Saturday, March 20, 2010

Where the books are

Being a bibliophile, I always get a jolt of excitement whenever I come to within striking distance of a book repository. It can be a public library, a bookstore, or even a supermarket mega bin piled high with titles that didn’t quite make it to the best sellers’ list.

When my children were young, we practically set up camp in the Steveston Public Library. An inviting bay window in the children’s corner drew the kids like a magnet. They curled up against the pane, lost in some fabulous make belief world - utterly oblivious to the park and pool just beyond the glass barrier.

At story time, they sat in my lap, their attention absorbed by the librarian who spoke in a high-pitched and exaggerated voice. A few songs and a rousing clap of hands later, we were back to thumbing through more children’s classics. Some were left on child-sized desks while others were reverently carried away like treasures to the check-out counter to be savoured after dinner like rich desserts.

The Steveston Bookstore was likewise a hot destination point on our family jaunts. It ignited a different kind of exhilaration in the children. Was it the heavy air or the general clutter of the place, but I could always sense the power of the written words whenever I entered the store.

Though fascinated by the hundreds of books crammed into shelves and piled from floor to the ceiling, my children always dashed into the room at the back of the store for the perfect read.

My son couldn’t get enough of those tattered Jim Davis' Garfield books and the Archie comics.

My daughter never walked out without books on dogs, cats,and horses tucked under her arm.

A few dollars laid on the counter went a long way towards expanding their home libraries back then.

Just last week, I walked into the bookshop and it seemed as though time had stood still. Half-obscured by the front counter, Bill Chung was hunched over his laptop while a portable radio broadcasted a local talk show.

As before, all around him were books - glossy hardcovers jostling for position on wall shelves, greeting cards resting in display carousel pockets, and the movers and shakers sitting in the windows (the most coveted spot of all) luring in potential customers with their catchy titles and sumptuous jackets. And, of course, paperbacks still overflowed from every available nook and cranny.

I asked Bill if he had boarded up the back section of the store as there was a blank wall where the treasure room used to be.

No, he said. I must have been thinking of his previous location. He had since moved a few doors down to gain better visibility.

“Selling books is a funny business and you have to be seen. If customers don’t see you, they don’t think about you,”says Bill.

I asked Bill if he carried any books specifically on Steveston that I could recommend on this blog. He moved his mug of simmering tea aside and pulled out three titles for my inspection.

Afterwards, as I put Bills’ books neatly aside in one pile, I wondered aloud what would happen to books now that we are venturing more and more into the digital version of the printed words. Would downloadable PDF files and electronic readers wipe out the traditional bound paper book, with its solid touch, whiffs of cigarette and perfume, faded coffee and grass stains and – best of all - the occasional slips of paper scribbled with some stranger’s private longings.

Bill didn’t think so and I hope he is right. Otherwise, I pity all children who will never have the opportunity to doodle stickmen and initial hearts on the margin of a page or wake up with crease lines across one cheek from having hugged a book to bed.

Oh, yes, here are Bill’s recommendations for those of you who are Steveston history buffs. Visit him soon and get a copy. Let’s keep the book business alive and thriving in our village.

Sutebusuton by Mitsuo Yesaki
The history of the Japanese population in Steveston from the 1870's to 1950's

Steveston by Daphne Marlatt and Robert Minden
Steveston, expressed in a collection of poetry and and superb black and white photographs

Steveston Cannery Row by Mitsuo Yesaki and Harold and Kathy Steves
An illustrated history of the southwest coast of Lulu Island

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