The literary side of Halifax and Lunenburg

Halifax and Lunenburg may not be as famous for their literary culture as, say, London or Paris are, but during my recent trip to Nova Scotia, I was delighted in the bookstores, libraries and cafes I visited. Book lovers, take note: You will want to stop by these places the next time you’re in the Maritimes.

Bookmark

Bookmark, on Halifax’s Spring Garden Road, carries not only books but also a selection of literary accessories, including toys, mugs and tote bags. I visited the store on a Sunday morning. While it was quiet, there were a few other customers browsing along with me.

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Trident Booksellers & Cafe

I had heard about Trident ahead of my trip, so I was super excited to check it out. It’s a used bookstore that’s also a cafe and bakery–basically, it has all of my favourite things under one roof.

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I browsed the bookshelves for some time before ordering my breakfast.

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Although the view isn’t much to get excited about (a parking lot is across the street), I was happy to get a table by the window. A screen door allowed a pleasant breeze to come through. Top that off with a pot of Earl Grey, a cinnamon bun fresh from the oven and a good book, and that makes a pretty perfect morning.

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Halifax Central Library

love browsing in bookstores, but I think what makes a city absolutely fantastic is when they have a top-shelf library. The Halifax Central Library was built in 2014 and it is gorgeous.

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I love this display of books for Halifax Pride. Beautiful!

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This room is called The Sunroom, and it’s basically the upstairs cafe in the library (there is another cafe on the ground floor). The place was bustling on this Wednesday afternoon. It’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in here?

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The library, of course, has many books too. This is the view I had of some of them as I looked down from the staircase.

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On a lovely day, it can seem a shame to read or study indoors. The library offers a rooftop patio so that you can enjoy sunshine and work or read at the same time.

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If you prefer to enjoy the sun from a distance, here’s a great spot to hunker down in: This is what it looks like from inside that cube on the top of the library shown in the first picture.

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There are so many different nooks and crannies in this library, I suspect it would be hard to get bored hanging out here.

Woozles

It seems odd for me to visit a children’s bookstore, since there aren’t many children in my life and I’m not a particularly big fan of children’s literature. But Woozles is Canada’s oldest children’s bookstore, so I had to stop by. And with that charming exterior, it’s a pretty inviting place.

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Lunenburg Bound

I didn’t know what to expect in Lunenburg. I hadn’t heard much about this fishing town before I was actually in it. But once we arrived, I was thrilled to find three bookshops on one street. The first store I visited was Lunenburg Bound, which primarily sells used books. I loved all the old typewriters lined up across the windows.

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In here you’ll find lots of tables piled with books, packed bookshelves and some comfy chairs for reading.

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Elizabeth’s Books

Sadly, I did not get to go inside Elizabeth’s Books, as it was closed during my brief stop in town. But I do have a photo of the shop’s lovely exterior.

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Lexicon Books

While Lunenburg Bound is the place for used books, Lexicon Books is where you’ll want to shop for new books.

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I loved the lights that were strewn all over the store as well as the wooden beams. They give the shop such a cozy atmosphere.

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I noticed a poster advertising the Lunenburg Literary Festival and asked the woman working in the store about it. It’s happening in September–a great time to visit Lunenburg.

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Statues of literary figures

What I didn’t expect to see when I was strolling through Victoria Park in Halifax was a statue of Robert Burns looking down at me. But of course there is a connection between this province and Scotland, and when you think about that, seeing the great Scottish poet isn’t so surprising.

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I’d barely passed Robert Burns when I came across a bust of writer Sir Walter Scott. Both of these monuments were put in place by the North British Society.

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Nice places to read

There’s nothing particularly literary about Halifax’s Cabin Coffee, but it’s a cozy place to curl up with a book. The place is designed to make you feel like you are in the wilderness, with lots of wood, a canoe and even fake trees.

