Monday, May 31, 2010

BOOKS

My first August in Toronto was sticky. Two blocks out the door and my back was so slick with sweat that my shower from ten minutes ago had come undone. I lamented that each shirt was good for only one wearing before it became salted by my perspiration -- the laundry room was seventeen floors beneath me in the pits of my St. Jamestown housing monolith, a journey for this young man who was used to chucking dirty clothes into a broken hamper and hours later they would magically* return clean and alley-fresh from the clothesline. (*Mom did my laundry). In July my hair was blown cool by the Pacific; in August my flesh was humming from the muggy stank staid Great Lake. I had moved to the other side of the continent with nothing but the promise of adulthood and two hundred pounds of books.

I'm a bit of a book collector. Not obsessively obsessive, but obsessive enough to have held out for eight years until I finally located a Bantam paperback edition of The Catcher in the Rye that is maroon with yellow titles. I do not like the Little, Brown and Company edition that is white with a rainbow in the corner. I prefer buying Grove Press editions of plays because they were often designed by Roy Kuhlman and he is the greatest, don't argue. I refuse to buy used books that have previous owners' notes inscribed because I don't want my thoughts to be sullied by another's. If the pages are dog-eared or -- god forbid and condemn -- highlighted, there's no way I'm taking that blasphemed book home. I've wrapped my Stanislavsky books in white paper to protect the beautiful seagull logo on the covers. I was devastated when the move across five provinces yielded crushed corners on a few of my (many) Ingmar Bergman books. I now avoid going into bookstores for fear of exiting with five unexpected purchases and a fifty-dollar dent in my money clip. Going into a bookstore means see-you-later for three hours.

That August I had to go to the bookstore. My fingernails had never sweat so much before. I had never inhaled air so steaming and stagnant. I needed an answer, and who else could enlighten me more sagely than that store on Queen Street West, Abelard Books, home of texts previously cherished and antiquarian. The bookseller accented his side-parted silver hair and neat white beard with black-rimmed glasses. He tucked in his shirt and spoke softly. He was an expert.

"I don't have an air conditioner. I'm from the west coast. Will my books rot?" I asked as I wiped the stinging drips from my forehead.

He shut his tome and crinkled his pasty brow. "No. You don't have anything to worry about."

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