You know what a pain in the ass it is to move books? You go to the liquor store, get eight boxes, bring them back and then realize you need four more, but then those still aren't enough and you end up shoving a bunch of books into grocery bags. Down at John W. Doull Bookseller there will be 175,000 books to move. Give or take.
The move of JWD from the St. Paul building at the corner of Barrington and Prince Streets to 122 Main Street in Dartmouth is a loss for downtown Halifax and those who walk around; for folks in cars, or coming from Dartmouth or out of town, it's great news: near arteries, free parking. More than twice the space.
The new location will be, as Doull says, "a little more domestic." First timers walking into JWD books may recall the amazement on the faces of Carter and Carnavon the first time they got into Tutankhamun's tomb in 1922. The number of books is staggering. Some shelves go twelve high, and atop every bookcase is another stack of books. The poetry department is 17 (at least) (an accurate count of anything here is difficult) brimming shelves sorted A to Z by author; beyond that are shelves for individual Bigboy poets. This does not include the anthologies or what may be on the floor, where piles are waist high. Most sections in the store are like this.
There are numerous rooms, crowded aisles and culs-de-sac, sort of like the basement in The Silence of the Lambs (although Doull is a much more genial host). There is an apocryphal story of some homeless guy living undetected for a while in the store. Ladders, motley chairs and milk crates provide rest for travellers; cheeky art work begins with the coffee cooling station just inside the door, continues with manipulated Penguin book covers and riffs on Harry Beck's London tube map and culminates in Francis Bacon's study after Velázquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X hanging in the stairwell. One hopes that the last is a fake, but anything's possible.
John William Doull looks very much at home in this kingdom. If there were to be a bust made of him, and plopped it down in a row of busts of say, Balzac, Twain, Voltaire and the like, you would have a hard time picking him out. He's got that genius hair---silvery and longish, almost a mane but not quite. His sartorial splendour is that of absent minded arts professors: a herringbone jacket over a vest over a striped Oxford shirt. He wears metal frame glasses and sandals with socks.
Born in Ottawa, raised in Halifax, Doull has fond memories more of being read to than reading as a child. “I was read to a lot longer than most people,” he says, “by my mother. By the end she was reading me books on military history.” Doull still loves books on military and history. “I love fragile things that have survived,” he says, “and small things.”
Doull has the Barrington space until the end of April, but the move to Main Street begins now. Let's see. Fifteen books per box, divide into 175,000…