Books and coffee symbiosis thrives

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June 27, 2013

Pictured: Authors Elizabeth Woods, left, and Linda Foubister at Moka Coffee House

By Barbara Julian

What is it about books and coffee? The literature-latte marriage originated back when many a writer lived in a garret and had to meet friends in public places. Literary conversation flowed while a drink could be eked out for hours.

“Back when”? What has changed? For at least some low-income scribes, a friendly local café is still social space, performance space and even, what with portable digital devices, office space. Under the influence of caffeine, wine, beer or whatever else stimulates the brain cells, writers and readers use cafes for book chat, gossip and increasingly, for selling. The rise of the independent author-publisher has created a need for novel marketing and distribution strategies, although printing by author and hawking books in the public marketplace are not new. The past is the future.

Where official arts bureaucracies have dropped the ball, many cafes in Victoria have responded to the demand (you’d think their counter staff include secret scribblers or something). As well as hanging paintings, Serious Coffee on Cook Street hosts the Pen In Hand reading series, Moka House on Hillside hosts Planet Earth Poetry, and Moka House on Fort is now home base for the Victoria Independent Authors and Publishers Association, giving local writers a few shelves on which to display their books–as does the Oak Bay Marina Coffee House. Let’s raise a mug to them all.

The idea is that customers peruse the books while sipping and contact author-publishers directly if they want to purchase. In this age of e-books the whole bookshop model stands on shaky ground, and the cafe/publisher symbiosis is just one emerging creative ad hoc book promotion arrangement.

Whether it’s Sartre and de Beauvoir debating at the Les Deux Magots, Hemingway scowling at La Rotonde, Susan Sontag being analytical at Café Loup or Dorothy Parker witticizing at the Algonquin, we all harbour images of the “literary café.” Many of the famous ones are now merely tourist spots, but Victoria’s cafes harbouring book nooks are for locals. The books are there discreetly and the readings just for fun, but any exposure for new and unknown (as well as better-known) authors is welcome.

Some people like tweeting, but others still prefer real-world contact with writers and readers. Our book-housing cafes are appreciated by those who cannot afford to buy every book they want but relish the chance to dip in or hear them being read from for the price of a coffee. Then there are the authors sipping in dark corners, clocking whoever is examining their books. (Note to patrons: keep your voice down–you never know when you might be providing dialogue.)

The café meanwhile is happy to draw in customers however it can. Nobody in either the café or the book trade is rich, both existing in over-crowded landscapes. A cross-species symbiotic relationship makes sense–and those who naturally keep their head in a book and a mug in their hand, are grateful.

 Barbara Julian has published Childhood Pastorale: Children, Nature and the Preservation of Landscape under her own Ninshu Press imprint.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Hank Sands July 8, 2013 at 2:15 pm

Nicely written Barbara. Thanks for your endless efforts to get us budding authors out of our hovels,and on to the street.

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