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.

 

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.

Lured back to London

Damn tourists, I muttered to myself as I pushed past a group of teenagers dressed in matching red T-shirts. I’d veered off a main road on to a side street in Soho to avoid the crowded sidewalks, yet there I was, confronted with a swarm of bodies, who seemed to serve only one purpose: to get in my way.

Of course I was aware that I, just like them, was a tourist in London. And I realized that while I tried to remain aware of my surroundings, it was possible that at some point when I paused to snap a picture of the London Eye or of Big Ben, I might have—unintentionally, of course—stood in someone’s way as they tried to get past. I could have been an annoyance to a Londoner or a few as they rushed to get to work, or home or to meet someone. I, however, didn’t have any appointments to get to. I merely wanted to make sure I could make the most of my time in England’s glorious capital. I didn’t want to miss out.

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When choosing where to go on vacation, London was an easy decision. I’d been only once before, 10 years ago, and loved every inch and second I experienced there. Of course I had barely scratched the surface, merely dipped my toe in the water. So I wanted to go back. I yearned to go back. But I also wanted to see more of England than just its biggest city.

A couple of years ago, I read about the Larkin Trail, a self-guided tour of landmarks related to the life and poetry of Hull-based poet Philip Larkin. There is much to say about my time in Hull, about following in the footsteps of a poet whose work I greatly admire. But those words are not meant for this post. Larkin’s Hull deserves its own space. So that will be put on hold for later. This post is for London.

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How did your bookshelves get so full?

I acquired many of my books in a similar fashion: I bought them from a bookstore, either on a whim or as a planned purchase. But whenever I look through my books, I realize that some are special to me not solely because of their content, but also because of the memory of how they landed on my bookshelves. Here are a few stories behind the how I came into some of my books.

The Id Kid by Linda Besner

The Id Kid — Linda Besner

I like going to readings, but most of the time I go to see writers I already admire. But every now and then, I go and see writers I’ve never heard of, and sometimes end up discovering someone I really like. This was the case with Linda Besner. I saw her read at Harbourfront Centre a couple of years ago, and enjoyed her poetry so much that I bought a copy of The Id Kid and got Besner to sign it after the reading.

All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

All the Pretty Horses — Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses was one of the books on the docket for an American literature course I took in university. As with most of the books I was required to read, I picked up this copy at the campus bookstore. It was the first Cormac McCarthy book I read, and I liked it quite a bit. But it’s difficult to know if the impression it made on me was the writing itself or if it was because I noticed similarities to my grandfather’s life, as he was a cowboy in the time period the book is set in. When I finished the book, I told my grandfather about it, which opened up a dialogue about some of his other life experiences. I’m not sure I would have heard those stories otherwise.

Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill

Lullabies for Little Criminals — Heather O’Neill

Earlier this year, I borrowed Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill from the library. I enjoyed it so much that I kind of wanted my own copy, but it didn’t seem practical to go to the bookstore to buy a book I’d just read. When I found a used copy at a book sale a few months later for $1.50, I took it as a sign that it was meant to be mine.

A Glossary of Literary Terms by M. H. Abrams

A Glossary of Literary Terms — M. H. Abrams

While in university, many of my professors recommended A Glossary of Literary Terms, but it was never a required text for any of my courses. The number of recommendations made me curious, and I decided I needed to get my hands on it. When I looked for the book online, I learned it was out of print. So I went to eBay—where I often looked for things I wanted to buy in the early 2000s—and I bought a used copy. I ended up citing it in a lot of my English essays, too. I guess those professors really do know what they’re talking about.

Jude the Obscure -- Thomas Hardy

Jude the Obscure — Thomas Hardy

I bought Jude the Obscure at my neighbourhood bookstore, which is not much of a story. The more interesting (and perhaps a little embarrassing) story is why I decided to read this book in the first place. Years ago, I saw an interview with Jude Law on a late-night talk show. Law mentioned he was named after the main character in Hardy’s book, remarking that it was odd for his parents to name their son after a character who has such miserable experiences. And that sounded like a book I wanted to read. So I guess sometimes watching television can lead to reading more books.

A Boy's Will and North of Boston -- Robert Frost

A Boy’s Will and North of Boston — Robert Frost

This book was given to me, but I’ve never met the gift-giver. The woman who gave me this book worked with my father when I was a teenager. I suppose my dad mentioned to her that I liked Robert Frost, and she gave him this book to pass on to me. I thought—and still think—that it was a very sweet thing to do.

Trainspotting -- Irvine Welsh

Trainspotting — Irvine Welsh

In high school, a friend gave me a copy of Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting as a Christmas present. When I tried to read it, I had difficulty following because of the Scottish accent the book is written in. I ended up abandoning it, even though I absolutely loved the film. Years later, I realized that if I’d been able to tackle Chaucer, surely I could manage Welsh. I ended up liking the book even more than the film. I’m glad I gave this one a second chance.

Poems to Remember

Poems to Remember

I grew up in a house that had a lot of books in it. It wasn’t uncommon for my parents, my brother or me to look through the family-room bookshelves for something to read. But a few of those books didn’t make it back to those shelves and ended up leaving the house when I did. You could say they’re stolen, but I prefer to say they are on extended loan. Besides, the name scribbled on the inside cover of this copy of Poems to Remember belongs to my uncle. Whether he gave it to my parents or whether they stole it before I stole it, I doubt my parents remember (or my uncle, for that matter).

The Chairs Are Where the People Go -- Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti

The Chairs Are Where the People Go — Misha Glouberman and Sheila Heti

Something that is really fun is when you win books. I haven’t won a lot of contests in my life, but the few times I have won mostly awarded me books. I won my copy of The Chairs Are Where the People Go from The Word on the Street book festival, when they ran a “guess the author” contest on Twitter a couple of years ago.

After looking over my shelves, I’ve realized my book collection needs more found books. If I take a trip to London, maybe I’ll find a book on the tube. It’s possible.