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Bookseller Q&A: Brown & Dickson


Brown & Dickson

Vanessa and Jason of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario.

Meet AbeBooks’ antiquarian booksellers Brown & Dickson. Located in London, Ontario, Brown & Dickson specialize in Art, Local History, Counter-Culture, Fine Literature, and Weird Canada. Vanessa and Jason recently answered our questions about the wonderful world of book selling – keep reading to learn about their most prized items and the weird (er, gross) things they’ve found in books!

AbeBooks: How did you become a bookseller?

Jason: After high-school my friend’s father opened up a small used bookshop in downtown London, Ontario. He graciously let me be a part of it with his daughter and friends. I remember going over to his house and seeing a basement filled with boxes of books, probably as many as the entire inventory of my small hometown library. I was hooked.

Vanessa: Jason worked at a used bookstore in town and got me a job. After I finished my degree, I just kept doing it. There were opportunities to find work in fields that paid better. I could have gone to grad school. But I just like selling books. That sounds like laziness, but it’s not. I don’t think most people find something they love that they are also good at, in regards to a job. When you find out what your passion is, you’d be an idiot to let it go. If I’d known about antiquarian book selling, I probably would have skipped that whole liberal arts thing. I learn more on the job than I ever did in school.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books?

Jason: Honestly, for me the trick to love selling books is empathy. I know that sounds corny but I love to see the look in a customer’s eye that matches the look in my own eye when I find a book that is remarkable to me. To do that for a living is incredible. Book selling means I get to have that happen more often. Nearly every week I come across a book that I’ve been looking for, whether I knew it or not.

Vanessa: I find the pace of book selling, the balance between solitude and socializing, works really well for me. As Jason said, coming across those stellar titles can invigorate you for ages, keep you looking for the next great find. I have to admit, I love a big sale. It’s like being on the Price is Right. I’m always begging Jason to give me a high five and he rolls his eyes at me. I also love watching a young collector get excited about high-end items. It reminds you of what it was like at first, when you started selling.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

Jason: We just acquired a collection of books from a local Canadian artist. Her library is filled with local arcana and gems of Canadian art. I recently held a copy of a London art zine that I had only heard about and had never seen. So currently that is my favourite.

Vanessa: It changes all the time. I’m currently fascinated by a Tijuana Bible. Usually I latch onto something and shove it under every customer’s nose until it sells, mostly so I can talk about it and find someone to nerd-out about it with me.

Brown & Dickson

The cozy interior of Brown & Dickson in London, Ontario.

AbeBooks: What’s the one book you covet most? Why?

Jason: The Necronomicon. Just kidding. No, I wish I could have original drawings by Jack Chambers. Perhaps a manuscript of notes for his film The Hart of London. I imagine a book of poems by Canadian artists. So few are published, but so many artists write them. I know in those private papers there are prize works. I’d love to hold a book like that.

Vanessa: I heard there’s a lost stash of Hemingway’s personal papers in the basement of his house in Cuba. I’d love to be on the ground floor of going through that stuff, or any discovery, like that box of Vivian Maier’s negatives.

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Jason: Envelopes of human hair.

Vanessa: Yeah, that.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

Jason: Honestly being in the shop with an empty street and the second side of Brian Eno’s Discreet Music playing on the shop speaker. It was snowing. The light was dim. And I thought, “I’m safe here. I have to work hard to keep this, but I’ve found my home.”

Vanessa: I think our first book party. We had a bunch of community arts organizations join us for a pop-up mini festival in this empty alley next to a downtown historic building. We had so much fun. People really loved it, and that night we all went out and partied together. The books gave us a reason to celebrate.

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favorite book?

Jason: Moominpappa at Sea, without a doubt.

Vanessa: The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery.

If you’re passing through London, find Brown & Dickson at 211 King Street. Out-of-towners can browse Brown & Dickson’s books on AbeBooks.

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