphers and for some reason Jewish philosopher Baruch Spinoza.

In Buenos Aires in the mid 60s I found good books in subway stations. They were cheap editions of Argentine classics like Martín Fierro, and epic poem by José Hernández, or such novels as Ernesto Sábato’s Sobre Héroes y Tumbas. It was at the Anglo-German bookstore Pygmalion on Calle Corrientes where my father had purchased his Dickens A Tale of Two Cities and Leslie Charteris’ The Saint series. My mother bought her Graham Greene at Pygmalion and it was at Pygmalion where I bought Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s A Phenomenon of Man, Dag Hammarskjöld’s Markings and The Philosophy of Hegel, Edited With an Introduction by Carl J. Friedrich. I never noticed Jorge Luís Borges perusing the stacks even though he was blind. Alberto Manguel says he first met Borges while working at Pygmalion. It was in 1964 that Manguel became a reader to Borges.

My wild Correntina aunt, Sarita Pereira-Rego de Irureta Goyena introduced me to Cuban poet Nicolás Guillén when she gave me a copy of Sóngoro Cosongo.

By the time I returned to Mexico City I was an inveterate reader so I went to bookstores in late evenings after the movies. Both in Buenos Aires and in Mexico City, movie houses are near bookstores that remain open after the late shows. Not having ever read Borges or Cortázar in Argentina I began to buy cheap Mexican editions in those late night stores.

Books in English were expensive and hard to find. The best place was Sanborn’s the Mexican drugstore chain. They always had the latest pocketbooks at reasonable prices. They were a good source for my science fiction interest.

It was in Vancouver where thanks to Duthie’s and a friendship with Celia and her husband Nick that I became more of a literate snob and started reading in English. I would walk into the Duthies downtown and as soon one of the employee/managers saw me (Dave Kerfoot was one of them) he would say to me, “Alex we ordered in the latest Jerome Charyn for you.” I had never ordered the Charyn in question but they knew I would buy it every time.

With the demise of Duthies I can safely say that I have never read so much and so cheaply. The remainder section of Chapters, and the several very good second hand bookstores in Vancouver have provided me with hours of reading pleasure.

With room no longer available at home I have decided not to buy books anymore. For the last two months I have been learning of the delights to be found in our Vancouver Public Library (and I would like to add the word System). The VPL allows me to find books on line and to order them delivered to my nearest branch (Oakridge) at no charge.

I no longer need to buy books yet…

My friend Grant Simmons who owns DISC and prints all my colour slides and plant scans as exquisite giclées (high end inkjets on extra thick art paper) told me he was going to Cuba for a holiday. I immediately told him of two books that I would lend him for his trip. One may be a little obvious, Martin Cruz Smith’s Havana Bay but the other isn’t.

It was at the Chapter’s remainder section that I found, a year ago Adiós Hemingway by Leonardo Padura Fuentes (an English translation by John King). I would have never found this book or author in any Vancouver bookstore (perhaps Sophia Books). I would have probably not found it in the stacks of the Vancouver Public Library in a random search. Yet once I found the book at Chapter’s I located other novels by the author, in Spanish, at Sophia Books.

This makes me wonder if I should not visit Chapters, every once in a while. And spend some money.


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