For my daughter’s 7th birthday, I ordered Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Charlotte’s Web from my local independent bookstore, R&R Books in Oakville.
While I could’ve gone to Chapters and probably picked up a copy of Charlotte’s Web with Dakota Fanning’s picture on the cover, I certainly couldn’t have found a copy from the first print year, 1952. Although not a first edition, it’s still very cool (and it only cost $7).
In some ways, shopping at R&R reminds me of 84 Charring Cross Road where Helene Hanff would request books and Frank Doel, owner of the antique bookshop, Marks & Co., would hunt down unique copies. R&R have hunted down affordable firsts for my collection like Breakfast of Champions and an American hardcover version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
When I arrived at the bookstore, I saw a beautiful box set of the Harry Potter series. I briefly considered it, but it was too expensive and I wasn’t sure if my daughter would even be interested in the series. I saw a cheaper box set of the first three books that was more in the budget.
It turned out that the box set was a gift for my daughter from Rob, one of the owners of the bookstore. I know he felt guilty for introducing my daughter to this terrible series of fairy books (I was just glad she was interested in reading, but I was much happier when she started reading them on her own):
He also wanted to perpetuate the fantasy that bookstores are magical places and said that ‘if you read your worth in salt, Hogwarts is a magical place.’
I have never seen my daughter so excited by a book but it’s still a bit above her reading level. She reads it to herself when I dry her hair after bath time and begs me to keep reading it to her before bed. She mainly gets tripped up by the made up words (like how the Potters were described as ‘undursleyish’) but there are a lot of complicated ideas compared to what she’s used to (like when a pair of wands were described as ‘brothers’ connecting Harry and Voldemort).
I recently read this post about bookstore owners being more like bartenders and that to be a successful bookstore, the owners must like people. I think this is why R & R has been so successful, they have a keen sensibility about what people read, buy and enjoy and are able to recommend books better than any algorithm.
R&R is still my favourite bookshop. In a tough economic year, and in an age of closing bookstores, their gift to my daughter was generous and amazing. Here’s hoping 2014 brings better tidings for everyone and that small bookstores everywhere remain cornerstones of their communities.