Bookstore Heaven – From The Subway Chronicles

July 27, 2013

Today I traveled to bookstore heaven: St. George station. Within the neighbouring vicinity are booksellers of every kind: from the gargantuan Chapters to the small, art-inflected chain, Edward’s Books; from Yorkville-based Booksellers to cozy oases like the Bob Miller Reading Room; from magazine and special interest shops to antiquarian and rare book dealers. Beacons of light, calling me in from the choppy seas of the city streets.

I retired to a coffee shop with a purchase from one of these stores, Brick, a quarterly Canadian literary journal I often purchase. I was drawn to it on this occasion by a compelling cover photograph: two women huddle intimately in an ambience suggestive of a bistro. The cropping is tight: heads and shoulders, elbows resting on a bar, a little breathing space above their heads, which incline tenderly towards each other. In profile, the woman on the left stares contemplatively downward into a glass of white wine that rides out of frame as her hand canopies it from above. The neck of a carafe of the diminishing wines stands out of focus to her right. She wears thick, wire-rimmed spectacles and has long, naturally blonde hair. Her arms and shoulders are bare. She looks like a social activist. She wears no makeup and looks sexually naive.

The woman to the right of the frame (to the left of the other) tilts more dramatically towards her companion. She stares directly into the downcast eyes of the former, adoringly yet manipulatively. Her long, fair hair is coiffed and streaked. She wears a long-sleeved black top, plunging to her breasts. Her bent elbow inserts a raised fist between the two women. She wears makeup and looks sexually sophisticated.

It seems that a question has been asked of the former (who wears the hint of excitement in her subdued smile), and that an answer is desired by the latter (whose countenance is awash with looks of admiration and longing). The scenario which suggested itself to me: a sexual predator comes on to a sexual beginner in a lesbian bar. Lounge lizardesse seduces ingenue. Godzilla vs. Bambi. Or, maybe the picture depicts a salient moment in the resulting relationship of such an encounter. I didn’t know what the photo had to do with the text of the magazine; but I expected to find some lesbian content within its covers.

Having satisfied my fascination with the photograph I leafed through the pages of the magazine. I stopped to examine an article by Marilynne Robinson called “Confronting Reality,” an article concerning reality in the twentieth century. I found it difficult to penetrate. For instance:

Yet we have put together among ourselves a rigidly simple account of life in the world, which we honor with the name Reality and which, we now assure one another, must be faced and accepted, even or especially at the cost of those very things which societies we admire are believed by us to value, for example education, the arts, a human standard of life for the whole of the community.


Science fetches back from its explorations mystery upon mystery, yet somehow we feel increasingly sunk in a world of mere things, in a hard-edged Reality that disallows imagination except to exact tribute from it, in portraits which assert its own power and ferocity, or in interludes and recreations which concede by their triviality that only Reality matters.

As I see it, the writer of these sentences is more interested in impressing than communicating. Too much language for the ideas. A spit of meaning in an ocean of words. A literary fart in a syntactical windstorm. This is how I characterized Robinson’s meandering obfuscations. And I abandoned them with no sense of guilt.

I leafed on and came upon an article by Caroline Forche: “Seed of Liberty / Sign of Hope,” which concerned the death of Salvadoran archbishop Oscar Romero. The piece discussed Catholicism in idiomatic language. For instance:

The second Vatican Council’s restoration of popular biblical study, together with its approval of liturgical worship in local languages, authorized the often illiterate and impoverished laity to study scripture without intercession, eroding the concept of religious, and ultimately secular hierarchies.

Elsewhere in the article words such as bishopric, prelature, Eucharist, salvific, and praxis are used, but the context in which they are used, and a dictionary, if necessary, allow easy understanding of any passage’s exact meaning. No such recourse is available to Robinson’s readers.

I leafed on: I was unable to find anything to confirm or negate my interpretation of the cover photograph. No text. No photo essay. Nothing at all. I was puzzled. I turned to the Contents page once more and found the following photo credit: “Cover photo of Carolyn Forche and Marilynne Robinson by Emma Hanson Dodge.” Now this was interesting! And it was fun, too. Which of the women was Robinson and which was Forche? Nothing in the Contributors information illuminated the question. There I found only a tad of bio and biblio. So who was who? Well, unless I had no media savvy whatsoever: Robinson was the hitter; Forche, the hit upon. But, as it turned out, I was dead wrong.

(C) 2013 arne torneck all rights reserved Images Brick Magazine

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