Spirit Quest on love of books

Spirit Quest

Love — life with books

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

I love bookstores and of course their contents. Bookstores are for me more than places of business. Their shelf-lined walls contain collections of ideas, thoughts, and fantasies. They are in fact places rich in culture. Is it any wonder then that upon hearing of the possible demise of Books On Beechwood  in Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood a year ago, I along with many others were crestfallen - and equally elated when three Samaritans emerged to take over the store, and by the look of things made it successful.

My home in Czechoslovakia prior to World War II contained many books. My parents were avid readers. All this treasure was lost when we became refugees. Later in Canada we were settled in a remote area of the country where books were not considered a necessity. Better a cord of wood than a box of literature. My wonderful public school teacher, Verna Brown, took the time after lunch hour to read to the class. It was a time cherished by all and we sat in wrapped attention as she related to us the tale of Black Beauty and other fiction.

At Christmas each child was given a 75 cent credit for Christmas gifts that were then distributed at the Christmas concert. The money for this venture was raised at the annual community bean supper. On that first Christmas I ordered a copy of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain, a book that my mother had read to me in its German translation “back home.” Now I would be able to read it in the original.

When arriving back in civilization, I soon made my way to the corner of Yonge and Queen Streets to the home of the T. Eaton Company who had a substantial book section in their store.

“ . . . And long I used to stand and look at things I could not buy.” I do remember a version of literature called Big Little Books that were affordable for my small means.

I did join the local Public Library and carried home a number of volumes but I wanted to own them, to be able to underline or write comments in the margin. Avarice lurked in my veins.

My parents also began to invest by joining the Book of the Month Club and the Literary Guild. No family celebration went without gifts of books. Our shelves were once again festooned in colourful dust jackets.

Upon arriving at Queen’s University in the fall of 1950 I soon got to know Bob Miller, then the study secretary of the Student Christian Movement (SCM). Bob toured the universities hauling boxes of books that he believed were needed to be read by students beyond their required subjects of study. They consisted of theology, philosophy, and the social sciences and more that were used by our study groups.

Later Bob established the SCM Book Room at Rochdale College and later still his own Bob Miller Book Room on Bloor Street West in downtown Toronto, still operative today. These were places I often frequented and where I left a good deal of cash.

Christians have been called People of the Book. Really it ought to be in the plural for the Bible is a collection of books, a veritable library of poetry, history, law and the record of the beginning of the Jewish and Christian faith. But the People of the Way, as they were popularly called in the early days of the church, produced an extensive literature of their own by theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. My own book shelves contain books by Doug Hall, Paul Tillich, Hans Küng and Karen Armstrong, to name just a few. My spouse, also a voracious reader, and I have many works of fiction by Canadian authors such as the Margarets, Lawrence  and Atwood, as well as translations from other languages such as the writings of Saramago.

Thus we are utterly delighted that our granddaughter Sophia, who will soon be seven years of age, is well on the way to becoming an avid reader. Guess what will be in some of her birthday gifts.

Yes, I love books and bookstores, particularly the independents, owned and managed by a book lover such Perfect Books on Ottawa’s Elgin Street. He is always good for some advice on reading material.

We hear much these days that bookstores are an endangered species with readers turning to e- books, Kindle, Amazon and Chapters. They have doubtless made significant inroads into the book business. On the other hand Ottawa’s International Writers Festival brings writers from all over the world to our town to present and discuss their writings. Volumes move fast from the sales tables at each of these events.

Books are a mystery, those strange symbols on white sheets reveal life and thought in all its aspects and forms. This ”print”  leaps off the page into the open mind and brings understanding, excitement and joy to the hearts and minds of readers.

I love books and those wh write them and sell them as well as their readers.

Other writings can be found at MYQUEST.