Friday, March 16, 2012

Two profound losses to make me sad; many things for which I should be glad

It's been a roller-coaster week, not the least of which because it's March Break. The feeling at Carlingwood this week alternated between wondering where everyone was at some points when it was dead, and then suddenly realising everyone had converged on the library at the same time. Madness!

All week, if I have had my iPhone's volume turned up (which, as some of you know from missed calls and texts, I don't always...) and I have heard it ping with new mail, I have dropped everything and checked it with a heavy heart. My friend Nancy has been in palliative care for awhile, and I knew the next email I received would be notifying me of her death. That email arrived yesterday evening, but thankfully after my bestie had already called me at work to break the news, and another of my lovely friends had left me a voicemail. Nancy was a fellow librarian, a former colleague, a passionate mystery writer, a kindred spirit in epic walks around Montreal, and a good friend. She put up with me when I was a newly-minted librarian, making mistakes, trampling on people, and generally trying to find my way. Her dry humour, her exacting work, her kindness - they will all be missed.

As if that wasn't enough, I was surprised at how vehemently angry, and desperately sad, I was about the news about Nicholas Hoare. I heard about the impending closure of the Greene Ave. and Sussex Dr. stores on Tuesday evening, via the Globe. Then there was this from the Post, and then this quoting from Nicholas's no-holds-barred (and rightly so) letter back to the Post. Not to mention two articles in the Citizen, more or less corroborating the above, and the phone interview with Nicholas on CBC today, and this article in the Post. I won't dwell on the news, other than to say I'm really angry with the NCC. All the furor over the future of bookselling notwithstanding, I would think it's in everyone's best interest to have this Canadian-owned cultural icon across the street from the National Gallery of Canada.

Nicholas Hoare, Front St., Toronto, November 2011

So, to end on a happier note, here are ten things I love about Nicholas Hoare, the brand and the individual:
  1. His committment to face-out display of merchandise, and his unfailingly sharp eye for beauty and quality, from his support of Quebec cabinetmakers (3,400 dentals in the Ottawa store, to quote Nicholas's interview on CBC today) to build his magnificent shelving to his acquisition of the most outstanding books about art, architecture, and gardening.
  2. That I can walk into his stores now, a long-past employee, and always feel at home.
  3. ThatI can also walk in, a mid-career librarian who reads almost every book review source humanly possible, and see something new that I must have every time (last time: Brideshead Abbreviated: The Digested Read of the Twentieth Century byJohn Crace).
  4. How the Ottawa store is a refuge from the mixed nature of buildings on Sussex Ave. As Heather Mallick once wisely phrased it, she was so depressed at the sight of the then-new American embassy that she simply had to go into Nicholas Hoare and spend several hundred dollars to console herself.
  5. The fact that working there introduced me to (among other things): successful handselling without a computer to use as a crutch, Elizabeth Smart, Ahdaf Soueif, Zadie Smith, reading the TLS cover-to-cover, Joni Mitchell (yes, yes, deprived childhood. Get over it), Dusty Springfield, and Heywood Hill - better yet, read this, not to mention my wonderful colleagues Myriam, David, Dan, Luca, and Sarah.
  6. That he and his store managers let their staff read (I read the first chapter of Harry Potter the day it came out, fresh out of the shipping box, after someone had propositioned a colleague the night before, outside the washrooms no less, to sell him a copy before the release date), and that Nicholas himself brings (and pours) them champagne on Christmas Eve.
  7. For really teaching me how to use microfiche (good for my street cred).
  8. For teaching me that the enchantment of having a staff room behind a false bookshelf NEVER WEARS OFF.
  9. For teaching me that the novelty of having a ladder to climb to reach the art books most certainly does.
  10. For his unwavering support of local authors and librarians, from organising book launches (above image: the Ottawa launch for The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery, by Alan Bradley - read about it here) to speaking at, and sponsoring, library conferences (at right, above, with Ron Perowne, me, and my fellow members of the ABQLA Conference organising committee in 2006).


  1. Man, I love that bookstore! So sad that it closed.

    And I am sorry to hear that your friend passed away. All my sympathy!

  2. Alex,
    You are such a good writer. So thoughtful, so delightful.
    With sympathy and best wishes.
    P.S. Did you know Grace Prince, a former librarian at the College? We just learns that she passed away in December.

  3. Thanks Amy. I don't think I knew Grace, but I recognise the name....