Two weeks ago I drove to a small miracle of a bookstore in the Ottawa Valley, the Arnprior Book Shop forty-five minutes northwest of Ottawa. Then last week I dropped into the London Review Bookstore near the British Museum. In each case, lovely cafés were attached – good coffee and cakes – the pleasures of the flesh matching the pleasures of the mind. Both shops had the feel of relaxed but heady village life. They were cozy, yet full of doorways to all sorts of worlds.
In the London Review Bookstore, I found a book I’ve wanted to read ever since my literature-studying son raved about it a few months ago. Not The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, the new Booker winner, but the original The Sense of an Ending published in 1966 by the critic Frank Kermode. Barnes borrowed the title and who can blame him. It’s a great title. Given the struggle I have with endings, I fell for it hard.
I bought poetry too, a couple of books by Louise Glück, whose work I admire deeply. In London I always reconnect with my fifteen-year-old self, the girl who moved with her family to England for a year and discovered one day in grammar school that she could write poems of a sort, and thereafter wanted to be a writer.
During that year in England, 1967, the world also opened up for my mother. She comes from the Ottawa Valley, not far from Arnprior, and grew up wanting to be a painter but never had the chance. In London that changed. She took art classes every day for the first time in her life. She was 48. These places, London and the Ottawa Valley, fold us together into one aspiring story. “I spent the year doing what I wanted to do,” my mother said to me yesterday. “That’s why it was so wonderful.”