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The Old Apothecary, located on Halifax’s Barrington Street, is also a cute place to read. The old-fashioned couches are adorable. (I had a delicious chocolate-almond croissant but was told later that their chocolate eclairs are even better.)

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When it’s nice out, there’s no better place for reading than down by the Halifax Harbour. I was happy to snag a bench in some shade.

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I must say, as much I enjoy browsing bookstores, visiting libraries and viewing literary landmarks, sometimes there’s nothing better to do while on vacation than to read a good book. And when you can read by the ocean–well, that’s just the icing on the cake.

 

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How to buy books as gifts

20161204_195145In general, I do not enjoy Christmas shopping. The stores are crowded, and everyone’s rushed and in a bad mood. But shopping for books is an exception. It’s one of my favourite parts of the holidays. If you haven’t discovered the joy of buying books for your loved ones, here are a few tips.

Consider their interests

Maybe you don’t know what this person likes to read. Maybe you’re not sure how much reading they do at all. There are lots of books that can link to other hobbies or interests they have. Do they like to cook or bake? Check out the newest cookbooks. Maybe they like history and would be interested in a biography of a historical figure. Or you might try a book about gardening or travel.

Connecting a book to a hobby doesn’t mean you have to stick to non-fiction, either. You can find a novel or a book of short stories that has this person’s hobby or interest as a central theme.

Check out their social media feeds

You can, of course, pay attention to the conversations you have with this person, or maybe even sneak a peek at their bookshelves. But when you don’t have the opportunity to do some sleuthing in real life, it’s time to turn to the internet.

The most obvious choice is to see if this person has a Goodreads account. This can show you what they have already read and give you an idea of the kinds of books they like. But you can look beyond Goodreads, too. They might discuss books on Twitter or Facebook. Or maybe they posts photos of books on Instagram.

Ask a bookseller for help

Sometimes, no matter how well you know a person, you could still use some assistance. That’s when you should turn to a professional. Booksellers know of a lot more books than the rest of us do. It’s their job. Tell them a bit about the person you are shopping for and see what they recommend.

Shop in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore

This will make the above point a bit easier, but there’s also something about picking up books in your hands and being able to examine them up close. You can also check out store displays for titles you hadn’t thought of.

Give your personal favourites

This only works if you read a book and you truly think the person you are buying for will like this book, too. But sometimes you don’t need to take a chance on a book you’ve only heard about. Maybe the perfect gift is something you’ve read yourself.

When in doubt, stick with the visual

I love words and perhaps you do, too. But if you’re not sure that your giftee has a similar affinity for reading, go with a coffee-table book or a book of photography. If nothing else, this object of beauty will be something they can display.

Have fun with it

Yes, there’s a chance you’ll give a book that the person won’t read or that you’ll get them a duplicate copy of something they already own. But it really is the thought that counts. Of course this means you actually have to make an effort and not just grab the first thing you see off the shelf. But as long as you’re shopping with someone specific in mind, that will come through. Trust me. And that’s the best gift you can give.

Book-browsing in Boston

I have a thing for Boston. The first time I visited was in 2012. I recently went back and spent a few days in this beautiful city.

One of the reasons I love Boston is for its literary history and the continued appreciation for the written word the city seems to have.

The last time I visited, I took a tour of the public library, joined a literary walking tour and went up to Cambridge to see Harvard and go to the Harvard Book Store. I didn’t get a chance to do those things this time around, but I did do some book-browsing at three great bookstores and one pop-up library.

My first stop was Brattle Book Shop, a famous used and antiquarian bookstore. I went even though I knew it would be closed. The shop has an outdoor section, and I wanted to get a look at the artwork. The mural is visible at all times, but the doors painted with images of books and book spines are only shown when the shop is closed, as these are the doors that lock up the books.

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Brattle Book Shop mural

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I did, of course, return to the shop when it was open.

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Then I headed over to Commonwealth Books, another store selling used books. It’s not as easy to find as Brattle, as Commonwealth is down an alley, but there are plenty of books to look through when you arrive.

