Ryan Quinn Flanagan is the author of a new book called Return to Vegas Poems, and he took a few moments to tell us about his favorite bookshop, one that is no longer.
Batta Bookshop (Batta Used Books), Ontario, Canada
1. How did you discover this shop?
I had just moved to a new neighbourhood in Toronto, ON Canada and was searching out used bookshops in the area and the one closest to my apartment ended up being the best by far. I lived a two minute walk from Batta and spent so much time in there! Not just going rack to rack and soaking up that musty magical smell of all the old books, but also talking books with the old timer who owned the shop.
2. What part of Batta was your favorite? Give us a walkthrough of what it was like to browse around.
My favourite part of the shop was in back. All the more popular stuff was up front and in the window, but the closer you got to the back the more treasures you could find. The far wall had more new releases and a non-fiction section while the middle of the shop was various turning racks four to five books deep with just about anything you can imagine. That’s what I loved about it. There was no order to it. Everything was random. You had to go searching so that when you found something it really felt like a treasure. There was a large brown floor to ceiling bookshelf behind the racks which was a large philosophy section separating the front of the store from the stock in back. More rare and valuable titles were kept in back as well behind a simple black curtain and were brought out if you inquired. The cash register was on the right wall in a small corner by the front door where the old timer’s wife watched her soaps on a small fourteen inch portable black and white television. She would ring things through and make change barely ever looking up from her soaps. She ran the register and her husband ran the books and all the years I went there I never once saw or heard them speak to each other. But he said they had been married over fifty years or something crazy like that. They loved books and surrounded themselves with them, it was great!
3. What books did you buy there?
Ha, where to start. My Understanding Media by Marshall McLuhan and his student Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, along with a good part of my philosophy collection: Rousseau, Foucault, Mill, Descartes, Plato, Locke, Camus, Hume, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Bertrand Russell, Heidegger, Sartre, Kant, Voltaire, Marx, Spinoza, Hobbes etc.
Also a large part of my modernist stuff as well: Joyce, Forster, Baudelaire, Woolf, Conrad, Beckett, Rimbaud, Mansfield, Kafka, Pound, Cummings, Proust…you name it. Plus some of my Leonard Cohen books as well as some of Irving Layton’s and Al Purdy’s and some Canadian Poetry Collected volumes as well. You could get anything there and I did: books on art, books about the Bolshevik Revolution, military history, Woodward and Bernstein stuff, Chomsky, books on Native American folklore, economic theory, Basho haiku, John Knowles’ A Separate Peace (one of my favourites), all sorts of poetry, Irish history stuff…just a trove of stuff to go through and pickup and the prices were always insanely cheap.
4. What was it about Batta that made you love it?
I loved that it was a real mom and pop place run by an old couple who lived upstairs and who just loved books – that simple. A little hole in the wall that you could walk past on the street and miss if you weren’t looking. But the best thing about Batta Books that separates it from any other bookstore I have ever been to was the stocks in the back. And by stocks, I mean random piles of books stacked uneasily everywhere, and how the old timer couldn’t remember your name from five minutes ago even though you told him twice, but suggest some obscure book you hadn’t been able to find anywhere and he would walk over to one of the stacks and pull it out or be able to tell you right off that he didn’t have it. I watched this old man in his 70s do this so many times. He had a running catalog of every book in there and what pile it was in, truly remarkable to see. And if by some miracle they didn’t have what you were looking for he would order it for the next time you were in. That old timer was a magic man to me. The store is closed down now I hear. Both he and his wife have most likely passed on. And I haven’t lived in that city now for over a decade. But when I lived in Toronto that was the place for me. The books still have the smell of that little old shop along the Queensway whenever I open them.
Bio: Ryan Quinn Flanagan is a Canadian-born author residing in Elliot Lake, Ontario, Canada with his wife and many bears that rifle through his garbage. His work can be found both in print and online in such places as: Evergreen Review, The New York Quarterly, Nerve Cowboy, Ariel Chart, Red Fez, and The Oklahoma Review. Visit: http://ryanquinnflanagan.yolasite.com/