second hand bliss

in a used bookstore, sometimes the right book finds the right person

illustration by sherwin tjia

In the summer it all opens up in Montréal. The front door of the bookstore opens, and the screen door is in place to keep Khan the resident cat from wandering outside and being snatched off the street a second time.

St Laurent Boulevard comes alive with shoppers, tourists, wanderers, street people, squeegee punks, drunks, rubberneckers, panhandlers. Some of the barriers we pretend don’t exist in Canada actually come down, here on the Main – you might see a Muslim rubbing shoulders with a Jew at the Religion shelves, a skateboarder and a corporate lawyer scanning the Science Fiction shelves, a student activist feverishly searching for Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky, Carlos Fuentes, while some guy (it’s always a guy) scans the War section for any book to do with Nazis. Across the street a Japanese couple is posing for pictures in front of the long line-up for smoked meat sandwiches at Schwartz’s deli. “Imagine – they’re only waiting because it’s in all the tourist guides,” I think for the millionth time.

Working in a used bookstore will quickly put to rest any notion that reading is a dying art. People from all walks of life are reading, they’re reading like mad – reading anything – and I often wonder what they are really after. I remember a couple of years ago my friend Trevor was browsing the book tables where we put the best of our newly arrived stock, and after a minute he gave up and said, “Whatever it is I’m looking for, it’s not here.” And he’s right, in the sense that what we’re all looking for isn’t necessarily going to be found in any book. At the same time, he’s wrong, because what we’re looking for is always already right where we’re at. We just have to tune into it, is all…

Vincent Tinguely is a Montréal writer and performance poet. Read his out-of-control rants on his blog:

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