Last week, I walked into Glad Day Bookshop for the first time. I’d known about it, of course, and kept meaning to check it out, but I just never got around to it. I used to work at Nicholas Hoare Books, and when it shut down, I’ve heard many people say how much they loved it, that they were there several years ago and always meant to come back, but never got around to it. One person can’t keep a store in business, of course, and I’m sure Glad Day would have happily continued its operations whether or not I myself walked in. But I, at least, would have missed out, as I’ve missed out on the Sherlock Holmes exhibit the Toronto Reference Library held earlier this year, and the Ultimate Dinos exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum, also earlier this year. All because I never got around to dropping by. (An aside: I thought I’d missed out on Sleuth of Baker Street, which I heard closed down last year, but their website is still up and running, with a June 2013 newsletter, so perhaps I may still get a chance to visit!)
In the case of Glad Day, it was an impulse decision to attend a book launch that finally got me in the doors. The launch was on the third floor of the building, what I believe to be an art gallery/event space, and it was packed. So after I had a chance to speak to the author, I escaped the crowd and entered the bookshop on the second floor — still busy, but at least with enough room to walk around.
I love entering bookstores for the first time. There’s a tradition in the Philippines on entering churches for the first time: you say a prayer and then you get to make a wish, which will supposedly be granted. (Mine never were, but to be fair, perhaps the tradition required praying the entire rosary or something, and I conveniently forgot everything except the wish part.) I have my own tradition in entering bookstores for the first time: I like to find at least one book to purchase. This is particularly true for indie shops, where I hope to find a book I’d never have discovered at a chain retailer.
So imagine by delight when I checked out the fiction section at Glad Day, saw quite a few with prices marked down, and realized I didn’t recognize many of the authors. If you aren’t aware of Glad Day, they are the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookshop. I do read books by LGBTQ authors or with LGBTQ content, but among the Hollinghursts and Wintersons were books I’d never heard of, by authors I’d never read. To an avid reader, there is no more exhilarating feeling than that. I was off to an adventure!
I remember a similar feeling when I first walked into Bakka Phoenix, Toronto’s premier Science Fiction/Fantasy bookstore, a few years ago. It was exciting, but also, I admit, somewhat intimidating. I knew I was in the mood for something new, but had no idea what. So I walked up to the bookseller and asked what she’s read recently that she really liked. She asked me what kind of SFF I liked to read. I was stumped. I do read the genre and I love watching Star Trek, but I don’t necessarily follow any SFF writer’s work in particular, and, surrounded by shelves upon shelves of the genre, it was daunting to make such a confession. The bookseller was wonderful — she was friendly and explained that her recommendation would depend on what I liked to read, and that what she liked may not be what I would like — but I admit, I was intimidated. So I stammered something about Neil Gaiman, Philip K. Dick and Margaret Atwood, wishing the whole time I could name a more obscure author so I wouldn’t feel like such a poser. I think I ended up scurrying out of the store with one of the staff picks.
Scott, the bookseller at Glad Day, seemed much more cheerful, and I decided to give it a go. So I walked up to him and said, “What was the best novel you’ve read recently, that you have available in this store?” To his credit, he didn’t even have the deer in the headlights look I did whenever a customer at Nicholas Hoare asked me that question. And to my relief, he didn’t tilt his head thoughtfully and ask me what I liked to read. Instead, he said, “There’s this amazing book, and I just hope we haven’t sold the last copy… Aha! We do have one copy left!” He came back with this:
He handed it to me and said (as best I can remember): “It’s about two boys who are friends. One is gay but people don’t talk about it & one has a brother in prison and all these family issues that aren’t discussed. So it’s about friendship & family & things that people try not to talk about. YA but good for adults.”
I’d heard of this book, I’d loved the title, but just never got around to actually reading it. (Book information here.) And, quite frankly, the fact that the bookseller didn’t even have to think before picking it up and that he was so enthusiastic about it convinced me of its appeal. So I bought it, and I read it, and if I don’t get a chance to blog about it, let me just say I absolutely loved it. One of the best books I’ve read all year, and personally, one of the most underrated ones. Read it. And buy it from Glad Day if you can.
One of the things about being a book blogger and about having worked as a bookseller is that some of the bookseller/customer magic is gone. As a book blogger, I’m generally aware of new releases, and any books I would like to read I’m already generally reading for my blog. As a former bookseller, I’ve had customers tell me how magical Nicholas Hoare Books is to them, and how amazing their experience always is in that store. I appreciate the sentiment, but haven’t exactly experienced it in a while. It’s work — fun, exciting work, but a job nonetheless. This visit to Glad Day was the first time in a while that I really felt that magic I missed, and the first time in a while that I realized what an experience a really good bookseller can create for a reader. In telling me why he loved Aristotle and Dante so much, Scott was inviting me to enter this wonderful literary landscape, one that I wouldn’t have entered on my own, and yet now barely want to leave.
So thank you, Scott of Glad Day Bookshop. I loved Aristotle and Dante so much I came back and asked for the second best novel he’d read recently. He suggested Abigail Tarttelin’s Golden Boy and admitted he usually reads non-fiction rather than novels. I told him to hit me up anyway, and he came up with three non-fiction books that he spoke about as passionately as he did Aristotle and Dante. On my second visit, I left Glad Day with two new books in hand. Scott hasn’t let me down yet, and my apologies to him in advance, but if I love these new books just as much, I’m afraid I will be back. And I’m afraid I will put him on the spot yet again — what’s the next best book (fiction or non-fiction) he’s read recently?
I tweeted about this experience and Jennifer Dawson (@BookishJojo) suggested I turn it into a blog post series: visiting bookstores and asking booksellers for the best book they’ve read recently. (Full conversation here.) Might turn out to be an expensive hobby, but I admit, a fascinating one as well. Why not, eh?
And in the meantime, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple new books I’m dying to read.