I’m spending a little time in Canada, visiting family, and as you do, we got to a point when they said, “What would you like to do?” and obviously, being me, I said, “I’d like to go to a bookshop.” Because that’s what you do, don’t you, when you’re book-obsessed – you look in bookshops wherever you go, even in countries where all the books are in languages you can’t read. (My husband, who is bicycle-obsessed, seeks out bike shops wherever we go.)
So the question is, when you enter a bookshop in another country, what do you look for? Well, first, you need to browse, just to get the feel of the place. I thought I might find here, in this English-speaking country with its historical links to Britain, that the shelves were full of familiar British authors plus all those ubiquitous American authors. My knowledge of literary Canadians is limited to Margaret Atwood, L M Montgomery and Carol Shields – though I’ve just looked up a list of Canadian writers and found that I’ve read several more but hadn’t realised they were Canadian. I was pleasantly surprised to find the small independent bookshop we visited full of unfamiliar names and lovely books from publishers I’d never heard of – though of course Harry Potter and the Cursed Child did take up a large display table and most of the window, but then, bookshops have to make their money from what’s going to sell, even lovely little independent ones.
First stop, something historical and Canadian for the husband (whose other obsession is history). Slight feeling of not knowing where to start, but my brother (who lives here) pointed out something perfect. Deep breath. Now to indulge myself.
Momentarily considered buying books for my daughters, but to be honest we all read each other’s books all the time, so I might as well just suit myself (plus I’d already bought chocolate for them). I did head for the young adult section first though. If I’m not directly buying YA titles to give to the girls, I can always pretend I’m buying them for research if anyone asks (though you and I know this isn’t true). I had one rule: Canadian authors only. Which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be as so many of those on the shelves were by Canadians. So I got a couple of YA books (one with a title I recognised from somewhere – who could forget Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend when they had heard it once) and then moved on to the adult fiction shelves for a couple more.
As souvenirs go, books are definitely top-end in terms of price, and weighty in your luggage too, but what could be better as far as taking home a little bit of the culture from your visit? Take home a picture or a piece crafted by someone native to the country and you can look at it and remember what it felt like to be a stranger in that country. Take home a book and you can inhabit the mind and the life of a Canadian for a while. (Plus Hot Pterodactyl Boyfriend – once you’ve seen that on the shelves, don’t you just have to read it?)