Atmospheric, informative memoir by a Canadian seller of used and rare books.
Born in 1938, Mason as a kid was more comfortable in pool halls than the Toronto school system and got “permanently suspended” at 15. He wound up bumming around Europe, taking odd jobs and drugs, talking passionately about books with fellow free souls. A brief stint as a bookbinder in Spain (source of the unnecessarily mystifying and misleading title) gave him a marketable skill when he returned to Toronto in the late 1960s, but a part-time bookstore job showed him his real talents: talking to people and finding books for them. After a few years’ apprenticeship with Jerry Sherlock, one of the many rare booksellers to whom Mason pays affectionate tribute, he went out on his own. One of his first areas of expertise was Canadian editions of books by foreign authors, a bibliographic area he pioneered in a project for the National Library of Canada, until he broke bitterly with the library and a colleague over what he considered a breach of faith. His memoirs reveal Mason as a good grudge holder, and his feelings about librarians are mixed; affection for those at local branches who initiate youth into the wonders of books balances disdain for the bureaucrats at major institutions. He wholeheartedly loves anyone who loves books—no matter how eccentric—we see in a hilarious chapter about private collectors. Another great chapter about bidding at auction, and numerous passages on pricing rare books, demonstrates that Mason is a shrewd commercial operator when he needs to be, but his main focus is on the vital role nonchain booksellers play as preservers of our cultural heritage. His burning sense of mission more than compensates for some repetitious passages and a few too many instances of score settling in a narrative that gives a vivid sense of its author’s idiosyncratic personality.
Gossipy, rambling and enchanting, alive with Mason’s love for books of every variety.