Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Toronto and the Death of Bookstores. . . . .

   I got back from Toronto last night. Because my dad had been sick for a while I hadn't been to the big smoke for what seems like a long. Well, it has gotten a lot bigger and crazier since then. I told my wife that I thought the down-town area was a lot more congested than it was when we first started making regular trips there twelve years ago. She insisted that I was just noticing the crowds more as I was getting old but given the number of very large high-rise condos that have gone up in the lower end of downtown I said there must be tens of thousands more people living in the area than there was a decade ago. Either way, to me the city seems considerably more crazy and crowded than it was just a few years ago.

   One day while I was driving around town I saw six car accidents, two of them I witnessed first hand. One was a fender-bender involving two women who proceeded to get into a slapping match on the street and another was a older man who seems to have lost his concentration and went up on the curb and knocked down a sign. Another accident at which I arrived moments after it occurred consisted of a guy who had attempted to weave his way between a parked bus and a moving semi and found himself completely stuck. Luckily it looked like the only thing that was injured was the poor guy's pride and from an outsider's point of view the whole thing looked rather comical.

   Car accidents could not, however, be as comical as the train-wreck that is the Toronto mayoral race. This Robert Ford character would be laughable if he wasn't so obnoxious. The idea that this offensive, race-baiting, Neanderthal has a chance of leading the country's biggest city is profoundly depressing. The fact that he shares a name with the cowardly disloyal man who shot Jesse James in the back is an interesting coincidence.

   One thing I was sad, though not shocked, to see was that the gradual trend of bookstore closings continues apace. Pages, arguably the best independent bookstore in Canada is gone. One thing that made Pages so good was that it had a large section of small-press books, the kind of books that you never hear about and are, therefore, best found by browsing, something that is difficult, if not impossible, to do online. Atticus Books, the finest academic used bookstore I have ever seen is also gone, though they continue their efforts online. There are now only one or two used bookstores of any consequence in all of Toronto and those surely cannot last much longer. I must confess that I have surely contributed to this trend because I have purchased many books online over the past few years. And overall, though online books have killed flesh and blood bookstores, they have been a boon to readers and collectors. In the past six years or so I have amassed a library of antique and collectible books that would have taken a lifetime and a small fortune to collect before the days of the internet. And thanks to ebay I have managed to acquire sets that are still valued at hundreds of dollars for only a fraction of that cost.

I did manage to purchase two books while in Toronto from private sellers. Many online sellers will allow you to purchase a book directly from them and save on the postage which is sometimes almost as much as the book itself. So I got two rare biographies of Coleridge that I have eluded me for a couple of years. It was good too because I met two interesting people who sell books online and I had a couple of entertaining conversations. The books that continue to escape my grasp are various books of German philosophy including Schlegel, Fichte, and Schelling. These books are so rare that even the internet has not produced decently priced translations of these authors. One can, of course, purchase modern paper-back reprints of such books but that undermines the aesthetic pleasure of the reading.

   Anyway, though the trip was difficult to make without my dad who for several years joined us on our summer trips to Toronto, everyone had a good time. Cairo, despite a few meltdowns, had a good time and I will upload some photos onto my facebook page for those Cairo fans out there.

No comments: