Independent bookstores shouldn’t exist. Brick-and-mortar bibliophile havens are retail models waiting to be business school case studies, “Why These Can’t Work.” TV narcissi could bleat indefinitely as to why they’d never invest in such ventures. But they do exist. And despite every reason why they shouldn’t, they thrive.
I was in one of these doomed locales, its interior walls a swathe of indigenous authors, poetry, and every stripe of an LGBTQ2S writers’ rainbow – a showcase of all that’s good in the world of books. I like spending money in places like this, places of dusty optimism. I wonder how much of the cash finds its way to the till, not really caring, and parcel it off in my conscious with passing coins to anonymous symbols of a failed system at streetlights and traffic-jammed offramps.This particular bastion of futility is in downtown Vancouver. It fits the neighbourhood. The pungent scent of fried spice melds with organic coffee and hipster beard. There’s grass nearby and shifting pockets of urban tents. Inside the high-shelved sanctum a rolling library ladder hangs at an inviting, oblique angle, making me want to pretend I’m a firefighter or cast in a musical. The stacks themselves move to create event space. There’s a secret room, or at least there was until now. Upstairs, gallery space features rotating art displays with sitting space and a mix of new and old books.
I was part of a poetry reading group that met there. The series kicked off a new year showcasing emerging indigenous authors – five powerhouse writers reading a combination of published and unpublished work: Jules Koostachin, Larry Nicholson, Gunargie O’Sullivan, Wil George, and Tawahum Justin Peter Bige. I first met some of these skilled wordsmiths at Vancouver’s Verses Festival (formerly Vancouver International Poetry Festival) and the Talking Stick / Full Circle Festival.
Bige’s work danced between contemporary verse and spoken word. George read with succinct insight and the raw truth of his peers. O’Sullivan’s reading was as much informative conversation as evocative, from-the-heart writing. Nicholson’s whimsical work was a passenger seat on an engaging fair ride, and Vancouver Public Library resident storyteller Koostachin read from her book Unearthing Secrets: Gathering Truths, sharing spiritual dreams, her warm presence as powerful as her film work.
Nearby, two outlets of long time independent bookseller Book Warehouse prosper. Over the years the business has grown and shrunk yet keeps its niche amongst the chains where I have to hunt to find a book amongst the giftware. A short distance away are three outlets of Pulpfiction, a successful independent for nearly twenty years.
At the reading event I made my way to the stacks of poetry. Getting through the crowd took time – hugs, smiles, stories, welcoming clumps of humanity. It felt good. If some PR rep were looking for a photo op, it was here. Truth, caring, and healing, with books. Tangibility of people and paper I find nowhere else.
Vancouver author, poet, songwriter Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of Gone Viking: A Travel Saga, Allan’s Wishes, and Wonderful Magical Words. His Indie Folk CD is Studio 6. Bill’s work is published around the globe. Find Bill on social media @billarnott_aps, Amazon, Goodreads, bookstores, libraries and lit fests everywhere. https://www.amazon.com/author/billarnott_aps