Book shopping while on vacation is a little more of a challenge when you visit a place like scenic Nova Scotia. Activities such as hiking, kayaking, whale watching – not to mention inhaling the sea air and seafood along with drinking Canada Dry* -- keep you on the move. Nevertheless I did visit several quaint book shops in Halifax and the town of Wolfville, which is near the Bay of Fundy.
Early during our trip we visited Bookmark, which is located near the Halifax Public Gardens. This is a well-stocked bookstore with fiction, local fiction, travel, books on spirituality, Nova Scotia history, and current affairs. Since I was looking for a travel book to provide background material of a place where I was vacationing that I knew little about, I purchased A History of Nova Scotia in 50 Objects (2015) by Joan Dawson. (Dawson takes an object found in a local museum and launches into an historical story about Nova Scotia. ) And since I am a longtime fan of Canadian Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), I also picked up a discounted copy of Everyman's McLuhan (2007) by W. Terrance Gordon, Eri Hamaji & Jacob Albert, a kind of pictorial summary (lots of pictures and art collages mixed in with wacky typography) of the cultural historian's theories and ideas. My longtime travel partner Denise opted for a collection of short stories by Alistair MacLeod and Harry Thurston's A Place Between the Tides: A Naturalist's Reflections on the Salt Marsh (2004).
The Ashley Book of Knots
Visiting the Halifax Maritime Museum reminded me of another book connection, Clifford W. Ashley's Book of Knots (1944), which Anne Proulx immortalized in her 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Shipping News. Of course her book was set in Newfoundland not Nova Scotia, but to one who is challenged when it comes to Canadian geography (but not anymore!) that did not matter so much.
In her acknowledgement of her novel, Proulx said that the Ashley Book of Knots, which she found for a quarter at a yard sale, inspired her. Several chapters in The Shipping News are named after knots, such as the Slippery Hitch or the Strangle Knot, which have a symbolic tie-in with the plot. The main character's name is Quoyle as in “coil of rope” or someone who is “easily walked upon.”
As part of my quest, I looked for the book at Halifax's Trident Booksellers & Cafe (shown left), a decent used book store with shelves of fiction, mass market fiction, philosophy, health and Eastern and Western store. It has a perfect ambiance with places to sit, to converse, and to read accompanied by strong coffee, which is not always the norm in Nova Scotia. Denise found a book she liked -- a collection of travel pieces, A Woman's World (1994) edited by Maybeth Bond.
In Wolfville, a bucolic, college town (Acadia University) near the Bay of Fundy, I resumed my Ashley Book of Knots quest. Bob, one of the owners of the spacious Box of Delights Bookshop, was very patient and helpful, but he only had a copy of The Shipping News. There were several books that interested me especially the store's section on essays, but hauling a hardback copy of the nearly 1000-page David Foster Wallace Reader seemed to be a logistical bad idea,so I settled for a used and more-transportable paperback of Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (2008).
I did not do Nova Scotia book shopping justice so please don't interpret the small sampler as a reflection of literacy in the province. It is an amazing place steeped in rich history, natural beauty and friendly people. Some things are better than reading.
* Notes: Drinking Canada Dry – more than just a pun
I probably keep better notes on beers than books, so here is a list of my favorite Canadian beers that I sampled:
Propeller Bitter from Propeller Brewing. I have been partial to extra special bitter (ESB) type of beers lately. This beer is brewed in Halifax and is similar to the Fullers ESB.
Big Spruce Kitchen Party Pale Ale. This is from an organic microbrewery on Cape Breton Island. Unfortunately, I only had it once. Taking a growler on the plane was not logistically feasible.
Blackbeer'd IPA – Garrison Red Amber (tied). This IPA comes from the Nook and Cranny pub and microbrewery in the town of Truro. The Garrison Red was a robust amber from another Halifax brewery. I'm always looking for tasty beers with less alcohol content.
Alexander Keith IPA, the easiest to find acceptable beer (like Yuengling). It has a lower alcohol content than a regular IPA. I was given a free can by my Air Canada steward because my portable movie screen was inoperable and covered with a barf bag taped up with band-aids. A sad commentary on the in-flight entertainment, methinks. No problem, I had plenty to read.