We were not going to participate in Authors for Indies last year. Now don’t get me wrong. We loved the idea. It’s just that we’re a small bookstore in a tiny town over an hour away from a major city. We are also an English bookstore in a French province. We have to keep a low profile. Ssshh, if we’re quiet no one will notice that we’re here. But a friend and local author came in and said that we absolutely should take part. She would not be coming to our store for AFI, mind you, as she was going to be in a big bookstore in Montreal, but we should definitely go for it.
So we signed up and author Days Lee contacted us out of the blue and volunteered to come down. We also invited two amazing authors, Julia Rohn of the Weaverworld trilogy and Isabelle Lafleche author of J’Adore New York and J’Adore Paris. All three ladies did brilliantly, greeting customers, recommending books and swapping stories.
But for us the best and most surprising thing about the event was that so many of our regular customers stopped by with flowers and well wishes, our local bakery brought us pastries and coffee to share, one of our bookclubs wrote a lovely letter to the editor about us. One thing we kept hearing was that “you are such an essential service to this community.” Excuse me? What? It’s not like we are the fire department? But apparently we fill a need for adventure, comfort and escape?
A few years ago at the Knowlton Literary Festival, mystery author Louise Penny was being interviewed by CBC’s Shelagh Rogers when suddenly they described our bookstore as “crack for the soul, impossible to leave without getting a fix” Then again they are both wonderful at making up stories even though they’re not always what they’re cracked up to be? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
What also comes to mind is this one particularly severe winter storm, with 50 cm of snow, schools closed and many roads unpassable. The house bound kids were acting up so I decided to brave the elements and walk to the bookstore. The town was deserted with not a car on the road. I was puttering around the store when in stomps a customer. “We knew you’d be open,” they said.
I smiled and nodded. Essential service or mad as a hatter?
Mind you we do really love what we’re doing. There is certainly nothing better than discussing a good book. And then there is that great thrill of matching just the right novel up with just the right person. Handselling is a cup of tea on a cold day. We are so thankful that we were able to bring up our three boys with a bookstore. We certainly always had the best selections for bedtime. Naturally the boys were always around for author signings and special events. They have become experts at cheese plates and chair stacking. And being around books has instilled a love of reading. Our youngest even decided to be an author at the age of three. He started making his own books with crayons but soon taught himself how to use a computer and production became faster.
So is a bookstore an essential part of a town? Are we an essential service? Perhaps we should leave it with Vincent van Gogh who once said, “So often, a visit to a bookshop has cheered me, and reminded me that there are good things in the world.”
Knowlton QC J0E 1V0
Founded in 1998, Lucy Hoblyn began working for Brome Lake Books one year later in 1999. In 2006 Lucy and her husband Danny McAuley purchased the bookstore making this year their tenth anniversary.