Last month I spent some time on Cortes Island — a remote island off the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia.
At the Hollyhock Centre, I let an incredible group of twenty writers loose in the wild every day for a week. I asked them to come back from the forest with craft lessons from nature — and they did. (It is my belief that nature can answer any question we have — including questions about POV, pacing, and plot structure. See for yourself — try it!)
I slept in a tent in the woods after my retreat ended. Cortes is verifiably magic: wild blackberries, ripe and warm in the sun, line the forest paths. Bioluminescent plankton sparkles in the ocean — stars, in the water! I was sitting on the beach, watching the tide come in, and heard two humpback whales exhale as they swam past me. On the night of the full moon, I woke up when a deer elegantly swished past me, his long legs gliding through the salal leaves just behind my tent.And then there’s the magic of Marnie’s Books.
The proprietor of this shop used to be a librarian. Now, Marnie stocks the tables and shelves of her tiny bookstore cabin with books she knows her customers will love. She’s a book intuitive, a doctor of reading, some kind of gifted literary telepath.
When I asked her for a novel to take me through the rest of my summer, she suggested something I probably wouldn’t have picked up for myself: A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.
She didn’t know me, but after attending my reading earlier that week, and from whatever other clues she gleaned from meeting me, that was the book she decided to put in my hands. (It was magnificent, by the way; it transported me through time and space, and made me cry at the end.)
I watched her interact with other readers in her shop, as they gathered around the table of books in the centre of the cabin. She let her hands hover over the table, as if she were feeling something through the covers. I’m not sure what ordering system she used — alphabetical? Dewey decimal? I didn’t think to look. Like the other readers in the shop, I simply asked her to find the right book for me.
How lucky the Cortesians are, to have this wise and generous bookseller!
My favourite books are often the ones that have been hand-picked or recommended for me by other readers. Good booksellers and librarians really know how to do this for people.
Reading is a form of time travel, empathy, insight, and awe. It’s worth seeking out those wise individuals who have the keys to these secret portals, and getting to know them a little bit.
Start a conversation with your local bookseller or librarian. Tell them what you hope to find in the pages of a book. Ask them for advice. Their knowledge goes way beyond any seasonal bestseller list.