One day soon it will happen. Someone is going to walk into Mill Street Books looking for a recommendation. If they are new to the store, Terry might say “I loved this book. The main character is a wonderful old geezer” Debbie would enthuse “It makes you laugh; it makes you cry and then you don’t want it to end” and Mary would explain that the setting in Cape Breton reminds her of their community. After placing the book in their hands, allowing them to read the description and get a feel for the book, that customer will set a store record. The 300th copy of The Unlikely Redemption of John Alexander MacNeil will be sold and that customer will win a bottle of prosecco!
This book’s appeal lies in its characters. John Alexander MacNeil is eighty years old. Sharp-tongued and quick-witted, he lives alone in rural Cape Breton, but he still cooks breakfast for his wife, who’s been dead for thirty years. He silently starts to question his own mind after stopping to pick up a hitchhiker — a hitchhiker who turns out to be his neighbour’s mailbox. Everything shifts, though, when Emily, a pregnant teenager, shows up at his house with no place else to go. Determined to help Emily as best as he can, John must also keep the wolves from his door and maintain some semblance of sanity.
Author Lesley Choyce lives in Halifax. Last year he wrote the store owners: “I have found it difficult to make good connections with audiences outside of Atlantic Canada. So I just wanted to write and let you know that it is much appreciated that you like the book and can share it with your customers.” When I recently contacted him regarding reaching this milestone he added: “This is a testament to the power and importance of the bookseller – especially the independent bookseller who is not only financially independent but independent of mind and spirit. It is so good to know that John Alexander MacNeil is alive and well in Almonte, Ontario. I had lost track of him in recent months and realize he’s carried his world – lock, stock and barrel of opinions and laughs – to this lively Ontario town where his voice echoes through the chambers of those readers’ minds and hearts. Long live John Alex and long live Mill Street Books!”
Almost 40% of the total sales for this book to date are through Mill Street Books. Beverley Rach of Fernwood Publishing responded that she finds it heartening to know that there are still people hand-selling books – places where readers can rely on a trusted bookseller to put a good read into their hands.
Mill Street Books is a small store with limited space so they keep close tabs on inventory and only stock between 3-4,000 titles. Owner Mary Lumsden explains “We are always looking for something unique to read – a book nobody has heard of. When I look through catalogues, I am imagining potential readers and thinking about the various interests of my kids, my friends and our local customers.” When you tell someone to read a book that you love it is like an offer of friendship that will connect you, sometimes for the rest of your lives. Personal recommendations are the life blood of independent bookstores and their value is evident when they can shine a light on a gem.
The 300th book was sold October 7th and customer Gudrun Mendzigall looked very pleased with her gift!