If there is anyone in the country who could be considered a bibliomaniac, it is probably John W. Doull, former owner of the bookstore in Dartmouth, NS, that bears his name.
First popularized by an English clergyman, the Reverend Thomas Frognall Dibli, in his 19th century study. Bibliomania; o Madness for booksThe term is used to describe anyone who, as The Oxford English Dictionary puts it – has “rage for collecting and owning books.”
This furor, of course, often defies simple explanation.
But if you find yourself obsessively buying books at every opportunity, searching thrift stores for special editions of ones you already own, and running out of space in your own apartment for your collection, chances are you’re affected by it, too.
If that’s the case, John W. Doull, Bookseller will feel right at home. In operation since 1987, the bookstore has survived two moves and has been located in three separate buildings.
Doull now counts, by his own estimates, between two and three million books in his inventory, spread across the store, the upstairs of the building, and additional storage space in the garage.
If true (the estimate is unverified), it would mean his store has more books than the entire Halifax Public Libraries circulation, which is said to have ended. a million books.
The store, previously a mainstay in downtown Halifax, moved to its current location inside an old white vinyl-sided building on Main Street in Dartmouth in 2012.
It’s not the most eye-catching place, but those who venture to open the front door and enter will probably be delighted by the wide variety of books on display.
It’s the kind of store, increasingly rare in an age when square footage is at a premium, that feels like a labyrinth in itself.
Turn a corner and you can go from books on art, film, photography and architecture to an entire section dedicated to the works of Walden author Henry David Thoreau.
Turn another and you may find yourself walking into a pitch-black room, reaching for the light switch, only to flip it up and illuminate a completely unexpected selection of poetry from around the world.
Everywhere you look, it seems there are new treasures.
On a recent visit, for example, I found boxes and boxes of Rolling Stone Since the magazine’s heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, each issue valued affordability at one dollar each.
On a different trip, I picked up a hardcover copy of late Newfoundland actor Gordon Pinsent’s novel. The troublemakersigned by the author with the simple inscription “In friendship”.
In fact, Doull’s store seems to exist to fuel the same sense of discovery he once felt as a college student, perusing the shelves of Dalhousie University’s Killam Memorial Library.
“I remember going up to the top floor and wanting to touch every book with my finger,” he recalled. “I would just look, and if something piqued my interest, I would take it out and look more… That’s the good thing about libraries… you would go in, look for a book and take it out, and then you would see the ones around it and say : ‘Oh, that’s interesting.’
This enormous depth may seem like a godsend to some, but it can intimidate or frustrate others, as evidenced by a series of recent negative reviews on Google.
“That’s true,” Doull said. “They come in and say, ‘Oh,’ and they might say bad words or something, and then they look around quickly and come out again. That’s a common thing.”
But of course, there are plenty of bookstores you can go to to find the same 20 books that everyone else is reading.
Doull’s store has never been that place.
‘I know dangerously little about a good number of things’
Talking to Doull about his childhood, it’s clear that his calling was honest.
From a young age, his parents instilled in him the vitality of reading.
“My parents were big readers,” he said. “Their idea of a good time was sitting in the living room, listening to CBC Stereo… each of them would be reading and my mother would be knitting.”
The house was full of books, although not as much as his is today, and his mother read to him regularly on all kinds of topics, including military history, until he was about 10 years old and began reading constantly. her own.
After graduating from high school, she did a foundation year at the University of King’s College before earning a bachelor’s degree at Dalhousie University, where she took courses on everything from English literature to women’s studies to esoteric topics such as history. of science, before continuing. her to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.
If there is a flaw in his reading habits, according to Doull, it is that he is a bit of a dilettante, interested in a wide variety of subjects but an expert in few.
“That way I despaired of my education,” he said. “But on the other hand, it’s perfect for this kind of work, because I know dangerously little about a lot of things.”
However, one thing Doull is an expert at today is selling books.
He first earned his stay at Schooner Books, now located on Inglis Street in Halifax, after becoming such a frequent customer that the owners offered him a job, reasoning that by that time he knew the catalog as well as they did.
That store, like Doull’s, specializes in rare and antique books, and in the days before the Internet, both outlets compiled mail-order catalogs describing their collections.
“I remember John [Townsend, an owner at Schooner Books] “Going down to the basement, working on his catalogs… on a typewriter, and every once in a while he would hear some bad words because he made a mistake.”
Doull said he’s glad he learned his trade in the days before the Internet made everything available at the click of a button, although he has since reluctantly joined.
Visiting him recently, he took a moment to respond to an email inquiry from Peru.
Online sales help keep the store afloat
Sixty thousand books are currently on the list. on your store websiteDoull said, and online sales are a major part of their business.
It was once predicted that the rise of e-readers would mean an uncertain fate for booksellers like Doull, but that reality hasn’t exactly come to pass. Physical books, in many ways, are more vital than ever.
Doull is also encouraged to see that young readers continue to walk through her doors.
But there’s no doubt that surviving as an independent bookseller in 2023 will be difficult. There is less foot traffic at their Dartmouth location and the pandemic hasn’t helped.
Doull doesn’t buy as many used books anymore because times are tough, but he said he appreciates donations, like boxes of Rolling Stone magazines your store recently received.
The store is his life’s work, but Doull knows he’s not getting any younger.
“I’d like this to continue, but I’ll be 67 in a couple of months,” he said. “I’m slowing down and that’s why I don’t know what will happen to the store.”
But for now, and hopefully for a long time, the store is still in full swing.
Go visit it and see for yourself. And ask for John W. Doull, bookseller.
He won’t hold your hand as you walk through his store, but he promises he won’t bite you.