The greatest bookstore of them all?

 

McLeod’s bookstore, which can be found in downtown Vancouver, is a real gem.

The place has order among the disorder, despite first impressions: books are stacked everywhere – left, right and centre – the place genuinely looks like a bomb has hit it (and the owner just couldn’t be arsed cleaning up the resulting mess), and yet whenever I go in there with something in mind, I always manage to find it. There is an A-Z of fiction section, of course, it’s just that it’s surrounded by great walls of books – big, beautiful old walls straight out of the dreams of bibliophiles everywhere; walls that protect us and teach us and take us on journeys that will stay with us for life (sometimes).

This place has been referred to as “Canada’s finest antiquarian bookstore”, and that’s a fair description (although I do love The Wee Book Inn which can be found in Edmonton, Alberta). MacLeods (sounds like “mac louds”) is owned by one Don Stewart. Mr. Stewart always comes across calm, matter-of-fact and full of knowledge, and I suspect he’s told some great tales himself over the years.

This time around I was enjoying that unmistakable woody smell of old books as I wandered the aisles looking for short fiction by Ivan Turgenev. As usual, my adventure to find one book ended with me discovering many more, and I left with six in total (you can see them all below).

Have you made any trips to your local bookstore recently? If so, what did you get? And how was the bookstore? If it’s anything like MacLeod’s, I imagine you’ll be returning very soon—and leaving with more than you’d planned on bringing home.

 

dav

Youth

 

The boy is stirred by the sound of bickering.

His eyes do not open, though he can tell that it is morning. He lies still. His ears translate the scene to his brain which creates the imagery. His mind has already mapped out this austere room; the single mattress, the bare concrete walls, the dusty floor, the paneless window. The entire one-story home made of concrete is etched into his memory like the face of a loved one. Like the loved ones who argue outside. He needn’t open his eyes. Soon he will have to, but for now he keeps them shut.

He’s curled up on the thin mattress, sheltered under a ragged Najafi abaya, which he found while wandering along the Tigris a few days earlier with his friend, Aban. He thought about all the possible prominent figures who may have worn such a luxurious cloak, hand-woven from refined wool; an oil-rich sheikh, a prominent politician, a visiting emissary. Most abaya weavers had stopped working after the US invasion of 2003, and the market was flooded by foreign goods not long after Hussein’s trade embargoes were lifted. His abaya was an original—however tattered it may be now—and had it been brand new it would have been the most expensive thing he’d held in his hands.

The bickering is between husband and wife. Nothing more natural, nothing more human. In his abaya cocoon he brings his knees to his chest. He feels safe here. Here he feels inviolate despite the inimical nature of the world outside. He takes a deep breath, and as he exhales as quietly as a gentle breeze, he hears a series of distant thuds, one after another, and then the journeying cacophony of chaos.

And the bickering ends.

Snuggling Up to Self-Doubt

 

If someone were to ask me, “why do you write?” I’d have to respond with something along the lines of, “Well, why do you eat?”

Writing is something that I have to do. Or, rather, it’s something that I feel is essential to my well-being, and to the well-being of others: If I don’t eat, I’ll eventually kick the bucket. If I don’t write, I’ll eventually kick someone, or at least become quite difficult to be around.

So, I write short stories, I write short scripts, I write feature-length screenplays, I write copy for ads, and I’ve just written a novel. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some of those short scripts turned into short films, and one of those feature screenplays made into a feature film. Next on the list is finding a publisher for that novel.

But then there’s that voice that whispers in your ear every time you’re revising what you’ve just written, or perusing the manuscript you’ve spent months, maybe a year, maybe years labouring over. That voice sounds the same to us all, and we call it Self-Doubt.

I mean, how do you know if your writing’s good or not before you share it with the world? Before you share that latest blog post, before you direct people to your latest short story, before you approach agents politely begging them to read your damn manuscript! The simple answer is: you don’t.

Not really.

For most writers I’ve spoken to or read about, Self-Doubt has always been by their side, breathing down their neck as they type away. Bukowski lamented that “the bad writers tend to have the self-confidence, while the good ones tend to have selfdoubt.” Zadie Smith says that when it comes to the writer’s work, satisfaction will never arrive, no matter how long they’re willing to wait out in the cold for it. And Virginia Woolf opined that the writer “could not decide whether he was the divinest genius or the greatest fool in the world.”

However, I think you do know when you’ve made something as good as you feel you can possibly make it. That’s the best you can hope for. But Self-Doubt is something that tends to be there. Like it or lump it, it’s there, and it’s going to be there, like your partner’s morning breath.

For me, Self-Doubt will be a morning fog that will never fully clear. Confidence does grow as you develop your writing skills, as you read more books, study more writers, and write, write and write. You become more assured of your own work when you’ve finally found your style, when you can finally say “this is how I write.”

But Self-Doubt isn’t planning on walking out on you. It’s not going to disappear, apart from the few times it needs to wander off and badger the other writer a few blocks from your place. So, if you’re waiting for it to leave, stop waiting. Grab a blanket, and grab Self-Doubt. You’re a couple — try make an effort to get along.

And don’t forget to snuggle every now and then.

 

Read my latest short story from Sounds From a Dublin Café here.