LITERARY LOCATION: 2742 West 4th Avenue, former site of R2B2 Books

Active in the literary community on a variety of fronts, Renee Rodin owned and operated R2B2 Books, a bookstore on West Fourth Avenue, from 1986 to 1994. During that period she solely ran a weekly reading series for eight years. Rodin and poet Billy Little first took charge of what had been known as Octopus Books West at 2250 West Fourth in 1986 but Little was involved only for the first two years. "Mainly because of the series' reputation," says Rodin, "I was able to sell R2B2 in l994 to Denise and Trent Hignell who renamed it Black Sheep Books. They continued the readings for the next three years before they sold it to George Kroller who continued for another three years. So the weekly series went on for 14 years in all." There's a history of Octopus Books and R2B2 called "A Naif's Story" in Rodin's collection of memoirs, Subject to Change in which Rodin describes how Christmas fire forced her to move her store five blocks west, to West Fourth near MacDonald, in the same block as Margo Dunn's Ariel Books.


Classified as fiction, the stories in Renee Rodin's Subject to Change (Talonbooks 2010) are self-portraits that recall the impact of 'significant others' on her life, whether they were a parent, lover, neighbour, child, friend, parent or politician.

She writes: "In the mid-Eighties I worked at Octopus West, a wonderful used bookstore in the 2100 block of West 4th in Kitsilano. "Brownie"; (P.R. Brown) and her partner, the late Juils Comeault, had bought the store in the Seventies from Bill Fletcher.

"On my first day, when another staff person went for coffee, a customer came to buy some paperbacks in the window. Their prices, 25, 35 or 50 cents, were clearly marked on their covers. So that's what I sold them for. I soon discovered I had sold someone's private library of highly collectible pulp fiction, brought in for display purposes only, for next to nothing.

"When Brownie decided to sell Octopus West to concentrate on her other store, Octopus East, on Commercial Drive, near where she lived with her baby, Rosie, I wanted it. Brownie offered a generous installment plan for payments and I bought the store in the fall of l986 with poet Billy Little, who had been a close friend of Juils' and had also worked at Octopus.

"We changed the name to R & B Books because of our names but we were open to interpretation about the initials. In December, just before the Christmas season, which we were depending on, a fire broke out in the apartment upstairs. I was alone in the store and had no idea the building was ablaze, though smoke could be seen across the city. Someone came in to get me out. The person upstairs was not so lucky. A pioneer recycler, Barry had piled masses of newspapers on top of what became a faulty extension cord. I learned later he had also been an ethical marijuana dealer and there were many high school kids, including mine, at his funeral.

"Most of our stock and the store were water-damaged. Our insurance just covered our move to a tiny spot at 2742 West 4th Avenue in January of l987, next to the Naam restaurant, and in the same block as Ariel Books, run by Margo Dunn.

"Billy, who remained involved in the store for its first couple of years, suggested changing our name to R2B2 Books to signify our second time around. Even though we carried little science fiction, the name stuck."

Renee Rodin was born in Montreal on August 15, 1945 and arrived in B.C. in 1968. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Capilano Review and West Coast Line.

About her collection of poetry, Bread & Salt (Talonbooks, 1996), Gary Geddes wrote in BC BookWorld, "While she may eschew figurative language and refuse to count the syllables, Rodin definitely pays close attention to the world she inhabits, counting the injustices, cruelties and hypocrisies along with the little miracles, what Bronwen Wallace has called the 'stubborn particulars of grace.' Her sly, low-key poems are like prescriptions for sanity, full of wit and homely wisdom..."

Rodin's work of narrative prose, Ready for Freddy (Nomados Press, 2005), is a short memoir about moving back to Montreal to care for her 88-year-old father who is diagnosed with mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer caused by asbestos. When he declares he's 'ready for Freddy', ready to die, he is promised that he can die with dignity. The narrator and her sister Sandy monitor his decline as he stops eating and starts hallucinating. The aftermath of his death is at once surrealistic and all-too-real. Three of the pallbearers are women. "When it's time to life the coffin, though the women struggle valiantly to keep their side from dragging on the floor, it's considerably lower than the men's." Ready for Freddy is like a Norman Levine short story, strangely uplifting for its reportage of commonplace details.

Not to be taken lightly, Renee Rodin once approached Premier Gordon Campbell, took him aside and politely warned him that he was in danger of becoming a fascist.


Bread & Salt (Talonbooks, 1996)

Ready for Freddy (Nomados Press, 2005)

Subject to Change (Talonbooks 2010) 978-0-88922-644-9 $18.95)

[BCBW 2010] "Poetry"