In the Company of Heather

I keep hoping, one day to walk into a Chapters book store and run smack into a display of “Heather’s Picks,” well stacked, impressive books with attractive covers, soft and hard, waiting to be picked up and thumbed through; and oh yes, all the books exhibited in that wonderful display will be books written by Italian Canadian writers. Yes, I said Italian Canadian writers. Stop laughing!

The battle may be lost and it may be time to accept defeat, but we are a stubborn lot and keep rising to face the adversary again and again, persistent in our attempt to take form; something we learned from our ancestors, this stubbornness, this resistant streak, vulnerable romantic idealists. We cannot deny ourselves.

Recently, I was invited by the AICW (Association of Italian Canadian Writers) to join fellow members to read our work at the Chapters book store in Woodbridge on Highway 7 and Weston Road; the new Mecca for many Italian Canadian residents.

The Woodbridge Chapters, notably huge and proud, is located in the Piazza Del Sole Shopping Mall facing a pasture of cool cars and shiny SUVs. The obligatory gray and black aluminium patio tables and chairs by the front entrance allow you comfort as you sip coffee, smoke cigarettes and watch the parking of vehicles. The lounging is very European.

The store is large and spacious, with shelves of books and magazines lining the grand space but, except for the cappuccino machine, the biscotti and the outside patio, there is little else that reflects the community that is now a major contributor to the cash register. Chapters makes little attempt to address, recognize, promote or celebrate the history or achievements of the existing community.

As you enter the tall glass doors you come upon a large display of books called Heather’s Picks. The display greets you with the lovely photo of Heather, who is undoubtedly very concerned with the Chapters book dynasty and whose opinion is evidently important. I am always amazed that Heather never seems to endorse or choose a book of poetry to be part of her display. It is possible she doesn’t read poetry, after all poetry is not a particularly cool form of literature in today’s “tweeting” terrain. I feel the rejection, the abandon. I sense the underground brooding of Keats, Blake, Dante, Pasolini… Time for a coffee.

After the coffee, I go back to peruse the books on display. I notice that almost 80 percent of the books in Heather’s Picks are written by non-Canadian authors. Dare I even look for any Italian Canadian writers?

In this community where it would be appropriate and even interesting to discover authors who have written about the experience and the history of being Italian Canadian, there are no books that reflect that reality. Would it occur to anyone that the customers might welcome the incentive by Chapters to search out some of these writers and their books and offer them to the community in which they exist?

Heather’s Picks disturbs me. I continue to search the shelves. There is little that reflects the existence of Italian Canadian writers except for a couple of copies of Nino Ricci’s novels. There is no Di Cicco, Gasparini, Di Michele, Paina, Iacobelli, Melfi, Paci, Capilongo, Calabro, Madott, Mazza, Maviglia, Mirolla, Caccia, D’Alfonso, Ardizzi, Duliani, and no Gianna Patriarca! Just a few of us looking for a shelf.

Perhaps the fact that Chapters exists at all in a community of Italian Canadians is a sign that we have adapted and integrated to the point where our stories are less necessary and deliberately unnoticed. But we do exist, we have written many books, won many awards. We are studied in schools and universities, and our work is included in many credited and noteworthy anthologies. Why is it, then, that we have no visibility in book stores such as Chapters? Why is it that even in our communities there is no promotion or support for our work? I know what you are thinking. Get over it, grapes are lousy when they’re sour.

The afternoon we read our work at Chapters there were not enough chairs for the audience, and the staff could not direct me to where the reading was taking place. They weren’t even aware it was happening. The management allowed the music to continue playing while the authors were trying to read. Simple courtesies and respect may not sell books, but they heighten our human experience. The audience was wonderfully receptive and warm, and enjoyed our presentation. That is what ultimately makes the experience worthwhile.

Doomed romantics, we will keep going to Chapters, checking those shelves hoping to get a glimpse of the phantoms we are. Who knows? One day Heather may discover something new for her picks. and one of our books may be affectionately displayed on an impressive table at the entrance of the stately shrine beneath her gigantic and smiling photograph.

Oh stop laughing!!


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