Sunday, February 03, 2008

Editing, Part One-and-a-half

In 1977, when we moved from Ottawa back to Richmond, B.C., I was somewhat amazed to find that what had been Lansdowne Race Track (as in horse racing) had become, in the four years since we had moved from Richmond, the site of a shopping mall, also named Lansdowne. One of the lynch-pins of the mall was a large branch of Woodwards department store (alas, no longer with us), and among the features of the store was a good-sized book section, overseen by a gracious lady by the name of Ellen Sacré.

It was only a few minutes, by bus, from where I lived, and I quickly became a habitué of the bookshop, spending countless enjoyable hours browsing the stock and talking to Ellen. In those far-off days, the only way to really keep in touch with what books were being published was to browse publishers' catalogues, of which Ellen had an endless supply, and I used to pore over them, noting down titles of interest and placing advance orders for particularly choice titles with Ellen.

In the four or five years that I spent hanging around the bookstore, I came to know Ellen fairly well, and she me; indeed, she used to point me out to customers, saying that I'd gone from reading Agatha Christie to Charles Dickens under her watch, as it were. She was the first grown-up—other than my parents and a couple of teachers—to take my reading seriously; and I remember that one day, when I was about seventeen or thereabouts, she said to me—for no reason that I could discern—'You should be an editor.'

I don't remember any more of the conversation than that: I have no idea what we were talking about that might have prompted such a remark, and in the years since I've occasionally wondered what it was that she saw in me, to inspire those words. So it strikes me, now, as a good time to say thank you, Ellen, for encouraging a book-struck youngster. If only everyone who loved books, and words, had such a mentor!

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