When you live in a vast country – and on a small island which you only leave once in a while – it is hard to tell whether or not your book has reached the bookstores. All I know is that The Find is in my nearest city, Victoria, turned outwards on the shelf, with ‘signed by author’ stickers top right. One friend emailed me to announce its arrival in Indigo, Montreal; another spotted it in Costco, Barrie, Ontario – several stacks, nicely placed, she said (but deeply discounted, too, I bet). You can’t miss it in the local bookstore… Actually, there are four independent bookstores here, as well as a gourmet coffee shop that is gradually turning into one. Each bookstore carries different stock, and they’re all good, but Salt Spring Books is, yet again, heading for the Kathy Page Bookseller of the Year Award.
Adina Hildebrandt, the co-owner, is also an actress, drama teacher, theatre director, and mother of two. She sat behind us in the theatre the other night, gasping at the sensual drama and emotional honesty of Wen Wei’s Cockpit. In just the same way, when Adina is reading, the expression on her face shifts from moment to moment as a scene unfolds: it’s just as if she’s listening to someone talk, intimately, about their life and what it all adds up to. What Adina wants from a book is emotional engagement, feeling – artful storytelling and intellectual pyrotechnics too, but above all, feeling: words that stir, disturb, excite, transport. When she has just read a book that touched her, she’s illuminated. Radiant. Every cell seems energized. Adina is not sleepwalking through life and she doesn’t read that way either. It matters. Or it doesn’t – in which case she bails out.
“I’ve just read the most amazing thing,” she’ll say, taking your arm, and lead you through the stacks to the book on the shelf. “A-mazing:” her eyes, always bright, widen as she says that word. “Here.” She puts it in your hand, tells you exactly what she thinks the writer has done, watching your face the whole time. It’s pretty much impossible to resist, because even if you don’t love that book as unconditionally as she does, there will be something there – a daring use of point of view, a character you can’t forget, an unexpected ending.
Another thing Adina at Salt Spring Books excels at is book launches with wonderful, impassioned author introductions, and I’d like to thank her here for mine (other people made the launch happen, too, but it’s Adina I’m talking of here). The room was full: a great, question-asking audience – willing, at the end, to buy books.
What many people may not realize is that these events are rarely cost effective for the bookseller. There’s the time – at least one person for the evening, often the proprietor – not actually paying herself for the hours spent lugging books to the venue, selling them and then lugging them back. There’s the advertising, the drinks and snacks and the serving thereof, the liquor licence if you can get one. Publishers may or may not chip in (thank you, McArthur & Co!). At about ten dollars profit on a hardback or trade (large format) paperback book, 20 copies sold is not going to cover it. Fifty is getting there. there are before and after sales, of course. I think we made it.
“There’s goodwill, of course. But I do it because I want to,” Adina says. “I want to celebrate the book and the writer, reading itself.”
Writing is solitary pursuit. The words murmur, sing or shout themselves in your head; sometimes you speak them to an empty room, test them. But when the book is complete, you get the chance to read them aloud to an audience, to feel and hear the reaction.
Thank you, Adina!