Daniel Francis

Reading the National Narrative

Judith Mappin RIP

Mar 5, 2014

 

When I lived in Montreal in the mid-eighties I was fortunate enough to have The Double Hook as my neighbourhood bookstore.

Occupying the main floor of a small house on Greene Avenue in Westmount, the shop was the domain of Judy Mappin, a silver-haired grande dame of the bookselling trade. She had started the business in 1974 with two partners when the idea of a store devoted solely to books written by Canadians was, if not revolutionary, at least daring.

Younger readers may not appreciate how underdeveloped CanLit was back in the 1970s. Even if you wanted to read some, you were unlikely to find anything but the most meagre selection in the bookstores of the day. Was there even a demand? As Mappin and her partners proved (along with Longhouse Books, another all-Canadian shop in Toronto), the answer was a resounding Yes!

Back when I was a regular customer I had already written a couple of books and was pleased to find them on the shop's shelves but I had been reticent about introducing myself to the owner. One day my Aunt Hazel was visiting from Ontario and as we passed the shop she noticed one of my titles in the window. Announcing that we must go inside (in my memory the door had one of those bells that tinkled when a customer entered), my aunt, who was no shrinking violet, marched me to the cash and more or less imposed me on Ms Mappin. "This is my nephew, he writes books!"

I was crimson with embarrassment but of course Ms Mappin was charming and welcoming and pretended to be impressed to meet me and for the two more years that I remained in the city she always welcomed me into her shop with great warmth.

So I was sad to note that she died last month, age 85. It reminds us that just as so many of our independent bookstores disappear (The Double Hook itself closed in 2005), so too do the pioneering spirits who operated them.

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