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The only bookstore I visited that sells new books was Trident Booksellers & Cafe, a really cute shop in the Back Bay area. I even had lunch in the upstairs cafe.

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I also got to do some book-browsing when I wasn’t expecting it. I went to the very touristy Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market area and stumbled upon a small library out in the square. It made me smile to find it there.

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Next time you visit a new place, maybe skip the museums and galleries and just do some book-browsing instead. Admittedly, it might end up costing you more than the price of museum admission if the book-browsing excursions turn into book-buying excursions. Set yourself a limit so you’ll (hopefully) have some cash left in your wallet by the time you head home.

My final trip to Nicholas Hoare Books

I know—I already wrote about the closing of Nicholas Hoare Books. But yesterday was the store’s last day of business, and it wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t share something about my final visit. So here are some pictures (and some words, too).

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There were quite a few people meandering through the store. I watched as they gathered their final purchases, said farewell to the staff and expressed their appreciation to Mr. Hoare himself.

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The shelves have never looked so bare.

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Even though nothing was discounted, several bibliophiles walked around with armfuls of books pressed against their chests. The measly two books I bought looked almost inadequate in comparison.

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my final acquisitions

I’m used to finding a Nicholas Hoare bookmark tucked inside my purchase. Before I left the store, I looked in my bag to make sure one was there. After all, this would be the last time I’d receive a bookmark. I was happy to see the bookseller had slipped in a few.

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I paused at the entryway before leaving, taking another look at all of the books and the people who were admiring them. I watched an elderly man seated by the window as he flipped through the pages of a hardcover. I watched a young boy as he rushed to find the children’s section at the back. I watched as customers and staff chatted and shared memories.

It was hard to walk out that door knowing it would be my last time doing so, but saying goodbye is never easy.

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Saying goodbye to a bookshop

One of my favourite bookstores is closing. If you live in the Toronto area, particularly if you’re interested in books (and you probably are, if you’re reading my blog), you might have heard that Nicholas Hoare is retiring and will be closing his flagship store on April 1.

I can’t remember how old I was when I first visited Nicholas Hoare, but I do remember the impression it made on me. The warm lighting and the beautiful displays of books against the wooden shelves mesmerized me. Now, whenever I open that door and walk up those few steps, when I hear the creak of the floorboards, the classical music, when I walk by the fireplace–it all feels so welcoming and comfortable. And it might help that the store specializes in British books, as I admit to being a bit of an anglophile.

The quietness of the store has its appeal, too. I’ve always loved listening to other people discuss books. With these kinds of conversations, it somehow seems okay to eavesdrop or to jump in with a comment.

When I think of some of the books I’ve purchased from the store in the past year, I can’t think of one that was disappointing. I’m not sure if this is due to fine selection by the staff, or just some magical luck, but the books that immediately come to mind were all enjoyable: David Sedaris’ Me Talk Pretty One Day, Jeremy Mercer’s Time Was Soft There, Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, Alix Ohlin’s Inside, Mary Horlock’s The Book of Lies, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.

It was at Nicholas Hoare where I found a beautiful copy of Philip Larkin’s The Whitsun Weddings that I gave to my father for his birthday one year. I’ve shopped for books for my cousin’s daughter in the children’s section at the back of the shop, and I’ve purchased various Christmas presents for friends and family here. And, of course, there have been those occasions when I’ve come in just to browse.

Near the end of 2012, I attended an in-store event where Nicholas Hoare presented some of his favourite books of the season. I feel fortunate to have had the chance to hear Mr. Hoare speak in person, as his passion for books was certainly evident.

I wish Mr. Hoare a happy retirement, and I thank him and his wonderful staff for all of their hard work. I’ll miss this store quite a bit, more than I thought I could miss a bricks-and-mortar shop, probably because it’s been much more than merely bricks and mortar.